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A Glimpse Inside the Private Prison Industry’s Influence in Florida

10:37 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

President of the Florida Senate, Mike Haridopolous

First published on WhyIHateCCA

Florida’s leadership is among the most aggressive in the nation in trying to bring private prisons to the state.  The governor, speaker of the house, former speaker of the house, and a host of Republicans in the legislature repeatedly attempted to force through what would have been the largest wholesale privatization of prisons in US history.  Though those measures failed, a battle is still being waged in court over the abuse of the political process by Republicans who tried to force the privatization by putting it into the budget and bypassing the committee that would have normally reviewed it.  The state is now also moving forward with plans to privatize 20 work release centers of the 21 that are still operated by the state, possibly because Governor Scott seems downright determined to put state employees out of work.  Lest you think I’m being unfair, a DOC spokeswoman said the state wasn’t likely to save any money in the process, which would have theoretically been the only justifiable reason to do so.

The industry has fared rather well in the state despite the failure to pass the wholesale privatization, but not quite as well as it has with the federal government in taking responsibility for incarcerating immigration detainees.

The GEO Group has been particularly successful in both these arenas, due in large part to the amount of influence it peddles throughout governments.  This influence was apparent during the 2010 election cycle, when the company donated more than $800,000 to campaigns in Florida.  But what’s not quite as easy to see is how these companies also gain political influence by having favorable people, and sometimes previous employees, placed in positions of power.  Take for example the chief of staff to young Republican superstar Marco Rubio, Cesar Conda.  Conda still maintains ties to a powerful lobbying firm in Florida that has lobbied for the GEO Group.  In fact, he still maintains partial ownership, and was paid between $50,000-$100,000 by the firm after he became Rubio’s chief of staff..  So he’s still being paid by companies like the GEO Group while working as the number-one guy to a US Senator.

So the GEO Group has revenues of nearly $2 billion per year, much of which comes from the federal government as payment for detaining immigrants.  It has spent more than $5 million in lobbying and political contributions in the past 8 years, a small fraction of their overall revenue, and in doing so has greatly expanded its role in the immigration detention system.  They also now have a paid lobbyist working in the office of a Republican Senator at the forefront of the immigration debate, in a state with major immigration issues.

In the state legislature meanwhile, President of the Senate Mike Haridopolous, one of the biggest proponents of the aforementioned failed privatization measure, has a really cozy relationship with a lobbyist as well.  He steered millions of dollars to a company that monitors juveniles for the state, after it had come to light that the company had failed to meet many of the terms of its contract.  But he went a step further – he removed the competitive bidding process as a last-minute budget move (sounds familiar…), assuring the company, which employes his close friend as a lobbyist, would maintain the contract.  The secretary of the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice even wrote that “the use of this exemption from competitive procurement may not be in the best interest of the state.”

Another Major Blow to Private Immigration Detention

4:22 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

 

Following fresh on the heels of the announcement that the citizens of Crete, IL had successfully defeated a proposal from ICE and CCA to build a private prison there, Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines, FL residents got their own bit of great news: CCA isn’t going to build there either!  After the mayor demanded an answer following months of back-and-forth, the company and ICE announced it was no longer pursuing the site.  This is a huge victory for all residents of the area, especially those who fought so hard to keep their neighborhood from becoming another victim of the prison industrial complex.  Congratulations to everyone involved!

 

Crete, IL Residents Slay the Private Prison Giant

7:30 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

Residents of Crete, IL have accomplished the (near-)impossible feat of successfully rejecting a plan by CCA and ICE to build an immigration detention center in their town.  The plan had come under heavy fire from residents practically from its inception, but CCA and ICE pushed hard to get permission to build the facility despite overwhelming opposition by the citizens.  The Sheriff of Lake County even threw his hat into the ring – publicly supporting legislation that could have prevented the facility’s construction (it would have prevented agencies in the state from contracting with private prison companies), because the plan was clearly designed to benefit a private company with no obvious benefit to the community.  The legislation ultimately failed, but that wasn’t enough to dissuade opponents of the facility from continuing to protest and work against it, even though many of their representatives had failed to support the bill.

