Thursday, September 30, 2010


Corrections Corporation of America, CCA, is based in Nashville, Tennessee.  They also happen to have a lot of friends in the government in Tennessee, relationships that have been cultivated through lobbying and campaign contributions.  CCA very nearly had its former chief counsel appointed as a federal district judge in Tennessee, but thanks to a fantastic public education campaign by Alex Friedmann and the Private Corrections Institute, that nomination was thwarted.  However, they still have tremendous pull within both local and state governments in Tennessee (as well as a lot of other places),  In fact, CCA is so friendly with the state government that they were able to secure a 10% increase in the per diem rate they are paid to house Tennessee prisoners, while the state decided to release low-risk inmates from county jails due to cost.  It actually costs the state more money to house prisoners in the CCA facilities in the state than they are charged by many counties.  Henderson county in particular charges the state nearly $13 per prisoner, per day less than CCA does.  They charge the federal government $7 per prisoner per day less than CCA.  Yet the state is sending more prisoners to private prisons.  Something smells awfully fishy in Tennessee.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


CCA has decided to sue Hernando County, Florida for the payments the county has withheld from them that would cover the last few months of the contract they bailed out of.  Hernando has withheld $1.8 million or so in payment to CCA while a team of experts is inspecting the jail to determine the extent of the damage done to the facility by CCA's failure to properly maintain it.  Thankfully, the county has held firm and won't pay CCA, which is a good thing, because....

In further news, the facility needs 15 EFFING MILLION DOLLARS worth of repairs and work.  It needs not only maintainenance, but upgrades to meet building code and security standards, all of which CCA neglected to do.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Peter Shumlin for Governor! (of Vermont)

Peter Shumlin, a Senator from Vermont, is running for Governor.  He has vowed to cancel the state's contract with CCA and bring Vermont's inmates home:

"Currently almost 700 inmates are housed in private, out-of-state prisons owned by the Corrections Corporation of America. This contract costs taxpayers roughly $18 million a year and poses a threat to public safety when inmates return more dangerous after mixing with populations in other states. The CCA contract will be terminated if Peter is elected."


This link goes to a financial news website called The Street, which has an article about the future prospects for CCA and GEO stock.  The article properly points out that violent crime, along with the prison population, has declined over the past year.  The author speculates that this will adversely impact CCA's and GEO's business as states will have less of a need for new prison beds in the future.  But the icing on the cake is that both CCA and GEO have lost a great deal of value in their company stock.  CCA's stock is down 6.6% this year, and 17% over the past 3 years.  GEO is down an amazing 26% over the past 3 years.  All of this is great news.

Arizona is Indeed Seeking More Private Beds

Arizona just re-issued a request for proposals (RFP) for 5,000 new private prison beds.  Instead of following national trends towards reforming parole/probation, de-prioritizing drug prosecution, and increasing alternatives to confinement that have reduced prison populations in places like Texas and New York, they have just decided to solicit more prison beds.  This is the second RFP they have put out this year (after they tried unsuccessfully to sell then lease back the state government building.  Seriously.); the first was cancelled shortly after the escapes from the Kingman prison, amid the public perception that "hey, maybe private prisons aren't all they're cracked up to be."

This new RFP is slightly revised, and contains more stringent regulations on the oversight of the potential contract.  It has stronger enforcement mechanisms for non-compliance (meaning the government will be able to asses stronger penalties), stricter reporting requirements, and more formalized auditing procedures.  So basically whichever company wins the bid will be subject to greater oversight due to MTC's failure to maintain a secure facility.   While I am still adamantly opposed to increasing the amount of private prison beds, at least any beds that come about in response to this RFP will be better-regulated than the private prisons currently being operated in the state (in theory, anyway.).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Political Favors Reveal Lack of Oversight

I wrote in the past about how the Secretary of Corrections for the state of New Mexico, Joe Williams, declined to enforce penalties against CCA and GEO for contract non-compliance in the form of ongoing staff vacancies.  Mr. Williams was employed by the GEO Group for years prior to joining Gov. Richardson's cabinet, and apparently decided that consistent failures to abide by the contracts they have with the state on the part of CCA and GEO didn't warrant fines.  Well it turns out that Mr. Williams probably cost his state close to $20 million in uncollected penalties (which would be awfully nice to receive in this era of fiscal restraint and tight budgets).  But what is even more troubling is that that amount can't be verified because the Department of Corrections isn't even sure about how long the positions were vacant.

That's right; the government agency charged with overseeing private prisons in New Mexico can't provide oversight because they don't have access to the information.  "We do not have adequate records to demonstrate how long some correctional officer positions remained vacant,” corrections spokeswoman Tia Bland said.  Aside from the public's inability to access information about private prisons, it is preposterous to think that the government agency charged with overseeing a private company's responsibility to incarcerate prisoners is incapable of doing so because it can't access the information. 

