In the Public Interest’s weekly privatization report

1) National: San Diego-based U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw’s deadline for reuniting migrant families separated under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy expires on Thursday. It remains to be seen how Sabraw will react to the government’s report-back, but he “didn’t parse words recently when a Department of Health and Human Services official appeared to try to shift blame to the judge for a reunification process that the government viewed as less than ideal and potentially put children in danger. Sabraw said the official’s declaration was ‘nothing but cover for HHS. It portrays a very grudging reluctance to do things. And then ultimately it says, we are doing a truncated procedure, and if anything goes wrong it is on the court,’ Sabraw scolded the government attorneys, according to the transcript.” Arizona State Senator Juan Mendez (D) says “our focus should be on keeping families together & ending family separations. Our promise as a nation demands a moral & just immigration policy. I toured one of our many internment camps for children & was appalled to see the privatization of misery & trauma.”

2) National: Kevin Landy, the former director of the Office of Policy and Planning at ICE during President Barack Obama’s administration, says private prison companies are profiting off of paying $1 a day wages to immigrant detainees. “To some extent detention facilities use detainee labor in place of paid employees doing their work,” said Landy. [Read the legal complaint against CoreCivic]

3) National: Detainees at the CoreCivic-run Otay Mesa Detention Center “recently reached out to the San Diego Union-Tribune directly with a letter about what they perceived as discrimination. The letter, sent from a group identifying as ‘the voices of African descent at Otay Mesa Detention facility,’ alleges that their cases are treated differently from those of other backgrounds. The letter cites an example at the beginning of April when an officer told a detainee that he had to be silent during count. The detainee responded that he had the right to speak based on the rules in the handbook, the letter says. According to the letter, the officer responded, ‘Once you enter this facility, you have no rights.’ When detainees asked the officer to repeat what he said, he said it even louder, the letter says.” Last month, Freedom for Immigrants (formerly known as CIVIC) released a national study “focusing on abuse motivated by hate and bias toward asylum seekers and other individuals in U.S. immigration detention.” [Report]

4) National: CoreCivic tells a Tennessee federal court not to certify a class of investors “who allege it misrepresented its safety, security and rehabilitation standards, saying the alleged misstatements didn’t affect its stock price.”

5) National: The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreports that the Trump administration is considering expanding the Folkston ICE Processing Center, which is operated for profit by the GEO Group. “At a time that we’re witnessing gross human rights violations against detained immigrants, Charlton County should not be complicit in expanding the immigration detention system; rather they should vote down this expansion and terminate this contract with ICE,” Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director for Project South, said in an email to the AJC. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center raised objections to the physically isolated Folkston facility’s violation of the due process rights of detainees.

6) National: The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Trump loyalists are purging VA employees before the new secretary takes over. And AAP correspondent Richard Kagan warns that “The White House has initiated a wholesale change of employees and medical services in the Veterans Administration which will place it more in private hands. The new administration is being staffed by Trump loyalists and by people with less experience and professionalism than their predecessors.”

7) National: Author Nick Kolakowski dresses down LIU Post Professor Panos Mourdoukoutas for advocating the privatization of libraries—and turning them into Amazon Stores. “In his zeal to assault society’s ready access to services and information in order to save himself a couple of bucks come tax time, Mourdoukoutas made several key mistakes that even a seventh-grader would have avoided. First, he failed to back up his argument with any evidence that libraries are indeed in need of urgent replacement. Instead of data and facts, we get such pithy statements as: ‘Some people have started using their loyalty card at Starbucks more than they use their library card.’ Where are his citations? Where does he call out facts and data — any facts and data — about the actual health of libraries in this country?

