Lobbying and Influence

Big Stories of 2011 - #3 - ALEC and Private Prison Lobbying Exposed

Over the next several days, Texas Prison Bid'ness will be highlighting the top five private prison stories of 2011, and looking forward to the new year.   Our #3 story is the increased exposure of the American Legislative Exchange Council and the role of private prison lobbyists in influencing legislation.

Earlier this year, The Nation and The Center for Media and Democracy released ALEC Exposed.  ALEC Exposed brought to light the actions of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that unites corporations with state legislators to “discuss” public policy and draft model legislation.  One of the most concerning areas of this public/private partnership is in the realm of criminal justice and prisons.  In fact, criminal injustice may be a more appropriate phrase.  Thanks to ALEC, the for-profit prison industry has a lot to be thankful for during this holiday season.

As The Nation reported, “ALEC helped pioneer some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books today, like mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders, ‘three strikes’ laws, and ‘truth in sentencing’ laws.”  According to the proponents, these laws are designed to reduce crime.  In reality, as California saw first hand, instead of reducing recidivism these laws lead to severe overcrowding.  In the end, public safety is undermined (at the expense of taxpayers) while the for-profit prison industry makes out like a bandit.  Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company, played a lead role on the ALEC task force developing some of this legislation.  NPR reported last year that through its membership in ALEC, CCA was actually able to help draft model anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona's noxious SB 1070.   

Unfortunately, the negative influence of the for-profit prison industry is not limited to ALEC.  As the ACLU reported, CCA and The Geo Group, Inc. have engaged in a multi-state lobbying effort to fight smart on crime reforms.  These two corporations hired 271 lobbyists in over 32 states between 2003-2011.  Between 1999 and 2009, CCA alone spent over $18 million on lobbying, just at the federal level.  To understand their need for this army of lobbyists you do not need to read any further than Geo’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings (CCA’s is similar):

“Our growth depends on our ability to secure contracts to develop and manage new correctional, detention and mental health facilities, the demand for which is outside our control …. [A]ny changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.”

 The U.S. has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, and the private prison industry clearly wants to make sure it stays that way. While taxpayer and civil rights advocates have been working to reform archaic and ineffective criminal justice laws, working to ensure that our laws reflect current research on effective ways to reduce crime and protect human rights, for-profit prison corporations are headed in the opposite direction.  To these corporations, societal impact and public safety don’t matter.  The only thing that is relevant is maximizing the bottom line.

CCA Holds 2011 Third Quarter Conference Call -- Reports Excess Bed Capacity

The Corrections Corporation of America held its third quarter invCCA LogoCCA Logoestor call in early November.  The company reported an increase in revenue primarily due to an increase in federal contracts with various agencies.

"revenue for the third quarter of 2011 increased 1.9% to $433.5 million from $425.3 million during the third quarter of 2010, primarily driven by a 2.3% increase in average daily inmate populations... The increase in federal revenue primarily resulted from per diem increases associated with certain management contracts, higher populations primarily from the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) as well as the commencement in October 2010 of a new contract with the USMS at [the] Nevada Southern Detention Center. These increases were partially offset by the September 30, 2010 expiration of the contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at [the] California City facility, which contained a 95% guarantee through the expiration date."

The company is adding capacity to it’s overall system -- none in Texas -- at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution (Ohio), Jenkins Correctional Center (Georgia), and is expanding capacity under its McRae Correctional Facility (Georgia) with the BOP.  The prison profiteers reported an increase in  daily compensated population by 2.3% to 80,851 in the third quarter of 2011 from 79,053 during the same time last year. 

Despite expanded contracts and new capacity, company officials reported an excess inventory of 10,500 beds.  The excess capacity has the private prison profiteers looking for new contracts.  One potential customer is Harris County (Houston) where there are have been discussions about privatizing the jail system.  While we know there are better approaches that county officials can look too, it’s important to keep an eye on CCA and any negotiations that company is engaging in the bayou city.  Something to pay attention to in 2012. 

 

Human Rights and Private Prisons - They Don't Mix

Today is International Human Rights Day.  A day when people from across the world come together to reaffirm the basic rights that all people are entitled to, regardless of “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”  On December 10, 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.  The United States played a key role in securing the adoption of the UDHR.  The UDHR has since become the foundation of the modern UN human rights system, or in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “the international Magna Carta.” 

 

While December 10th is a day for celebration, a day where we look back on the progress we have made, it is also a day for action, a day to speak out against the injustices and depravations of basic human dignity that still occur on a daily basis.  In Texas, we need not look far to see that our state and our nation have too often failed to uphold these basic rights.  The numerous immigration detention facilities in Texas provide a clear case in point. 

 

As frequent Texas Prison Bid’ness readers no doubt know, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) locks up approximately 400,000 each year at a cost of $1.9 billion.  To accomplish this horrendous feat, ICE contracts many of these detainees out to the for profit private prison industry, including to a number of private facilities in Texas.  The result: a massive transfer of public funds to private corporations that wastes scarce tax dollars and results in the depravation of basic human rights.  Just last week, ICE transferred immigrant women out of the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco, a private jail operated by Community Education Centers, a for-profit private prison corporation after reports from inside the facility alleged a lack of access to medical care, including for pregnant women; spoiled food; no contact visits; and virtually non-existent access to attorneys.  Allegations such as these do not signal the existence of a few bad apples, rather they clarify the structural flaw in the private prison model: the legal obligation to both ensure basic human dignity and maximize shareholder profit.  These obligations are mutually exclusive.    

 

Want to do something to stop this abuse?  Join the Waco Dream Act Alliance, Hope Fellowship Church, Texans United for Families, Grassroots Leadership, and those affected by the immigrant detention system at a vigil in Waco for detained immigrants on International Human Rights Day (Saturday, 12/10).  The vigil will begin at 2pm at Heritage Park at Third and Austin and will highlight the more than 10,000 immigrant detention beds (and the humans suffering in them) in Texas.

TX Prison Capacity Continues to Grow. Private Contract Authority Remains Strong.

Earlier this week, Mike Ward with the Austin American Statesman reported that state prison capacity had grown in recent years despite reforms.  The reporting emphasizes that continued prison growth is a policy choice that results in Texas being one of the world's biggest jailers. 

Earlier this year, Texas closed it's first state run prison but added capacity in other facilities.  Reports left open the option open for contracts with private companies.

"Instead of closing the other two prisons, Madden said budget writers agreed to leave them open and to set aside about $15 million for prison officials to lease additional beds if needed over the next two years." (Mike Ward, "Budget writers agree to shut old prison" Statesman, May 17, 2011)

The problem with the framework of Texas prison reform is that it is focused on back-end in measures including persons under community supervision who revocate to prison.  While that initial approach has helped shift the dialogue in Texas -- it does not go far enough.  Lawmakers have not paid enough attention to what triggers a prison sentence and the length of time persons spend incarcerated. 

Texas policy makers and advocates, should rethink efforts to address the state's mass incarceration problem.  The only true way to continue to address costs and, more importantly, change the state's criminal justice system is to minimize demand for a large supply of prison beds and permanently close them down.

 

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