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Florida’s Private Prisons CorruptionFest 2012

2:43 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

(photo: jeffreyputman, flickr)

(photo: jeffreyputman, flickr)

Florida’s Private Prisons CorruptionFest 2012!

I’ll spare everyone a summary of what’s been happening in the Florida legislature over the past two sessions (see here, here, and here, or just search for “Florida” to catch up); instead, I’ll just try to continue to update what I’d like to call CorruptionFest 2012.  Again, I apologize in advance for the plethora of links to follow, but the news is coming so fast that I can’t keep up any other way.

First comes an article written by a state Senator, Paula Dockery, who calls out her fellow senators for the false promises of savings and the absurd fast-tracking of the bill, which for some reason never found its way to the legislative committee that oversees corrections.  No, it just went before 2 different committees headed up by JD Alexander, who has been pushing this privatization effort for years.  Alexander has been telling anyone who will listen that the plan will save $22 million for the state, but he has never actually backed those numbers up with evidence.

As a reporter with the Orlando Sentinel noted, such “savings” can be particularly hard to calculate, especially given the industry-friendly contract terms that keep the most expensive prisoners in state facilities and leave the privates to handle the cheap, low-risk prisoners.  Many experts who have studied the industry (and who weren’t funded by the industry in their research), have found savings from private prisons to be negligible at best; and considering the state would even leave some of the more high-risk prisoners in private facilities (which is a stupid idea in its own right), Florida’s taxpayers would likely not save much, if anything, in this process.

In response to the fast-tracking of the legislation through committees that should have no say in corrections policy, the Florida Nurses Association has sued the state over the secrecy of the plan that could cost thousands of state employees their jobs.  They were followed by a coalition of 17 other organizations opposed to the privatization, who petitioned the effort’s champion, Mike Haridopolous.  Then the Correctional Officers’ Union called for the state to conduct an honest cost-benefit analysis, after their initial review found that this privatization could cost Florida taxpayers MORE THAN 120 MILLION FRIGGING DOLLARS. Read the rest of this entry →

We’re All Screwed in the End

11:57 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

(photo: rutty, flickr)

(photo: rutty, flickr)

We’re All Screwed in the End

I often try to figure out ways to convince people that private prisons are not in the best interest of anyone but executives of private prison companies.  There are plenty of others out there like myself, trying to work with elected officials and concerned citizens to convince our legislators that continually giving billions of dollars to an industry whose very survival depends on locking up an ever-increasing segment of our population is morally reprehensible, and bad business to boot. But unfortunately, much of that activism seems for naught, as the anti-privatization movement’s resources and political relationships pale in comparison to the influence built up by the privateers.

Take for example Broderick Johnson, lobbyist extraordinaire who was paid more than $1 million to lobby to get TARP passed on behalf of the major financial institutions that destroyed our economy.  He has also worked for such socially conscious organizations as Talx Corp (which helps employers challenge unemployment claims), Comcast, and the GEO Group.  Mr. Johnson also happens to be a senior adviser to President Obama, whose immigration policies have been, if not an expansion, at least the continuation of the compassionate and sensible policies of his esteemed predecessor.

So Obama’s got a former GEO Group lobbyist working as a senior adviser.  He also appointed a former employee of the GEO Group and CCA, Stacia Hylton, as director of the US Marshal’s Service, a federal agency in control of millions of dollars worth of private prison contracts.  I guess it should come as no surprise that the GEO Group was awarded a contract in excess of $235 million to house immigration detainees, despite decades of evidence proving the company can’t operate a prison efficiently and that it seems incapable of treating its wards with basic human decency.

Florida’s Politicians (But Not Its Residents) Love Private Prisons

1:58 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (photo: studio08denver/flickr)

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (photo: studio08denver/flickr)

Florida’s Politicians (But Not Its Residents) Love Private Prisons

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz represents Southwest Ranches, Florida, which has been at the epicenter of a debate over a proposed immigration detention facility.  Residents of the town have consistently demonstrated their opposition to the facility, which they feel was designed and planned without much public knowledge of the proceedings.  Basically, they think they have been fleeced by CCA, who hopes to build the facility on land it already owns, into having a detention center that they fear will lower property values and present a risk to public safety.

