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Private Prison Company Used in Drug Raids at Public High School

Corrections Corporation of America used in drug sweeps of public school students in Arizona.

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Largely as a result of model laws/sentencing guidelines advanced by the ALEC/NRA CrimeStrike partnership, the United States experienced a boom in the number of incarcerated individuals (in state and federal prisons, as well as in jails)-- from just over 1.1 million incarcerated in 1990, to nearly 2.3 million in 2010.

During the years of CCA's Criminal Justice/Public Safety and Elections Task Force involvement, ALEC also advanced and advocated "model legislation" that not only resulted in greater drug law enforcement presence on public school campuses, but that also mandated tough sentencing enhancements for drug offenses committed in "drug-free school zones."

The ALEC "Drug-Free Schools Act" called for the use of federal funds provided through the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act of 1986 for "enhanced apprehension, prevention and education efforts" in joint cooperation between law enforcement agencies and local school districts.

Multiple ALEC publications (including the ALEC "Sourcebook for American State Legislation 1993-94," which lists CCA among the organization's private sector members and advisors), along with the ALEC "Use of a Minor in Drug Operations Act" reference the "model Drug-Free School Zone Act," although it is unclear whether this "model" bill originated with ALEC.

It is clear, however, that the model "Drug-Free School Zone Act," which establishes "drug-free school zones" and carries sentencing enhancements similar to the enhancements codified in Arizona law, was promoted by a broad coalition of public interests groups during the 'tough-on-crime' fervor of the early-to-mid 1990s. The model bill enjoyed such support that the 1992 National Office of Drug Control Policy (NODCP) established federal assistance in establishing "drug-free school zones," as well as mandatory sentencing enhancements nationwide.

Interestingly enough, this NODCP initiative, which was set forth in a report discussing the agency’s "national priorities" for 1992, advocated state adoption of several other known pieces of ALEC model legislation, such as the "Use of a Minor in a Drug Operations Act," as well as other ALEC "models" calling for the suspension or revocation of occupational licenses for professionals convicted of drug crimes, the eviction of drug offenders from public housing, and the use of "mandatory minimum" sentencing guidelines.

Not surprisingly, ALEC, along with several other public policy groups, was credited by the NODCP as having been "especially helpful in the formulation of this strategy."

In April of 2012, following widespread criticism and loss of corporate sponsorship due to such pieces of "model legislation" disseminated by the Public Safety and Elections Task Force as the "Stand Your Ground Act," the "Voter ID Act" and the "No More Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act," ALEC announced that it would disband the task force (an announcement that PRWatch has critiqued as a "PR" maneuver).

Unfortunately, as the October 31 Vista Grande High School drug raid illustrates, the purported discontinuation of this task force comes only after the damage of two decades of private prison industry influence in the legislative process has taken its toll.

Is Any of this Right?

Vast differences between law enforcement agencies and private, for-profit corrections corporations aside, former ADC deputy warden and corrections specialist Carl Toersbijns said he sees a greater underlying problem in the practice of using any prison -- public or private -- personnel in school drug raids.

The simple fact is this: correctional officers -- people who work on a continual basis around adult criminal offenders-- have a much different mentality than a teacher, principal, or police officer. This mentality, he believes, may not be the most suitable mentality to subject school children to.

"Children are different -- they don't act like adults, and I don't think you ought to use corrections officers around children," said Toersbijns. "It's a different culture, it's a different setting, it's a different approach. It's inappropriate." 

For example, the term "lockdown," said Toersbijns, may mean an entirely different thing to a corrections officer than it means to school personnel, students, or police.



 
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