CCA Does PR 

Beleaguered company puts on a happy face

Beleaguered company puts on a happy face

Beaten down by severe legislative scrutiny, and drubbed in the local and national media with scathing accounts of escapes from their prisons, Nashville-based prison company Corrections Corporation of America is trying to clean up its image.

Starting this week, the company has launched an advertising campaign in Tennessee to cast itself as friendlier and more community-oriented.

“The faces of CCA,” intones the narrator in one television commercial being piloted in Tennessee’s major markets. Meanwhile, the viewer is presented with a sequence of CCA employees dressed in heavily-armed riot gear and other official dress. “CCA. Quietly going about the business of public safety,” the narrator concludes.

Ads, of course, can only do so much to help a company. And at CCA, the problems are considerable. It’s not only that the company has been plagued by a series of well-publicized escapes and violent incidents—including a murder—at its prisons in Tennessee and Ohio. But it was also the recent loser in the high-stakes political debate about whether to privatize Tennessee’s prisons.

Gov. Don Sundquist—the recipient of major campaign contributions from top CCA officials—and many legislative leaders supported turning over prison operations to a private management company. But the notion was so controversial within the ranks of the Legislature that Sundquist announced he was backing off the idea in the coming legislative session, conceding privatization does not yet have enough support for passage.

Lest one think that wasn’t enough, the company saw its problems multiply on election day two weeks ago. Top CCA officer Doctor Crants contributed $40,000 to the Tennessee Republican Party, which launched television advertising assaults against Democratic state Sens. Bob Rochelle and Pete Springer. Both won their legislative contests. Both can be expected to try to exact some revenge on the company.

Asked whether the company’s feel-good advertising strategy was a defensive reaction, a spokesperson said that wasn’t the case. The ads, the spokesperson said, were running because research polls showed taxpayers aren’t very familiar with prison privatization. After some time on the air, CCA plans to do the same research polling again to see if public perception changes. If so, the company says, the ads will be launched in other states as well.

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