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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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A line in the sand in Liberty County

Jail dollar
Jail dollar
With the goal of lowering the operating costs of the Liberty County Jail, 253rd District Court Judge Chap B. Cain initiated a plan to reduce the number of non-violent individuals housed in the jail.  This sounds like a great plan, one where the county saves millions, public safety is not harmed, and non-violent individuals are not locked up.  Everyone wins … right?  Wrong! 

As The Cleveland Advocate reported ("County’s jail inmate population down, but companies now asking for more money per inmate," 1/21/12), for-profit prison companies have reacted by telling the community that they will not let the county’s smart on crime approach undermine the profitability of the county jail.   As 75th District Court Judge Mark Morefield, who supports the inmate reduction plan, stated: “’One bid said that if the inmate population goes below 200, the cost per inmate goes from $63 to $68 per day. If we work really hard to decrease the inmate population, the cost will go up to $70 per day, … [t]hey are taking all the incentive out of it.’”  With profit as their main goal, it comes as no surprise that for-profit prison companies have actively lobbied against some criminal justice reforms and for the continuation of the failed “tough on crime” approach to criminal justice.  Liberty County is just one more casualty in the for-profit prison companies’ race to maximize their bottom line. 

But, Liberty County may not bow down to the for-profit prison industry.  According to The Cleveland Advocate, Judge Morefield believes the county can manage its jail.  For Texas Prison Bid’ness readers in Liberty County – this is your opportunity to take a stand by supporting the effort to kick the for-profit prison companies out of Liberty County!

 

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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.

Texas Watchdog looks at the big bad private prison lobby

Matte Pulle at Texas Watchdog published another excellent investigation on the private prison industry's work in the Texas Capitol last month. In his previous reporting on the private prison industry, Pulle detailed the personal and financial links between state legislators and GEO Group. This time, he details the role lobbyists played in sinking common-sense reforms to laws governing private prisons during the 81st legislative session.

In his report, Pulle explains that GEO Group's lobbying team is particularly well-equipped to defeat even modest improvements to oversight of the private prison industry because of its large lobbying expenditures and the close personal relationships its lobbyists have to Texas Legislators. From Pulle's investigative piece:

"...it’s not just the GEO Group’s expense account that makes it noteworthy. A lot of companies pay top dollar for a crew of lobbyists. But few of them can match GEO’s well-connected team, a team that, over the last two sessions, have helped the outfit expand their business and beat back efforts to regulate their operations."

Pulle interviewed TPB's Bob Libal for his latest expose of the private prison industry, and he and referenced Watch Your Assets, a 2008 report from Texans for Public Justice and Grassroots Leadership which includes a list of private prison lobbyists from 2007. From Pulle's report:

"In the 2007 legislative session–before the GEO Group’s troubles made headlines– lawmakers passed a bill that essentially allowed private prison companies to house more inmates, enabling them to make more money off their contracts with the state.

During that session, two of the company’s lobbyists had close ties to then-House Speaker Tom Craddick.

Bill Miller once served on Craddick’s transition team and as his consultant while fellow GEO lobbyist Michelle Wittenberg had served as the speaker’s general counsel. Both were also on hand for the company this session with each slated to make up to $50,000 this year, according to state ethics records.

Also in the 2007 legislative session, the GEO Group enlisted the services of former House Republican Ray Allen, who resigned in the middle of his seventh term a year earlier to become a lobbyist for the company.

He certainly had all kinds of experience. In 2003, Craddick appointed the Grand Prairie Republican to serve as the chairman of the House Corrections Committee even though at the time Allen was lobbying for a private prison company outside Texas."

...

The GEO Group’s top lobbyist is Lionel “Leo” Aguirre, a former executive with the state comptroller’s office. Aguirre is the widower of Lena Guerrero, who became the first Latina chair of the Texas Railroad Commission in 1992 after serving three terms in the state House. A state and federal lobbyist for the GEO Group, Aguirre topped the list of the state’s highest compensated prison lobbyists with a maximum salary at $250,000 in 2007. This year, Aguirre’s compensation remained unchanged."

Pulle also traced the role at lest one lobbyist played in killing HB 3903 in his investigative piece. As Nicole reported in May, we received word that private prison lobbyists were in the halls of the capitol undermining a series of reasonable reforms, including HB 3903. HB 3903 was a bill filed by Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr. which would have subjected private prisons to the same open records law as public facilities, mandated public hearings before privatization of county jails, and made it illegal for a public servant such as a Sheriffs to be paid by a private prison corporations in addition to their regular salaries.

Pulle writes that Representative Jerry Madden, former chair of the House Corrections Committee, admitted to Texas Watchdog that he talked with GEO Group Lobbyist Michelle Wittenburg before joining with six other legislators to remove the bill from consideration by the full body of the Texas House:

"...the Richardson Republican says that just because he talks to lobbyists doesn’t mean he listens to them alone. In this case, though, he agreed with Wittenberg’s position that Ortiz’s bill would have singled out prison companies to comply with open records laws when other private firms have no such mandate."

Madden's logic misses the point a bit. Ortiz's bill merely would have subjected private prison companies, which perform a governmental function, to the same open records requirements as public prisons. It is difficult to understand how the former chairman of House Corrections, who examined problems at the the GEO-managed Coke County facility, wanted to kill a bill that would have provided badly needed sunlight to the private prison industry in Texas. Texas doesn't even collect basic information on their privately-managed facilities, as Lauren Reinlie of Texans for Public Justice noted in Watch Your Assets:

In response to requests for records under the Texas Public Information Act, however, the TDCJ acknowledged that it does not collect basic statistics about private facilities, numbers that it routinely gathers for facilities that it operates itself. TDCJ officials say that its inspectors monitor some employment information during site visits but the agency could not provide staffing numbers for its private facilities. The requested data that the agency did not provide were records on: the number of guards each facility employs, the guard-to-prisoner ratio, guard disciplinary data, and enrollment in drug-treatment programs.9 Such lax oversight is remarkable given that the state spends $200 million a year on these facilities, which control the lives of 16,000 people.

Pulle's report is essential reading for those interested in the role private prison lobbyists played in the last legislative session.

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