Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Slave Labor & Privatization on increase, Driven by Conservative corporations and lawmakers

A few weeks back I wrote about Rick Scott's ascendancy to the Governorship of Florida, asking whether or not he would actually follow the advice of his Transition Team's recommendations. I voiced concerns over what he would do to address the high incarceration rate of Florida and whether he would push for criminal justice reforms that included doing away with PRIDE, one of the worst abusers of prison labor in the nation.

Over the weeks between those posts and today, Scott and other Republican state Governors have shown that their visions for criminal justice reform is to increase corporate influence and participation in all things prison and prison related. The polls I included in the diaries on Scott were answered with a high percentage of voters believing Scott would fall in with the corruption already rampant in Florida and capitalize upon the vast amounts of money being made in that state off of incarceration. I have to now agree with the voters that he has done just that - as have several other state's authorities.

Recent articles on Scott's vision for addressing Florida's burgeoning prisoner population and the costs associated with housing over 102,000 inmates, expose that his efforts of reducing that population and the costs associated with it, by increasing privatization of everything to do with jails, prisons and prison operations.

He has taken Florida back to the 80's when Corrections Corporation of America sought to privatize the entire prison system in Tennessee. This is now what he is suggesting for Florida - turn everything over to those corporations that helped fund his successful 2010 campaign run. Scott decided, "Why stop with privatizing just prison operations? Let's also privatize the three remaining mental health facilities, veteran's and programs for those disabled in the state as well."

Privatization is nothing new in Florida, as a solution to wasteful government spending this was the "solution" vigorously pursued by former Governor Jeb Bush. Most privatizing efforts by Bush resulted in more expenditure of tax dollars than anticipated and increased the corruption, investigations and convictions of those involved in turning over the operation of state programs and facilities to private corporations. The "Corrections Privatization Commission" set up by Bush to oversee the operations of Florida's privately run prisons resulted in both "Directors" of that agency being removed for improprieties involving their relationship with the private prison corporations running the three privatized facilities. In the case of the first Director, Marcus Hodges, he was fined $10,000.00 for ethics violations and resigned. His successor, Alan Duffee was also accused of being too friendly with the same companies and during an investigation into his personal relationship with CCA and Geo Group, it was discovered Duffee had embezzled $224,000.00 from his agency's private facility maintenance account. He was later sentenced to 33 months in prison.

As was the case under former governors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush, privatization resulted in huge campaign "contributions" from those corporations involved in pursuing the lucrative contracts. That hasn't changed and Scott's willingness to not only continue privatization but to privatize the entire prison system and other state programs, agencies and operations led to substantial support and financial contributions from lobbyists and corporations looking to profit from negotiated contracts to take over those state responsibilities.

How lucrative are these contracts Scott wants to issue? Millions of tax dollars are involved and companies like Geo and CCA have actively been "chumming" the political waters to succeed in securing Scott's favoritism. This article explains the amount of money donated - or raised - by them during the last election cycle on behalf of Scott.

"Privatization in Florida is nothing new; the first three private prisons opened in Florida in 1995, according to the Department of Corrections.

Three companies with lobbyists in Tallahassee have reaped lucrative contracts by taking over state prisons and mental hospitals. One Boca Raton company, GEO Group, manages two of the state's seven private prisons and four of its seven mental-health facilities.

Corrections Corp. of America, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., runs four prisons, and Management Training Corp., based in Utah, runs one.

Those three companies are prime financiers of the Republican Party. GEO Group alone gave more than $400,000 to the party in the past election cycle and another $25,000 to Scott's inaugural bash.

Geo Group's lobbyist, Brian Ballard, hosted Scott at his Tallahassee home to watch the Super Bowl. He also helped raise $3 million for Scott's inaugural.

By law private prisons are to be operated to save the taxpayers 7% per year, per facility but that has never happened. The financial records and expenditures are simply too difficult to track with any accuracy.
"While some privately run prisons in Florida appear to do that, it is a murky calculation because no two facilities are exactly the same," legislative policy analyst Byron Brown told the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice last week.
The article goes on to report that the largest savings to the state are the 10% reductions in pension funding for correctional officers.

This entire mess is turning into a huge brouhaha in Florida - and many other red states as well. Ohio , is another state wanting to privatize their prisons. Newly elected Governor Kasich's long time advisor and chief of staff, Don Thibaut is now a lobbyist for CCA and Kasich’s new prisons director, Gary Mohr, also spent five years as a consultant at CCA.

