Tuesday, November 29, 2011
What is it that's keeping some 2.3 million people in prisons and jails across the United States, and thousands more in immigrant detention centres? In large part, it's the timidity of politicians from both parties, who still fear appearing soft on crime or on illegal immigration. Since the 1980s they have lengthened sentences and rolled back parole opportunities, leading to a 700 per cent increase in the US prison population. In the last 15 years, they have also overseen a five-fold increase in the numbers of undocumented immigrants jailed in detention centres.
But some reports argue that the greed and influence of private prison companies, as well as the perfidy of politicians, plays a role in keeping prisons and detention centres teeming. These companies have a vested interest in putting more people in prison and keeping them there longer. By funding state and national campaigns, lobbying legislators and participating in influential conservative political organisations, they appear to have succeeded in shaping policies.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union for-profit companies are responsible for approximately 6 per cent of state prisoners, 16 per cent of federal prisoners. Detention Watch Network, asserts that private prison companies have been especially successful in influencing immigration policies and practices. Some 400,000 immigrants pass through America's immigrant detention centres each year, at a cost of $1.7bn. Nearly half of these immigrants are housed in 30 detention centres run by private companies under contract with the federal government; they are paid an average of $122 per day per resident.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has gross revenues in 2010 of $1.69bn. CCA runs 60 prisons for federal, state and local governments, and owns 44 of them. All told they boast a capacity of 85,000 beds in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Between 2003 and 2011, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, CCA hired 199 lobbyists in 32 states," notes the Detention Watch report. On the federal level, according to the report, CCA spent more than $18 million on lobbying between 1999 and 2009, "often employing five or six firms at the same time," and in 2010, CCA spent another $970,000 lobbying the federal government.
CCA also is involved in a network of conservative state political organisations that make up the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), until recently sitting on the board of its criminal justice task force and along with a bail bond organisation, working up model bills aimed at making convicted people serve full time, along with the famous three-strikes legislation. According to the Justice Policy Institute, "Since the 1980s and 1990s, ALEC facilitated the production of model bills focusing on mandatory minimums, three strikes laws (giving 25 years to life in prison for repeat offences), and 'truth-in-sentencing' legislation (requiring people to serve most or all of their time without chance for parole), all of which are significant contributors to the dramatic increase in incarceration in the last 30 years."
The second largest for-profit prison company is the GEO Group (with operations in South Africa, Australia and the UK) and gross revenues of $1.17bn in 2010. It runs 59 facilities with more than 53,000 beds. GEO spent more than $2 million on lobbying between 1999 and 2009.
According to a Justice Policy Institute's report, "Since 2000, the three largest private prison companies - CCA, GEO, and Cornell Companies - have contributed $835,514 to federal candidates, including senators and members of the House of Representatives. Giving to state level politicians during the last five election cycles was... $6,092,331."
Who are the real crooks?
“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” - Eugene Debs