The thirty year anniversary of the founding of the Corrections Corporation of America marks an all-time high for the for-profit prison industry. An increase of immigration- and drug-related arrests have contributed to the growth of the CCA in recent years. But according to their latest 10-K, an annual performance report provided to the Securities and Exchange Commission, their profitability is threatened by many factors:
“Legislation has been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who would otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.”
The CCA speaks just as candidly about areas in which to capitalize. In a presentation to investors last year, the CCA attributes current economic factors in creating a “unique investment opportunity.” Increases in law enforcement and funding (due to recovery from the recession), high rates of recidivism (repeated imprisonment), and acquisition of government-owned correctional facilities are all cited as reasons for anticipated growth. Tweet
Despite the lucrative state of crime in the country, forging political alliances is crucial to protecting CCA’s future. Of the nearly $2.2 million CCA donated from 2003 to 2012, $1.3 million was given to Republican candidates while less than half that went to Democrats. The greatest donation to an individual went to Governor Butch Otter of Idaho.
Unsurprisingly, Idaho’s prison system has expanded in recent years and is looking for alternatives to state-controlled prisons. Of the other top 30 donations, 11 have been from Georgia and another 11 were from California, both of which have been seen prison hunger strikes to protest maltreatment, inadequate medical care, and exploitation of labor.
California’s current ordeal is a prime example of the how states are forced to do business with for-profit prisons. Earlier in January, Governor Jerry Brown of California ordered an end to former Governor Schwarzenegger’s Emergency Proclamation regarding the state’s prison.
Signed in October 2006, Schwarzenegger’s decree reduced overcrowding by moving inmates into out-of-state facilities run by CCA. Just last year, California praised the CCA for helping the state avoid further prison overcrowding, but it seems Governor Brown wants to bring these prisoners back to California and cut California’s ties with private prisons altogether.
California is just one state facing such a quandary: maintain decent prison living conditions without increasing state spending and without the early discharge of dangerous felons. As states commonly rely on private prisons to reduce overcrowding, the CCA consequently relies on increasing the criminal population to support their business model. However, policy changes are what allow for-profit prisons to sustain their business in the long run.
Although CCA claims “lobbying or advocacy efforts” are against their business policy, it is clear they have subtly cultivated an industry of crime in their favor. Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce drafted SB 1070—Arizona’s controversial bill requiring constant possession of immigrant registration documents—alongisde representatives from many corporations, CCA included. Governor Jan Brewer, the bill’s signatory and major proponent, also has connections to the company as two of her top advisors, Chuck Coughlin and Paul Senseman, have both lobbied on behalf of the CCA.
In 2005, Operation Streamline immediately imposed federal criminal charges on any illegal border crossing. From then through 2011, the average daily population of detained immigrants rose almost 63%, from 19,712 in 2005 to 32,095 in 2011. Not surprisingly, this coincided with a surge in revenue for CCA of over $700 million, more than twice the growth seen in the same period leading up to 2005.
With two states having legalized marijuana and the President pushing for an immigration overhaul, for-profit prisons are frantically trying to ensure a future clientele. It is up to lawmakers not to work within the framework of the prison-industrial complex. Business-related efforts to tighten law enforcement and extend prison sentences are meant only to protect private interests, not the public safety. Tweet