In 2006 New Mexico's Governor Richardson was seen as being in the pocket of Geo Group and though a Democrat receiving money from Geo, they spent more in contributions to republicans:
"If political donations are any measure, economically challenged and poverty-stricken states like New Mexico are a great target. In this campaign cycle, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson has already received more contributions from a private prison company than any other politician campaigning for state office in the United States. The Institute of Money in State Politics, which traced the donations, reported that GEO has contributed $42,750 to Richardson since 2005—and another $8,000 to his running mate, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

Another $30,000 went from GEO to the Richardson-headed Democratic Governors Association this past March. Richardson’s PAC, Moving America Forward, was another prominent recipient of GEO donations. Now, its former head, prominent state capitol lobbyist Joe Velasquez, is a registered lobbyist for GEO Care Inc., a healthcare subsidiary that runs a hospital in New Mexico.

But don’t get the idea that GEO has any particular love for Democrats: $95,000 from the corporation went to the Republican Governors Association last year alone. What companies like GEO do love are the millions of dollars rolling in from lucrative New Mexico contracts to run the Lea County Correctional Facility (operating budget: $25 million/year), and the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility ($13 million/year), among others. CCA also owns and operates the state’s only women’s facility in Grants ($11 million per year).

To make sure that those dollars keep flowing, GEO and CCA have perfected the art of the “very tight revolving door,” says Bender, which involves snapping up former corrections administrators, PAC lobbyists and state officials to serve as consultants to private prison companies.

In fact, the current New Mexico Corrections Department Secretary Joe Williams was once on GEO’s payroll as their warden of the Lea County Correctional Facility. Earlier this year, Williams was placed on unpaid administrative leave after accusations surfaced that he spent state travel and phone funds to pursue a very close relationship with Ann Casey. Casey is a registered lobbyist in New Mexico for Wexford Health Sources, which provides health care for prisoners at Grants, and Aramark, which provides most of the state’s inmate meals. In her non-lobbying hours, it turns out that Casey is also an assistant warden at a state prison in Centralia, Ill.

According to Edwin Bender, executive director of the Institute on Money in State Politics , private prison companies strongly favor giving to states with the toughest sentencing laws—in essence, the ones that are more likely to come up with the bodies to fill prison beds. Those states, adds Bender, are also the ones most likely to have passed “three-strikes” laws. Those laws, first passed by Washington state voters in 1993 and then California voters in 1994, quickly swept the nation. They were largely based on “cookie-cutter legislation” pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), some of whose members come from the ranks of private prison companies.

There's the ever-frequent mention of ALEC's role in prisons, privatization and the use of prisoner slave labor. A quick look at those who belong to and/or fund ALEC's conservative initiatives reveals that many of the same companies, individuals and corporations involved with them are also supporting and funding the efforts of the Reason Foundation (Reason). Chief among these supporters (and Board members) are the Koch brothers and their foundations along with CCA and Geo Group. What is the connection I'm trying to make between the issue and both ALEC and Reason? The growing Conservative push for "criminal justice reforms" on a national basis is why. While they continue to inform all of us just how efficient privatization - and prison privatization especially - is, they hide their agendas from public view.

It has long been recognized that ALEC is/was deeply involved in implementing and supporting laws that increased arrests, incarceration and abolished parole from the 1980's through now. ALEC boasts of their ability to develop and propose such harsh criminal laws and get them passed into law in most states. They wear that fact as a cloak of their influence and abilities. They don't however, inform that the corporate members of their board and general membership profit from those efforts and laws, or say just how much that profit is in real dollars.

The Reason Foundation has similar goals and an agenda that parallels and in some cases enhances those of ALEC and another conservative organization few know about - Florida Tax Watch (FTW). Today FTW and Reason have joined forces to persuade the Florida taxpayer that by privatizing two of the four prison regions containing half of the state's prisons, they will save millions in tax dollars. Again, they continue to beat the same drum chanting over and over that privatization saves money while developing fancy charts, algorithmic formulas and slight of hand to put forth convincing arguments in support.

What isn't being said is that since 1990 and more recently just from 2008 to the present, crime and incarceration rates have been declining. In Florida they now have an estimated 8,000 empty beds in the state run facilities. In the face of empty state prison beds and declining populations, FTW, Reason and others are advocating an increase in privatization of prisons and prison duties:
"Current government correctional systems can be characterized as a fragmented collection of facilities and services—including prisons, halfway houses, probation systems, home monitoring, programming and rehabilitation—and offenders move between these facilities and services with little continuity of knowledge of their particular history and rehabilitation progress, leading to little accountability and poor results for the successful return of these individuals to society. Further, the facilities and services that comprise current systems are usually the legacy of policy decisions made years—even decades—ago and may not comport with the facility and service mix needed to improve performance of the system today and into the future. Given the disjointed nature of the current system, it should come as no surprise that recidivism is a persistent challenge, with offenders in most states more likely to return to prison than remain in free society upon release.

