Crime and Punishment and Profit

The federal Conservative government has maintained a ‘tough on crime’ stance since the party’s inception in 2003. Since their election as a majority government in 2011, they have passed legislation to increase mandatory minimum sentencing for a number of crimes. This will increase prison populations at a time when crime rates are decreasing and research has continually shown that incarceration is the least effective means to reduce recidivism or impact overall crime rates. The Conservative Party’s position has been, by their own admission, developed with a total disregard for statistics. In other words, ideology rather than science shapes their policies.

The Conservative Party of Canada is called by some the Republican North Party, in no small part to these punitive policies. One of the differentiators between the two countries, is that in the US, the policies are based as much upon profit as ideology.

Fox News is known to have a right wing stance on many issues, and in this case, even they have a problem with the for-profit status and lobbying efforts of the privately run prisons.

The country’s largest prison companies are generating huge profits as the U.S. locks up more undocumented immigrants than ever, and an Associated Press review shows the businesses are spending tens of millions on lobbying and political campaigns.

The cost to American taxpayers is on track to top $2 billion for this year, and the companies are expecting their biggest cut of that yet in the next few years thanks to government plans for new facilities to house the 400,000 immigrants detained annually.

After a decade of expansion, the sprawling, private system runs detention centers everywhere from a Denver suburb to an industrial area flanking Newark’s airport, and is largely controlled by just three companies.

The percentage of prisons and illegal immigrants in private institutions has increased t0 50% from 10% in the decade from 2001-2011. They also largely operate without Federal oversight. Their subsidiaries in health care and transportation add to their incomes. When large amounts of money are at stake, lobbying becomes a major factor in business operations.

The industry’s giants — Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp. — have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found.

CCA and GEO, who manage most private detention centers, insist they aren’t trying to influence immigration policy to make more money, and their lobbying and campaign donations have been legal.

Perhaps, as they claim, the companies are not attempting to influence legislation leading towards higher rates of incarceration, but industry finances have steadily increased in lockstep with lobbying efforts, particularly in the area of immigration policy.

The federal government stepped up detentions of undocumented immigrants in the 1990s, as the number of people crossing the border soared. In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring many more undocumented immigrants be locked up. But it wasn’t until 2005 — as the corrections companies’ lobbying efforts reached their zenith — that ICE got a major boost. Between 2005 and 2007, the agency’s budget jumped from $3.5 billion to $4.7 billion, adding more than $5 million for custody operations.

Dora Schriro, who in 2009 reviewed the nation’s detention system at the request of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said nearly every aspect had been outsourced.

The increase in profits with changes in the treatment in immigrants, particularly those entering illegally has been dramatic.

To deter illegal border crossers, federal prosecutors are increasingly charging immigrants with felonies for repeatedly entering the country without papers. That has led thousands of people convicted of illegal re-entry, as well as more serious federal offenses, to serve time in private prisons built just for them.

A decade ago, more than 3,300 criminal immigrants were sent to private prisons under two 10-year contracts the Federal Bureau of Prisons signed with CCA worth $760 million. Now, the agency is paying the private companies $5.1 billion to hold more than 23,000 criminal immigrants through 13 contracts of varying lengths.

CCA was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 due to lawsuits, management problems and dwindling contracts. Last year, the company reaped $162 million in net income. Federal contracts made up 43 percent of its total revenues, in part thanks to rising immigrant detention.

GEO, which cites the immigration agency as its largest client, saw its net income jump from $16.9 million to $78.6 million since 2000.

With such a large amount of money at stake, it is expected that lobbying to maintain these profits would increase. Although industry spokespeople insist lobbying efforts are to push for contracts and not to influence policy or legislation, the money trail tells a different story. The recipients of this money are primarily those who campaign on increasing incarceration despite the evidence, and most of those are right-wing republicans. For example, the federal Republicans received more than twice as much as the Democrats. Individual Republicans were also recipients of this largesse.  These include Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, House Speaker John Boehner (Rep), Kentucky U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Rep).

More than campaign contributions, though, the private prison companies spent most of their money each year on lobbying in Washington, peaking in 2005 when they spent $5 million.

In just 2011, CCA paid the Washington firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld $280,000 in part to “monitor immigration reform,” federal reports show.

They also lobbied heavily against a bill that would force them to comply with the same open records requirements governing public facilities.

Money is also spent at the State and local levels where reporting contributions are not as open.

The prison companies’ influence at the state level mirrors that in Washington, although the money is even harder to track since many states, such as Arizona and Illinois, where the companies have won lucrative detention contracts, don’t require corporations to disclose what they pay lobbyists.

The AP reviewed campaign contribution data from the three companies’ political action committees and their employees over the last decade, compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. From 2003 to the first half of 2012, state candidates and political parties in the 50 states received more than $5.32 million.

In the 10 states where the companies’ committees and employees contributed the most, the AP found they also spent at least $8 million more lobbying local officials in the last five years alone. It is impossible to know how much of this lobbying money was aimed only at immigrant-related contracts. But that money generally went to states along the border, such as Florida and Texas, which have high numbers of immigrants, as well as states such as Georgia and Louisiana, where large numbers of immigrants also are detained.

Prison systems that operate on a for-profit basis also open the door for some disturbing behaviours. For example, 2 judges in Pennsylvania have been convicted for accepting bribes from these corporation in exchange for more and longer prison sentences, in a scandal that earned the name “Cash for Kids“.

The second judge in one of the ugliest scandals in modern Pennsylvania history has been sentenced to 17.5 years in prison for his role in putting young offenders into private detention centers, sometimes over the objections of prosecutors, so he could share in kickbacks from the builder of the detention facilities.

Michael Conahan, a former jurist in Luzerne County, was sentenced on Friday to 210 months in custody….

[former president judge of the Court of Common Pleas and former judge of the Juvenile Court for Luzerne County] Conahan’s role in the “cash for kids” scheme was to order the closing of a county-run detention center, clearing the way for Ciavarella, once known as a strict “law and order” judge, to send young offenders to private facilities. This arrangement worked out well for Ciavarella and Conahan, as well as the builder of the facilities and a developer, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

While these are only two, and perhaps the only two, judges who accepted bribes, the possibility of further bribes and kickbacks is disturbing.

Kingston Penitentiary is to be closed in 2014

The recent legislation in Canada will increase population density in our already overcrowded prisons and/or require the building of new and larger institutions. In addition, some current prisons are ageing and should be upgraded or replaced. With the current government’s ideological leanings toward decreasing the numbers of civil servants we must be wary that they don’t begin to outsource the operations of Corrections Canada. The consequences at both the policy, financial, and personal level are too serious to ignore.

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