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2015 Annual Anti-Private Prison Awards Announced

On March 1, 2016, the Private Corrections Institute (PCI), a non-profit citizen watchdog organization, announced its 2015 awardees for individual activism, organizational advocacy and excellence in news reporting related to the private prison industry. PCI opposes the privatization of correctional services, including the operation of prisons, jails and other detention facilities by for-profit companies such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group, both of which trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

PCI’s 2015 award for excellence in news reporting on the private prison industry went to Jerry Mitchell, a reporter with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, for multiple articles regarding conditions, violence and abuses at for-profit prisons in Mississippi. He also covered the indictments filed against former MS DOC Commissioner Christopher Epps, who took bribes from private prison firms and their consultants. The recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” Jerry previously broke stories that resulted in the prosecution of Civil Rights era murders; he has received numerous other honors and was a Pulitzer finalist.

“This award belongs to the staff of The Clarion-Ledger and especially my boss, Assistant Managing Editor Debbie Skipper, who worked not only with our staff, but with freelancers as well, in producing our series, ‘Hard Look at Hard Time,’ and to oversee our coverage of the corruption indictments of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps and others,” he said.

Ryann Greenberg was the recipient of PCI’s 2015 award for exceptional activism against the privatization of correctional services. Ryann was the driving force behind opposition to a privately-operated immigration detention facility that CCA planned to build just outside Pembroke Pines, Florida. Despite the project being a “done deal,” she rallied support and worked with other activists, and was ultimately successful in defeating it in 2012. [See: PLN, Aug. 2012, p.18].

“The for-profit prison model doesn’t fit into a future for our nation that I would want to be a part of. I had no choice but to step up and get involved,” Ryann said. “I am so happy to see over the last several years the national discussion is being changed and people are recognizing that over-incarceration is not a healthy scenario in this country. Not only is it fiscally irresponsible but it’s not a humane solution.

“From the start of our prison fight we heard the same mantra. It’s a done deal, It’s a done deal. I will never look at the words ‘It’s a done deal’ the same way again,” she continued. “It will forever be a call to action to rise to the occasion. My hope is that people do not accept defeat as an option, but rather spur into action to get involved in their community. The work that other activists and groups are doing is really making a difference on this issue and I’m just happy to be another voice calling out for the end of for-profit prisons.”

Finally, PCI’s 2015 award for outstanding advocacy against the privatization of correctional services went to In the Public Interest (ITPI), a research and policy organization that “promotes the common good and democratic control of public goods and services.” ITPI has consistently opposed for-profit prisons, and in 2013 issued a report titled “Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and ‘Low-Crime Taxes’ Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations.”

“I’m proud that our work has received recognition from the Private Corrections Institute,” said ITPI Executive Director Donald Cohen. “We have big plans for 2016, and this award will inspire our work to oppose privatization in the criminal justice system. Every year, the private corrections industry collects hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from taxpayers. And too often the industry cuts corners to make that profit, which hurts incarcerated people, correctional officers and taxpayers. Opposing privatization in our criminal justice system is a necessary step towards righting the wrongs of the mass incarceration era.”

 The Private Corrections Institute’s third annual awards were presented by PCI president (and PLN managing editor) Alex Friedmann, who served ten years behind bars in the 1990s, including six years at a CCA-operated prison, prior to his release in 1999.

“Incarcerating people for the purpose of generating corporate profit is both unacceptable and immoral,” he stated. “We salute those advocates and activists who continue to address this important social issue, and reporters who expose shortcomings and corruption in the private prison industry. We will only see change when the public and policymakers demand change – and PCI’s annual awards seek to raise public awareness about for-profit prisons.”

Source: PCI press release (March 1, 2016)

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