Unfortunately, they’ve got a pretty poor representative in Ms. Wasserman, who’s basically taking a “lesser of available evils” approach.  She initially called a town hall meeting to allow residents to voice their opposition and learn more about the project.  After more than 250 people showed up to let CCA and the town council know they didn’t want a private prison, Wasserman, who had called the meeting, decided she would support the project.  She now thinks it’s a good idea and that the town should move forward, saying she thinks “it is going to be far better to have that ICE detention center there than to have any other facility that would have a much more negative impact on residents there.”  Other than a lead paint producing puppy mill, I can’t really imagine what would be worse for a community than a privately operated, for-profit human rights violations incubator.  But there’s no chance she could have been partially swayed by the nearly $20 million CCA has spent lobbying the federal government over the past decade.  Right?

Unfortunately for the residents of Southwest Ranches, Wasserman isn’t alone in ignoring her constituents interests and supporting a company with a long track record of failing to live up to its contracts.  The mayor of Southwest Ranches just basically told his constituents to pound sand, because the deal is done.  CCA owns the land, and has for a decade, so he says there’s really nothing residents can do to stop the construction at this point.  If there’s any saving grace in all of this, it might be found in Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart from Miami, who just sent a letter to ICE to demonstrate his opposition to the proposed detention center.  So there is at least one Congressperson from Florida who hasn’t been bought off by the industry yet. Read the rest of this entry →

After the Revolving Door Stops Turning

2:04 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

After the Revolving Door Stops Turning

A really interesting story came out of New Mexico last week that really speaks to the great benefit the industry enjoys in having former (and potentially future) employees working in government.  I have often complained of the political and contractual favoritism shown to the industry by former employees, but this one really struck me.

The new Secretary of Corrections has decided to finally start holding the GEO Group accountable for its terrible mismanagement of its facilities in the state, fining the company more than $1 million for failing to maintain  adequate staffing levels, which obviously presents a huge risk of violence.  This is the first time the state has really held any private prison company accountable for failing to meet contractual obligations.  The former Secretary, who had previously worked for the GEO Group, repeatedly declined to fine the industry for known failures to comply, saving the GEO Group nearly $20 million worth of fines in the process.  And it seems like the new Secretary is serious about holding GEO Group and CCA accountable for the millions of taxpayer dollars they get in contracts; he says he wants to review staffing levels at private prisons every single month.

And the fines could not have come at a more appropriate time.  Because a prisoner in a GEO Group facility in Clayton, New Mexico, was just beaten to within an inch of his life and is now on life support following the vicious assault.

 

More on Florida’s Privatization Mess

2:16 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

The Story That Just Won’t Go Away

I don’t want to re-hash everything I’ve written about the absurd privatization push / corporate handout happening in Florida.  You can find plenty of material on it by just looking back.  I want to take a minute though to try to update the situation, again, as well as possible.  So I won’t go into a long rant about anything here, I’ll just give you some quick bullet points.  And just FYI, none of this even deals with the brewing situation in Southwest Ranches, where CCA is forcing an immigration detention center down the throat of a very angry populace. 

  • Florida is also trying to privatize healthcare for its entire prison system (in addition to privatizing half the prisons).  The bidding process has drawn a lot of scrutiny and generated many questions, so much so that the state had to push back the date for the bids to be submitted. It will probably go through though, unfortunately.  In a related story, North Carolina is foolishly looking to do the same thing.
  • The executive director of the union representing COs in the state wrote an excellent opinion piece urging the state Senate to find some other way to save money, considering the questions surrounding the claim that the venture will save $22 million.
  • The editorial board of the Palm Beach Post came out with an excellent piece questioning Gov. Scott’s motives in pushing the privatization, given the $1 million donated by the industry leading up to the last election and questions regarding the proposed cost savings.
  • Also, the state should really consider the company it’s about the get in bed with, as a GEO Group guard appears to have been extremely negligent in permitting a prisoner to commit suicide.
  • Finally, I couldn’t help but link to this absurd example of poor journalism, as the editorial board at the Daytona Beach News-Journal claims privatization offers “Major Savings.”  The argument is based on practically nothing but the long-ago dismissed notion that if private prisons fail to offer savings, they won’t get contracts (they actually just lobby harder and still get them).  The real icing on the cake comes when the author(s) admit that the state previously lost tens of millions of dollars in a privatization venture, but make no mention of how a similar problem could be avoided this time around.  Really, this is one of the absolute dumbest things I’ve ever seen an editorial board write.