“Libraries provide more than just books, of course. At my local library, just down the block, kids use the computers (and free Web access) to do schoolwork; adults consult with librarians to find out information about city services; people check out books and videos they might not be able to otherwise afford. It is a shining example of what we might call ‘street level democracy,’ or the ability of the collective to access what it needs to survive and prosper. But none of that matters to Mourdoukoutas; he cares first and foremost about his tax burden:”

8) National: Waste Management Inc., a leading government contractor in trash removal, is applying for a waiver from federal hours of service rules. “The irony is that Waste Management is asking that its drivers be allowed to work up to 14 hours, the limit now on most carriers under HOS. But Waste Management drivers have short haul status, so their day is limited to 12 hours.” A public comment period is open until August 16. [For more on Waste Management see below under Nebraska].

9) National: Bloomberg News reports that private investors have been slow to put their money into public infrastructure projects. Despite recent publicizing of ‘public private partnerships’ as a solution, “there’s a big disconnect between capital raised and actual dealmaking.” P3s have been oversold, critics charge. “‘It’s super-easy to mislead people that this solves the investment gap,’ said Kevin DeGood, the director of infrastructure policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. Public-private partnerships are often a way for a government to get money upfront, without raising taxes, in exchange for forgoing future revenue. For example, a private company might invest money to build or upgrade a highway tunnel in exchange for collecting tolls for years to come. The deals often are sold as a way to transfer risk to the private sector. While that can be the case, governments sometimes still get caught holding the bag when a project runs into trouble, DeGood says. Nobody wants a half-finished tunnel under their city.”

10) National: On Friday, CoreCivic lobbyist Bart VerHulst submitted a rather interesting list of his political contributions since the beginning of this year. The largest contribution, $25,000, was to the Congressional Black Caucus Institute; the next highest, $15,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Also on Friday, the Gephardt Group (Congress) and Miller Strategies (the White House) submitted their first quarter 2018 lobbying reports for CoreCivic.

11) National: The Center for Responsive Politics is reporting that politicians are fleeing from private prison corporation money in the wake of the Trump immigrant crackdown. “Ten members of Congress last month either rejected or refunded contributions from the political action committee of GEO Group amid a backlash over the company’s role in holding immigrants detained at the Southwest border, according to the PAC’s July report with the Federal Election Commission.” Four Republicans accepted money from the PAC in June: Senate candidate Josh Hawley of Missouri; Reps. Mike Bishop of Michigan and Martha Roby of Alabama; and Indiana state Rep. Tom Saunders.

12) California/National: Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss takes stock of L.A. Unified School District as its new superintendent, Austin Beutner, takes over. A key question is where and how fast Beutner and LAUSD will move regarding charter schools. “Meanwhile, as in other states, charter schools are costing some districts needed resources. A recently released [In the Public Interest] report on California’s charters, ‘Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts,’ found ‘neighborhood public school students in three California school districts are bearing the cost of the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools.’”

13) California: The Bond Buyer reports that Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, the largest municipal bond counsel firm, “has settled a lawsuit claiming it was negligent as bond and disclosure counsel in a deal for a northern California charter school that ultimately went bankrupt.”

14) California: Capital & Main reports that the state board of education has piled even more pressure on the Oakland public schools by “saddling it with another new charter schoolthat parents, students, the historically pro-charter OUSD board and an Alameda County Grand Jury say it neither needs nor can afford.”

15) California: Water rates “have dropped by as much as 65 percent in Ojai after Golden State Water Company was essentially fired by its customers in a 2013 election vote that raised a $60 million bond to buy it out via eminent domain.” The small city northwest of Los Angeles is now grappling with the responsibilities of running its water management agency, but is doing so after years of careful community organizing and collaboration with other communities that have gone through the process. “They got an education from Felton FLOW, formed in a community near Santa Cruz that had also been at the mercy of a private water company.”

16) Colorado: Are other public infrastructure needs being neglected in favor of ‘public private partnership’ megaprojects? Shana Goldberg reflects on Denver International Airport. “Since I moved back to the U.S. from Zurich, I’ve also flown to larger, less glamorous airports, making me realize that we’re privileged to have an airy, spacious, design-forward airport. So why must it be renovated—to the tune of $650 million? Are there not other, far more pressing infrastructure matters that local government must address? Affordable housing, public transport, a Civic Center that often resembles Needle Park are just three issues that come to mind.”

