Private Prisons Lobby for Punitive Policies

Check out the Justice Policy Institute’s report, Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies for fascinating info on how the private incarceration industry is lobbying for policy change at the state level that increases prison time and recidivism. Their press release follows:

Private Prison Companies Want You Locked Up

Press Release
Published: June 22, 2011

June 22, 2011
Zerline Hughes – 202.558.7974 x308 /
Jason Fenster – 202.558.7974 x306 /
Private Prison Companies Want You Locked Up
New report highlights political strategies of companies working to make money through harsh policies and longer sentences
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Over the past 15 years, the number of people held in all prisons in the United States has increased by 49.6 percent, while private prison populations have increased by 353.7 percent, according to recent federal statistics. Meanwhile, in 2010 alone, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies, had combined revenues of $2.9 billion. According to a report released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), not only have private prison companies benefitted from this increased incarceration, but they have helped fuel it.
Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, examines how private prison companies are able to wield influence over legislators and criminal justice policy, ultimately resulting in harsher criminal justice policies and the incarceration of more people. The report notes a “triangle of influence” built on campaign contributions, lobbying and relationships with current and former elected and appointed officials. Through this strategy, private prison companies have gained access to local, state, and federal policymakers and have back-channel influence to pass legislation that puts more people behind bars, adds to private prison populations and generates tremendous profits at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.
“For-profit companies exercise their political influence to protect their market share, which in the case of corporations like GEO Group and CCA primarily means the number of people locked up behind bars,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “We need to take a hard look at what the cost of this influence is, both to taxpayers and to the community as a whole, in terms of the policies being lobbied for and the outcomes for people put in private prisons. That their lobbying and political contributions is funded by taxpayers, through their profits on government contracts, makes it all the more important that people understand the role of private prisons in our political system.”
Paul Ashton, principle author of Gaming the System, noted, “This report is built on concrete examples of the political strategies of private prison companies. From noting campaign donations, $835,514 to federal candidates and $6,092,331 to state-level candidates since 2000, to the proposed plan from Ohio Governor John Kasich to privatize five Ohio prisons followed by the appointment of a former CCA employee to run the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Gaming the System shows that private prison companies’ interests lie in promoting their business through maintaining political relationships rather than saving taxpayer dollars and effectively ensuring public safety.”
Other organizations have also investigated the private prison industry and have their own serious concerns about their political influence. “In the South and Southwest, the private prison industry has consistently targeted poor communities,” said Bob Libal the Texas Campaigns Coordinator for Grassroots Leadership. “We believe that it’s important to fight, particularly in these communities, to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention, and ultimately build lasting movements for social justice. This important report helps shed light onto this particularly troubling industry.”
Shakyra Diaz, policy director of ACLU of Ohio added, “Research has shown that private prisons do not save taxpayer dollars and can in fact cost taxpayers more than public prisons. Additionally, privatizing prisons may undermine cost effective sentencing reforms and increase recidivism rates. Despite these well­-documented concerns, private prison companies continue to promote policies that put money in their pockets and people behind bars.”
If states and the federal government are interested in providing cost-effective, proven public safety strategies, investments in private prison companies will not help achieve that goal. Gaming the System includes a number of recommendations for criminal justice policies that are cost-effective and will improve public safety:

  • States and the federal government should look for real solutions to the problem of growing jail and prison populations. A number of states are already utilizing innovative strategies for reducing the number of people behind bars in their state. Reducing the number of people entering the justice system, and the amount of time that they spend there, can lower prison populations, making private, for-profit prisons unnecessary, and improving public safety and the lives of individuals.
  • Invest in front-end treatment and services in the community, whether private or public. Research shows that education, employment, drug treatment, health care, and the availability of affordable housing coincide with better outcomes for all people, whether involved in the criminal justice system or not. Jurisdictions that spend more money on these services are likely to experience lower crime rates and lower incarceration rates. An increase in spending on education, employment and other services not only would improve public safety, but also would enhance and enrich communities and individual life outcomes.
  • Additional research is needed to effectively evaluate the cost and recidivism reduction claims of the private prison industry. With conflicting research on both the cost savings and recidivism reduction of private prisons, additional research is needed to determine the accuracy of such claims. Moreover, a clearer dialogue surrounding the difficulties of comparative research between private and public facilities would also be beneficial in providing a better understanding of the implications of prison privatization.

