Community Corrections refers to the supervision and surveillance systems enforced by the criminal justice system on people outside of incarceration facilities, mainly prisons and jails. These supervision systems serve as alternatives to incarceration or facilitate the reentry of formerly incarcerated people back into their communities. Community Corrections include probation, electronic monitoring, day reporting centers, court-ordered treatment programs, and reentry services, such as parole supervision, halfway houses, and transition programs.
The community corrections industry is a substantial segment of the criminal justice system. About two-thirds of people entangled in the criminal justice system are in the community, not behind bars. Of the total 6.8 million adults under U.S. punishment systems, 4.5 million are supervised outside of incarceration facilities, including under probation and parole. While these individuals may no longer be physically behind bars, they continue to be subjected to a system of “mass supervision.” The privatization of these services to for-profit corporations has contributed to an emerging “Treatment Industrial Complex.”
The main companies involved in this sector are:
Acadia Healthcare, of Franklin, TN (NASDAQ: ACHC), through its subsidiary Aspen Education Group
CoreCivic, Inc., of Nashville, TN (NYSE: CXW), through its subsidiary Correctional Alternatives
G4S plc, of Brawley, U.K. (LON: GFS)
Providence Services Corp, of Stamford, CT (NASDAQ: PRSC)
SuperCom, of Herzliya, Israel (NASDAQ: SPCB)
The GEO Group, Inc., of Boca Raton, FL (NYSE: GEO)
ComCor, Inc., of Colorado Springs, CO (Nonprofit)
Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC), of West Caldwell, NJ (Private)
Judicial Correction Services of Cumming, GA (Private)
Sentinel Offender Services, of Irvine, CA (Private)
This section does not include two industries usually considered part of community corrections - the bail bonds industry and the industry of tracking and monitoring technologies. We chose to separate them out in order to provide more focused and detailed information about them.
The Treatment Industrial Complex
Private prison corporations profit from, and at times, contribute to tough-on-crime and anti-immigrant policies that drive prison expansion. This confluence of special interests and profit-driven policies is often referred to as the Prison Industrial Complex. Due to the surging costs of mass incarceration, prison overcrowding, and calls for sentencing reform, some states have reduced their prison populations so significantly that they have closed some of their prisons. This has spurred greater demand for reentry services.
To take advantage of these emerging markets, for-profit prison corporations such as GEO Group and CoreCivic had to adapt. Both companies have diversified their business beyond owning and operating private prisons to providing community corrections services. In ten years, from 2005 to 2015, these two companies have collectively spent more than $680 million acquiring smaller companies that offer “alternatives to incarceration” such as electronic monitoring, reentry services, and community corrections. When the Department of Justice announced in August 2016 that it would phase out its use of private prisons for some federal incarcerated individuals, the market value of CoreCivic and GEO Group shares plummeted. In 2016, CoreCivic rebranded itself by changing its name from Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
While the prison industrial complex relies on incarceration or detention inside prisons, jails, and other “correctional” institutions, an emerging “Treatment Industrial Complex” allows the same corporations to profit from providing treatment-oriented programs and services. Sentencing reform efforts are often geared towards returning formerly incarcerated individuals to their communities as quickly as possible. However, private corporations are increasingly capitalizing on state-driven efforts for “alternatives to incarceration,” which often entail moving prison populations into reentry homes and rehabilitation programs that are becoming privatized. These private prison corporations are financially incentivized to practice “net widening” - placing more people under stricter forms of supervision than is necessary for longer than is warranted. This Treatment Industrial Complex works to keep people in custody or under increased levels of supervision and surveillance for increasing lengths of time - in some cases, for the rest of a person’s life.
GEO Group is the largest provider of community correction services. In 2017, over 22 percent of GEO’s revenue came from its GEO Care segment, which includes electronic monitoring, supervision, and reentry services. Since 2005, GEO Group has made efforts to diversify its business portfolio by acquiring companies that run correctional and detention facilities and produce monitoring products, such as Soberlink and BI Incorporated, and Community Education Centers.
CoreCivic has become a major community correction provider by acquiring Correctional Alternatives, Inc. (CAI) in 2013 when it was known as Corrections Corporation of America. In doing so, CoreCivic took over CAI’s existing contracts providing work furloughs, residential reentry programs, and home confinement for the federal Bureau of Prisons, the federal Pretrial Services and Probation, and San Diego County. Between 2015 and 2016, CoreCivic acquired businesses within the sector, including Avalon Correctional Services, Inc., Correctional Management, Inc., and four community correctional facilities from Community Education Centers. In September 2017, CoreCivic acquired community corrections facilities in Georgia, North Carolina, and Colorado.
