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The Biggest, Baddest Prison Profiteer of Them All

7:09 pm in Uncategorized by Jesse Lava

Co-authored by Sarah Solon, communications strategist at the ACLU.

“CCA” has become a dirty word.

Corrections Corporation of America

More government kickbacks for prison profiteers?

Kanye West cited it when rapping about America’s class of “New Slaves.” Anonymous invoked it to describe a bad financial investment that undermines justice. And for state after state, the word represents a failed approach to public safety.

And that’s how it should be. Because profiting off mass incarceration is a dirty business. When private prison company Corrections Corporation of America — or CCA — squanders taxpayer money and runs facilities rife with human rights abuses, it’s dragging its own name through the mud.

All private prison companies have corrupting incentives. One is to save money by cutting corners. Another is to promote their bottom line even when that’s not the best means to securing public safety, taxpayer value, fairness, and justice. Although CCA isn’t the only company with these incentives, it has done more than any other corporation to grow the private prison industry into a behemoth plagued by abuse and neglect and profiting off our nation’s over-reliance on incarceration.

Ask the family of Elsa Guadalupe-Gonzales. She was 24 years old when she hanged herself in her cell at one of CCA’s immigration detention facilities in Texas. Three days later, guards found Jorge Garcia-Mejia dead in his cell at the same facility. He, too, had hanged himself. Two suicides in three days, despite the fact that both Elsa and Jorge were supposed to be closely monitored by guards.

These lapses are indicative of a broader problem. CCA routinely shirks its responsibility to comply with basic standards. In Idaho, CCA employees falsified nearly 4,800 hours of staffing records. In Ohio, auditors found outrageous violations like prison without running water for toilets, in which prisoners had no choice but to use plastic bags for defecation and cups for urination.

And yet, CCA made $1.7 billion in just the last year — more than any other private prison company.

How do they do it? Although CCA insists that it does not engage in “lobbying or advocacy efforts that would influence enforcement efforts, parole standards, criminal laws, and sentencing policies,” the company pours money into both lobbying and campaign contributions. From 2002 to 2012, CCA devoted more than $19 million to lobbying Congress, and its PAC shelled out over $1.4 million to candidates for federal office during the same time period. They wouldn’t spend all that money if they didn’t think it would expand their market share.

And spending all this money has worked. CCA now manages facilities with over 90,000 prison beds in 20 states. Many of their contracts include “lockup quotas” whereby states promise to keep the company’s prisons anywhere from 80-100 percent full. That’s good for CCA, because they’re paid per day, per prisoner. It’s bad for those of us who think failed policies have led to an era in which too many people are behind bars for too long.

Such agreements incentivize states to pass needlessly harsh laws that would keep bodies flowing into CCA facilities — and cash into the pockets of CCA’s shareholders.

Lock-up quotas are only example of a policy that fills CCA’s coffers. Another could be immigration reform, if it goes badly. The House Judiciary Committee has passed the SAFE Act (HR 2278), a toxic measure that, if passed, would turn millions of undocumented immigrants into criminals overnight. No longer would lacking papers be just a civil violation; it would also become a federal crime punishable by months or years in a U.S. prison, even if the person poses no public safety risk. This move would also dramatically expand the civil immigration detention system, which could help CCA rake in huge profits since nearly half of all people in immigration detention are locked in private jails and prisons.

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Should It Cost Less to Get Out of Jail if You’re Rich?

2:54 pm in Uncategorized by Jesse Lava

Eric Amparan likes the system the way it is now. As a bail bondsman, he’s part of an industry that pulls in $2 billion in revenue every year. Eric lays out how he profits off of financial desperation in our latest video in the Prison Profiteers series:
The Sweet Life
Here’s how it typically works: If you’re booked into jail, you can either sit in a cell for months waiting for your trial — losing your job and missing your childcare commitments in the process — or you can pay bail to the court. Bail functions like a promise; the court will return it to you when you show up for your court date.

The average bail amount is nearly $90,000. If you don’t happen to have this amount sitting in your bank account, odds are you’ll need to borrow it from a bail bondsman, like Eric Amparan. Here’s the catch: Eric will keep 10 percent of this amount as his non-refundable fee, even if you’re found innocent. So you pay almost $9,000 to get out of jail if you’re poor or middle class, but you pay nothing if you’re rich.

Bail is not a fine. It is not supposed to be used as punishment. The traditional purpose of bail is simply to ensure that people will return for their court date. But the commercial bail industry’s business model is to make it more expensive for people of lesser means to move through the criminal justice system.

Most states have laws saying that the default should be that people are released from jail while waiting for their trial solely based on their promise to return to court — unless there’s a really compelling reason to hold them. And these laws could work — studies show that most people can be safely released based on their promise to return without jeopardizing public safety or fleeing.

But judges often ignore these laws, and instead make people pay bail — which feeds right into the bail profiteers’ business model. The higher the bail set by judges, the higher the profit for bail bond companies. The American Bail Coalition — a lobbying group that represents the bail bondsmen, powerful insurance companies and wealthy investors — is working hard to make sure these profits keep coming in. They spent $3.1 million dollars lobbying state lawmakers between 2002 and 2011 and drafted twelve bail bills that encourage judges to set high bail amounts and give the bail industry more leeway to profit off incarceration.

Four states — Illinois, Kentucky Oregon and Wisconsin — have abolished the bail bonding industry. Other states should do the same.

We shouldn’t have two criminal justice systems — one for the rich and one for the rest of us. The commercial bail industry needs to know we’re watching.

The bail industry is just one the many powerful entities getting rich off mass incarceration. Meet the other Prison Profiteers and take action to fight their abuses at prisonprofiteers.org.
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