“Private prison companies have been very successful in their effort to promote harsher sentencing policies and the privatization of correctional systems, and when they win, we all lose,” added Velázquez. “Taxpayers lose when their money is used to generate profits for shareholders and to promote policies that increase incarceration; communities lose when policies proven to be ineffective for public safety are pushed through state legislatures, and people involved in the criminal justice system lose when they are locked up in underfunded and sometimes unsafe facilities.”
To read Gaming the System CLICK HERE. For additional information, please contact Zerline Hughes at (202) 558-7974 x308 or For more JPI reports on the criminal justice system, please visit our website at
The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For more information, please visit

Roundup: CDCR Budget Cuts, Prison and Slavery

As many of you probably noticed, we’re posting with less frequency than usual these days; CCC will be on a mini-hiatus until late July due to an immense workload. We will, however, provide short updates on criminal justice policy and sentencing.

First, the Sacramento Bee reports that most of the personnel cuts in the Brown budget will be in corrections (a full list of cuts is available here.)

Also, recently, Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, surprised the audience at a public talk with the sad fact that more Black men are currently imprisoned than were originally enslaved.

Props to Eric Chase and Leslie Davis for the links.

Hawai’i Inmates: It’s a Long Way Back Home

image courtesy

Remember the horrors and corruption involved in keeping Hawai’ian inmates out of state? And David Johnson’s report on the futility of out-of-state incarceration as a recidivism reducing measure? Well, don’t hold your breath. The inmates aren’t coming home any time soon. And, of course, CCA is in the mix. The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports:

State prison officials are seeking proposals to house about 1,800 prisoners outside Hawaii after the current prison contract ends in June, despite Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s call to bring inmates back home as soon as possible.
“It is very clear at this time that we do not have all the facilities to bring the inmates back,” said Martha Torney, deputy director of administration for the state Department of Public Safety. “As the state moves toward bringing the inmates back to the islands, that will determine what our needs are in the future.”
The state already has returned some prisoners since Abercrombie said in December that he wants prisoners to stay in Hawaii.
During the quarterly rotation in January, the state brought back about 125 more prisoners than were sent to the mainland, Torney said.
The request for proposals, published March 1, designates a three-year contract, but the state can cancel the contract and remove prisoners at any time, Torney said. The submittal period ends March 31.
One company that plans on submitting an offer is Corrections Corp. of America — the fifth-largest U.S. prison operator behind the federal government, California, Florida and Texas.
Hawaii has 1,699 prisoners at CCA’s Saguaro Correctional Center and 58 inmates at CCA’s Red Rock Correctional Center, both in Eloy, Ariz., Torney said.
Brad Regens, CCA’s vice president of state partnership relations, said CCA is not lobbying to keep Hawaii’s prisoners out of state.

Beyond the obvious exasperation, I have two burning questions.

1. Does anyone actually believe Regens? Remember, these are the folks whose money and backdoor wheeling and dealing brought us the horrific and racist Arizona SB 1070.

2. Has anyone given any thought to the fact that, with Hawai’i’s low crime rates, most of these people don’t need to be in ANY prison – on the island or on the mainland – and therefore, no “facilities” need to be built? We’ve talked plenty about what California needs to learn from Hawai’i. Now, Hawai’i, learn from California’s experience: If you build it, they will come.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a Hawaiian inmate housed in the mainland, away from family and friends, keep looking. You won’t find them here.

SF Chronicle: CA New Budget Includes Early Releases and Jurisdictional Changes

Today’s Chron reports on the passage of a new California budget, which features deep cuts and aims at reducing the state’s deficit to $14 billion. In the humonetarian tradition, correctional costs make up a big chunk of the article:

Both the Assembly and Senate had contentious debates over a major element of the budget plan – the proposal to move thousands of state prisoners to local jails, which Republicans warned would result in a public safety nightmare.

Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber (Tehama County) a former state parole board member, said counties will be overwhelmed, and thousands of criminals will go free.

“The inmates in state prison will be cheering,” he said. “This is not about the budget, this is about an egregious injustice to the people of California.”

But Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier (Los Angeles County), noted the state’s dismal 70 percent recidivism rate and said the bill will actually make California’s streets safer.

“These people are being released from prison … and they haven’t been rehabilitated, because our prisons are overcrowded, and there’s no money to rehabilitate them,” he said. “This realignment will not cause prisoners to go free – they will serve their time, in a new prison called jail.”

The full budget can be found here, and we will provide information about the correctional provisions in a post in the near future.

Do Not Cure Overcrowding with More Prison Construction!

(image courtesy CDCR from a report on AB 900 projects)

About a year and a half ago, we reported on a study showing that population reduction orders may have adverse consequences: they lead to greater expenditures and the money comes from the welfare budget. Today we learn, via the Prison Law blog, that prison litigation may have other unsavory consequences.

Here is the abstract of Heather Schonfeld‘s Mass Incarceration and the Paradox of Prison Conditions Litigation:

In this article I examine how prison conditions litigation in the 1970s, as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement, inadvertently contributed to the rise of mass incarceration in the United States. Using Florida as a case study, I detail how prison conditions litigation that aimed to reduce incarceration was translated in the political arena as a court order to build prisons. Drawing on insights from historical institutionalist scholarship, I argue that this paradox can be explained by considering the different historical and political contexts of the initial legal framing and the final compliance with the court order. In addition, I demonstrate how the choices made by policy makers around court compliance created policy feedback effects that further expanded the coercive capacity of the state and transformed political calculations around crime control. The findings suggest how “successful” court challenges for institutional change can have long-term outcomes that are contrary to social justice goals. The paradox of prison litigation is especially compelling because inmates’ lawyers were specifically concerned about racial injustice, yet mass incarceration is arguably the greatest obstacle to racial equality in the twenty-first century.

As our readers will recall, this unhealthy dynamic played out perfectly in the oral arguments of Plata/Coleman. More than ever, and as I explained here and here, I am convinced that the inmate advocates should not have conceded that the three-jduge panel would consider new construction a suitable solution to the overcrowding problem. While her emphasis is on racial justice litigation and its discontents, Schonfeld’s findings also strongly confirm what anyone with common sense and some knowledge of prison history should know by now: If you build it, they will come. Any attempt to solve overcrowding through construction is an expensive short-term solution that will yield more overcrowding in the future. If we’re not humanitarian, let’s at least be humonetarian, and solve our prison crisis with early releases and a parole program that offers real hope and an escape from recidivism and the revolving door.

WSJ: DoJ ends safe surrender program +more

Great Wall Street Journal article this week about the economic crisis and fiscal austerity coming home to roost in federal law enforcement and sentencing/corrections policy. Full article here. My favorite part is the bullet points:

“—Increasing the amount of time deducted from prison terms for good behavior, which would immediately qualify some 4,000 federal convicts for release, and another 4,000 over the next 10 years.

—Eliminating the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Gang Intelligence Center, for a savings of $8 million in the next budget year.

—Sharing less of the proceeds from property confiscated from criminals with state and local authorities, and eliminating other funding to local police departments for some operations. The change would reduce spending by $120 million, according to the White House.”

And I found this paragraph the most intriguing: “The U.S. Marshals Service has quietly shelved the Fugitive Safe Surrender Program, which has cleared the books on thousands of low-level criminal cases in the past six years. Under the program, law enforcement officials set up temporary shop in a church or a public setting, urging fugitives to turn themselves in to resolve old warrants and often drawing hundreds in a single day.”

Legislative Analyst’s Office Unhappy with Brown’s CDCR Budget

The Legislative Analyst’s Office has just issued a report critiquing Jerry Brown’s plan for the CDCR budget (which we briefly discussed just a few days ago), and it does not paint a pretty picture. LAO finds serious overbudgeting in some areas, and is deeply concerned with CDCR exceeding its budget in several areas.

