Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Mighty Political Influence of CCA

Great expose today in the Florida Independent that looks at the situation in Hernando County, Florida, where CCA recently backed out of a contract with the county to run the jail once the Sheriff discovered they had let the facility fall into hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars worth of disrepair.  After the sheriff proposed taking over the facility and inspected it, CCA skipped town and is now engaged in a battle with the county over their last payment on the contract.  The county is withholding payment until a firm determines whether they or CCA are responsible for the failure to maintain the facility over 22 years.  Considering CCA ran the day-to-day operations for over two decades, I'll go out on a limb and say they were responsible for most of the upkeep, or lack thereof.

Today's article though goes far deeper than just CCA's decision to bail on the county when their practices came into question.  It examines the political influence private prison companies wield in Florida in both toughening criminal sanctions and ensuring industry growth despite scant evidence they offer any sort of increase in efficiency over government-run facilities.  CCA had donated so much money to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that the company was a co-chair of their Criminal Justice Task Force, which was behind Florida's truth-in-sentencing act that significantly increased the prison population.  CCA's director of business development still holds a prominent position in ALEC, which has been called "Corporate America's Trojan Horse," for the anti-consumer, pro-business legislation it has covertly introduced all across the country.  CCA has donated millions of dollars to politicians and PACs (mostly Republican) in the state over the past few years, and has recruited former government employees to work for them.

So what exactly has CCA purchased with these donations to politicians and the money they gave to ensure a substantial role in developing ALEC's criminal justice policy?  Well they helped to buy the state of Florida the 3rd-largest inmate population in the country, costing the state nearly $2.3 billion to house their prisoners.  They have purchased political influence to ensure extensions of the contracts they have with both the state and smaller jurisdictions despite the fact that reports have shown they don't offer significant cost savings (in fact, private prisons might even cost more than government-run ones) and are less effective at reducing recidivism (which makes sense because if CCA rehabilitates its prisoners it will lose clientele).  CCA is costing the state of Florida millions of dollars by having directly influenced the Truth-in-Sentencing legislation that caused the incarceration rate to rise dramatically, and by not working to reduce recidivism among the poor prisoners who are forced into their facilities.  CCA and other private prison operators do not even offer fiscal savings over government-run prisons.

I hope that the situation in Hernando County will be a lesson to the rest of the state that privatizing prisons is a terrible idea, and that introducing a profit motive into the incarceration of human being can never have a good result.  Aside from the financial costs associated with the increase in prison populations, the social costs of having overly harsh criminal penalties, of having an industry that focuses on maximizing profit at the expense of human suffering, of not adequately preparing prisoners to re-enter society, are staggering and incalculable.  Florida, and every state that contracts with private prisons (along with the Federal government), would be well-served by reclaiming control of their prison systems from the greedy, manipulative hands of the private prison industry.

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