Read

Search form

America's Newest Commodity: Prisoners

America's Newest Commodity: Prisoners
Tue, 4/10/2012 - by Arvind Dilawar
This article originally appeared on Occupied Wall Street Journal

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), owner of the largest private prison system in the United States, sent a letter this winter to 48 states offering up to $250 million to manage government-owned detention centers. The letter lists the criteria of eligible purchases and includes an assurance that state corrections agencies “have sufficient inmate population to maintain a minimum 90 percent occupancy over the term of the contract.”

The guarantee isn’t difficult to rationalize from CCA’s point of view: they are paid by the government for each prisoner they house, so they want to house as many prisoners as possible to maximize their revenue. But what if there aren’t enough prisoners to fill CCA’s quota? Private prisons have faced this dilemma before, and they’ve responded by buying prisoners through legislation, government infiltration and old-fashioned bribery.

And in the not too distant future, these conditions may mean that the mass arrests of Occupy protesters could become a windfall for investors.

How to Purchase Prisoners

  1. Write the Laws

    From 1998 to 2010, CCA contributed almost $90,000 to governors, senators, representatives and assemblymen on behalf of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). For the last two decades, CCA paid an additional $5,000 to $50,000 a year directly to ALEC for corporate membership.

    According to its website, ALEC is a “nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism and individual liberty.” The group drafts model bills that are heavily influenced by its industry members and disseminates these bills to its legislative members. By ALEC’s own account, the process results in almost 1,000 bills based on its models being introduced in state legislatures each year, of which 20 percent go on to become law.

    In apparent conflict with its belief in individual liberty, ALEC has drafted a number of bills that benefit CCA, particularly by shoring up sentences and creating new laws requiring arrests. In 1995 alone, ALEC’s Truth in Sentencing Act, which requires any person convicted of a crime to serve no less than 85 percent of their sentence, was enacted by 25 states. Arizona’s controversial Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, which requires police to arrest anyone who cannot prove they entered the country legally when asked for documentation and prohibits officials from limiting the enforcement of federal immigration laws, was drafted at an ALEC conference in the presence of CCA. And although the full details of ALEC’s model legislation are only available to its 2,000 legislative and 300 corporate members, some of the initiatives listed on the group’s website also stand to benefit CCA through harsher sentencing. The Swift and Certain Sanctions Act, for example, requires state corrections agencies to punish parole and probation violators with a system of increasing penalties, including incarceration.

  2. Infiltrate government

    Beyond the model legislation produced by ALEC, CCA also influences government by hiring former politicians and infiltrating state agencies with its own employees. The company’s chief corrections officer, Harley G. Lappin, for example, joined CCA after 25 years with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, serving as the agency’s Director during his final eight years there. Perhaps not coincidentally, Lappin is the writer of the aforementioned letter offering to buy states’ detention centers.

    But the revolving door spins even faster: When Ohio Governor John Kasich took office in 2011 and proposed to sell five state prisons, [he appointed] Gary Mohr as the state’s director of rehabilitation and correction. Mohr had served as an adviser to CCA since 2005, and eight months after his appointment by Kasich, CCA purchased Ohio’s Lake Erie Correctional Institution for $72.7 million. CCA has also hired Governor Kasich’s former chief of staff, Donald Thibaut, to work as a lobbyist on its behalf in Ohio.

  3. Bribe officials

    Although this does not apply to CCA in particular, other private prison companies have demonstrated that it is possible to purchase prisoners in a more direct fashion. In 2002, Michael Conahan, a judge from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, used his budgetary discretion to shut down the local county-run juvenile prison by eliminating its funding. Over the next five years, Conahan and fellow Luzerne County judge Mark Ciavarella sent thousands of juveniles to two private detention centers, PA Child Care and its sister company, Western PA Child Care. On average, the proceedings lasted less than two minutes, with the defendants often lacking legal counsel and receiving harsh sentences for nonviolent or insignificant crimes, even against the advice of probation officers. In exchange for shutting down the public non-profit prison, ensuring a stream of inmates to the two new for-profit prisons and contracting the court to pay $1.3 million in annual rent to the private prisons, Conahan and Ciavarella received $2.6 million in kickbacks from PA Child Care.

How to Create Criminals

The troubling growth of private prisons and their political consequences are augmented in light of the recent spat of ad hoc legislation enacted across the country to outlaw Occupy Wall Street protests. While the Occupy Movement has been beset by mass arrests from the start, the few Occupations that have avoided eviction are now facing targeted laws concocted by local governments. On December 9, a bill allowing the removal of personal property stored on city sidewalks in Honolulu was signed; less than two months later, the law was used to evict Occupy Honolulu protesters and confiscate their belongings. On January 30, a recently passed ordnance giving police the ability to evict and arrest people camping, living or sleeping on Charlotte’s City Hall lawn went into effect; later that day seven Occupy Charlotte protesters were arrested and charged with misdemeanors.

