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Is the Private Prison Industry Losing a Lifeline?

8:07 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

California, the state with the highest prison population, has also historically been one of the most privatization-friendly states, despite the influence of the powerful corrections officers lobby.  The state has given hundreds of millions of dollars per year to the industry to house some of its prisoners in a vain attempt to reduce the burden of its overcrowded prison system, rewarding the industry’s investment in campaign contributions and lobbying.  But the industry’s hold on the nation’s most desperate prison system seems to be slipping in the wake of the Brown v. Plata decision from the Supreme Court.

A guard tower by a prison fence in California.

California Guard Tower. Photo by Rennett Stowe.

That decision basically held that the state needed to remove about 40-45,000 prisoners from its state system just to ease overcrowding to the point where it could provide medical care that would not be so insufficient as to violate the prisoners’ right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.  At the height of the overcrowding, it was estimated that one prisoner died every week from a preventable cause, because the state simply didn’t have the resources or manpower to treat all the people it decided to lock up (coincidentally enough, its prison population exploded due largely to sentencing initiatives like 3-Strikes and Truth in Sentencing laws, which were passed by the industry through its work in ALEC during the 90′s.  But that’s a topic for a whole different post).  The governor’s plan to fix the overcrowding is to send thousands of state prisoners to county jails; basically, he’s shifting responsibility for the state’s overzealous criminalization of nonviolent activities onto counties, many of which are poorly equipped to handle an influx of new prisoners.

In addition to shifting prisoners to county facilities, the Secretary of Corrections announced a few months ago that the state was looking at ways to reduce its reliance on private prisons and stop shipping prisoners to private facilities in other states. It looks like the state has actually started to work towards this goal; a few weeks ago, it announced a plan to halt $4 billion in new prison construction and return nearly 10,000 state prisoners from private facilities in other states.  This plan would save the state almost $400 million per year that it spends on private prisons, and reduce the prison system’s impact on the state budget by nearly 4%; in a state with a budget near $137 billion, that’s an awful lot of money.

Effing Arizona.

7:17 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

Sometimes, a story comes along that really makes me wonder whether a lot of politicians just really don’t give a shit about people at all.  And no, I’m not even talking about how North Carolina decided it would be a good idea to codify discrimination in its frigging constitution.  I’m talking about the great state of Arizona, whose political leaders have given up their charade of pretending to represent their constituents.

Now, you might say that’s a bit of hyperbole, but how else can I explain the fact that, faced with evidence from numerous sources, including a government study, that demonstrated private prisons actually cost Arizona taxpayers more than government run facilities, the Arizona legislature decided to not only fund more private prisons, but to eliminate the requirement for the government to report on the efficiency and services it receives from the companies it contracts with to operate these money pits?

The industry is already exempt from public records laws that government agencies must adhere to, a distinction granted because it is comprised of private corporations (despite the fact that they perform an inherently governmental function).  So Arizona actually found what might have been the only way to further reduce transparency and oversight for an industry that’s not required to report much of anything about how it operates.

In addition to removing that reporting requirement, the budget that just passed allocated $16 million for 1,000 new private prison beds, while taking $50 million from funds intended to help struggling homeowners manage their mortgages.  That $16 million might go to MTC, the company that operates the Kingman prison, from which 3 prisoners escaped in 2010 in one of the most highly-publicized prison escapes in years (largely because they murdered an elderly couple).  Or it could go to CCA, the company that, despite all its denials about its influence on the legislation, was in the room when SB1070 was drafted and stands to profit handsomely from it.

In yet another example of the corrupting and toxic influence of money in government, this budget proposal was really the handiwork of Governor Brewer’s Chief of Staff, Chuck Coughlin.  Coughlin founded HighGround Consulting, the most powerful lobbying force in the state.  HighGround happens to represent the private prison industry.  A former CCA lobbyist, married to a current CCA lobbyist, also works on Brewer’s staff.  And John Kavanagh, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, is quite cozy with Public Policy Partners, a lobbying firm that represents the GEO Group.  So it naturally made sense for him to be the one to introduce the provision that eliminated the analyses of private prisons in the state.

I don’t even think it’s a question who Governor Brewer and the rest of the Republican establishment in Arizona represent.  And it’s a damn shame.  Thank god I don’t live there.

