By Rosetta Miller Perry

There are some groups no progressive or socially concerned organization should ever become involved with, and certainly not have as a sponsor for a major event. But that’s precisely what the Nashville Chamber of Commerce has done by allowing CoreCivic to be the presenting sponsor for their 2020 Annual Celebration.  The Chamber knows that CoreCivic was under duress in 2016 and then Donald Trump was elected the most racist and divisive President this country has ever had.  The rest is history for CoreCivic.

For anyone not familiar with CoreCivic, they are a group with a track record dating back nearly 30 years (since 1983 to be exact) of being a principal profiteer and participant in mass incarceration.  More specifically, they’ve played a big role in the rise of the population behind bars, a trend that has negatively affected people of color, those in poverty, and immigrants. 

Over the course of CoreCivic’s history, there’s been a 500 percent increase in the incarcerated population. There are now more than 2.3 million people imprisoned. Despite their claims of fighting recidivism, it’s actually to CoreCivic’s benefit to keep the numbers behind bars increasing because it fuels a simultaneous rise in their profits. 

While their defenders claim CoreCivic is just doing what’s necessary to maintain social order and stability, their track record is far from a good one. Numerous cases have been documented of CoreCivic not providing adequate medical care to prisoners. Among the most egregious is one from 2012 involving Autumn Miller. She was serving a one-year sentence at the CCA- run Dawson State Jail in Dallas, Texas, and gave birth to a premature infant girl into a toilet with no medical personnel present. 

The death of Miller’s baby was far from a freak accident or random incident. Rather it is part of a continuing record of fatal health care neglect and abuses by CoreCivic that also includes a continuing trend of denying insulin to diabetic prisoners.

Despite these abuses, federal lobby records show CoreCivic, Inc spent more than $1 million on lobbying expenditures in 2016. They targeted Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Department of State in seeking budgetary appropriations for prison and detention center contracts. The share of CoreCivic’s revenue from ICE rose to 25 percent in 2017 from 13 percent in 2007. In August, CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger told investors that “this is probably the most robust kind of sales environment we’ve seen in probably 10 years.”

Dozens of articles in local, national and international media during the past five years have documented human rights violations that are normal, everyday business practices at CoreCivic’s prisons. They detail a corporation with a continued record of bullying local and state governments, opposing common sense criminal justice reform, lobbying for increased incarcerations, and engaging in employee mistreatment, poor wages, and failing to provide workers with adequate training.

“CoreCivic also directly benefits from the current assault on immigrants in the United States and these immigrants, some of whom are asylum seekers — along with prisoners and CoreCivic staff — are being directly exposed to violence, including sexual assault, at facilities not designed for safety and security, but for maximizing profits,”said Theeda Murphy of Justice for Jocques. “The bottom line,” Murphy added, “is that CoreCivic sells human beings. That is a practice that is also called slavery.”

The Chamber’s decision is opposed by a host of groups committed to equal justice and prison reform. These include No Exceptions Prison Collective, the Tennessee Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, Black Lives Matter Nashville, Human Rights Defense Center, Resist ICE Nashville, Resist ICE Memphis, Justice for Jocques Coalition, Mercy Junction Justice & Peace Center, the Harriet Tubman House, Tennessee Anti-Racist Network, Women’s March TN-Power Together TN, Nashville Peace & Justice Center and Standing Up for Racial Justice- Nashville. They all urged that the chamber refuse CoreCivic’s funding for its Chamber and Partnership 2020 Annual Celebration.

“The Nashville Area Chamber has literally put its members in a position in which they are complicit partners in human trafficking if they attend, participate in, or support this celebration,” said Jeannie Alexander of No Exceptions Prison Collective. “CoreCivic’s blood money can’t be cleaned by being laundered through local businesses and nonprofits. Nonprofits and businesses who accept and co-mingle their funds with CoreCivic are in fact supporting human suffering and the destruction of families and communities.”

“There is something so obscene about a party – paid for by the suffering of the poor, immigrants and people of color – people who are caged and tortured at the very moment the rich are celebrating. CoreCivic has such an offensive record on human rights that the Chamber accepting those funds for any purpose is unconscionable, but for a party is just obscene,” said Beth Foster of the Tennessee Poor People’s Campaign.

The Tennessee Tribune joins these groups and organizations in denouncing the Nashville Area Chamber’s involvement with CoreCivic in any fashion, and in particular accepting funding for their celebration. It makes a mockery of the notion they care about the community and are interested in justice and opportunity for all its citizens, particularly those on the bottom, and those most affected by CoreCivic’s participation in accelerating mass incarceration throughout this community and nation.