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GEO Group Meets at Trump’s Resort, Lobbying Appears to Pay Off With New Immigration Detention Contract

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On October 25, the Washington Post reported that private prison corporation GEO Group had moved its annual retreat to the 800-acre Trump National Doral golf resort. The company’s decision to host its retreat on a Trump property followed a year of increased lobbying and donations to the Trump campaign.

According to the Post, GEO Group’s spent $3 million last year in political lobbying and donations. “During last year’s election, a company subsidiary gave $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC. GEO gave an additional $250,000 to the president’s inaugural committee,” the article said. The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint earlier this year on the questionable legality of GEO Group donating to political campaigns as a government contractor.

The increase in lobbying and donation efforts has paid off for GEO Group: “In April, [GEO] won the Trump administration’s first immigration-detention contract, a 10-year deal first proposed during President Barack Obama’s term to build and run a 1,000-bed facility in Conroe, Tex.”

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement-contracted facility in Conroe will detain 1,000 more individuals in the same town as Joe Corley Detention Center with a well-documented history of rights abuses, including the recent story on pregnant survivors of sexual assault denied proper medical care. The new Conroe facility is expected to generate $44 million in profit for GEO Group annually.

While the Obama administration announced it would end contracts between the Federal Bureau of Prisons and private prison corporations, GEO Group faced losing its contracts with facilities like Big Spring complex in Texas. The Trump administration reversed this decision, leading to the renewal of the Big Spring contract “where GEO has said it expects about $664 million in combined revenue over a 10-year term.” The lobbying efforts of GEO Group have attracted criticism from press and watchdogs, such as Texans for Public Justice.

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Christian Broadcasting Network highlights problems with the for-profit prison model

Last month, the Christian Broadcasting 

Network published an article that covered serious concerns with the for-profit prison industry.  While the issues CBN raises are nothing new to regular Texas Prison Bid’ness readers, we are excited to see that the diversity of groups raising these concerns continues to grow.  Here’s an excerpt:

 

Critics complain that private prisons cut corners on salaries, guard training, inmate medical care, and facility maintenance to add to their bottom lines. "The model as a whole has not had a happy history," Dr. Fran Buntman, a criminologist at George Washington University, said.

 

In her opinion, for-profit companies should not be in the business of locking up criminals. 

 

"Ethically we need to deal with the fact that when we have chosen to put people in prison, we've taken away from their liberty rights to control their own lives," Buntman said. "We as a society and the government as the institution looking after them have a responsibility to their welfare," she continued. "We cannot subcontract out that responsibility to a private agency."

 

For critics of the industry, their fears materialized a few months ago when CCA proposed a $250 million deal to 48 states. The company would buy state prisons and manage them if the states would guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate.  [For TPB’s coverage of this offer click here.]

 

"What's more important? People or money?" John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, asked.  "I'm not saying corporations are evil, but corporations exist for one reason, to make money, maximum profit," he continued. "That's okay if you're making widgets or toothpaste, but when you're dealing with people and you're making money off of people -- you're starting to treat people like they're toothpaste and you're making money off of them and I think that's way we're headed.

 

"We're de-personalizing people in this country and I think that we're heading to a country where people are going to be treated like they're products," he said.

 

To make matters worse for the for-profit prison industry, this is not the first time this year that CBN affiliated individuals raised issues that could negatively impact the industry’s profits.  In March, CBN founder Pat Robertson came out in favor of legalizing marijuana.  How could this harm the for-profit prison industry?  Well, approximately 46% of drug prosecutions (858,408 in 2009) are for marijuana – and that adds up to a lot of prison beds!  And, the for-profit prison industry has lobbied for draconian drug laws that rely on incarceration rather than evidence-based solutions such as treatment programs.

 

How can the for-profit prison industry both maximize shareholder profit and ensure public safety, human rights, and fiscal responsibility?  As the industry’s actions indicate, the answer is – they can’t!  We hope that CBN continues to highlight this clear conflict of interest.