       

      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.

       

      Revolving Door Paying Off

      9:46 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

      Revolving Door Paying Off

      As I reported on previously, the GEO Group has exercised the revolving door between the private prison industry and politics rather well, as their former lobbyist and consultant, Stacia Hylton, was elected to head the US Marshal’s Service, one of the federal agencies that contracts with the GEO Group.  Clearly, some people were disturbed by the idea that someone who earned literally hundreds of thousands of dollars working for a company with a long track record of human rights abuses and poor contract performance would be placed into a position with significant oversight over the management and awarding of contracts to that very company.

      It turns out those people (myself included) may have been onto something.  Because Ms. Hylton has refused to investigate numerous claims by immigration detention advocates that detainees in a GEO Group prison in New York have been subject to ongoing abuse.  It must be nice for the GEO Group to have friends in such high places, but that really sucks for the immigrants being abused by this private, for-profit social leech of a corporation.

       

      CCA’s Revolving Door in Idaho

      9:01 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

      CCA’s Revolving Door Continues to Turn

      CCA’s influence in Idaho just got a boost, thanks to the departure of the Governor’s long-time aide to a lobbying firm.  After working for four years as the top aide to Governor Otter, Jason Kreizenbeck is leaving the administration to take a job with one of the largest lobbying firms in the state, led by former Senator Skip Smyser.  Smyser’s firm represents, among other clients, CCA, whose failure to adequately operate the Idaho Correctional Center resulted in a huge lawsuit against the company for violence so pervasive it was called “Gladiator School” by the prisoners housed there.

       

      Privatization = Government Waste

      8:42 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

      Privatization = Government Waste

      Proponents of privatizing government services (i.e. “conservatives”) love to talk about supposed improvements in efficiency and delivery of services the private sector offers compared to the government.  In reality, attempts to privatize government services, including everything from military service to social security, are nothing more than government welfare for wealthy corporate donors and empowered individuals.  Politicians give contracts to companies and individuals who contribute to their campaigns and causes, not to companies who will perform the services in good faith.  The private prison industry is a shining example of this phenomenon.

      Which brings me to this article.  I’ll let the author speak for herself: “Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have continued to use troubled detention facilities despite documenting flagrant violations of their own detention standards, including poor medical care and mistreatment of detainees.”

      ICE’s own records indicate a litany of areas in which private prison operators have failed to live up to contractual obligations and failed to operate safe, humane facilities.  Yet they continue to get contracts, due in large part to the millions of dollars the industry spends in lobbying and campaign contributions every year.

       

      Federal Grand Jury Investigation of the GEO Group

      12:18 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

      Federal Grand Jury Investigation of GEO Group

      All the commotion earlier this year over the failed attempt to privatize 29 correctional facilities in the state of Florida sort of overshadowed the seedy history of prison privatization in the state.  You may recall from before that the FBI had launched an investigation into the circumstances that led a few powerful budget committee members to try to force through last-minute amendments to force the privatization of the Blackwater Correctional Facility, a GEO Group prison.  Kind of the same way they tried to force through the 29-facility privatization plan in a last-minute budget amendment (a deal that a court ruled was illegal according to state law).

      Now the probe has developed further, with a federal grand jury reviewing evidence of corruption on the part of former Speaker of the Florida House, Ray Sansom and his dealing with the GEO Group leading up to the construction of the prison.  This whole situation is a hot mess that will hopefully reveal the rampant corruption in the state’s politics and encourage future Florida politicians to resist efforts to privatize their prison system.