Report Highlights Houston's Pioneering Role in America's Mass Incarceration
It's one of America's worst-kept secrets. In a nation that purports to be the freest in the world -- save for when it comes to, say, gay marriage or drug usage -- the United States also boasts far and away the highest incarceration of not simply any developed nation, but of any country in the entire world. The nation that boasts millions who can take Ted Nugent seriously when he shrieks that "Freedom Isn't Free!" is the same that has the most inmates, both empirically and per capita. (The ironies aren't worth detailing, and would likely be lost.)
Across America, and with some of the first coming in Houston
Like FISA kangaroo courts and NSA overreach before it, America's foray into mass incarceration is a relatively recent turn. And a new report hopes to shine a bit of light on the prison archipelago that spans the nation -- and that got its start in Houston, a city named for, of all things, a man who chased freedom to the point of revolution and beyond.
Grassroots Leadership, which released the study Thursday, bills itself as "a multiracial team of organizers who help Southern and Southwest community, labor, faith, and campus organizations think critically, work strategically and take direct action to end social and economic oppression, gain power, and achieve justice and equity." Those on the conference call preceding the report's release reflected the forces pushing the study, with representatives from Human Rights Defense Center, NAACP, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lending their support to the report's findings.
While many are aware of America's continual penchant for mass incarceration, few are aware of the parallel rise in private imprisonment. Fewer yet are aware that the Corrections Corporation of America, the oldest and largest for-profit prison system in the States, set its first roots in Houston in 1983.
As the study -- entitled "The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About 30 Years of Corrections Corporation of America" -- notes:
Despite little experience or references, in November of 1983 the company landed its first contract to operate an immigrant detention center in Houston under contract with the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).
According to a video interview on CCA's Web site, a chuckling [T. Don] Hutto describes hurriedly locating, leasing, and providing staffing for the first facility which was the converted Olympic Motel in Houston. He describes hiring the former hotel owner's family as staff members and fingerprinting the undocumented prisoners himself. From these auspicious beginnings rose the multi-billion dollar private prison industry.
Since CCA, now based out of Nashville, first settled into Houston in 1983, the rate of those incarcerated has risen 500 percent. Moreover, those held in immigration detention -- an issue that, according to a recent poll, trumps all others for people in Texas -- has jumped from merely 131 in 1983 to 32,000 in 2013. Profits at CCA, which operates in 19 states and the District of Columbia, now run more than $1.7 billion annually.