Every year, America’s largest private prison companies – The GEO Group, Inc., Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and the Management & Training Corporation (MTC)—pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaigns of governors, state legislators, and judges, in the hopes of advancing their political agenda—establishing more private prisons and reducing the number of public ones. Despite significantly higher rates of inmate-on-guard assault, violence, and escapes in broad daylight in private prisons than in public, these companies’ strategy of pay-to-play has proven successful. A state think tank in Ohio recently documented a 48 percent increase in private prison inmates between the year 2000 and 2009—leading almost 8 percent of incarcerated Americans to be housed in private prisons by the end of the decade.
However, in February 2010, the Florida-based Private Corrections Working Group issued a press release stating that CCA had lost contracts for 7,594 prison beds in the previous 16 months, and could lose 3,696 by the end of the year. As it became clear that some states were canceling prison contracts out of budget and safety concerns, the private prison industry became more aggressive in seeking ways to fill beds (the measure by which private prisons companies gauge their profitability). A prime example of this surfaced in late 2010 when National Public Radio exposed the role of the private prison industry in crafting and passing SB1070—Arizona’s controversial immigration-enforcement law.
The Republican sweep of the mid-term elections in 2010 provided the private prison industry with new friends on the state level and in Washington. The upshot is a broad network of powerful private prison companies and pro-privatization legislation and budget initiatives linked by thousands of dollars in political donations to the party in power. This year, the industry is betting on these newly-elected allies to deliver the contracts they were losing under former state leadership.
In the following pages, we review recent media coverage, national and state research, campaign donation data and prison policy briefs to reveal the national network of corporate influence chipping away at the American incarceration system.