Corrections needs a new paradigm. This paper outlines a concept designed to target recidivism and drive cost reduction via a bold, new approach: a continuum of care through public-private partnerships (PPPs). PPPs are simply government contracts with private sector prison operators or service vendors to provide a range of correctional services—from financing, building and operating prisons to delivering a range of inmate services (e.g., health care, food, rehabilitation services) and administrative/operational support functions (e.g., facility maintenance, transportation and information technology)."

In 2008 as this reduction in prison populations began to become of concern to those companies earning large profits from incarceration and other "ranges of inmate services" began looking for ways to maintain their profit margins. Through ALEC and Reason they found an alternative to housing state and federal prisoners: Illegal immigration. As many now know, CCA and Geo through ALEC's Public Safety Task Force pushed for the implementation of SB 1070 in Arizona. That state has long been a bastion of privatization related to prison operations. In fact the same presenter of SB 1070, Senator Russell Pearce, also presented legislation in 2009 to overhaul the state's prison system by privatizing all of it. There were objections to this proposal from the DOC Director and in swift and typical fashion the objections voiced were responded to by the Reason Foundation.

Earlier this year a study was taken by the state of Arizona on the costs of privatized incarceration. It found that it costs the state more to house inmates in private prisons than it does in state run facilities. For medium custody inmates, privatization cost is 15% higher than the costs to house the same inmate in a state facility. Regardless of this kind of information Governor Brewer continues to push the agenda of more privatization which is favorable to her campaign contributors, CCA. Remember two lobbyists for CCA were discovered to be working as Brewer's Campaign Manager/Policy Advisor and her deputy chief of staff last year - and to my knowledge remain on her staff in the face of strong public objection to the ties between Brewer's office and CCA.

Unfortunately the tactics by ALEC, Reason and others prevailed last year with the passage of SB 1070. Now it is on the agenda's of 22 more U.S. states, put there by ALEC public lawmaker members and funded with campaign contributions and advertising paid for by ALEC supporters, CCA and Geo Group. No doubt these efforts of privatization are hugely profitable to those companies receiving the contracts and providing the services. They want the contracts to keep coming and money rolling in. In the face of informative and investigative articles, reports and studies warning about privatization and the true costs being downplayed, ALEC and the others continue to falsely claim money savings and reductions in recidivism. This is simply untrue and lies told by those wishing to continue making their money off of prisoners.

In support of the efforts of ALEC, Reason, FTW and other similar groups, the right wing conservatives have seen the handwriting on the wall with prison costs bankrupting states one by one and have now begun to loudly call for criminal justice and prison reforms. Right on Crime , led by Gingrich and other influential Republicans are pushing for these reforms, but their "solutions" are to let private companies take over entirely. This is simply another format to expand corporatocracy through taking over government responsibilities and duties - for profit.

How does this pertain to slave labor? Because 93,000+ current state and federal prisoners are being used by those funding, supporting and belonging to ALEC and Reason. As many know large corporate profits are being made by using the inmates in production and service industries that pay paltry wages of between $.25 and $.50 an hour for jobs once held by civilian workers for a fair and decent wage. These inmate workers are prohibited from forming unions, pursuing collective bargaining, striking for better wages and of late, are even being prohibited from bringing litigation about their living and working conditions before the state and federal courts. Such litigation is now deemed "frivolous" by judges, who have been lobbied by lawmakers and officials siding with prison authorities and industry officials to restrain the inmate's access to court intervention on conditions in prison.

As the December prison worker strike in Georgia demonstrated, there are many issues involving incarceration that are withheld from the public and any attempt to bring those living and working conditions to the attention of the public results in immediate response by prison officials. Many of those involved in that prison strike were brutally beaten for demonstrating. I have no doubt that this violent response by Georgia prison authorities was initiated as a demonstration of their own: that such "striking" will be dealt with quickly and in a physically harmful manner, to deter others from taking the same actions to draw attention to their plight.

For prison officials - public and private - inmates must be controlled at all times and prevented from informing the public what goes on behind those high fences and walls. Most believe that if the public is kept in the dark as to conditions within prisons, they will gladly continue to willingly spend their tax dollars on incarceration, believing they're getting a good return for those expenditures. They are not receiving near what they're paying for.

