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Private Prison Profiteering

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In the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the prison industrial complex and the role of private prison corporations in locking up American citizens. Over at the Concurring Opinions blog, I posted several times in February [2012] connecting the principal of corporate profit maximization with the responsibilities of executives and Board members of private prison companies.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times has just weighed in on the privatization of prisons (amongst others areas, including education), describing the role of lobbyists in influencing and creating legislative policies that impact our lives. In his opinion piece Lobbyists, Guns and Money, Krugman details the activities of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), a purported “non-partisan” corporate backed lobbying organization and its massive emerging influence. Krugman writes:

“What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.”

Predictably, based on the last sentence above “And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatizations, such as . . . the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization,” Krugman received a bullying response letter from the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) trying to force a retraction for things that Krugman did not SAY, but may have implied.

The CCA claims that it does not, and never has lobbied for increasing prison sentences or developing new areas for detention (like criminalizing immigration). The CCA letter claims that “CCA does not and has not ever lobbied for or attempted to promote any legislation anywhere that affects sentencing and detention — under longstanding corporate policy.”

Krugman is dubious about this claim, as am I. CCA employs dozens of lobbyists and spends millions of dollars per year lobbying legislatures around the United States in connection with promoting its business interests. To believe CCA’s claim that it does not seek to influence sentencing policy or detention legislation requires one to believe that it disciplines its lobbyists to argue for and on behalf of policies that only impact privatization efforts. CCA was in the news last month because it sent letters to 48 states offering to buy the state’s prisons in exchange for a 20 year agreement to pay the company to warehouse its prisoners and contractually agree to keep the prison filled at 90% capacity. A state agreeing to keep its prisons filled at 90% capacity seems to me to be an attempt to influence sentencing and detention.

I respond to CCA’s claim by asking readers to consider the following question:

“Is it possible, that the Board of Directors of private prison companies . . . are literally strategizing ways to increase the prison population in the United States? To effectively increase profits for shareholders, are private prison companies not only cutting services to prisoners as a way to increase profits, but are they now drafting policies, lobbying politicians, and actively debating ways to ensure that a steady stream of “clients” continues into the private prisons that are proliferating across the United States (now over 25% of prisoners are housed in private prison facilities)?”

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