17) District of Columbia/National: The Washington Monthly takes an in-depth look at how the proliferation of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) is spreading a “form of private governance” that is “quietly remaking America’s cities.” Digital Editor Saahil Desai reports that “small businesses have long been the sputtering engine of economic and job growth in the United States. But in many cities, especially those growing the fastest, BIDs are making it harder and harder for small, independent businesses to survive.” Amazon may be on the way. In Brooklyn’s Coney Island, when “the Alliance for Coney Island, a nonprofit coalition of local businesses, proposed one last fall, some local merchants revolted. More than sixty business owners have signed a petition signaling their opposition to the plan. Their reasoning is simple: the rising property values that BIDs promise could mean higher rents that would drive them out of business.”

18) Florida: The Florida Student Power Network, Dream Defenders, and the Florida Immigrant Coalition disrupted a speech by right wing Republican primary candidate Ron DeSantis, “and demanded that he stop taking money from private prison company Geo Group.” DeSantis has received $5,000 from the GEO Groupfor his congressional campaign, and GEO has given $50,000 each to DeSantis and his Republican primary opponent Adam Putnam.

19) Florida: Seventeen protestors were arrested at a Miramar ICE field office last week. “Protesters told Local 10 News it was worth getting arrested Monday to protest the immigration policies of the Trump administration. ‘The GEO Group, which is a for-profit prison corporation, works together with ICE to destroy black and brown lives every day. We have to put a stop to that. We have to take action,’ protester Christian Minaya said.”

20) Florida: The Sarasota School Board has passed a resolution opposing a proposed state constitutional amendment that would reduce local control over charter schools and establish term limits for school board members across the state. “The one that’s so egregious to me is the one about moving the authority to Tallahassee. It doesn’t say anything about charter in that, they left it as broad a brush as they could … so that it could be starting a school of giraffes, or anything else they might choose to do, they would have the ability to do that,” said School Board member Jane Goodwin of the amendment. “That will really throw a wedge between public schools and charter schools.”

21) Illinois: Under public pressure for receiving $2,750 in campaign contributions from the GEO Group’s political action committee, Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez said Monday he’s donating $5,000 to a group that supports migrants. “Mijente Chicago, a group dedicated to Latino organizing that also opposes the re-election-seeking alderman politically, slammed Lopez over the donations. Tania Unzueta, an activist with the organization, said the campaign contributions are especially troubling ‘because it comes within the context of him consistently being on the side of law enforcement in a way that I think is harmful to our Latino community in particular.’”

22) Indiana/Kentucky/Illinois: Taxpayers in three different states have been forced to step in and clean up environmental damage caused by gas stations once owned Vice President Mike Pence’s family. “On Friday, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Indiana alone had to pay $21 million to clean up various contaminated sites for roughly $500,000 apiece. Roughly 50 other sites in Kentucky and Illinois racked up another $1.7 million in publicly funded cleanup costs. The AP also reported that even though former Indiana Governor Joe Kernan (D) ordered Kiel Brothers to pay $8.4 million in cleanup and fines, his successor, Mitch Daniels (R) reversed that order” and hired Pence’s brother “in order to ‘streamline’ the agency and make it more business-friendly.” That would be the same Mitch Daniels who’s been an indefatigable proponent of privatization.

23) Maryland: “We would all like a 37 percent raise,” says a “shocked” ratepayer who recently learned of Maryland American Water’s application to the PSC for a rate increase. “They say they need the increase to cover the cost of the new reservoir that was built. We as customers will not own the new reservoir after we pay the $1,840,000 they will collect in new fees from us. (…) We should not have to pay for an investment of a private company. The reservoir is an investment that AWK is making and the most they should receive is a return on their investment, maybe 3 percent in today’s market.”