Private prisons must be subject to stricter oversight.

Failure of Oversight

Arizona's Department of Corrections had an employee specifically designated to provide oversight of the operations of the Kingman prison, the facility from which 3 inmates (2 of them convicted murderers) escaped in Juyl, leading to a huge headline-grabbing manhunt.  But it turns out he was so overwhelmed with paperwork that he wasn't able to properly monitor the security or operations of the prison.  He had not even read the contract the state had with MTC to operate the facility in over 14 months on the job.  He knew nothing of the alarm system that had not been maintained in over 2 years since MTC's contract with the vendor expired.  The prison would go months between inspections, which were done so poorly they weren't able to identify the problems that lingered at the prison for years.

Private prison proponents love to point out that the facilities are most often monitored by an employee, or handful of employees, in state governments that ensure contract compliance.  However, it's obvious that simply having a person designated to provide oversight of a private facility is not enough to ensure they will operate according to the contract, or that the company will maintain a safe and humane facility.  But private prison companies continually lobby against increased oversight of their facilities, in both state and federal governments.  They spend millions opposing legislation that would improve the public's access to their records, thereby increasing the amount of oversight on the industry. 

Considering the industry's track record of negligence and abuse, along with repeated failures to ensure compliance with the contracts they enter into at the expense of American taxpayers, private prison companies need to be held accountable to the public.  To borrow from Louis Brandeis, sunlight is the best disinfectant.  It is high time that the contract violations and human rights abuses that take place within the private prison industry are brought out into that light.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tulsa, OK Saves Nearly $15 Million by De-Privatizing Jail

The sheriff of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has saved his town approximately $14 million over the past 5 years since he took over operations of the jail from CCA.  His initial budget proposal was $2 million cheaper than CCA's in 2006, so the county properly decided he should take over operations.  With some clever ideas to bring in new revenue streams and by improving efficiency, he has saved the taxpayers of Tulsa millions of dollars that would have otherwise gone into the pockets of CCA executives.

As the county's fiscal officer, Jim Smith, puts it:

"If CCA would have continued operating the jail, the Criminal Justice Authority would have been millions in the red by now."

CCA Costs the Public Jobs

42 citizens of Las Vegas are out of work this week after a new CCA prison opened that will take inmates from the North Las Vegas Detention Center.  The article linked of course only praises CCA for bringing jobs to the economically-starved town of Pahrump, while largely ignoring the fact that 42 government employees are now out of work in Vegas.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Maybe I Jumped the Gun With Yesterday's Title

Because the article I've linked to today might just be the most depressing analysis of CCA's political clout and its dealings with ALEC over SB1070 and similar immigration laws that I've ever seen.  Basically, CCA (and to a lesser extent, GEO), contribute directly to the campaigns of politicians in at least 5 states that are considering introducing, or have already introduced, legislation similar to Arizona's "Breathing While Brown" law.  They circumvent limits on contributions by sending donations from the company itself, an independent Political Action Committee, and from employees directly, so that they are able to bribe politicians with far more money than campaign finance laws are supposed to allow for (Oh, loopholes). 

In addition to direct campaign contributions, CCA employs a lobbyist that sits on the Public Safety task force of ALEC, the same task force that drafted and then shopped around a model version of the "Breathing While Brown" law.  CCA then contributes to the campaigns of politicians who support the legislation, as the article notes.  "Many of the legislators helping to earn CCA more profits with radical anti-immigrant bills mirroring SB1070 have been recipients of private prison industry cash or have worked closely with the CCA-funded ALEC organization."  ALEC is also a membership-based organization, and has claimed in the past that up to 1/3 of state-level legislators were members, giving them direct, unfettered access to the corporate manipulation employed by CCA and other industries trying to harm this country.

But apparently for CCA, even all that spending doesn't buy it the type of political influence it wants to ensure we continue sending ever-increasing hordes of American citizens to prison.  No, they directly lobby on issues like immigration and oversight of government contractors.  They lobby to enhance penalties for immigration violations, which has caused our immigration detention system to explode tenfold in the past decade.  They lobby against oversight of their facilities by opposing legislation that would simply require them to respond to FOIA requests, so the public's access to information about the abuses and negligence that take place in their facilities is all but completely snuffed out.  I have reported in the past on the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spend trying to influence legislation in the Federal Government, but they also retain lobbyists in the legislatures of every state they have operations in.  CCA spent $50,000 already this year lobbying in just Tennessee, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions more, in other states.

I really hate you both, CCA and ALEC.  You are working to systematically destroy this country and the freedoms it was founded upon.  You are thinly-veiled cogs in the machine of social control.  You are parasitic, amoral entities and a drain on the American economy and society.

