Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Private prisons another example of big business exploiting states

The undocumented immigrants issue had been seething in many states across the country and finally came to a head in April of 2010 when Arizona passed the first law attempting to ban those who were illegal from the state.  Alabama followed in April 2011, with its own law somewhat patterned after Arizona’s but even more stringent.  Then Florida passed a watered-down version of both bills in May of 2011.  Other states have passed similar laws.  

Private prison industry

It quickly became obvious to the private prison industry that when these illegals were arrested they would have to be housed somewhere.  It was the perfect opportunity to profit from a newly defined crime, so companies like Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and GEO Group decided to focus on states with the harshest laws.  For the last ten years and leading up to the current immigration dilemma, CCA and GEO have doubled their annual revenues.

The idea is to buy up state prisons or open up new ones when expansion is justified.  There’s something called the Corrections Investment Initiative between the companies and the states that requires a guarantee of 90 percent occupancy rate over the term of the contract, according to the Huff Post.  Which means the states must come up with prisoners from somewhere and what better way to do this than to go after the undocumented immigrants.

Jan Brewer

The most famous purveyor of this required supply of inmates is Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, billed as the toughest sheriff in the U.S.  His counterpart in the state is Paul Babeu, Sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona.  Both are carrying their own baggage with Arpaio about to be indicted by the feds for abusing his power as a law-enforcement official, and Babeu, who was outed as gay, and accused of threatening to deport his former lover.  Only in Arizona.

Arizona’s sham Gov. Jan Brewer was caught with her hand in the private prison dole when she accepted campaign contributions of $60,000 from CCA.  Her campaign chairman and policy adviser, Chuck Coughlin, is a lobbyist for the largest private prison company in the country, and one of two people in the Brewer administration with ties to Corrections Corporation of America.

Florida recently killed a state bill that would have privatized South Florida prisons.  Passage of the bill could have eliminated around 4,000 prison jobs in 24 facilities in South Florida.  Those in favor of the bill claim it could save the state $16.5 million a year but opponents say that public safety situations like corrections should not be contracted out.

Apparently the private prisons industry relies on three factors to thrive: One is lobbying; two is campaign contributions; and three is knowing people in the right places.

Private prison philosophy

When you look at the undocumented population there are over 11 million in the U.S.  Because Arizona was the leader in anti-immigration laws in the country with over 700,000 undocumented, they are a good state in which to evaluate the private prison system.  The Tucson Citizen released a report recently by the American Friends Service Committee, a group that is working to prevent private prisons in Arizona. 

One of the main findings of the study was the fact that “the private prisons under contract with the state cost more than equivalent units operated by the Department of Corrections.”  There’s more.

  • The Arizona Auditor General found a total of 157 security failures in the 5 private prisons under contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections
  • California’s Inspector General found serious security flaws and improper treatment of California inmates held in three CCA prisons in Arizona
  • AFSC found evidence of at least 28 riots in private prisons since 2009.  The number of riots is likely underreported
  • There were at least 6 escapes from inside Arizona private prisons in the past 10 years
Free enterprise is one of the foundations of our democracy, but it is clearly inappropriate for private prisons to coach states with the following rhetoric:

“The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws.

In other words, ramp up the searches and arrests of illegal immigrants to keep our jail cells full.  Remember the 90 percent rule.

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