As the Occupy Wall Street movement gains steam in several Texas cities (in Austin, Houston, McAllen, for instance), I thought we'd highlight the banking sector's role in the private prison industry. To start, here is a terrific video from Cuentame about the role of Wells Fargo in the private prison industry:
Texans should not be surprised by this recent article in Mother Jones (Tim Murphy, "Flush With Prison Industry Dollars, Rick Perry Pushed Privatized Prisoner Care," September 1) that explores the governor's relationship to the private prison industry. The article delves into recent developments that happened during the last Texas legislative session, specifically moves by Governor Perry to privatize the prison health care system.
"Perry's rush to privatize prison health care is consistent with the approach he's taken throughout most of his ten years as governor: slashing public services under the guise of austerity, and then contracting those services out to the well-connected businesses that have made his rise possible. As he put it during his re-election campaign in 2010, as the private prisons industry filled his war chest with donations, "Texas is open for business." To his critics, those words have never rang truer."
According to Mother Jones several prison privatization bills failed to move forward and policy changes that would have empowered the governor's office with new authority. One effort would have transferred the authority for the state’s prison health care board to Perry by giving him the power to appoint the majority of the committee members.
The article also touches upon the limits in authority for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. According to our pal at Grits for Breakfast, before 2003 TCJS had statutory oversight over five private prisons that housed only federal or immigration detainees through intergovernmental agreements with counties. The Mother Jones article quotes Texas criminal justice advocate who states:
"One of the things that the commission has always wanted is to have control over the private prisons," says Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which monitors prison reform in the Lone Star State. "Obviously [the Governor’s office] didn’t like that so this session they tried to dilute the power of the commission by merging it with two other entities."
The article provides quite a read. Here's hoping that Perry's presidential aspirations will continue to bring the relationship between the governor's office and private prison companies to light.
I was recently alerted to the ALEC Exposed Wiki which is an amazing resource for all things about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) including materials that were restricted to non members for years. We have recently reported on ALEC's connections in Texas.
Folks have been suspecting for a long time now that ALEC's influence has a correlation to expanding prison privatization. Part of the organization's mission is to:
advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty, through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America's state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government, and general public.
The wiki makes model legislation available and provides a forum for it's audience to review and post comments. Legislation includes this model bill relating (PDF) to authorizing state prison agencies to contract out incarceration and other related services. Take a look and join the discussion. This is an exciting development in the effort to make the lawmaking process more transparent as it relates to prison privatization.
The Justice Policy Institue released a report earlier this week entitled Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies that highlights the politics for profit prison compannies use to maximize their bottom line.
The report features our Bob Libal who is quoted as saying,
“In the South and Southwest, the private prison industry has consistently targeted poor communities,” said Bob Libal the Texas Campaigns Coordinator for Grassroots Leadership. “We believe that it’s important to fight, particularly in these communities, to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention, and ultimately build lasting movements for social justice. This important report helps shed light onto this particularly troubling industry.”
You can download the report here.