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.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Great News from Arizona

Two quick links here (title and below) to some great news coming out of Arizona this morning.  The state rejected all 4 formal bids to build 5,000 private prison beds that followed a request for proposals earlier this year.  Citing the recent escapes from Kingman, the state decided to can the request entirely and now will not be seeking to add 5,000 private beds to their capacity.

I think this comes as especially good news to the citizens of Globe, Arizona, who seemed nearly unanimous in opposition to a private prison being built in their small town.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You be the Judge

In an attempt to be slightly less partial, I've just got a quick link to an article regarding the recent escapes in Kingman, AZ.  It features two positions, one taken by CCA spokesman (read: "professional blasphemer") Steve Owen; the other by Frank Smith of the Private Corrections Working Group.  Mr. Owen touts all the "great" reasons governments should privatize their prisons, but fails to tell the entire story behind many of his claims.  In particular, he says CCA never directly or indirectly lobbied Jan Brewer regarding the immigration law (except 3 of CCA's lobbyists have been connected to the office), that they don't lobby on any criminal law (because they funnel a bunch of money to ALEC to have them lobby on criminal laws), that most of their facilities are accredited (but they still get sued all the time and courts have held that ACA accreditation doesn't even guarantee they meet minimum Constitutional standards), and that their number-one priority is security (but most of their facilities are understaffed and they don't train their guards as much as government-run prisons).  But don't just take it from me; Frank Smith roundly crushes Steve Owen in the article, basing his argument, that Arizona should re-evaluate its relationships with private prison contractors, on things like facts and evidence.

OK so I guess I failed at the impartiality thing.  But go ahead and read both opinions for yourself, and you be the judge as to whether private prisons are a good idea.

(Apologies for being like 2 weeks late on this)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why I Hate Lamar Alexander Today

Lamar Alexander, former member of CCA's Board of Directors and a Senator from Tennessee, lamented over the Obama administration's failure to produce jobs in the private sector.  He claims the President is too focused on creating government jobs and not enough on growing the private sector.  News flash, Mr. Alexander; Obama is a Democrat, meaning he's not driven by an unequivocable desire to steer federal contracts to his pals in major corporations (a la every Republican administration in the past 50 years).  Further, THAT'S NOT HIS JOB, as you should well know, being a legislator yourself.  He is tasked with being Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, and leading the executive branch of government.  If anything, you should congratulate him on creating government jobs, because that indeed could be seen as one of his responsibilities.  Nowhere in the Constitution, or any other document I've ever seen, has there been mention of the President's responsibility to grow the economy or to help stimulate private-sector job growth.  Those who want a president who stimulates our economy expect far more out of the office than it was ever designed for, or capable of.  It is the job of neither the President nor any member of Congress to help private business succeed; in fact, any government intervention in the private sector theoretically runs counter to the traditional conservative ideology that the Republican party abandoned long ago.

Mr. Alexander has a suggestion for government employees, which might be one of the dumbest things I've heard from a Senator in, let's say, the past week; "Maybe we ought to require everyone who serves in government to join one board of directors of a private company and attend board meetings four times a year just so they know how it’s done.”  Actually, Mr. Alexander, knowing "how it's done," so to speak, at a private company, is no prerequisite for having a government job.  Just because you were able to amass a multi-million dollar fortune because of your capitalist buddies and a series of lucky turns doesn't mean that you are any better equipped to serve the people of this country than anyone else.  In fact, if anything, it makes you less likely to serve the interests of the common American, with whom you share practically nothing in common, and more likely to serve the interests of the corporate elite who helped place you in the position you currently occupy.

Mr. Alexander, not everything has to be privatized in this world.  Republicans like yourself have been behind plans to privatize everything from the military to social welfare programs, all in the (at best) misguided or (at worst) intentionally deceptive name of improving efficiency.  Just the idea that a company motivated by profit can produce higher quality products or services at a lower cost than a nonprofit government entity is in itself sort of ludicrous, but if you look at the privatization of services the government used to provide, you see an impeccable track record of corners being cut, services being diminished, and costs either remaining the same or increasing once the private sector takes control.  For example, look at the mess of a situation we have in the middle east with our military contractors, or the bloated private prison system in this country.  Privatization and stimulating the private sector is not the miraculous solution to every social problem, and this author would argue that it makes many of them far more dire.  But most importantly, it is not, has never been, and hopefully never will be, the job of the government to help the private sector.