More on ALEC’s Demise

7:42 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

I must say, I’ve been more than a little pleased to see all the negative press coming out about ALEC, especially considering how it has helped promote prison privatization and laws (like stricter immigration legislation and sentencing “reforms”) that boost the industry’s bottom line.  Many people are jumping on the Hate ALEC bandwagon, and I say, “Welcome aboard!”

Much of the coverage has focused on the corporations who have stopped sponsoring these conservative dbags, but not so much the thousands of state legislators who are members.  One of the first legislators to dissociate from ALEC is NM State Senator George Munoz, who basically said that ALEC’s solutions to his constituents’ problems were “not right for New Mexicans.”  Soon after, the New Mexico ALEC State Chairman called the organization “too partisan,” indicated that model legislation coming from the group is often altered to remove indications of its origin, and that its member list is actually larger than disclosed.

So maybe, hopefully, state legislators are beginning to see just how unpopular it is to support corporate-written legislation, and we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of one of my pet peeves.  More likely, ALEC will just figure out new and inventive ways to disguise its insidious handiwork and push corporate welfare privatization on all of us.

Taking ALEC to Task

9:38 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Taking ALEC to Task

ALEC, one of the banes of my existence, has been in the news a lot recently, as people are starting to realize that they’re behind every conservative conspiracy to screw over some segment of the population.  As I’ve reported on before, the industry has helped to write and push laws that have dramatically increased our country’s prison population and funneled taxpayer dollars to private prison companies.  The group is also behind a lot of the anti-reproductive rights legislation sweeping the country, the anti-union measures that passed in places like Wisconsin, Maine, and Ohio, voter suppression measures like anti-fraud legislation (which was a solution in search of a problem), and the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida that’s one of the focuses of the Trayvon Martin case.  So basically, ALEC is the manifestation (and source) of the anti-democratic forces directing conservative ideology.

So I was happy to see that a journalist of such a high caliber as Paul Krugman took them to task for promoting privatization efforts that threaten to dismantle many democratic institutions. He focused only a small part of his article on the group’s work with the private prison industry, and mentioned how SB1070 came out of an ALEC conference.  But CCA’s intimidation PR machine came out in full force, demanding an apology from Krugman for implying that CCA lobbied on behalf of SB1070.  CCA, as a company, did not lobby or donate on that bill.  But multiple members of its executive board did, something CCA’s shill Steve Owen seems to always coincidentally forgetThe company is clearly trying to intimidate Krugman and others who would potentially disparage the good name and reputation of the industry, and prevent negative press.

Folks, this is only a small taste of what a truly free market would be capable of.  As groups like ALEC erode the foundation of civility and equity on which our country has thrived, by promoting privatization of public assets and destroying the democratic party’s voting base, we, the common people, lose.  Thankfully there are still reporters with some cojones who tackle these important issues, but they seem to be getting fewer and farther between.  ALEC is an absolute menace to the 99% of people who don’t stand to benefit from an even greater concentration of political power and wealth.

AZ Finds Private Prisons Don’t Save Money, Are More Dangerous

7:52 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

AZ Finds Private Prisons Don’t Save Money, Are More Dangerous

I apologize for being so late on this; there are actually a few stories I’m behind on and I’ll try to catch up as much as possible.

A report was just released by the American Friends Service Committee in Arizona that found private prisons actually cost the state more to operate than their government-run counterparts.  In just three years (2008-2010), the state spent $10 million more on private prison beds than it would have cost them to just operate the prisons itself.  The state for some reason loves private prisons, having previously tried to privatize its entire correctional system.  The state was also the first place that an iteration of the “Breathing While Brown” law (that ALEC-written handout to private prison companies) was introduced  It is currently seeking 2,000 additional private prison beds, which would cost $6 million more than beds the government could operate.  And this comes at a time when the state’s prison population is actually decreasing.  It is also looking to outsource medical and mental health care to private, for-profit providers, for as many as 34,000 prisoners; that segment of the private prison industry suffers from all the problems inherent to the profit-driven world of incarceration.

The report was conducted because the state has consistently failed to conduct analyses of private prisons, even though there is a state law mandating that it do so. After years of ignoring calls to produce such a report, the state finally finished one in January of this year, which, surprise surprise, found private prisons to be more expensive.