Up to this point, most of the 6,858 Occupy protesters who have been arrested were charged with low-level misdemeanors, but Gideon Oliver, head of the National Lawyers Guild, which has been working on behalf of protesters, has pointed out: “More and more of these cases are being charged as felonies.”

Considering the growing number of felony charges, it’s possible that Occupy protesters could begin facing prison time. And with the trend in anti-Occupy legislation already set in motion, little is in place to prevent private prison companies from manipulating these bills in their favor via their tried-and-true methods of lobbying, collusion and bribery.

The irony is that the incarceration of Occupiers could be a byproduct of the very forces they’re railing against. The tragedy is that the suppression of an American Spring could be lining someone’s pockets.

 

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

The 142-mile-long Trans-Pecos Pipeline would bring fracked gas to the small border city of Presidio, where it would continue on into northern Mexico – in the process crossing under the Rio Grande, threatening fragile water supplies.

money in politics, corporate political class, Michael Gecan, community organizing, parallel political structures, Death of the Liberal Class, Industrial Areas Foundation, Donald Trump, Saul Alinsky, Ralph Nader, mass movements, popular movements

"People who understand power tend to have the patience to build a base, do the training, raise the money, so when they go into action they surprise people,” says community organizer Michael Gecan of the Industrial Areas Foundation.

Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, Obamacare repeal, repeal and replace, Congressional Budget Office, Paul Ryan, Donald Trump

The Congressional Budget Office also estimated that premiums for policies purchased through the marketplaces or directly from insurers would increase by 20 to 25 percent next year if Obamacare is repealed without a replacement.

Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks, The New York Times

While not technically a pardon, the order reduces Manning’s sentence from 35 years to just over seven years.

creative activism, Act Out, Donald Trump, Trump Inauguration, Inauguration 2017, #DisruptJ20, Women’s March, J20, anti-Trump protests, non-violent direct action, Samantha Castro, WACA, dissent, protest, political left, hierarchy, NGO, community organizing

As stages are set for the upcoming inauguration, activists across the country prepare to strike, block, march and disrupt. We’ll outline what's happening in D.C. and where you are.

wealth inequality, income inequality, Fat Cat Wednesday, corporate pay, executive pay, National Living Wage, U.K. anti-austerity protests

Findings from the High Pay Centre show jaw-dropping levels of inequality in Britain, where executives earning £1,000 per hour exceeded the average U.K. annual salary of £28,000 by lunchtime on Jan. 3 – dubbed Fat Cat Wednesday.

Posted 6 days 11 hours ago
Nicaragua renewable energy, clean energy revolution, solar power, wind power, renewables revolution

In 2012, Nicaragua invested the fifth highest percentage worldwide of its GDP in developing renewable energy, and now it is reaping the benefits.

Posted 6 days 21 hours ago
creative activism, Act Out, Donald Trump, Trump Inauguration, Inauguration 2017, #DisruptJ20, Women’s March, J20, anti-Trump protests, non-violent direct action, Samantha Castro, WACA, dissent, protest, political left, hierarchy, NGO, community organizing

As stages are set for the upcoming inauguration, activists across the country prepare to strike, block, march and disrupt. We’ll outline what's happening in D.C. and where you are.

Posted 2 days 7 hours ago
Trump resistance, Indivisible Guide

The incoming administration has fueled a new level of political activism.

Posted 3 days 17 hours ago
London tube strikes, anti-labor laws, anti-strike laws, London Underground, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, RMT

Strikers are protesting job losses that have led to a shortage of station staff, which they say is endangering passenger safety and reducing the level of customer service.

Posted 3 days 17 hours ago
Trump resistance, Indivisible Guide

The incoming administration has fueled a new level of political activism.

1 percent, Ralph Nader,

In his latest book, the critic and activist proposes the creation and activation of a new 1 percent — one that will expose “conditions of deprivation and abuse” and champion “basic fair play.”

Betsy DeVos, public eduction, Chicago Public Schools, privatized education, charter schools, Donald Trump, voucher programs, Charter School Program, dismantling public schools, national voucher program, Wisconsin Education Association Council, Wisconsin t

The president-elect has already pledged $20 billion to expand voucher programs nationwide, and his appointee for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, views dismantling public education as a mission from God.

The 142-mile-long Trans-Pecos Pipeline would bring fracked gas to the small border city of Presidio, where it would continue on into northern Mexico – in the process crossing under the Rio Grande, threatening fragile water supplies.

money in politics, corporate political class, Michael Gecan, community organizing, parallel political structures, Death of the Liberal Class, Industrial Areas Foundation, Donald Trump, Saul Alinsky, Ralph Nader, mass movements, popular movements

"People who understand power tend to have the patience to build a base, do the training, raise the money, so when they go into action they surprise people,” says community organizer Michael Gecan of the Industrial Areas Foundation.