Though the United States only has five percent of the world’s population, it is responsible for twenty-five percent of the total number of incarcerated people in the entire world. Why? When other countries develop laws, they do so to protect their citizens. Here in the US, we pass laws that are designed to perpetuate private industries – namely, private prisons. Nearly two-thirds of private prison contracts require that state and local governments maintain a certain occupancy rate, which is usually 90 – 100 percent (Arizona has three contracts that guarantee a 100% occupancy rate).
However, the guarantee of incarcerated citizens doesn’t stop at the state level. In fact, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention budget includes a mandate from Congress that at least 34,000 immigrants remain detained on a daily basis. To help ICE achieve their required 34,000 ‘detainees’, they contracted with the largest private prison system in the United States – Corrections Corporation of Amercia (CCA).
According to the Huffington Post, This confluence of forces has contributed to a doubling of the ranks of immigrant detainees, to about 400,000 a year. Nearly half are now held in private prisons, up from one-fourth a decade ago, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The two largest for-profit prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, Inc., have more than doubled their revenues from the immigrant detention business since 2005.
In their 2014 annual report to shareholders, CCA proudly stated that,
CCA was selected by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to design, build and operate one of the largest facilities ever developed for ICE.
They go on to say that,
Our operations are dependent on revenues generated by our jails, prisons, detention, and residential facilities. The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.
To recap, CCA plainly, and boldly, states that their business depends upon prisoners, and that relaxed laws, particularly laws dealing with drugs and immigration, can adversely hurt their business. To help protect their investment, CCA and other for-profit, private prisons, donate heavily to politicians.
A recent article published by the Washington Post said that:
The two largest for-profit prison companies in the United States – GEO and Corrections Corporation of America – and their associates have funneled more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, these private companies have seen their revenue and market share soar. They now rake in a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenue and the private federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute.
As of today, there are 130 private prisons in the country with about 157,000 beds. Those numbers translate into huge profits. To protect those profits, these private prison corporations pad the bank accounts of any politician, or government official, willing to accept the money. As the election season is beginning to ramp up, those donations are skyrocketing.
Though CCA stated the company doesn’t lobby on policies that affect “the basis for or duration of an individual’s incarceration or detention”, they do make donations to those individuals who support tougher sentencing guidelines and those that do not support relaxed drug laws.
However, it’s not only the politicians that are on the take – it’s the entire justice system! Mark Ciavarella, a former judge in Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for taking kickbacks from private prisons. He was paid handsomely for ensuring that kids, many of which were first-time, non-violent offenders, were sentenced to serve time in jail or prison. Because of the dishonesty, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned 4,000 convictions.
The ties between private prisons and elected officials are deeper and stronger than any of us can comprehend. GEO had donated millions to the Republic Party of Florida PAC. In turn, Florida Governor Rick Scott, a republican, unsuccessfully tried to privatize over two-dozen prisons. This push for privatization came after he used Donna Arduin, a former trustee for GEO’s Correctional Properties Trust, as a budget advisor. Additionally, after receiving political donations from GEO, Senator Marco Rubio helped push legislation through for GEO after hiring Arduin as an economic consultant.
Have you ever wondered why politicians haven’t passed a sound immigration policy? For one, if our immigration policies are fixed, where would we get the 34,000 immigrants required by Federal mandate, to place in prisons? (click here for an interactive map of the 961 detention facilities for immigrants)
Have you ever wondered why we can’t shut off the flow of illegal drugs into our country? Our government has the ability, but they chose not to. If drugs stopped flowing across our borders, then drug-related arrests would plummet – then, there would be less citizens to incarcerate.
Even if the the government would simply relaxed sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders, where would they get enough prisoners to ensure the 90-100% occupancy requirements for states that have private jails and prisons?
I hope that you can see it’s in the government’s best interest to ignore immigration, keep the flow of drugs coming into our country, and to leave in place, the strict and often harsh sentencing guidelines, so that our jails, prisons, and detention facilities can be filled to max-capacity. And if you’re thinking back to this article’s title, wondering how we “all” are victims of this corrupt system, the answer is quiet clear. We, the citizens of this country, pay for this corruption in the form of taxes.