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The Sordid Existence of the Private Prison Corporation

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“Kids for Cash” Judge Mark Ciavarella

News out of the United States this week in connection with the debacle that is the for-profit private prison corporation regime borders on deprave.  That the privatization of the prison industry in the U.S. (and abroad) is not now considered an epic failure is mystifying.  In Pennsylvania, Mark Ciavarella, Jr., the former juvenile court judge that orchestrated the “Kids for Cash” scandal, was formally sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in sending children to jail in return for cash payments (the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sentence from his 2011 trial).  Ciavarella was found guilty in 2011 of “engaging in a pattern of racketeering and participating in a racketeering conspiracy through his receipt and transfer of $997,600 from individuals associated with the juvenile detention centers.”  Ciavarella and former Judge Michael Conahan were both accused of sending children to private juvenile detention facilities, in Luzerne County, PA, often in violation of the kids’ constitutional rights, in return for bribes and kickbacks from private prison owner Robert Mericle for the number of children that they sentenced to spend time in the Mericle-built private juvenile facilities.  Conahan pled guilty to racketeering in 2010, while Ciavarella cavalierly battled the indictment claiming that he received only a “finders fee” for assisting in the construction of the private prison facility.

As reported in 2011 by the Christian Science Monitor, the jury found Ciavarella guilty on 12 of 39 counts in his indictment. Aside from racketeering, he “was also convicted of failing to record the
secret payments on judicial financial disclosure forms from 2004 to
2007, and for filing false tax returns for those same years. In
addition, the jury found him guilty of engaging in a money-laundering
conspiracy to conceal the payments.”

The perverse incentives that attach when private corporations seek to control a public function like crime and punishment, including sentencing and imprisonment, literally overwhelms both judges and corporate executives. That a private prison company would literally bribe judges to fill their prisons in appalling.  Just as outrageous is that judges would, without remorse, destroy the lives of young kids by imprisoning them for minor crimes or misbehaviors, in order to receive bribes that the private industry seems more than willing to pay.

GEO Group Headquarters in Florida

Meanwhile, the GEO Group, Inc., one of the nation’s largest private prison companies, has been lying to investors and the general public. The mantra of private prison companies is that they “do no harm” as they simply run prisons more efficiently and for lower cost than government can.  In repeating this mantra, the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) routinely claim that they do not seek to influence legislatures or lobby for longer sentences, for greater prison time or for the expansion of crimes that will ultimately lead to a stronger flow of prisoners into their prison beds, including claims that they are not involved in the criminalization of immigration.  This however, is reportedly not true.  Not only is there emerging evidence that private prisons run less efficiently and at greater cost than those run by states and municipalities, but GEO Group’s public disclosures this year admitted to paying millions of dollars to lobbyists that are seeking to influence immigration policy by sending illegal immigrants into the private prisons.

The Nation reports:  “Earlier this year, one of the largest private prison corporations in the
country sent out a statement to reporters claiming that it would not
lobby in any way over the immigration reform debate. A new disclosure
shows that the company, the Boca Raton–based Geo Group, has in fact paid
an ‘elite team of federal lobbyists’ to influence the comprehensive immigration reform legislation making its way through Congress. . . .

In February and March, Pablo Paez, the Geo Group’s vice president of corporate relations, told media outlets, including the Financial Times and The Nation, that his firm would steer clear of immigration reform politics. . . . ‘The GEO Group has never directly or indirectly lobbied to influence immigration policy. We have not discussed any immigration reform related matters with any members of Congress, and we will not participate in the current immigration reform debate.’

Geo Group’s quarterly lobbying disclosure tells a different story. A disclosure filed in April shows that the company turned to Navigators Global to lobby both houses of Congress on ‘issues related to comprehensive immigration reform.’ Navigators Global, a corporate government affairs firm founded by several Republican aides, has been retained by the Geo Group since 2011 . . . .”

The private prison industry is sordid, evidenced by judicial bribery and lying to investors and the public at large.  How long will we stand for this debauchery?


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