As I've also written previously, the U.S. Department of Justice oversees all of the federal prison industries and all state prison industries involved in the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). The Bureau of Justice Assistance has control over that program and outsourced most of their duties to the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA) in 1995 (the same year all this privatization of prisons and the explosion in prison industry operations happened). Many of the corporations involved in one form or another with ALEC and Reason are also members or or support the NCIA. Take a quick tour of the " Buyer's Guide " at the NCIA site. Or if you like, check out the same kind of guide at the American Correctional Association's Buyer's Guide. The ACA and UNICOR (Federal Prison Industries) are now represented upon the NCIA's Board of Directors. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize how interwoven and interconnected all of this is from the DOJ all the way down to individual industries and prisons. With more than $2 billion (conservative estimate) of prison made products being sold a year and the $75 billion in tax dollars being spent per year on incarceration and the other billions expected to be made from the detention of illegal immigrants, many corporations stand in line at their banks, waiting to deposit the billions made off of prisons and prison labor.

Truth is inmates in the U.S. are now seen as nothing more than commodities to be bargained and fought over in the same way markets fight over commercial products. The more inmate "commodities" you have in your inventory, is reduced to bottom line income figures. They are assets to the likes of CCA, Geo Group, Aramark, Trinity Food Service, Prison Health Services, Keefe Commissary Network, Wexford Health Sources and hundreds of other companies.

Where will it stop? And more importantly, who will stop it? With the DOJ involved operating prison industry and privatization at the federal level and much of the state levels, how can we expect that agency to actually perform the duties assigned to them on behalf of us as citizens, tax payers and more frequently, workers displaced by prison labor? We can't. This is the problematic situation we find ourselves in. Today corporations have wormed insidiously into every government agency and department from the lowest county operations through state and into federal ones. Their lobbyists and influence are found everywhere. In DC you can find a lobbyist on every street corner and office radiating outward from the Capitol. This same situation is found in each state capitol around the country. For every state lawmaker there are ten lobbyists flocking around them, flinging handfuls of money their way in exchange for favorable support and votes. As former Illinois Governor, Rod blagojevich said in defense of his actions prior to his corruption trial, "It's just politics, that's how it's done now," seems to be the new "accepted" standard of politics in the U.S. today. Truth is our government has become rife with corruption involving corporate intervention and influence. Today most U.S. Agencies and department cater to the wants and desires of corporations, handing our tax dollars over to those corporations in exchange for promised support on issues and favorable legislation. When it comes to the point that the expected support is to be given, reasons are found by the corporate interests to no longer have any desire to give their support. Most of the problems has been driven by Conservative Republicans and the PAC's operating on their behalf. We've seen the Chamber of Commerce now supporting outsourcing of our jobs overseas and fighting the government's efforts to stem that flow of our jobs. It truly is now a situation of the haves versus the have-nots in the U.S. and 98% of us are on the losing end of that battle.

This situation with privatization has been an ongoing battle since the mid 1980's and has worn us down as a society. Corporations and their lawmaker mistresses have sold our jobs, our dignity and our national presence to the highest bidder. As they've prevailed in their efforts, our reputation overseas has diminished greatly and our society has suffered numerous financial disasters - all as a result of corporate influence and pursuit of higher profits. Now that we as a society and nation have discovered the way incarceration and criminal justice laws have been twisted and used to enrich others - at our expense - lawmakers and their corporate sponsors are saying oh how terrible it is that incarceration is bankrupting us...we should immediately implement reforms! and those reforms should be us turning all government operations and duties over to their corporate supporters to run. If we do this, what is there left to be done by our state and federal governments? What will we need them for if the corporations run everything from prisons to mental hospitals, transportation, toll roads and mercenary armies? And if we succumbed ourselves and allowed what amounts to a corporate take over of our governments...who will be left to speak on our behalf? Nobody and that's just the way the likes of ALEC, Reason and other Conservative groups, PAC's and organizations want it. If we continue along this path, our future is more than bleak, it is doomed to be the many working away for the few...

Now that DKos4 is up and running, I am considering forming a group to address prison and criminal justice reform issues and topics. If interested in joining such a group here on DK4 please let me know in the comments below. If enough have such an interest I'll work to get that up and running.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for speaking up all of America is being run over by a few greedy wealthy willing to stop at nothing to have it all. They are willing to make the ones who will do their bidding a little wealthy to do it. A lot of this would stop if it were against the law. We out number them big time and we need to start now by the millions against them. If we don't soon it will be too late and we will all be slave laborers.