General Fund support for CDCR, particularly with regard to CCPOA salaries and overtime (already on the top steps of the salary scale), appears to be excessive, and CDCR has already exceeded its authority in these matters. Among the other surprising expenditures are $55.2 million in medical transportation costs, $20.5 million in legal costs (wouldn’t it be cheaper to decrease population, which would also mean that the population decrease order would not have to be fought in court?), and $17.3 million in “empty beds” in case incarceration needs change.

The LAO report critiques the CDCR practice of notifying the legislature of budget shortfalls after the fact, thus coercing legislators to increase the budget in restrospect. Also, the budget does not take into account savings in adult parole and administration, which might mean the money could go elsewhere, where it is needed.

A particularly thorny issue is the fact that the budget assumes that CDCR will be making personnel cuts it has no intention of making absent a reduction in inmate population.

The budget, says the report, does not hold CDCR accountable regarding its expenditures, and there is no guarantee against CDCR pulling its retrospective budgeting trick again on the legislature. LAO therefore recommends that the legislature demand accountability and accuracy in the correctional budget.

Building Our Way Out of Overcrowding?

Re our posts here, here and here: Yesterday’s Chron offered a summary of CDCR’s progress on construction projects funded by AB900. Four years after authorizing $7.4 billion dollars in bonds, “the state has not completed a single project authorized by that bill, AB900, and has begun planning or construction for only about 8,400 beds” for the 8,200 inmates currently still sleeping in “bad beds”.

The piece quotes some critics of the construction path for decrowding, and it was pleasant to see the CCPOA among them.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said he believes the state should undertake a “serious review” of AB900, noting that lawmakers have instituted other reforms to deal with crowding since 2007 – including medical parole for severely incapacitated inmates – and that the state’s crime rate has declined.

Ryan Sherman, a spokesman for the prison guards union, which opposed AB900, said the construction authorized by the bill will not solve the state’s prison crisis.

I still think, as I pointed out in another post, that despite the open-ended order in Plata/Coleman, it is completely possible to offer an entirely reasonable interpretation of the order, according to which construction projects are not an acceptable response to overcrowding. In fact, the opposite interpretation seems unreasonable to me. The order specifically provided a number of inmates to be released from prison, not an acceptable square yardage. I believe that attempting to build out way out of overcrowding is not only unsound, but also a violation of the court’s order.

More Construction… This Time, in California

In the heels of the report from Michigan come two new construction projects within California, both funded by AB 900. In Calaveras County, the local jail’s capacity is to be quadrupled. And the expansion in San Bernardino adds maximum security beds.

Unsurprisingly, the Republican Caucus has been following on the progress made with AB 900 funding. From their perspective, “[i]t does not help that CDCR seems to have little direction and produces a new strategy plan on an annual basis. In the meantime, Democrats are pushing policies through the legislature – and supported by the Governor – that decrease the population through early release and place the burden of monitoring and controlling these individuals on local entities. Sadly, these are the exact same policies and actions that AB 900 was supposed to prevent.”

From an empirical perspective, however, it is the massive construction of more prison cells that should be prevented. Building prisons is akin to building public highways; as we build more to prevent congestion, congestion gradually increases to fill the volume available. It is frightening to think that incarcerating one in 100 Californians is not enough. But perhaps they are the “wrong” kind of Californians, and therefore the Republican caucus should lose no sleep over them.

In any case, these new construction projects highlight the dark and problematic side of the Plata/Coleman decision. In an effort to be courteous to the state, and not to micromanage its affairs, the three-judge panel asked for a population reduction without mandating methods the state might employ to achieve such reduction. In his response to SCOTUS Justices, Don Specter seemed to agree that building new facilities would be among the range or responses that would be in compliance with the order. I actually think a narrow interpretation of the Plata/Coleman order is not only possible, but reasonable. The court did use the word “reduction” and stated a number of inmates. To say that “reduction” is the same as “dilution” of inmates is a bit of an interpretive push. But the real point is, of course, that building new prisons, in the long run, will push California away from compliance with the order, because the new facilities will, in due course, become just as overcrowded as the old ones.