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Private Prison CEO Heads Search for United Way Leader

Until recently, Damon Hininger, president and CEO of CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), served as chairman of the Board of Trustees for the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville (UWMN). CoreCivic is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

After UWMN CEO Eric Dewey, 54, died unexpectedly on March 31, 2017, the organization embarked on a search for a replacement leader. According to a news report, the national search for a CEO was headed by Alberto R. Gonzales, the dean at Belmont University’s College of Law, and Hininger.

Gonzalez is best known as having served as U.S. Attorney General under the George W. Bush administration, where he condoned “enhanced interrogation techniques” – widely criticized as constituting torture – for terrorism suspects.

On October 3, 2017, PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann sent an email regarding the new CEO search to several UWMN officials, including interim CEO Mary Jo Wiggins, board chairman Mike Schatzlein with Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, and vice board chair Jim Schmitz with Regions Bank.

Friedmann noted that Damon Hininger headed the nation’s largest private prison company, and that “CoreCivic is in the business of incarcerating people for the purpose of generating corporate profit.” He added, “The vast majority of prisoners were poor prior to their incarceration.... Further, research has shown that private prisons house a disproportionately greater number of minority prisoners.

“These demographics – the poor and minorities – also tend to be the population served by the United Way. Thus, considering that Mr. Hininger is the CEO of a company which directly profits from the incarceration of people who are mostly poor and disproportionately minorities, does the UWMN see any conflict or impropriety in having Mr. Hininger serve on a CEO search committee for the United Way, whose clients are mainly the poor and minorities?”

No response from the UWMN was received, and Hininger did not comment. The United Way of Metropolitan Nashville hired Brian Hassett, who previously headed the United Way chapter in Albany, New York, as its new CEO in November 2017.

The UWMN stated in a press release that selecting Hassett “matches the nonprofit’s mission to partner with the community through three entry points of engagement – volunteer, advocate and give.”

No explanation was provided as to how that mission was furthered by a CEO search team headed by a former U.S. Attorney General who condoned torture and the head of a for-profit prison company.

Hininger also serves as president of the board for the Middle Tennessee Council of Boy Scouts of America. 

Sources: The Tennessean, email sent to UWMN


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