Because of their profit motive, privatized reentry services have a vested interest in servicing greater numbers of formerly incarcerated people and for longer periods of time. Moreover, the reach of private prisons now extends to post-incarceration and influences the terms by which previously incarcerated people reintegrate into society. According to a USA Today article, “By diversifying into community corrections, the same multibillion-dollar industry that enabled the country’s addiction to incarceration could dramatically shape how we recover from that addiction.” Efforts by for-profit prison companies to absorb community corrections pose major threats to the movement to end mass incarceration. The concern is that these companies, which spend millions of dollars lobbying public officials and influencing prison policy, are prioritizing profits over the actual well-being of formerly incarcerated people.
Probation refers to a court-ordered period of supervision for adults after their release from prison to their community. People on probation are required to adhere to specific rules of conduct and to fulfill certain conditions of their supervision, such as payment of court fees or participation in treatment programs. In the 1990s, states such as Georgia began outsourcing misdemeanor probation to private companies as a way to lower taxpayer costs. What constitutes a misdemeanor varied by state, but it may include minor crimes, such as shoplifting, petty theft, and public drunkenness, in addition to speeding tickets and traffic violations.
State and local governments are incentivized to contract with private probation companies because the companies offer these services at no cost to the government. Instead, the companies charge the probationer for the costs of supervision, drug testing, and other services. This is in contrast to the traditional use of probation as an alternative sanction for minor felonies, which is overseen by a county probation department. As misdemeanor probation becomes increasingly privatized, the burden of costs shifts from the state to formerly incarcerated individuals. While this “offender-funded” probation system gives people more time to pay off tickets and avoid jail time, it also enables private companies to charge probationers excessive fees.
This “offender-funded” model of privatized probation is exploitative. According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, if a person is given a traffic ticket or other citation but cannot pay the fine immediately, they are placed on “probation.” The longer it takes probationers to pay off their debts, the longer they remain on probation and the more fees they accrue. Those least able to afford to pay carry the greatest financial burden. Civil rights advocates have criticized this practice for preying on the poor and ushering in a new era of debtor’s prisons.
Another problem with the profit motive of private probation companies stems from the way courts rely on them to determine whether a person is complying with the terms of their probation. As NPR reported, a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision held that before sending a person to jail, “a judge must first consider whether the defendant has the ability to pay but ‘willfully’ refuses.” With no set guidelines for what constitutes “willfully,” judges defer the assessment to probation officers’ recommendations. However, there is a conflict of interest when the probation officer is working for a private company, which would receive payment from the state if the person is sent to its treatment system. HRW and other advocacy organizations have argued that the courts’ practice of deferring to probation officers creates a financial incentive for the companies to prolong probation time in order to maximize profits.
For-profit probation practices in the State of Georgia demonstrate the growing role of private probation companies. Georgia has the largest probation population in the U.S., with one in nearly sixteen adults on probation - four times the national average. This is in part due to the state classification of all infractions, including traffic tickets, as misdemeanors that can warrant fines of up to $1,000 and one year in jail. According to HRW estimates, as of 2014, probation companies in Georgia alone take in at least $40 million in fees from the people under their probation. According to a report by the California Reinvestment Coalition, many California courts contract out debt collection to companies for court-ordered payments, including probation fees. Private debt collectors often use extortionist practices and deceptive tactics to collect payments and report unpaid debt to credit agencies.
The three largest and most widespread private probation companies in the U.S. are Judicial Correction Services, Sentinel Offender Services, and the publicly traded Providence Services. In the State of Georgia, the largest private probation company is CSRA Probation Services, a privately-owned Georgia based company that is unaffiliated with the information technology company CSRA Probation Services that is now part of military company General Dynamics. CSRA Probation Services has grown substantially in recent years, with the growing population of Georgia’s population of probationers. As of April 2018, the company has state court contracts in about one-third of Georgia’s counties.
Privatized Reentry Services
Since the 2008 Great Recession, there has been a push for sentencing reforms aimed at cutting costs by reducing prison populations across the U.S. This has placed renewed emphasis on the importance of residential reentry programs, more commonly known as halfway houses, and monitoring centers, or day reporting centers. As more incarcerated individuals are released from prison, the private prison industry is looking to meet the growing demand for post-release housing and reentry facilities.
Since 2016, CoreCivic branched into providing reentry and monitoring services as part of its growth strategy. A corporate policy statement issued in November 2017 called for increased funding for “residential reentry” programs, after the company has invested over $270 million in acquiring residential reentry facilities. By 2017, GEO Group doubled its annual expenditure on the “GEO Continuum of Care” platform which includes reentry and rehabilitation services. As of 2017, GEO Care has 16 state clients and over 175,000 individuals under its community supervision services. In 2017, the GEO Group’s reentry program partnered with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to open a day reporting center in downtown Richmond, California. As of 2018, GEO, globally, manages or owns 141 correctional and detention facilities and provides “community supervision services” to more than 192,000 formerly incarcerated individuals or pretrial defendants.