Friday, April 29, 2011

A Little Bad, A Little Good

Two recent developments in the case the ACLU has against CCA for their operation of the Idaho Correctional Center seem rather noteworthy, imho. First, CCA was successful in getting the judge assigned to the case to recuse himself from the case over a procedural issue that really shouldn't have been an issue. Essentially, because the judge instructed a clerk to seek pro bono assistance for the prisoners at the facility (assistance which came in the form of the ACLU), CCA argued this amounted to conflict of interest. It didn't, and in fact it's pretty common legal practice. Anyway, this sets a dangerous precedent for class action cases in which under-served populations seek to sue large corporations to redress harms they've suffered. This could dissuade judges from assisting in setting up legal representation for people who have been abused by corporations and their greed, which runs counter to any realistic theory of justice.

However, not every development in the case is so dire. CCA just recently lost a bid to have the (new) judge pass a sweeping gag order in the case, which would have prevented much of the information about the horrific abuses perpetrated on the prisoners from being discussed in the media. CCA was essentially looking to keep the details of the sadistic actions of their employees hidden from the public during the course of the trial. The AP scored a point for freedom of the press on this one.

Monday, April 25, 2011

JD Alexander Loves His Corporate Sugar Daddy

Private prisons don't save money. The state of Florida, which has been using private prisons for at least 15 years, has never been able to prove they save money. But that hasn't stopped JD Alexander, a big fan of the GEO Group, (and Senate Budget Chief) from proposing to privatize half the state system, as a way of "saving money." Really, it's just a handout to a company that has donated millions to Florida Republicans, the latest effort by Alexander to funnel taxpayer dollars to his corporate friends.

Under Alexander's plan, older prisons in the south of Florida would be sold to private operators. Older prisons are more expensive to operate and maintain than newer facilities. Considering private prisons can't be shown to have saved any money in the first place, I question Alexander's logic in thinking his proposal could somehow be fiscally responsible (after all, isn't that what the Republicans claim underlies their every action?).

In addition to the fact that private prisons in Florida can't even prove they save money, they have consistently failed to perform up to the proper standards. Private prisons in Florida are not overseen by the DOC; they were initially managed by a special commission that was fraught with mismanagement and corruption. Following major scandals in the mid-2000s, oversight was transferred to the Department of Management Services, where private prisons have improved, slightly. From 2008 to 2010, a GEO Group prison was found to be below "acceptable" standards in 3 out of every 4 months it was reviewed; a CCA facility went 17 of 24 months as "below acceptable."

Private prisons also routinely deny adequate medical care to prisoners. Medical care is one of the biggest costs a prison operator has (aside from staffing), and private prisons deny care to sick prisoners as a way to maximize profits. In fact, 2 private prisons spent less than half as much money on medical care (to the tune of $8 million) than 2 state-run prisons in a comparison. But some in the state legislature have proposed turning over all medical care to private contractors. Apparently they don't care about prisoners with serious medical needs.

So private prisons can't prove they save any money in Florida. Private prisons definitely perform worse than government-run prisons. The state wants to turn over older facilities to private operators, who can't operate new facilities cheaper than the government. The private prison industry has donated millions to Florida's Republicans, while expanding into new markets like parole monitoring, right before various proposals in the state legislature spring up to privatize a huge portion of the state's correctional system.

JD Alexander says "[By privatizing half our state system] we could more definitely answer the question of whether there is cost savings." There is no question at this point, Mr. Alexander. Florida has conducted this failed experiment with private prisons for over a decade and a half, and no evidence has demonstrated any savings. Further, any savings that could possibly be achieved are offset by the human costs of for-profit incarceration. I'd say you should know better, but I'm sure you already do. You just don't care, as long as the money keeps flowing from the GEO Group's generous coffers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Errors, Oversights, and Omissions, Oh My!

I'll keep it brief today. A group called Policy Matters Ohio just released a report documenting years of poor reporting by private prison companies in Ohio which have impaired the state's ability to determine if private prisons actually save any money. This report is especially significant because of the governor's plan to privatize more of the state system after hiring a former CCA employee as his director of the DOC, and the state's requirement that private prisons save at least 5% in operating costs.