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Why o why o why o did CCA think it could make stuff up in Ohio

Corrections Corporation of America’s (CCA) letter offering to purchase state and local prisons/jails in return for a 20-year deal and 90% guaranteed occupancy rate (probably making the hotel lobby very jealous) continues to gather press.  Last week, an AP story (Corrections firm offers states cash for prisons, Greg Bluestein, Associated Press) about the facility was picked up by a number of newspapers around the country. 

 In defense of the deal, CCA continues to point to its “successful” purchase of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Ohio.  Did CCA think no one would check to verify this claim? Unfortunately for CCA, the ACLU of Ohio did.  Quoting Mark Twain, they wrote "’[t]here are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’ A recent letter sent out by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to 48 governors offering to buy state prisons included a little of each.”

 Here are some highlights from the ACLU of Ohio’s blog:

 · “While CCA claims it will save Ohioans $3 million per year, a recent report analyzing the state's contract shows that taxpayers will actually lose money over the next 20 years.  Of course, this is not earth-shattering news, as other fiscal analyses in Ohio and Arizona have produced similar results.”

· “CCA also leads readers to believe there was no drama behind the transition to private ownership, but the people of Conneaut may disagree.  As CCA took the reins of the Lake Erie facility, Conneaut city officials were informed that it would be the duty of local police officers to investigate crimes at the private prison.  Typically, the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) handles all investigations at state prisons, but private properties are under the jurisdiction of local police forces.  This could cost the city of Conneaut taxpayer dollars it just doesn't have.”

· “CCA also points out that 93 percent of the previous staff from the Lake Erie facility was retained in the ownership transfer — the implication being that governors shouldn't worry about privatization because most state corrections officers will be hired back.  What it does not explain is that Lake Erie has been a privately operated facility for over a decade.  … Certainly, if the facility had employed state corrections officers, many of those workers could not afford to continue working there.  It's no secret that private prisons pay employees far less than state workers and provide few benefits, leaving doubt that privatization of a state facility would be as ‘seamless’ as CCA describes in its letter.”

On the bright side, I imagine CCA’s management and shareholders made out quite well.  Stay tuned to Texas Prison Bid’ness for more on this story. 

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Broad Coalition Urges States to Reject CCA's Offer to Purchase State Prisons

Last week, a broad coalition, including the ACLU and The Sentencing Project, urged state governors to reject Corrections Corporation of America’s (CCA) offer to purchase state and local jails.  As Texas Prison Bid'ness noted in its coverage of CCA’s offer a few weeks ago, this is a horrible deal for Texas.  Here are some excerpts from a letter sent by a broad coalition of worker and human rights organizations: 

“We understand that Harley Lappin, Chief Corrections Officer at Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), recently sent a letter to nearly every state announcing the Corrections Investment Initiative – the corporation’s plan to spend up to $250 million buying prisons from state, local, and federal government entities, and then managing the facilities.  The undersigned coalition urges you to decline this dangerous and costly invitation.

The letter from Mr. Lappin states that CCA is only interested in buying prisons if the state selling the prison agrees to pay CCA to operate the prison for 20 years – at minimum.  Mr. Lappin further notes that any prison to be sold must have at least 1,000 beds, and that the state must agree to keep the prison at least 90% full.  In other words, CCA would be buying not only a physical structure but a guarantee that your state will fill a large prison and continuously pay the corporation taxpayer money to operate the institution for two decades.  While a prison sale might provide a short-term infusion of revenue, taxpayers in your state would be left paying for this short-term windfall until at least 2032.  In short, this proposal to sell a valuable state asset is a backdoor invitation for your state to take on additional debt, while increasing CCA’s profits.   

Moreover, the requirement to keep a large prison 90% full for twenty years would pose an obstacle to more serious criminal justice reform.  The United States imprisons far more people – both per capita and in absolute terms – than any other nation in the world, including Russia, China, and Iran.  Over the past four decades, imprisonment in the United States has increased explosively, spurred by criminal laws that impose steep sentences and curtail opportunities for probation and parole.  The current incarceration rate deprives record numbers of individuals of their liberty, disproportionately affects people of color, and has at best a minimal effect on public safety.  Meanwhile, the crippling cost of imprisoning increasing numbers of Americans saddles government budgets with rising debt and exacerbates the current fiscal crisis confronting states across the nation.  

