by David M. Reutter
Nashville’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) has removed for-profit prison company CoreCivic from its membership rolls. The October 8, 2019 decision to return the company’s membership fee came after a vocal outcry from the local LGBT community.
“The voices at our meeting last night were very clear. Their membership was too much for many in our LGBT community,” the Chamber said in a statement. “We heard those concerns and last night our board voted to remove CoreCivic as a member and return their $300 membership fee.”
Speakers at the meeting pointed to the private prison company’s dismal record of poor conditions and abuse inside its facilities, as well as its involvement in detaining immigrants on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
PLN has reported on those conditions for years, and has covered numerous reports, audits, incidents and lawsuits involving CoreCivic facilities, often tied to the company’s business model of cutting costs in order to generate profit.
In the current political environment, CoreCivic sees opportunity to grow its business model. The Trump administration’s stance on undocumented immigrants is viewed by the company as a great opportunity. In June 2018, CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger told investors that “this is probably the most robust kind of sales environment we’ve seen in probably 10 years.”
An editorial published by Out and About Nashville asked, “Sales environment? How can he describe the practice of mass incarceration and the model of being paid to hold prisoners whose labor you leverage for profit as if it were a business like other businesses?”
The answer lies in marketing and labeling.
CoreCivic describes itself as a “diversified government solutions company.” However, as PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann said about the firm’s Chamber membership, CoreCivic “is engaged in reputation laundering, whereby it joins, donates to or sponsors non-profits to burnish its tarnished image.”
He added in an October 4, 2019 letter to the Chamber, “When organizations like the Nashville Chamber accept private prison money – which is generated from locking people up, including gay, lesbian and transgender people – they are essentially selling the legitimacy and respectability that CoreCivic is buying, and are consequently complicit in the private prison industry themselves.”
Friedmann also cited a number of documented incidents involving LGBT prisoners held in CoreCivic facilities, including inadequate medical care, sexual abuse, assaults and harassment by staff members.
The Chamber said in an email to its members that it “did not imply a tacit endorsement on how [CoreCivic] handles all LGBT issues or condone all of their business practices.” While it revoked the company’s membership, the Chamber said it plans to work with CoreCivic by being an advocate for its LGBT employees and “how to support the needs of our community.”
Sources: nashvillescene.com, outandaboutnashville.com
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