In a voice vote, village trustees unanimously decided to reject the proposal.  This is a monumental victory for the hundreds of groups and individuals who worked so hard to prevent this facility from coming to town.  Congratulations to everyone involved!  This just goes to show that no matter how big and powerful some corporations can get, they can never completely trump the will of the majority.

Curbing Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention

12:25 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First Published on WhyIHateCCA

A few weeks back, the Obama Administration finally got around to releasing new regulations governing sexual abuse in correctional facilities, as mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003.  PREA initially only applied to DOJ facilities and agencies, but the Administration has expanded its scope to include immigrants in detention here in the US (mostly under the jurisdiction of ICE).  This is particularly relevant for the private prison industry, which houses about half of the immigration detainees in the US, though it remains to be seen how effective these new regulations will actually be in stopping sexual abuse.  ICE will have to draft rules and regulations to govern its facilities, but given all the problems ICE has had in ensuring the private prison companies it contracts with provide humane treatment to its detainees, I’m not overly optimistic that the oversight of efforts to stop prison rape will be any more stringent than for a host of other issues.  Especially considering the fact that CCA just recently finished battling a shareholder who wanted the company to report on its efforts to curb sexual assault in its facilities.

 

Florida’s Love Affair With Private Prisons

7:56 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

A tiny jail window.

Historic jail in Florida. Photo by Marsanne Petty.

Many lawmakers in Florida, home of the GEO Group, are enamored with the idea of prison privatization.  Legislators, mostly Republican, have thrice attempted (and failed) to privatize half the state’s prison system within the past two years. The former speaker of the house, serving time in prison, is still being investigated by the FBI in part for his role in bringing a private prison to the state and attempting to force the closure of multiple state facilities to populate it. He’s also the target of a federal grand jury investigation for his dealings with the GEO Group.

In the towns of Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines, residents have been waging war against CCA and ICE, who want to build a huge immigration detention center there. Upset over the risks of bringing a private prison to town, residents have already faced legal harassment after they have failed to capture the attention or sympathy of their representative, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. The parties are engaged in a struggle over resources, as CCA is attempting to strong-arm the small towns into providing water and sewer services to the prison. Pembroke Pines has already had to shell out more than $120,000 in legal fees to battle a detention center that the federal government seems to be forcing on them.

The most recent battle in Florida has arisen over the state’s plans to privatize health care for all its prisoners, which I guess was the fall-back option if wholesale privatization failed. The plan is being challenged by the Nurses’ Association, which filed a lawsuit similar to the one that successfully defeated the wholesale privatization; basically saying the state Legislature didn’t have the authority to order such a sweeping change to such a huge portion of the state budget without passing a stand-alone bill. It’s estimated that as many as 2,800 jobs and $300 million of the budget could be impacted by the switch, which is also opposed by the union that represents COs.

It seems simple to explain part of this love affair, the GEO Group and CCA have contributed huge sums of money to Florida legislators, with most of that going to Republicans. During the last election cycle, the industry donated nearly $1 million to campaigns, with more than 80% of that coming from the GEO Group. GEO has already given more than $100,000 to Governor Scott for the upcoming election.

But just looking at the campaign contributions fails to reveal the whole story. Governor Scott’s closest advisor and de facto gatekeeper, Steve McNamara, is a man with so much political influence he’s been called the state’s “Shadow Governor.”  He also happens to be close personal friends with Jim Eaton, head lobbyist for the GEO Group, which might help explain why Scott decided to can the head of the Department of Corrections for challenging the privatization scheme. After news came out that McNamara had been using his influence to advance himself and his friends politically and financially, he was forced to resign. Jim Eaton, by the way, also happens to be the head lobbyist for Wexford, one of the companies in the running for the state healthcare contract.  So McNamara’s influence is likely to last well beyond his tenure as “Shadow Governor.”

Private Prison Riots Causing Concern

12:58 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA
The recent riots (or “disturbances,” in industry parlance) at CCA prisons in Georgia and Mississippi have raised the concern of advocates in other states looking to privatize prisons.  The teamsters union down in Florida is urging state lawmakers to consider CCA’s poor management of the facilities when it inevitably takes up the now annually-recurring massive privatization effort.  Information about the cause of the riot has been slow to trickle out of the facility in Mississippi, but it looks at least preliminarily like my intuition was correct.  Prisoners claim the guards routinely assault them; and that the medical care, food, and programming at the facility, which houses immigrants in the US illegally, were woefully insufficient. Even the Nashville Business Journal picked up on the story, albeit it to discuss how CCA can save face.

