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article imageOp-Ed: For-profit prisons — Have they taken over our justice system?

By Karen Graham     Apr 28, 2015 in Politics
For-profit prisons, private companies, have distorted the justice system in this country, making huge profits, and debasing our justice system. The federal government is in one pocket and lawmakers in their other pocket, and we are kept in the dark.
We all know that big corporations spend millions of dollars lobbying in Washington, influencing legislation. But besides Big Oil, Big Pharma and the NRA, another entity has slowly and insidiously edged their way into the halls of Congress, with troubling consequences.
It is called the private prison industry, and we hear very little about them. The two largest and most profitable in the country, GEO and Corrections Corporation of America – and their associates have given over $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent over $25 million on lobbying efforts.
With all this going on, these companies have seen their profits soar, raking in over $3.3 billion every year. Not only are they exceedingly profitable, but in this country, the federal prison population has doubled from 2000 to 2010, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute.
The report, entitled: GAMING THE SYSTEM: How the Political Strategies of Private prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, was published in 2011, and the report brings into focus just what is really happening with our justice system.
Immigration detainees account for nearly half of private prison inmates
A report issued by the Huffington Post shows that the number of immigration detainees held in private prisons has doubled from 25 percent just ten years ago. In total, there are 130 private prisons in the U.S. with 157,000 beds.
The industry's influence on legislation has led to policies that have increased the number of federal prisoners in private prisons, as well as getting increased funding from Congress for the facilities. The Huffington Post cites a county in Arizona that is profiting from a private prison in their area. They say: "The prison companies share the spoils of their business with the local government, effectively giving area law enforcement an incentive to apprehend as many undocumented immigrants as they can."
A recent Digital Journal story on Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio's contempt charges over an order to cease immigration enforcement patrols comes to mind. The sheriff have been accused of using racial profiling in arresting Hispanics.
Regardless of the outcome of Arpaio's case, the number of immigration detainees in this country have increased to about 400,000 a year, and according to the Department of Homeland Security, over half are held in private prisons.
The rising political influence of private prisons
How politically influential are the private prisons? Let's look at Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. A GOP contender for the presidential nomination and the son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio also has very close ties with the GEO Group, the nation's second-largest for-profit prison company.
Back when Rubio was Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, GEO was awarded $110 million for a new prison shortly after Rubio hired an economic consultant who had been a trustee for a GEO real estate trust, says the Washington Post. The senator has received over $40,000 in campaign contributions over his career from GEO, making him the Senate's top recipient of contributions from GEO.
For-profit prison companies three-pronged approach
The Justice Policy Institute identified three approaches used to increase political influence and profits for private prisons. It is really quite simple: lobbying, direct campaign contributions and building networks and relationships. With lobbying, they are pushing to get more Americans behind bars and pushing for minimum sentencing guidelines.
The Justice Policy Institute points out California's three-strikes rule and Arizona’s highly controversial anti-illegal immigration law. Laws such as these are very important to private prison's profit lines. So important, in fact that both the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America have notified their shareholders that changes to these laws would hurt their bottom lines.
What I see is a group of private companies who have effectively taken charge of America's prison and justice systems. To continue making money, they need to keep people locked up for as long as possible. They have created a system where human beings are treated as a commodity and traded for money.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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