Lobbying and Influence

CNBC Special on "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prisons" explores Prison Privatization

Last night, CNBC aired "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prisons,".  The special focused on the profit motive involved in various aspects of the corrections industry including prison privatization.  Specifically, the CNBC show explored the relationship between the private sector and government and raised issues on whether private prison contracts are good public policy.

CNBC's website features two articles from Dave Shapiro with the ACLU's National Prison Project and Leonard Gilroy with the Reason Foundation write opposing views on prison privatization. 

Shapiro's piece, For-Profit Prisons: A Barrier to Serious Criminal Justice Reform.  In the article Shapiro charts the growth of the private prison population nationally,

As incarceration rates skyrocket, the private prison industry expands at exponential rates. The number of inmates in private prisons increased by roughly 1600 percent between 1990 and 2009. In 2010, the two largest private prison companies alone took in nearly $3 billion in revenue, and their top executives each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million.

Gilroy's article, Embrace Competition to Lower Costs, Improve Performance in Prisons, continues to support the use of private prisons and cites Texas as an example:

research by the Texas Legislative Budget Board found that, since 2003, the average cost of housing inmates in private prisons has been 3 percent to 15 percent lower than in comparable state-run prisons.

Yet we know that other researchers have concluded that the savings achieved from private prisons are not as significant as Gilroy claims.  A 2001 study by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) found that “rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only 1 percent” and “the promises of 20-
percent savings in operational costs have simply not materialized.” The study found that these modest savings “will not revolutionize modern correctional practices.”

The CNBC special is a good overview of different issues related to the money that drives the nation's corrections industry.  It airs again on October 21st at 8pm EDT and program highlights can be found here at the station's website. 

 

CCA hires Former BOP Director Harley Lappin

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) recently hired Harley Lappin who used to direct the Bureau of Prisons (BOP); the country’s largest prison agency.  The new hire emphasizes the sphere of influence that CCA can control by employing former government officials who strengthen the company's relationships with lawmakers and administrators.

Private prison companies like CCA look to the BOP as a client with continuing potential.   Unfortunately, it's a client that relies on incarceration and displacing people from their home communities.  We have reported before that with state fiscal crises one of the few prison systems expanding is the federal one.  The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other nation in the word.  During the last 30 years the federal prison population has exploded and now incarcerates over 210,000 people at a cost of $6 billion each year – an increase of 700% in population and 1700% in spending. 

Lappin's new CCA job will only open doors between the company and the BOP as the agency looks to address capacity issues.  Despite debates over the deficit, Congress is not as pressed to contain corrections costs as some states are.  As a result, there may be an opportunity to expand to CCA federal contracts with Lappin's role at the company.  Especially, as the FY 2012 appropriations process comes to a close.  Currently, the Senate has set aside funding for reentry programs and increased the BOP's budget by $300 million to support new prison construction over the next four years.  We will keep y'all posted.

 

Occupy Wall Street - The Private Prison Connections

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:

 

Mother Jones explores Perry's Connection to 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. 

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