Bedeviled this year by negative publicity on several fronts, Corrections Corp. of America late last week launched a public relations push to counter what it says are biased reports.
The Nashville-based company has been under the microscope since its general counsel, Gus Puryear, was nominated for the federal judgeship of the Tennessee Middle district in February.
At the same time, activists have stepped up their work against the company, seeking the company’s contracts and other papers under public-record laws.
CCA’s response includes an advertising campaign pointing people to a new Web site that promises an “unfiltered, full, 360-degree view of CCA.”
The company has bought advertising on NashvillePost.com and the Web site of its sister publication, The City Paper. The company also published an open letter in The City Paper’s Monday print edition.
The campaign, designed by local firm MMA Creative, accuses "a local daily paper" of ideological bias that CCA spokeswoman Louise Grant says has produced a media smear campaign.
“It’s completely baffling,” Grant said. “We definitely think there’s a bias that’s been there for years and years.”
Grant said the company was particularly stung by a recent Tennessean article that drew renewed attention to the unanswered questions surrounding the death of CCA inmate Estelle Richardson.
“There was no new news in it," she said. "It was a very editorialized article."
The article reiterated the details leading to Richardson’s death, featuring the comments of fellow inmate and friend Sharron Peterman, who called for the cold case to be solved.
The Web site, called The CCA 360, responded by dissecting the article line by line, linking to evidence Grant says the company believes has been withheld from public consumption.
She says accusations leveled against four prison guards were dropped because medical experts hired by both the prosecution and the defense found that Richardson sustained her injuries before the accused guards were in contact with her.
The site also claims The Tennessean printed allegations against CCA without publishing the company’s accompanying denials. Grant also said that the paper ignored the medical evidence and focused only on the negative side of the story.
“We have achieved excellence on American Correctional Association audits and our customers hold us in high regard,” Grant said. “That wasn’t a fair and balanced viewpoint.”
Grant also said Tennessean editors have told CCA representatives that they oppose private correctional facilities from an editorial standpoint.
Tennessean Editor Mark Silverman would only say that the paper stands by its article.
But Alex Friedmann, a prison reform activist and associate editor of Prison Legal News, dispute the Web site’s claim to a 360-degree view of the issue.
“They’re a corporation — their only responsibility is to their shareholders,” he said. “They’re interested in this incident because it causes problems with their stock price and shareholder confidence.”
Shares of CCA (Ticker: CXW) are down about 6 percent in 2008 and are up almost 10 percent from a year ago. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has dropped more than 11 percent since last summer.
Friedmann believes that, for the Web site to be considered balanced, it should have included a sheriff’s report excoriating CCA practices as well as an initial autopsy that conflicts with those conducted by the examiners during the trial.
Friedmann’s credibility is also questioned on the Web site, which points to his lack of academic expertise and refers to him as a “former inmate.”
Friedmann says everyone has an agenda and freely admits to his own.
“Obviously, I have a bias. I have been an inmate at a CCA prison,” he said. “But CCA, they’re a private, for-profit organization. They have a $1.45 billion bias.”