“Crimes and Their Punishments: 21st Century Slave Traders”

“Men fight for freedom; then they begin to accumulate laws to take it away from themselves.”                                      Thomas Jefferson

“It could probably be shown, by facts and figures, that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”                   Mark Twain

“You rulers make decisions based on bribes.”           Micah 3:11a NLT

    Slave traders in the 18th and 19th centuries used ships to move their cargos of human misery from Africa.

    Enduring weeks in cramped, filthy cargo holds that smelled of human waste, sickness, and death, hundreds of chained human beings were crammed into as little space as possible in conditions that would ensure that as many as one third of them would never survive the journey.

    Those who were fortunate – or unfortunate – enough to survive the inhuman treatment or the grueling trip would ultimately be sold, their usefulness to the ones who traded in their flesh ended.

    Those who profit from human misery today do not face the transportation problems of those from centuries past. The modes of transportation today are planes, buses, vans, and cars, and while almost all survive the journey from city to city and state to state, that journey is still made in chains and the bodies chained are still the commodity they once were, and I say commodity because since the 1980’s prisoners have become exactly that.

    The push towards prison privatization has helped to create a huge  prison industrial complex in this country, as well as in other parts of the world.

     Due in part to the influence of these private companies and their powerful lobbyists, millions of dollars in campaign contributions, and extremely close – almost incestuous – relationships with state and federal governments and various bureaucracies, prison budgets have grown exponentially since the early 1980’s, and continue to do so today, even as these same private companies claim to be able to save money for the governments they have contracts with.

     According to the “PEW Center for the states,” state prison budgets since the mid-1980’s have risen from $10 Billion to $52 Billion as state prison populations have grown from under 500,000 to about 2.8 Million today. According to the Spring 2011 issue of FAMMGRAM (a publication put out by “Families Against Mandatory Minimums”), the Federal prison population has increased at least 3 times the rate of State prisons since 1995 and costs the taxpayers over $5 Billion per year!

    Since the concept took root, the US has grown to be the largest private prison – and related service – market in the world. England, Scotland, and Wales comprise the 2nd largest market, but the concept of privatization has spread – or tried to spread – to other parts of the world as well.

     In 2004, the Israeli Knesset passed a law to allow privatization of prisons in Israel. However, in 2009, 4 years after a petition was filed by the Civil Rights Department in the Law Academic College of Ramat Gan,  an expanded panel of 9 judges of the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that privately run prisons are unconstitutional.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote, “Israel’s basic legal principles hold that the right to use force in general, and the right to enforce criminal law by putting people behind bars in particular, is one of the most fundamental and one of the most invasive powers in the state’s jurisdiction. Thus, when the power to incarcerate is transferred to a private corporation whose purpose is making money, the act of depriving a person of his liberty loses much of its legitimacy. Because of this loss of legitimacy, the violation of the prisoner’s right to liberty goes beyond the violation entailed in the incarceration itself.”

     In this country, Illinois in 1990 (Private Correctional Facility Moratorium Act) and New York in 2000, enacted laws that ban the privatization of prisons, correctional facilities and any services related to their operation.

     The growth of privatization in this country has been spearheaded by two companies: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was founded in 1983 by Thomas Beasley, a former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party (which, of course, gave him an instant “in” with Republican Legislators all over the country); and GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida, was founded in 1984 as Wackenhut Corrections Corp, a subsidiary of Wackenhut Security. Somewhere along the line it was changed to GEO Group, probably to distance itself from Wackenhut’s respectable core business of Armored Car, Home and Private Security Services.

     Their combined companies house over 170,000 prisoners in over 175 facilities nationwide. To put things in perspective, 170,000 inmates would have been almost half of the total state prison population of 350,000 in 1983, although that figure represented only about 6% of the total 2.8 Million incarcerated today. But it is enough to earn CCA alone over $155 Million in profit last year on $1.6 Billion in revenue.

     As prison populations continue to rise, and the costs to house them as well, we are likely to see even more of a shift to privatization, but are the costs – or the savings – really the main factor in making the determination to “go private”?

                     OR is it just good old American greed?

     There are studies that show that privatization saves money. Ostensibly these are well documented, independent studies and it should follow that these studies would speak for themselves in helping legislative bodies make decisions.

     If that is the case, why is so much money spent on lobbyists, and on campaign contributions, by companies such as CCA and GEO?

     There is so much money moving in so many different directions that it is all but impossible to wrap it all up in a neat bundle to present to you here. But I will give you some disturbing examples of what is happening on a daily basis around this country:

  • Since 2001, the Florida GOP has received over $1.5 Million from CCA, GEO, and their affiliates, almost $1 Million of that coming in the 2010 state election cycle alone. It should be noted that since that time Florida passed its $69.7 Billion Budget. As a result of that budget passing on May 7, 16 prisons in the Southern third of the state will be privatized, thereby quadrupling the number of prisons run by private firms in the 3rd largest prison system in the country.

Almost $800,000 of those contributions came from GEO and, if you recall, they are headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida – which happens to be in the Southern third of the state.

