Activists stop food giant
By Mark Harrison, TNC staff writer
response to demands made by activists on university campuses
catered by Sodexho Marriott Services, the food service giant
dumped its eight percent share in Corrections Corporation of
America in June. The Young Democratic Socialists, Prison Moratorium
Project, Not With Our Money and several other organizations and
students staged a series of shaming protests that received national
media attention. A 32-hour sit-in shut down the admissions office
at Ithaca College in New York; during the international Students
Day of Action in April demonstrations and protests erupted on
25 U.S. and Canadian campuses while solidarity actions were raging
overseas. Food boycotts, guerrilla theater and public forums
all had tremendous cumulative effect on the world's leading food
caterer, now divested from CCA and private prisons.
Abuse, escapes, suicides and murders have identified and plagued
the prisons operated by CCA. Company stock plunged 97 percent
from a high of $45 per share in 1998. That's why CCA Chief Executive
John Ferguson said he is looking for "other services our
industry can provide" and has "developed a good substance
abuse treatment program called Lifeline." The CEO is also
"looking at the aging population and the mental health field
as potential areas to expand."
CCA's competitors, including Wackenhut and Cornell, are building
and planning entire treatment prisons, mental health clinics,
psychiatric hospitals, schools for "juvenile delinquents"
and nursing facilities for the elderly and infirm. Maximizing
profit margins achieved by cost cutting and operating at full
and sometimes overcrowded capacities are the economic principles
these for-profit companies have followed.
The high turn-over rate among poorly-trained and underpaid staff
resulting in abuse in prisons operated by CCA are not endearing
qualities for a company seeking to capitalize on the health care
industry. Managing a professional medical staff for an effective
drug treatment center, a geriatric facility or a mental hospital
is different than operating a revolving-door employment agency
for guards with keys, clubs and stun guns.
From a public relations point of view, the image shift from a
company capitalizing on crime to one capitalizing on care and
treatment presents an improved corporate image and, believe investors,
will improve CCA's performance in the market. The public relations
battle was not won by Sodexho or CCA with their billions of dollars
and high-priced public relations firms; but by the students and
activists who caused a ruckus when their food dollars were spent
building prisons for profit.