This new report by the AFSC also found that private prisons are more dangerous, and experience higher levels of “disturbances” (prison parlance for riots/violent incidents), many of which were never reported to the public.  In fact, the state exempts private prison companies from reporting such information that is required of government-operated prisons, shielding them from accountability for all the terrible things they let happen.  The report by AFSC noted that these instances were likely under-reported, and that the public has very little access to vital information concerning the operation of prisons in Arizona.

So you would think with all this information; that private prisons cost considerably more to taxpayers, that they consistently fail to operate prisons safely and securely, that the state’s political system would bring the hammer down and start to hold private prison operators more accountable for the millions in taxpayer dollars they benefit from, if not abolish the industry altogether.  But, this is Arizona.  The state legislature released a budget bill that still provides funding for private prisons, and actually eliminates the requirement for cost-comparison studies of public vs. private prisons that brought about the first report (by the state).  Talk about burying your head in the sand.

Pennsylvania Says NO to Private Prisons

1:46 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

PA Says NO to Private Prisons

Just a quick link here.  Pennsylvania is one of many states that has seen an explosion in its prison population, and the prison budget, over the past few decades, largely as a result of the government’s push to become “tough on crime.”  The wave of legislation that has dramatically increased our prison population to the point where it is grotesquely out of accord with anything resembling common sense, or anything seen anywhere else in the world, was actually largely the product of the private prison industry’s work through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to draft and promote 3-strikes laws, mandatory minimums, and “truth-in-sentencing” legislation.  But that’s a different story altogether.  Suffice it to say, they spent decades passing tougher criminal statutes, and are now planning to reap the financial rewards of locking up millions of people as they try to encourage states to give them their prisoners.  Thankfully, Pennsylvania is standing tall against the onslaught of privatization; Governor Corbett proposed a budget that won’t increase spending for the state DOC, and a DOC spokeswoman recently said the state was not considering privatizing part of the prison system.  Bravo, Keystone State!

Private Prisons Don’t Save Money in Arizona

9:21 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

(image: publik15, flickr)

(image: publik15, flickr)

Private Prisons Don’t Save Money in Arizona

Arizona sure loves it some privatization.  Facing extreme budget shortfalls, the state attempted to sell off and then re-lease its state house in 2009 to earn some extra money, along with privatizing its entire prison system.  But while that plan failed, the state’s thirst for privatization never waned.  Though it already had multiple private prisons holding prisoners from other states and the federal government, a prominent republican in the state legislature introduced and helped pass SB1070, the now-infamous “Breathing While Brown” law.  This law, as pointed out in an investigative report by NPR, was written by ALEC, a conservative legislation front group that has longed worked with the major players in the private prison industry and promoted privatization across the board.  They’re also the ones behind attacks on global warming, voting rights, and unions, but that’s a different story.

So, the state basically gave a handout to private prison operators, who would undoubtedly benefit from stronger enforcement of federal immigration laws and increased detention.  This came after the industry donated heavily in the 2010 election cycle, to candidates, political parties, and ballot initiatives favored by republicans.  Then, even after 3 prisoners escaped from a private prison found to have numerous security deficiencies and went on a murderous rampage, state officials still pushed for more private prisons.  They re-initiated a request for proposals from private companies to construct 5,000 prison beds.

Thankfully, people began to take notice.  An advocacy organization filed alawsuit trying to block the RFP, which was dismissed on a technicality.  But the substantive issue in the lawsuit wasn’t resolved; namely, that the state, by law, is required to conduct performance audits of its existing private facilities every two years, including cost-comparisons with public institutions.  So the state began its audit late last year to compare public and private prisons, and the request for proposals was put on hold until the state could evaluate whether or not it would save money by turning to for-profit incarceration. Read the rest of this entry →

ALEC’s Influence in Arizona

8:01 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

ALEC’s Influence in Arizona

As I’ve reported on extensively in the past, ALEC is a nefarious front group for conservative legislation that has been a major driving force behind our nation’s crisis of mass incarceration.  So there’s no way I could pass up highlighting a new report that has come out detailing how effective ALEC has been at getting corporate-sponsored legislation passed in the state of Arizona

You’ll probably remember that ALEC was where SB1070, Arizona’s “Breathing While Brown” law, was born, before ALEC member Russell Pearce brought it home and introduced it to the state legislature.  The law was drafted with CCA at the table, and would have a direct impact on their bottom line as it resulted in increased incarceration of illegal immigrants, almost half of whom are detained in private facilities.  Arizona also happens to be home to many private facilities that currently house out-of-state prisoners and immigrants, and the state is seeking to add 5,000 additional private beds to its existing state-run facilities.