Reports from the industry are “riddled with errors, oversights and omissions of significant data,” making it impossible to determine what, if any, cost savings are achieved through privatization.

Private prisons are not required to provide information to the public on their operations or expenditures. It looks like the government of Ohio hasn't really cared about finding out such information either.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Policy That Violates Civil Rights

A mentally ill man incarcerated at a CCA facility in Tennessee went up to nine months without being bathed or having his cell cleaned, living in squalid conditions in a solitary confinement cell. He mentally decompensated to the point where he could only speak gibberish, and lived in filth as CCA staff refused to provide him with even the most basic care.

The abuse he suffered was so severe that an appeals court recently handed down a decision permitting his mother to sue CCA. In its opinion, the court held "that there was enough evidence to suggest CCA had a policy or custom that violated Horton’s civil rights." Meaning this wasn't an isolated incident; CCA routinely violated Mr. Horton's rights, and I'm sure the rights of many others unlucky enough to be housed in their facilities

Monday, April 18, 2011

I'm Not the Only One

Who fears the ramifications of the influence of corporate money on politics and politicians. Today's link goes to a very interesting piece from the Palm Beach Post about the investment corporations have made in recent years in Florida politics via campaign contributions and lobbying, and how that investment has helped secure one of the most "pro-business" legislatures in recent history.

Most noteworthy for my purposes is the fact that the GEO Group has donated over $100,000 in recent years, leading up to the recent push to privatize much of the state system (which they would inevitably benefit from).

Friday, April 15, 2011


Steve Owen, a professional shill for CCA, recently went on record in the Columbia Tribune as saying that CCA had no role in crafting Arizona's SB1070 (The "Breathing While Brown" law), they don't engage in legislation involving criminal justice issues, and they didn't donate to any Arizona politicians in the 2010 election. All of which would be great, if he wasn't blatantly lying. I've already covered their influence on SB1070 through ALEC; here are two links to some of that.

Mr. Owen claims that CCA made no donations to Arizona politicians in the 2010 election cycle. However, four members of CCA’s executive board donated $140 each to Governor Brewer’s campaign. Damon Hininger, CCA’s President and CEO, and Executive Vice Presidents Brian Collins, Tony Grande, and Todd Mullinger all donated.

CCA also appears to have donated through two of its chief lobbyists, which hold influence in the Governor’s office. Brewer’s campaign manager and advisor, Chuck Coughlin, owns Highground consulting, which counts CCA among its clients. Chuck donated more than $3,600 to Arizona politicians during the 2010 cycle; hardly more than one percent went to Democrats.

Paul Senseman, Brewer’s deputy chief of staff and a former CCA employee, donated $640, all to Republicans. His wife Kathy is a lobbyist with the firm Policy Development Group, which also lobbies on behalf of CCA. Kathy donated more than $1900 in the 2010 cycle, with a little over 98% going to Republicans.

Why is it so important that all this money went to Repbulicans? Well, Mr. Owen specifically said, "Schlemeier (the author of an article he wrote in response to) did not report the fact CCA made no contributions to any Arizona legislator — supporter of last year’s immigration legislation or otherwise — in 2010"

SB1070 passed the House on a 35-21 party-lines vote, and the Senate 17-11 with all but one Republican voting for it. The bill was signed by Governor Brewer, another Republican, and who received hundreds of dollars from CCA executives. CCA’s lobbyists donated thousands more to Arizona Republicans in the 2010 cycle, so clearly some of CCA's money was donated directly to Arizona legislators who supported SB1070.

Finally, to address his lie of not engaging in legislation involving criminal justice issues. During much of the 90's CCA held a seat on ALEC's "Criminal Justice" Taskforce (now called "Public Safety and Elections"). This means they paid tens of thousands of dollars per year to hold one of a handful of authoritative positions on a subdivision of ALEC that worked on model legislation involving criminal justice issues. So clearly, they do engage, and they are still members of ALEC, though they relinquished the company seat in favor of having one of their lobbyists hold it (so it's harder to trace to them).

