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.
Hat tip to the Private Corrections Working Group who first alerted me to this story. In a story reminiscent to that of Stacia Hylton - the former US Marshals contracting officer turned GEO Group lobbyist turned US Marshals director - immediate past Bureau of Prisons (BOP) director Harley Lappin has been hired by Corrections Corporation of America as an executive vice president and "chief corrections officer."
Lappin retired just last month from the BOP after it was revealed that he had been arrested for drunken and reckless driving. PCWG sums up the problem with the private prison revolving door in their press release:
"Former BOP director Lappin’s decision to join CCA represents a continuing trend under the Obama administration of former senior federal employees taking jobs in an industry closely related to their government service. By hiring high-level former federal officials, companies can capitalize on their insider knowledge of government operations, contract requirements and other information that gives them an advantage when dealing with federal agencies.
This is particularly problematic in terms of prison operations, when companies such as CCA lobby heavily (spending approximately $1 million on the federal level alone) to influence legislation and obtain lucrative contracts to house federal prisoners in for-profit prisons."
In fact, recent data released by the Detention Watch Network found that CCA has spent more than $18 million over the last 10 years lobbying the federal government alone, including directly lobbying the Bureau of Prisons.
And, that lobbying pays off. Here in Texas, CCA operates the 1,500 bed Eden Correctional Center for the BOP, and the company has won major contracts from the BOP in recent years. With a current round of BOP contracts being decided at the BOP, it will be interesting to see how much influence Mr. Lappin's recent employment gives CCA in Washington.
Following up on the state's continuing contract with the Dawson State Jail more details regarding the decisions of lawmakers to close state prisons is coming to light. Mike Ward at the Austin American Statesman reported earlier this week that:
Senate and House budget negotiators have agreed to close the 102-year-old Central Unit near Sugar Land to save $50 million, the first such closure of an entire maximum-security lockup in state history.
Our pal Scot Henson at Grits for Breakfast found news in the recent events to be disapointing:
Savings from prison closures should go to diversion programming, not private prisons. The goal should be to reduce incarceration levels, not to plan for failure.
The reality is that lawmakers do have different choices and even setting asside $15 million of limited state funding because of the anticipated need of private prison beds. State lawmakers have achieved some policy reform that has resulted in lowering the state's incarceration rate, reducing recidivism while not compromising public safety. And in some respect that spirit of reform has contributed to not only a culture change in Texas but nationally.
Yet the anticipation of lowered expectations continues to plague the Texas Legislature and results in a lack of investment in communities and people. This is disappointing. The questions as we move forward is will there ever be a moment when Texas lawmakers who commit to finding alternatives to incarceration also plan for the day when they might not need so many prison beds. Rather they make the choice to prioritize state resources on in ways that strengthen opportunity for all Texans.