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The Shocking Ways the Corporate Prison Industry Games the System

The private prison system has rebounded, growing dramatically, and making big bucks with huge help from the Feds, as large numbers of immigrants are incarcerated.

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The CCA lays out the risks to their business model in their 2010 Annual Report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC):

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. For instance,  any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them

The GEO Group, highlighted similar risks to their revenue stream in the company’s 2010 Annual Report:

[A]ny changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.

In other words, a more humane criminal justice and immigration detention system threatens the very existence of these companies, and according to the ACLU report, they have flooded government at the state and federal level with cash and armies of lobbyists to keep the laws as harsh and cruel as ever. 

That explains why CCA spent over $18 million on federal lobbying between 1999 and 2009 and has spent  $970,000 on federal lobbying in 2010 alone.   As for state government influence-peddling, the ACLU report cites a study by the National Institute on Money in State Politics which found that from 2003 to 2011 CCA hired 199 lobbyists in 32 states while GEO Group hired 72 lobbyists in 17 states.

The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a comprehensive report in June called " Gaming the System," that comprehensively lays out the tactics private prison companies exercise to push for tougher sentencing policies that add to the private prison population.  While their strategy is built largely around campaign contributions and lobbying, they also cultivate and maintain special relationships with current and former elected and appointed officials, which can lead to disastrous consequences.  

The Human Cost

Despite numerous cases of corruption, the private prison industry continues to thrive with little oversight, largely due to a revolving door between public and private corrections that, according to Shapiro, "may contribute to the ability of some companies to win contracts or to avoid sufficient scrutiny from the corrections departments charged with overseeing their operations."

One of the most egregious examples of this dynamic took place at a West Texas juvenile prison run by GEO Group where inmates were found living in filth.  In 2007, the Texas Youth Commission, which was responsible for monitoring the quality of the facility,  fired several employees who not only failed to report on the horrific conditions but also actually praised and thanked the GEO staff for their fine work, awarding them an overall compliance score of 97.7 percent.

It was eventually discovered that the prior to working for TYC, the state monitors had been employed by the GEO Group.

The situation became even more troubling when independent auditors were sent to the jail, where they "got so much fecal matter on their shoes they had to wipe their feet on the grass outside.”  Among the  long list of reported findings was evidence of “racial segregation [in] the dorms; Hispanics are not allowed to be cell mates with African-Americans."  The youth reported to the auditors that they were "disciplined for speaking Spanish," prevented from speaking to their lawyers, denied access to medical treatment, and even "forced to urinate or defecate in some container other than a toilet" due to a lack of toilets in some of the cells.

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