If you were alive during the 90s, you might remember a big wave of "tough-on-crime" legislation, maybe the most famous of which was "3-strikes" legislation that was enacted in over a dozen states, including California, where it has directly contributed to their having the most overcrowded, and second largest, prison system in the country. Guess who crafted that 3-strikes legislation. Yep, that would be ALEC. Guess who's got $600 million worth of contracts to house California prisoners. Did you guess CCA? Great work!

So CCA chaired the taskforce in which 3-strikes legislation was created, putting their stamp of approval on legislation guaranteed to raise the prison population. They then cashed in handsomely on their investment. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I really hate CCA.

PS - I submitted most of this as a letter to the editor refuting Mr. Owen's bogus claims, but the Tribune has not published it. I don't know if they will, but I'm not hopeful.

UPDATE: The Columbia Tribune did indeed publish my letter on Sunday, April 24.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Report Finds No Economic Benefits

Private prison operators are often very successful at pitching their facilities in small and rural towns by describing all the wonderful economic benefits the private prison will bring. They talk about tax revenue from the facility, jobs provided by the private contractor, and the secondary economic benefits of having more wage earners in town, and coming into town to work. Turns out that's all a big load of crap.

Back in 2004, researchers at Washington State University came out with a report debunking many of these claims. Their report found "no evidence that prison expansion has stimulated economic growth,” and that bringing private prisons to town actually impedes economic growth.

They followed up this report with another that came out late last year, re-affirming the findings of the original report. The researchers found that not only is economic growth hindered by bringing a private prison to town, but “a negative relationship [exists] between the growth of new prisons and growth in private employment"

So private prisons actually COST small, struggling towns jobs. They drive business out of town, fail to live up to contracts, and don't save money. There is literally no good reason to privatize a prison, ever.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Privatization = No Transparency, No Accountability

Private prison operators are, simply put, not transparent in their actions or work. They are not bound by laws popularly called "open records," "Freedom of information," or "sunshine" laws, regulations that force governments to disclose information on practically every area of their work for public scrutiny. This allows for greater oversight of government functions, essential to any healthy democracy. Because how can we be expected to make informed decisions on how we are governed without information on how we're governed, and how our money is spent?

But alas, the industry as I mentioned is not bound by such laws (except in Florida and Tennessee), because it is comprised of private organizations. Apparently, this disregard for openness and accountability extends beyond the major companies to the smaller operations, and even companies that contract for specific operations within the prison system. For example, the title link goes to a story about two companies who have repeatedly failed to provide the state of Kentucky with information on their contract performance. One of those companies provides halfway house treatment for ex-offenders, and was apparently raking in so much profit (in a budget comprised almost entirely of government funds) that they were able to maintain a luxury suite for sporting events. When their contract was being reviewed however, "Because the detailed information [the government] requested wasn't provided, [the government] could not determine if state and federal funds were spent appropriately and the extent of other excessive or unusual expenditures." Great.

The other company is one you'd probably recognize by name alone; Aramark. Now Aramark has had a bit of a bad history with the state of Kentucky, for which it provides food to its prisoners. Prisoners rioted multiple times over the quality and quantity of food they were being served by Aramark, and anyone with some knowledge of prisons knows riots are a rather unusual occurence, sparked only by the most egregious of violations of rights. But, since Aramark is a private company, they too aren't required to turn over records on operating expenses, staffing, and the like. So there's not even a reasonable way to assess whether they have performed to the minimum requirements of their contract with the state (I don't think it's a stretch to imagine though that feeding prisoners so poorly they wind up rioting would be a breach of contract).

So forgive me for once again beating my anti-privatization drum, but I fear this impending wave of privatization Republicans have ridden in on, and the implications it holds for our future. Privatizing government services is never a good idea; it leads to corruption, abuse, and a complete lack of accountability. Which is probably exactly what Republicans want.

Another Blow to "Breathing While Brown"

The 9th Circuit released another decision on the case surrounding Arizona's "Breathing While Brown" law today, refusing Governor Brewer's appeal to lift the stay. This is great news in my opinion, because it helps to stave off the impending immigration crackdown that will inevitably ensue, the result of which will be another dramatic rise in our immigration detention population (and more money to private prison operators). You may recall that CCA actually helped draft and promote the law.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Coincidence My Foot

Florida's governor and legislature are far from immune to the growing wave of anti-government, pro-privatization rhetoric sweeping the country; in fact, much of the state legislature seems to fully support it. Which bodes very well for the GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida. GEO has always had a cozy relationship with Florida's politicians, donating heavily to incumbents (especially republicans) and maintaining a small army of lobbyists in the state house.