24) Missouri/National: Renee Hoagenson, the Democratic candidate for Missouri’s 4th Congressional District, is running for office on a platform emphasizing public investment in education and infrastructure. “Charter schools take money from rural Missourians and leave them with nothing in return,” she says. “It is unfair to all rural citizens to send their education funding to private schools in urban areas.” On infrastructure: “Missouri has the worst roads in the Midwest and nearly the worst roads in the country. The administration’s plan to invest in our infrastructure would rely heavily on privatization, increasing tolls and other costs for Missourians, while creating few union jobs.” @livefreezeordie replies, “I live in low tax NH with worst roads in New England. Next door in VT the roads are manicured. It’s a question of public safety. There has to be a way meet in the middle on funding and unions for the greater good.”

25) National: The Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association of America increased its stake in the Geo Group by 18.02%, it reported in its 2018 Q1 SEC filing. In California, a petition drive is going on to try and get the California State Teachers’ Retirement System to divest from for-profit prison companies and immigrant detention centers.A letter signed by almost 100 Berkeley school teachers urged divestment from companies involved in immigrant detention. “This treatment of children goes in opposition to everything we do professionally and is a violation of basic human rights,” the letter reads.

26) Nebraska: For the second month in a row, Omaha’s private contractor for trash collection, Waste Management, is facing steep fines for failing to meet its contractual obligations. “The service is being fined for the second month in a row for not picking up trash in a timely and complete manner. Penalties include a $28,454 fine due to excessive complaints. The city calculated the fine with a formula using the number of complaints and the number of collection days in the month. There’s also a $44,000 fine for Waste Management’s failure to provide a separate yard waste collection, which would send the waste to the city’s composting facility.” The company says its woes are “due to the qualified driver supply here in Omaha.”

27) New Mexico: The Albuquerque Teachers Federation is opposing a proposed charter school for the South Valley. “ATF President Ellen Bernstein objected to where Solare has received support. ‘Solare is funded by anti-public schools corporate reformers,’ she told the Journal. ‘We don’t need privateers running schools in our state.’ Bernstein noted that Building Excellent Schools, which lists donors with corporate ties like the Walton Family Foundation in its 2017 annual report, had an affiliation with the school.”

Lawmakers and politicians differ on how New Mexico charter schools should be authorized. Republican gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce says he supports effective oversight “in all forms of education whether it’s public, private or home school.” Democratic U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Pearce’s opponent, “has said she would like to implement a halt to approving any new charter schools for New Mexico until lawmakers and educators can analyze how well they are working and what steps need to be taken to provide more oversight.”

28) Ohio/National: ICE is ramping up its activity around Cincinnati, raising concerns that raids are imminent. “Local immigration attorneys say the Blue Ash ICE office also has hired several contractors who work for the private prison company GEO Group. Florida-based GEO has tens of millions of dollars in immigration-enforcement contracts with the federal government and is getting $457 million more to build and operate an immigrant prison near Houston, according to media reports. A local GEO representative working out of the ICE Blue Ash facility has met with Catholic Charities officials to try to connect detainee families to services, Herre said.”

29) Tennessee: The Nashville City Council has voted to ask a city board to stop investing money from its employee pension fund in privately-operated prisons—and to not do so moving forward either. CoreCivic is based in Nashville.

30) Tennessee: A former jail officer at CoreCivic’s Metro Davidson County Detention Facility, the largest jail in Nashville, has been arrested “for allegedly pulling an inmate out of bed about one year ago and pepper-spraying him in the face without justification. Former inmate James Nelson says the officer, Oluwatobi Oja, attacked him in part because Nelson wanted to join a federal lawsuit accusing jail operator CoreCivic of refusing to treat a scabies outbreak and retaliating against inmates who sought treatment.”

31) Texas: Trump’s “zero tolerance” crackdown is straining south Texas county jails, further padding GEO Group’s bottom line. “The Hidalgo County Adult Detention Center has been short on bed space since it first opened in 2003, said Guerra, who was elected in 2014. As a result, Hidalgo County has had a longstanding agreement with GEO Group, a private-prison company, to hold its inmates in the Brooks County Detention Center, one of its facilities which accepts both county and federal inmates. If that facility is full, GEO Group is then tasked with finding appropriate housing for Hidalgo’s inmates at its other facilities.” Standards of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards “Guerra said, ‘are a lot more stringent than the federal system’ in terms of guard to inmate ratios and other protocols, such as random inspections.”