The recent riots (or “disturbances,” in industry parlance) at CCA prisons in Georgia and Mississippi have raised the concern of advocates in other states looking to privatize prisons.  The teamsters union down in Florida is urging state lawmakers to consider CCA’s poor management of the facilities when it inevitably takes up the now annually-recurring massive privatization effort.  Information about the cause of the riot has been slow to trickle out of the facility in Mississippi, but it looks at least preliminarily like my intuition was correct.  Prisoners claim the guards routinely assault them; and that the medical care, food, and programming at the facility, which houses immigrants in the US illegally, were woefully insufficient. Even the Nashville Business Journal picked up on the story, albeit it to discuss how CCA can save face.

Riots at 2 CCA Prisons

9:17 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

Two weeks ago, prisoners rioted at a CCA prison in Georgia, resulting in the prison being put on lockdown.  There’s not much more information available on that

But a second riot occurred at another CCA prison, this one in Mississippi, and what has come out so far isn’t pretty; 200-300 prisoners were said to be involved in the disturbance, and at least one guard has died.  A handful of staff and inmates were injured at the immigration detention facility.  The situation lasted for hours, with prisoners taking moire than a dozen staff hostage.  Which makes sense, because a former employee said the staff-to-inmate ratio was dangerously low, so much so that he left his job there.  Sixteen staff members had to be transported to a hospital due to injuries.  Prison riots are a relatively rare occurrence; this one even more so because of the facility’s population.  It houses immigrants charged with illegal re-entry, not many of whom have criminal convictions beyond that.  So this isn’t a population that necessarily lends itself to violence and rioting; I imagine they are upset with the living conditions in the facility, though no word has yet come out about what incited it.

Thankfully, the company is already coming under fire for its poor management by a Mississippi Congressman, and the riot is being investigated by the FBI.

The guard who died was 24-year-old Catlin Carithers.

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.

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.

CCA Forcing a Private Prison on Floridians

2:04 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Similar Immigration Detention Center (Photo: diacimages, flickr)

Similar Immigration Detention Center (Photo: diacimages, flickr)

CCA Forcing Prison on Floridians

I admit I have been rather lax in reporting on the brewing situation in Southwest Ranches, Florida.  Briefly, CCA has proposed building an ICE detention center in the town, but has met with some pretty stiff resistance from the locals, who justifiably don’t want a prison in their town.  After learning of the public’s opposition, CCA successfully petitioned the town council to keep mum about the prison’s construction.  That’s right; officials elected to represent the people of Southwest Ranches were persuaded by CCA to tow the company line and represent the company’s interests over that of their constituents.  So we’re off to a great start here…

Anyway, after that debacle, CCA employed yet another questionable tactic as it started using robocalls to try to drum up support in the community.  In fact, they misrepresented the facility and touted the job creation benefits as they harassed Southwest Ranches residents with these calls.  So they’re clearly the paragon of corporate responsibility.

Then there was a town council hearing last Saturday, at which no CCA representative was scheduled to be present.  I guess they didn’t feel it was necessary to respond to the legitimate concerns of the people who don’t want yet another private, for-profit immigration detention facility in their town.  Hundreds of local residents showed up at the meeting, complaining that the project had been rammed through despite numerous objections.  The meeting was so popular that more than 100 people opposed to the project couldn’t even get in.  It got so contentious that the mayor of Pembroke Pines, the next town over, criticized Southwest Ranches officials for ignoring the concerns of their own constituents.

So, to recap.  Southwest Ranches residents don’t want another private immigration detention facility.  The officials of the next town over are publicly criticizing the leadership of Southwest Ranches for ignoring constituents.  But the project keeps moving steadily along, as CCA has used questionable tactics to force this prison on these poor folks.  Thankfully though, yet another obstacle has arisen; immigration advocates are now calling for CCA to conduct an environmental impact study, which is supposed to happen before they construct the prison, per federal law.  I don’t think this will be much more than another minor speedbump in CCA’s determined march to build this prison, but at least it’s something.