OK I apologize for going off on a general anti-privatization tangent, but I figured since Mr. Alexander speaks from a position of having worked specifically on trying to get more government funding for an underperforming, abusive private prison company, that some of my 3 readers might be interested.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Insider Trading

Zachariah Zachariah (yes, that's his real name) is a cardiologist and big-time Republican fundraiser in Florida.  He's a big shot behind the scenes for the Florida GOP, having steered millions in campaign and PAC contributions to his conservative allies.  He also worked as a consultant for the GEO Group, where his son was employed, right before they acquired Correctional Services Corporation (CSC).  So you may be asking yourself, what's so bad about that?  Only the fact that he learned about the acquisition before it was announced publicly through his connection with George Zoley and his son, purchased nearly 100,000 shares of stock in GEO, then sold them for a huge profit after the acquisition was announced.  He is also accused of essentially obstructing justice by intentionally withholding information when he was questioned by the SEC about his insider trading activities.

I hate you, Zach Zachariah

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Friends in High Places

Joe Williams, the Secretary of Corrections in New Mexico, declined repeated opportunities to penalize private prison operators within his state for repeated contract violations.  Though he claims the violations weren't egregious enough to warrant a fine (I can't really imagine any instance in which the violation of a contract to house prisoners wouldn't warrant a fine, considering the severity of their responsibility), it turns out he actually used to work for the GEO Group.  I guess it must be nice to have friends like that.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Why I Like The US District Court in Oregon

A federal judge in the US District Court for the District of Oregon just slapped the BOP with a decision forcing them to provide better justification for why they refuse to disclose information on the contracts they have with private prison companies to house immigration detainees.  Essentially, the BOP kept refusing to provide information pursuant to FOIA requests on things like staffing, operations, and computer technology.  This is an epidemic within the private prison industry; they are the only entity in this country that performs an inherently governmental funciton with practically no public oversight of their operations because they aren't bound by FOIA or public records laws.  This lawsuit was aimed at trying to get access to this sort of information through the BOP, which is subject to FOIA requests.  While the BOP will most certainly appeal the ruling and continue to just summarily decide to withhold documents, as attorney Stephen Raher says, "Today’s ruling reiterates that the government cannot withhold information simply because private contractors would rather not be exposed to public scrutiny."

Here is the decision.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jan Brewer Retaliates Against CBS Affiliate for Investigating Her Ties to CCA

Things are getting pretty hairy down in Arizona.  Here's a great new report from Rachel Maddow detailing how Jan Brewer's campaign has retaliated against the CBS affiliate that has uncovered all her connections to CCA, including the new smear campaign against the network being employed by Brewer and her cronies at High Ground Consulting.  In includes an interview with the reporter who's been on the case, Morgan Loew, who says that Chuck Coughlin won't even respond to questions about how much he advised Brewer before she signed the bill.

Keeping Secrets

CCA has announced that they spent $240,000 lobbying the federal government in the last quarter (the last 3 months).  This is right on par with their typical lobbying expenditures, which have averaged out to about $250,000 every 3 months for the past few years. So aside from all the lobbying they do in state legislatures in places like Arizona, Texas, and California, they spend $1 million per year lobbying the federal government.  And what exactly are they trying to do with all that lobbying?  In particular, they have worked extensively to try to defeat legislation that would simply require any prison contracting with the federal government to be bound by public records laws. 

Private prisons are currently not bound by FOIA or public records laws nearly anywhere they operate (with the exception of Tennessee and Florida), despite the fact that they perform an inherently governmental function.  So they are able to escape the same sort of public oversight scrutiny that any other government entity must endure; they aren't required to report things like rates of escape or violence, staffing ratios, and other information critical to the safe and humane operation of a prison.  This is the core reason why statistics on things like escapes from private prisons are nearly impossible to come by (try finding stats on it if you don't believe me).  So all sorts of abuses and negligence go unchecked because private prisons don't even have to live up to the same standards as government-run prisons.

For as much as CCA likes to talk about how they don't lobby to increase criminal penalties (which is technically true; they just use the American Legislative Exchange Council as a front group, as do all other major corporations looking to circumvent scrutiny for screwing over the American public), they still lobby for the wrong reasons, to the detriment of the taxpayers who support them and the poor souls who have to live in their prisons.

Oh and for the icing on the cake, Charles Overby, the director of the Freedom Forum, which is "dedicated to free press," sits on CCA's Board of Directors, effectively directing the censorship of the information the public, and the press, has access to.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pay-to-Play Politics

Today's link goes to a great article detailing the hundreds of thousands of dollars CCA has invested in the California government via lobbying and campaign contributions.  By donating to incumbent candidates, parties, and PACs, and directly lobbying state legislators and the governor, CCA was able to increase their contract with the state nearly thirty-fold.  They started with a contract worth $23 million dollars, but are now paid nearly $700 million by California to house prisoners.  What's even worse is that were able to expand that contract without any semblance of a competitive bidding process.  And according to one Assemblyman, Hector De La Torre, the state has "no idea" whether taxpayers have even made a sound investment.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say they have not.