  • In Texas, private prison companies and their PAC’s have given over $130,000 to candidates since 2006.
  • In Arizona, CCA gave $10,000 to the “Yes on 100” campaign, a state sales tax initiative heavily promoted by the governor.
    • By coincidence, the state has since reopened the contract process for 5,000 prison beds despite a 2010 internal state audit that found that private prisons cost taxpayers more money per inmate than public operations.
  • In New Mexico, GEO and CCA have contributed over $38,000 to the campaigns of New Mexico Republicans in recent years, including $25,000 to the campaign of the current Governor, Susana Martinez. 
  • In Tennessee – home to CCA – nearly $60,000 was donated to local and state parties in 2010 alone. Over $179,000 has been donated since 2006.
  • CCA alone has spent $14.8 Million dollars lobbying various Federal agencies from 2003 to 2010 including The Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Prisons.
  • Georgia, which is the 3rd state to pass an anti-immigration bill similar to the one passed by Arizona, also appears to have profited from private prison largesse: State Senator Donald Balfour received $7,750 in campaign contributions between 2006 and 2010;  Governor Deal received $5,000 in 2010 and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle has received at least $7,000 from CCA since 2006; Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers has received $3,500 from CCA since 2008.

     These examples in no way make up a complete picture of the money being spent to further the cause of privatization. Indeed, this is just a small number of the contributions made and examples can be found in every state.

     Of course, direct campaign contributions and lobbyist’s money are not the only ways people in a position to influence prison populations – and oversight – profit from all of this. Outright ownership of stock in CCA, GEO and many other companies owned by – or providing services to – the private prison industry is another way, and if there are laws regulating ownership, it must be emphasized that it is next to impossible to enforce them. Especially when a multitude of seemingly innocuous other public companies have a stake in all of this, too.

     Take, for instance, GEO’s purchase this year of Behavioral Interventions, Inc. BI uses technology to monitor 60,000 non-incarcerated individuals for 900 agencies nationwide and GEO recently paid $415 Million dollars for the company. However, if you own stock in Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo, Barclays, or JPMorgan Chase, you helped finance the acquisition.

     Apart from campaign contributions, lobbyist’s money, and stock ownership there is also the myriad relationships between government and business that should be questioned.

     The single most self-serving relationship would have to be that created by the “American Legislative Exchange Council”, or ‘ALEC’. Consisting of 2000 state legislators and 250 private and corporate citizens, including employees of CCA. ALEC is based in Washington, DC, and is actually engaged in criminal justice discussions in the U.S. Congress as well as in state legislatures. ALEC is a public policy organization that promoted tough-on-crime legislation and principles such as privatization.

      It was during an ALEC meeting that CCA employees and a legislator named Russell Pearce crafted a model legislation that later became almost word for word, Arizona’s controversial Anti-Immigration Bill SB1070.

     ALEC’s current push around the country is centered around illegal immigrant bills such as Arizona’s (and now Utah and Georgia) as well as sex offender legislation, focusing on two groups that are unpopular with the media and the public in general.

     According to one source, 40% of CCA’s business is done with the Federal Government. Much of it in immigrant detention which is the area where CCA obtained its first Federal Government contract in 1983.

     Why does this country prefer to pay to keep an illegal immigrant locked up for 20 years for drug smuggling, or some other crime, and then deport them rather than just deport them upon conviction under the threat of serving their sentence should they return?

     At $60 per day per person could CCA have influenced that decision? (The Federal Government pays over $60 per day for CCA to house detainee’s at the Stewart Detention Center, the largest immigration detention center in the country, located in Georgia, among others located across the country.)

     According to reports obtained by national public radio, CCA believes that immigration detention is “the next big growth market for privatization”.

     The simple fact that ‘ALEC’ exists at all is disturbing – if not outright frightening – in and of itself. It seems to function as a government within our government that has no public oversight or accountability.

     Public officials meeting in private with corporate entities to discuss public policy matters and make recommendations to legislative bodies on state and national levels which will financially benefit some – or all – of the participants in those discussions, with no public discourse or record of the proceedings does not follow this writer’s understanding of the principles of this great country. Indeed, ‘ALEC’ deserves further in-depth scrutiny by the very public on whose behalf they are supposedly working.

     To this writer ‘ALEC’ could more accurately be described as a cancer that needs to be eradicated from the government body before it spreads to the very heart of this country.

     Consider that ‘ALEC’s’ corporate funders include CCA and used to include GEO Group. A past co-chair of the “Criminal Justice Task Force” – a group within their group – was Brad Wiggins, who is a highly placed CCA employee. As for GEO’s involvement, outgoing COO Wayne Clabrese, on November 11, 2010, told a large community gathering that GEO had withdrawn from ALEC years earlier because of the obvious conflict of interest involved in creating legislation that insured an increased supply of prisoners.

     Certainly, when one looks at the countless other individual relationships and “cross pollination” (the author’s term) between CCA/GEO and state and federal governments enough red flags should go up and warning bells go off to alarm even the most skeptical of individuals.

