In late 2019, the three largest private prison operators joined forces to establish a new group to push pro-industry talking points to the press and on social media: the Day 1 Alliance. Why is the private prison industry going on the offensive to improve its public image and secure positive earned media?
In the wake of the family separation and detention crisis of summer 2018, a broad array of organizations joined forces under the banners of #FamiliesBelongTogether and #BackersOfHate. This coalition specifically called on Wall Street banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo to stop financing private prisons. For years, this financing has enabled the two biggest private prison companies, GEO Group and CoreCivic to expand their business, including building new facilities and securing additional lucrative government contracts.
As a result of coordinated organizing, petitions, shareholder pressure, and direct action, 2019 became a landmark year for the fight against the Wall Street banks financing private prisons. In 2019, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, SunTrust, BNP Paribas, Fifth Third Bancorp, Barclays, and PNC publicly announced that they would no longer provide any new financing to the private prison industry. Together, these eight banks represent an estimated $2.35 billion – or 87.4% – of the known lines of credit and term loans available to CoreCivic and GEO Group.
These announcements are enormous victories for the movement to end Wall Street’s financing of the private prison industry. Unfortunately, the growing public scrutiny on private prison companies, and the poor publicity they’ve received, has led them to turn to more aggressive measures to try and reframe the industry.
In their communications with investors, GEO Group and CoreCivic’s CEOs acknowledged the mounting financial, political, and social pressure they are now facing.
GEO Group’s March 2019 quarterly report acknowledged the impact of these shifts:
“Public resistance to the use of public-private partner- ships for correctional, detention and community-based facilities could result in our inability to obtain new contracts or the loss of existing contracts, impact our ability to obtain or refinance debt financing or enter into commercial arrangements, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.”
In their August 2019 Q2 investor call, CoreCivic’s CEO Damon Hininger criticized decisions to no longer finance his company:
“Despite many of the banks claims of conducting a thorough review process, they clearly bow down to a small group of activists protesting and conducting targeted social media campaigns pushing false information rather than engage in a constructive dialogue about the facts….”
In their recent 2019 Q4 investor call, CoreCivic indicated that it is still feeling the effects of the 2019 surge in banks ending their future financing relationships with the industry:
“As the market prices for our securities have been affected primarily by headlines from some of the industry’s banking partners as well as Washington politics, we have tempered our M&A pursuits and have no other M&A transactions in our guidance.”
Now these companies are going on the offensive with a new industry advocacy organization.
What Is the Day 1 Alliance?
The Day 1 Alliance (D1A) was announced in a press release distributed through the Associated Press wire service on October 25th, 2019. The founding members of the group are the top three private prison operators: GEO Group, CoreCivic, and Management and Training Corporation (MTC). D1A was clearly formed to rebut criticism of the private prison industry, but apart from the information contained in its press release, little has been reported about it and how it plans to operate. In November, CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger described the group to shareholders in general terms as a “trade association representing private sector contractors.”
According to its press release, the group plans to educate “Americans on the small but valued role the private sector plays in addressing corrections and detention challenges in the United States.” In November, just a month after announcing its formation, D1A sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr to address “misinformation on [their] role in corrections.” While the letter was sent officially by the Day 1 Alliance, it was signed by three key executives from the private prisons: Celeste McDonald, Vice President of Corporate Communications at MTC; Steve Owen, Managing Director of Communications at CoreCivic; and Pablo E. Paez, Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations at GEO Group.
If you navigate to the D1A website you will find a rundown of industry talking points, including that private operators are less costly to taxpayers, reduce recidivism, provide high quality inmate security, and offer higher quality services on the whole. These familiar talking points are trotted out whenever the industry model is called into question. Notably, the D1A website page that makes these assertions does not include any links to studies or other research that backs up their claims.
However, one key assertion stands out among these standard talking points: “Keeping Families Together.” Here D1A is echoing a point frequently asserted by the private prison companies to try and distance themselves from criticism about the Trump administration’s family separation policies: that they don’t run youth detention centers, only family detention centers.
D1A admits that its partner organizations have prisons for detained adult immigrants, and GEO Group and CoreCivic have facilities that specifically house mothers and children together. However, D1A does not address the fact that some of the adults in their prisons may have children detained elsewhere or that families may have more than a single parent, implicating them in family separation.