Over the past two decades the private prison industry increased the number of Americans incarcerated behind private bars by a factor of 17 through a three prong strategy of contributing to political campaigns, lobbying, and garnering political relationships that allow access to policy makers. A report published last week by PICO National Network and Public Campaign details the money and effort spent by the Corrections Corporation of American and GEO Group, among others, in twisting the legislative process to change the landscape of American policies on criminal justice.
In the past decade, CCA and GEO Group have spent upwards of $22 million and employed nearly 300 people to lobby Congress. Through involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council, these corporations have worked directly with legislators to draft model legislation including mandatory sentencing, truth in sentencing, and three strikes. Additionally, the wave of strict anti-immigration laws are a result of these close ties with ALEC. CCA and GEO's motivation comes from their housing over half of all immigrants detained by the federal government.
Since 2001, the private prison industry has given more than $7.3 million dollars to state candidates and political parties and over $3.3 million dollars to national candidates and political parties. Last year was their largest contribution to date, CCA and GEO Group spent over $1.9 million to influence state elections.
All of this money, time, and effort is applied to influence the legislative process in this country because private prisons are extremely profitable when the policy makers are helping to increase profit margins. In the past decade, CCA has nearly doubled its revenue to over $1.675 billion annually. GEO Group, which is a multinational prison company, saw its US revenue double to $842 million over the same period.
How can voters expect their elected policy makers to use cost-benefit analyses as the basis for decisions regarding the privatization of anything, particularly prison policy, if those politicians are only at the policy table as a result of money from the industry they are supposed to analyze impartially?