     In Texas, for instance, well-known and well-connected individuals are employed by CCA and GEO to further the cause of prison privatization.

     Following is a list of lobbyists employed by GEO Group in 2007:

  • Ray Allen who , in 2003, was Chairman of the Texas House Corrections Committee. At the same time, he was lobbying for a private prison company outside Texas. His salary with GEO – $100,000 per year, and he was quoted in the Dallas Morning News as saying he was “tired of being broke” when he resigned in the middle of his 7th term, in 2006 to take the job.
  • In 2007, then House Speaker Tom Craddick was lobbied on behalf of GEO by Bill Miller – who once served on Craddick’s Transition Team and as a consultant – and also by Michelle Wittenburg who served as the Speaker’s General Counsel. Both were paid $50,000 for their efforts.
  • The highest paid lobbyist for GEO in 2007 was Lionel “Leo” Aguirre who was both a state and federal lobbyist and was paid a salary of $250,000. Aguirre was a former Executive with the Texas State Comptroller’s Office, and is the widower of Lena Guerrero, who served 3 terms in the State House and was also the first Latina Chair of the Texas Railroad Commission in 1992.

     In addition to its lobbyists in Texas, GEO’s local attorneys also have close ties to state government:

  • In 2007, Carlos Zaffirini, husband of State Senator Judith Zaffirini, was a lawyer for the GEO Group and lobbied on their behalf before the Webb County Commissioner’s Court.
  • GEO also used the Brownsville, Texas law firm of State Representative Rene Oliveira as its local defense counsel. The senator’s cousin, David Oliveira – a partner in the firm – has represented GEO in a lawsuit against them alleging misconduct that one court described as “reprehensible”.

     GEO is not the only one well-represented in Texas; CCA hired Mike Toomey to lobby for them. Toomey, one of three consultants for “Texas Lobby Group”, is a former three term Texas House of Representatives Member. In his biography, Toomey bills himself as the “only individual in Texas history to be Chief of Staff for two Texas Governors”.

     In Florida, GEO employs 16 lobbyists. Additionally, the following items should serve to further provide evidence of the extent of “cross-pollination” employed by these companies:

  • GEO donated $25,000 to Governor Rick Scott’s inaugural celebration in January.
  • Donna Arduin was a top transition budget advisor to Scott. She is also a former trustee of a GEO Real Estate Company – “Correctional Properties Trust”.
  • Jorge Dominicis is head of GEO Care, GEO’s Correctional Health Care Subsidiary. Does Dominicis have a strong background in the health-care industry? Not exactly, but he does know his way around the Florida State House in Tallahassee – for years he was well-known as a lobbyist for the sugar industry.

     In Arizona, where CCA’s influence has already been demonstrated, it is perhaps easier to understand that influence when one considers the following facts:

  • The Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff is Paul Senseman, who is a former lobbyist for CCA. Senseman’s wife is a current lobbyist for CCA.
  • Chuck Coughlin is one of the governor’s policy advisor’s as well as her campaign chairman. Coughlin’s company, “High Ground Public Affairs Consultants”, currently lobbies for CCA.

     “Cross-pollination” is not limited to the south, however, as evidenced by some recent job changes in Ohio Governor John Kasich appointed Gary Mohr to head the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Mohr is a former consultant and managing director for CCA. Conversely, CCA hired Kasich’s former Congressional Chief of Staff, Donald Thibaut, as a lobbyist in January.

     As this article is being written, Ohio is in the process of selling 5 prisons to private companies through a bidding process. CCA is one of the three (GEO and a company from Utah, MTC are the others). Mohr has stated in a memorandum that he will not be involved in the process.

            Excuse me – may I raise my eyebrows here?

    State-level government does not have an exclusive on “cross-pollination” where prison privatization is concerned of course. On the federal level, Stacia Hylton was recently appointed heard of the U.S. Marshal’s Service. Until 2010, Hylton was the Federal Detention Trustee.

     During Hylton’s tenure, the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee awarded several contracts to GEO. In between the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee and her recent appointment to head the U.S. Marshal’s  Service, Hylton worked as a consultant for GEO, and now as head of the Marshal’s Services will house federal detainees in privately owned institutions.

    Some, coincidentally, are owned by GEO.

    CCA, on the other hand, dipped into the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) talent pool, first in 1992 when J. Michael Quinlan resigned as its director and went to work for CCA, and again in 2011 when, in June, CCA announced the hiring of Harley Lappin as its new Executive VP and Chief Corrections Officer. Lappin had served as Director of the BOP from 2003 until May 7 of this year when his resignation took effect. As Director of the BOP, Lappin would have overseen government contracts with CCA worth 10’s of millions of dollars. CCA spends approximately $1 million dollars annually lobbying at the federal level alone.

“There is a time when we must firmly choose the course we will follow, or the relentless drift of events will make the decision for us.”        Herbert V. Prochnow

     The time is rapidly approaching when the citizens of this country are going to have to quote a phrase from my Mother and say “Enough is Enough!”

     The reasons will be clearer when I continue telling you about the Slave Traders of the 21st Century.

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