32) Texas: Prison officers hounded an Iranian inmate at the Central Texas Detention Facility in San Antonio, which is operated for profit by the GEO Group. “He says guards called him a terrorist for his Iranian ethnicity, and encouraged other inmates to do the same. On June 24, Moghtader filed a lawsuit against GEO, accusing guards of turning away when other inmates beat him, broke his nose and shoved a toilet brush up his rectum. His injuries led to an ear infection that doctors allegedly wouldn’t treat, so now he can’t hear out of his left ear. He says the medical staff also refused to provide medications prescribed for his PTSD and anxiety diagnoses, despite letters from his doctor and lawyer demanding proper treatment. According to the complaint, Moghtader was told he’d see a doctor only if he pled guilty. Authorities eventually dropped all charges against him, but not before Moghtader spent a full year in GEO’s downtown San Antonio prison.”

33) Washington/National: Sustained demonstrations have been held at the ICE Northwest Detention Facility in Tacoma, which is operated for profit by the GEO Group. The city “faces a lawsuit filed by GEO for changing the zoning for the facility that limits any future expansion over its stance on federal immigration policy rather than land-use issues. The center is located on industrial land that otherwise forbids residential developments.” Retired attorney and protester Carol Kindt “wants to city to revoke GEO Group’s business license because of the alleged abuses, reported poor living conditions and health concerns raised about the center, which most recently had an outbreak of chicken pox.”

34) International/Think Tanks: Sean McFate discusses mercenary warfare in the Middle East. “When you commodify conflict, you change international relations as we know it in profound ways. This is a creeping trend which I think is the biggest insecurity trends of the 21st century that everyone’s missing. It’s not terrorism, it’s not Russia or China. It’s not robots at war. It’s the privatization of warfare, because when you privatize war, it changes warfare in profound ways,” McFate says.

Legislative Issues

1) National: DeAnna R. Hoskins, president and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA, has laid out the case against H.R.5682 – FIRST STEP Act, which she says “will not lead to decarceration” but will “further perpetuate structural inequality. (…) In 2018, the FIRST STEP Act threatens to have similarly disastrous consequences hastened by technology and privatization. By limiting ‘prison reform’ to a combination of half-hearted credit time—which would leave people on home confinement or in halfway houses, rather than shorten sentences—and a reliance on risk assessment instruments that are steeped in racial bias, the FIRST STEP Act could hit the brakes on a nationwide movement to reform and redefine the justice system.”

2) National: House Democrat Henry Cuellar (TX), who got GEO Group and CoreCivic campaign money, joined his Republican colleagues last week to vote for a GOP resolution praising ICE. “Democratic leaders called on their caucus to vote ‘present’ to signal they wouldn’t take part in what Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called ‘a political gotcha bill.’ One hundred thirty-three Democrats voted ‘present,’ while 34 Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted no.”

3) National/North Dakota: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) weighed in at a Senate hearing last Wednesday to oppose the privatization of the U.S. Postal Service. “The agency is a vital lifeline for ND’s rural residents & privatization would leave them behind.”

4) California: Following a widely-criticized vote by the state department of education to put yet another charter school in Oakland (see above), whose school district is tottering on the financial brink, the chief deputy superintendent of public instruction, Glen Price “called for ‘modernizing’ 1998’s dated AB 544, the Reed Hastings-lobbied law that transformed California’s formerly benign Charter School Act into a poison pill for districts, by making it illegal for authorizers such as local school boards to consider the financial damage charters inflict on their hosts. ‘At some point we have to consider the whole ecosystem—the whole community that we’re operating in when making these decisions,’ Price reasoned. ‘There’s no other area of local or community planning where we would not consider the financial impact of a decision.’”

In its recent report Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts, In the Public Interest found that “in 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District.”

 

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