GEO has also recently been growing, having acquired Cornell about a year ago, along with a private probation monitoring company named BI, Inc. They have likewise been expanding their "health care" (and I use that term very lightly) arm for the past few years, taking over the operations of a few state hospitals.

The two recent budgets proposed in the state house seek to privatize much more of the state's prison system, along with hospitals and parole and probation offices. Thankfully, Florida seems to be the only state looking into proposals of this sort, but I wouldn't count this out in other areas that love privatization as well (Ohio, maybe). In fact, these proposals happened at just the perfect time for the GEO Group, who is looking very-well situated to earn hundreds of millions of dollars on some new contracts. As the president of the state's Police Officers' Union said, "Everything just seems to be falling into place for them, and it's all coincidental."

But aside from how GEO's generous donations politicians in Florida have influenced their desires to privatize everything but the kitchen sink (but GEO is looking into kitchen sink provision services), this push raises concerns for other reasons. Most important is the fact that the private sector, especially in the private prison industry, has consistently failed to deliver on the cost-savings they promise. Republicans love to hide behind the facade of seeking ways to cut spending as a way to balance the budget, but if the situation in Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere is to be used as an example, the reactions coming from the right in regards to budgets are more about turning to increased privatization as an end goal, to steer taxpayer money to businesses who have developed relationships with the government. That's why we're seeing this rash of union-busting and pitting private-sector employees against government ones. It's a way to divide the working class and divert their attention while businesses take control of state services.

Especially troubling in this whole situation is that Florida has apparently failed to learn from its mistakes of the past. Following a major scandal in the 90s involving a private parole company, Floridians enacted a law specifically prohibiting the privatization of such services. The new budget proposals would rewrite the legislation, because I guess private parole services are apparently much better now. This strikes a familiar chord, in regards to how the right have been consistently opposed to developing legislation in response to crises.

After the oil spill in the Gulf last year, Republicans told us we shouldn't look to enact tougher regulations on the industry, because the time wasn't right. After the economy collapsed, they told us it wasn't the right time to enact financial reforms. After the tsunami that destroyed the nuclear plant in Japan, we were told the time wasn't right to improve regulations at our nuclear plants. Time and again, republicans warn us against legislating in response to crises. Hooey. That's the BEST time to legislate. When a person, group, or company violates some social norm or rule that results in a disaster or huge crisis, we should use such a situation as a learning experience, and enact legislation to prevent future occurences. But alas, republicans are pretty effective at convincing Americans that the need the exact opposite of what would be most beneficial to them.

So in this case, the law that prohibits privatizing probation services, written after a major scandal involving a private probation service provider, IS A GOOD ONE. Keep it.

But even that doesn't tell the whole story. In regards to privatizing state hospitals, GEO already runs some hospitals for the state. And, guess what, THEY COST MORE. I know, you're shocked. Regardless, republicans still want to privatize more state hospitals, because I suppose it's better to have a private company earn a profit while costing more, than to have a government run a non-profit healthcare system that costs less.

Republicans, in Florida and elsewhere, DO NOT CARE ABOUT SAVING MONEY. Republicans are absolutely not fiscally conservative in any way, shape or form. In fact, all these proposed savings in Florida, as in many other states looking to cut the budget, all help make up for the fact that the governor refuses to raise taxes. Republicans only look to cut taxes and privatize government services, whether or not that's in the best interest of their constituents or their state. In practically every single instance, it's not.

I'll leave on this perfect quote from an editorial in the Miami Herald: "The massive switch to completely privatizing 18 correctional facilities without debate, research or planning is a much more foolhardy enterprise than the FDOT proposal. It simply makes no sense and seems fueled more by lobbying and campaign contributions from private prison operators than from any reasoned approach to trimming the cost of incarcerating prisoners."

My point exactly.