So this report comes at a critical time for Arizona, as it evaluates whether or not it wants to proceed with a plan to contract away millions of taxpayer dollars to an industry that hasn’t even been able to demonstrate savings in the state of Arizona.  ALEC has pushed for the privatization of prisons in the past, and it has given private prison companies direct access to state legislators who are considering the privatization bids.  Those same companies have also donated thousands of dollars to these politicians, all of which amounts to a tremendous amount of political influence for the industry in the state.  As The Executive Director of the People for the American Way stated, “There’s no way ordinary citizens can match the level of access and influence that ALEC provides to these corporations.

For now, the state is holding back on awarding contracts until some time in January, after it was twice sued over the request for proposals because it has for years failed to conduct an efficiency audit of its existing private facilities.  Once that report is complete, the state should have (even more) data to demonstrate that private prisons don’t actually save any money, which will hopefully compel state legislators to reject the industry’s influence and make wiser decisions with the constituents’ hard-earned money.

 

The Most Insidious Group in America

10:23 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

"74 Insidious Menace"

"74 - Insidious Menace" by South Austin Popular Culture Center on flickr

The Most Insidious Group in America

Now that’s a mighty claim to make, I know, but I do firmly believe that ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) fits that bill to a tee.  ALEC is technically a nonprofit, which develops and promotes model legislation. It is a membership-based organization, with nearly 2/3 of state legislators and leaders of practically every major corporation in this country comprising its membership base.  It holds conferences a few times per year, in which they invite state legislators to sit with corporate chairpersons and lobbyists to develop model legislation that is shipped to state houses around the country and enacted with alarming frequency. 

So basically, corporations pay to have direct access to state lawmakers, then literally craft corporate-friendly legislation with them, and bring it home to get it enacted. Now you may think that legislation written and promoted by corporate leaders would not be very kind to the interests of the majority of American citizens.  You’d be right.

ALEC is the group behind the anti-union laws that have swept the nation, trying to undercut a base of liberal political support.  They are behind attacks on the EPA, and every other movement to stifle government regulation.  ALEC, along with CCA, helped write and pass 3-strikes laws and “truth in sentencing” legislation during the 90s, which contributed to our skyrocketing rate of incarceration, and our country having the largest prison population, in both rate and real numbers, in the entire world. Read the rest of this entry →

CCA’s Investment in Georgia

7:09 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

"Money!"

"Money!" by Tracy O on flickr

CCA’s Investment in Georgia

CCA and other private prison companies have a business model that relies upon a steady flow of prisoners to remain profitable.  It’s a natural outcome of the industry.  Unfortunately for everyone not profiting from locking human beings up, this plays out as companies help write and pass legislation that increases criminal and civil penalties, to the degree that we now have the highest rate and real numbers of incarceration in the entire world. 

In Georgia, as in Arizona, CCA has sought to ensure itself a steady flow of “revenue” by first drafting what would become SB1070, and Georgia’s copycat bill, HB87, then by contributing to the campaigns of representatives likely to vote on the legislation.  So after spending untold thousands of dollars for a seat at the table with ALEC to write the legislation (literally untold – its pretty much impossible to see who contributes, and how much, to this shady nonprofit), CCA spent over $240,000 in the past 7 years in campaign contributions in the state of Georgia alone.  Of 17 representatives who received contributions from CCA in the previous 2 cycles, only 2 voted against HB87, a piece of legislation that allows police to check immigration status and will undoubtedly result in more immigrants being incarcerated.  Hell, CCA even took 8 of them out to dinner, and, shocker – none of those 8 voted against the bill.  This all in a “conservative” state (wait, I thought they didn’t like government intervention?)

But Georgia’s legislators didn’t stop at illegal immigrants, because there’s money to be made in locking up their own citizens as well.  It doesn’t seem to matter that private prisons cost the state nearly $10 more per prisoner, per day (so literally millions of dollars more per year, as there are 7 private prisons in Georgia) – the state is forging ahead with plans to open a new, 1,500-bed private prison.  As an advocate said, “These prisons are new plantations, and immigrants are a new crop… there’s a huge profit margin.”