As this sprawling and costly system of mass incarceration damages the nation as a whole, CCA reaps lucrative benefits.  As the corporation admits in SEC filings: ‘The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by … leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices … .’

… 

The selling off prisons to CCA would be a tragic mistake for your state.  Mr. Lappin’s proposal is an invitation to fiscal irresponsibility, prisoner abuse, and decreased public safety.  It should promptly be declined.”

The Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network sent a similar letter to governors last week as well, urging states not to hand over control of prisons to CCA. 

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Bad News From Liberty County

Last week we wrote about Liberty County’s battle to reign in its excessive county jail budget (A line in the sand in Liberty County).  Its solution makes sense – don’t lock up individuals accused of low-level, non-violent crimes.  The community would save millions of dollars as long as it stood up to the for-profit prison industry’s attempts to undercut the savings by raising the rate to house inmates. 

On Monday, according to The Cleveland Advocate ("County extends jail contract for another 60 days," 2/7/12), the county commissioners court voted to extend the for-profit jail contract for another 60 days.  County Judge Craig McNair said the 60 day extension will give the commissioners more time to gather information.  Liberty County Precinct 1 Commissioner Todd Fontenot agrees that it is time for the extensions to stop.  As the The Cleveland Advocate reported, “Fontenot said that he believes that the best decision would be to have the sheriff directly operate the county jail. … Fontenot reasoned that the private company marks up the cost of operations to generate a profit and that if the county took the facility over, they would not have to pay the increased cost but use it for the needed personnel.” 

Actively trying to undermine smart on crime reforms is nothing new to the for-profit prison industry.  Liberty County now has the opportunity to send a clear signal to the for-profit prisons industry – taxpayers care about the safety and well-being of their communities and have no interest in ensuring profit for the for-profit prison industry. 

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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.

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Time to Stop Drinking the Privatization Kool-Aid

In 1990, there were 7,771 prisoners held in private prison facilities in the US.  By 2009, that number had jumped to 129,336, a 1664 percent increase.  Along the way, private prisons became a multi-billion dollar industry.  This growth was fueled, in part, by the “pitch” that privatizing prisons would save tax dollars. 

As the ACLU documented in its new report, Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration, the private prison industry’s narrative is in need of serious revision.

Last spring, the myth of cost savings through prison privatization was shot down by the head of Texas prisons, Brad Livingston, who testified before the House Corrections Committee that non-salary operating costs of public and private facilities are almost identical (Texas House Committee on Corrections, 4/13/11, at 1:31:08).   The ACLU report also found that private prisons may fail to save tax payer money, and furthermore, in order to maximize profits, they are strongly incentivized to cut corners which can result in poorly trained employees, and affect the wellbeing of prisoners.

So, if private prisons aren’t cheaper, aren’t more efficient, and aren’t run in a better manner why do we have them?  A major reason, as the report documented, is that beginning in the 1990s the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that brings together state legislators and corporations to discuss public policy and draft model legislation, began to push legislation that would result in mass incarceration and promote private prisons.  Some of this legislation, such as “truth in sentencing” and “three strikes” laws may sound familiar. During this time, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the leading private prison company, played a lead role on the ALEC task force developing some of this legislation.  In addition to ALEC, the private prison industry employs an army of lobbyists throughout the country.  CCA and The GEO Group, Inc., the two largest private prison 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. 

Mass incarceration is the natural by-product of a powerful industry whose bottom line requires incarcerating as many people as possible, regardless of the impact. And, the private prison companies don’t try to hide their goals. For example, this is what GEO stated in its filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (The report shows that CCA had a similar statement in its SEC filing):

“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.”

This model is broken because it is based on incarceration instead of crime prevention. For-profit private prisons are not the answer to making our streets safer and our society more productive. Instead, we must focus on creating a system that is less is harmful to our pocketbooks, protects our safety, and respects basic human dignity.  Read the full ACLU report here.

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