Republic article on private prisons, ALEC

by David Safier

Bob Ortega has written an excellent article about how Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and other private prison corporations lobby for more private prisons and, directly and indirectly, more incarceration to boost their bottom lines.

Here's an extensive quote from the middle of the article, about the Arizona/ALEC/private prisons connection. Where the article says, "Lesko's e-mail, inviting lawmakers to the council's annual meeting in New Orleans, was leaked and posted online by a Tucson blogger," I'm that blogger. Here's the post he's referring to. Ortega interviewed me for the article.

CCA has other connections with legislators in Arizona and elsewhere, most notably as a longstanding corporate member of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The council describes itself as a nonpartisan national association of state legislators; in fact, it is a partisan vehicle that brings together about 300 large corporations and 2,000 predominantly Republican legislators on task forces that produce model bills that lawmakers can introduce in their state legislatures.

Recent ALEC policy initiatives focused on an anti-regulatory, anti-union, anti-Obama health-care, pro-free-trade agenda.

The council doesn't release corporate or legislative membership lists. But a May 12 e-mail from Rep. Debbie Lesko, ALEC's public-sector Arizona chairwoman, lists 51 current Arizona legislative members, more than half of both the state Senate and state House. There are 50 Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Richard Miranda of Tolleson. Lesko's e-mail, inviting lawmakers to the council's annual meeting in New Orleans, was leaked and posted online by a Tucson blogger; Lesko confirmed its contents.

Corporations, from Walmart and Exxon Mobil to Koch Cos. and Salt River Project, provided 98 percent of the council's funding last year, according to a tax filing obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Lawmakers pay $50 a year to join; corporations pay from $7,000 to $25,000 a year for membership, plus more to sit on task forces, or to sponsor events hosting legislators and, often, their families. Corporations also fund ALEC "scholarships" that pay for lawmakers' travel and lodging.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said his company left ALEC last year. But for the past two decades, a CCA executive has been a member of the council's Public Safety and Education Task Force as it produced more than 85 model bills and resolutions that required tougher criminal sentencing, expanded immigration enforcement and promoted prison privatization. Laurie Shanblum, CCA's senior director of business development, was the private-sector chair of the task force in the mid- to late '90s, when it produced a series of model bills promoting tough-on-crime measures that would send more people to prison for a longer time.

They included a "Truth in Sentencing Act" requiring that convicts serve at least 85 percent of any sentence, and 100 percent of a sentence for violent crimes; a "Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Act," imposing longer, mandatory sentences for all drug offenses; a "Third Strike" law mandating a life sentence for a third violent felony conviction; and dozens of other bills that called for violent juveniles to be tried and sentenced as adults, and for longer sentences for child-porn crimes, drunken driving, repeated retail theft and many other crimes.

Critics, many with ties to public-union or human-rights groups, have charged that such bills, by sending more people to prison longer, drove up demand for the prison space and services CCA sells.

Starting in the 1990s, the ALEC task force also produced model bills directly promoting prison privatization. These included bills to let private prisons house inmates from other states without permission of local governments, require privatization of prisons and correctional services and encourage contracting for prison labor.

Council members from Arizona, including Pearce, and a long list of former legislators going back to the early 1990s including Wes Marsh, John Verkamp, Jay Tibshraeny and Thayer Verschoor, subsequently introduced bills here that were near-duplicates of the ALEC model bills.

Here are a few more excerpts from the article.

CCA has spent about $17.6 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies over the past decade, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the effect of money on U.S. politics. The agencies include the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, which contract with private operators such as CCA for immigration-detention centers


Since 2000, the company has won $3.84 billion in federal contracts, including just under $546 million for federal contracts in Arizona, according to government records.


Since 2003, CCA employees and affiliates have given nearly $2 million in campaign contributions to state-level candidates and ballot issues across the U.S.

In Arizona, CCA associates and its political-action committee have reported giving about $35,000 in political donations over the past decade to Brewer, Pearce, former House Speaker Kirk Adams, House Speaker Andy Tobin and many others. A big chunk of that, $11,520, was given for last year's election campaigns.

"BLIND EYE" REGAINS SIGHT NOTE: In July, AZ Blue Meanie noted, rightly, that the Republic wasn't giving the AZ/ALEC connection nearly the attention it deserved (The Arizona Republic turns a blind eye to questions about ALEC). Ortega's article goes a long way toward correcting that problem. Here's hoping he and/or others at the paper stay on the story. My series on AZ legislation which began as ALEC model legislation should give them lots to work with.

0 responses to “Republic article on private prisons, ALEC

  1. I find it extremely interesting that CCA, after two decades of writing legislation to put more people in prison for longer terms, finally bailed out of ALEC.

    I can’t imagine the corporation did this because they recognized the core immorality of the relationship. Were that the case, they would have similarly recognized the intentional immorality of overcharging states millions of dollars, of failing to provide contractual medical care for prisoners or detainees that might have prevented premature deaths, they would have provided edible food to those for whom they often received over $100 daily to incarcerate, they might not have spent millions to keep their operations secret, from their lobbying against being subject to FOIA legislation to their extreme opposition to the release of videos of the near-fatal beating of an Idaho inmate at their “Gladiator school” in Idaho, or the one they claimed didn’t exist that should have showed the beating death of Estelle Richardson by their guards in Tennessee. They would have assured that their prisons did not foster a pervasive atmosphere of sexual abuse and harassment, one that caused dozens of female employees at their Crowley County, Colorado, facility to file successful individual and class-action lawsuits against CCA. They would have compensated employees for time legitimately worked, instead of endlessly fighting class action, million dollar lawsuits brought by those employees whom they bilked of wages. They would have done adequate background checks to assure that predators weren’t hired as guards or management. They wouldn’t have offered cushy jobs to all those officials who were involved in signing or monitoring their contracts. They would have corrected major security problems, rather than postponing repairs, maintenance and upgrades in order to boost quarterly profits by cents per share even though their dereliction consequently endangered the public.

    No, the reason that CCA followed their only major competitor GEO Group in leaving ALEC was because they were both anxious to avoid a continuation of the harsh glare of publicity shone upon them, first by activists, then more acutely by Beau Hodai’s In These Times articles, or Laura Sullivan’s later piece on NPR, that detailed their role in the commodification of human beings for corporate profits.

    In the absence of sufficient will or motivation by elective or appointive officials to keep this piratical gang in check, we have only the media and to a lesser extent the courts, to insure that taxpayers are not egregiously bilked, that special interest legislation is not the continuing order of the day, and that the safety of guards, inmates and the public alike are not endangered in the voracious drive to accumulate obscene profits.

  2. Did they even try to rationalize it? I doubt it. They know that crime doesn’t pay on a small scale. It pays on a big one. And when the crime becomes big enough, it begins to govern.

    It’s yet another way to sanction those least able to protect themselves. The right vilifies the poor at every opportunity, and now they’re publicly stating that the poor shouldn’t have the right to vote. Eventually, poverty itself will be a crime.

    They’ve taken Ayn Rand’s obscene, insane ideas, and twisted them even further. I didn’t think that was possible.

    I have no doubt that somewhere there is a think-tank, financed by the Koch brothers, furiously trying to come up with some sort of “final solution” that the masses, initially at least, will find palatable.

  3. Meanwhile, in a related outrage:

    Arizona is beginning to charge a $25 fee to those who wish to visit inmates at any of the state’s prisons. (The public ones.)

  4. Damn, that was well stated. Thank you.

  5. Well said. All the more reason to fight back and inform others of what is happening beneath their very noses….they are hiding in plain sight,and not many people know. It’s up to all of us to inform them. As you noted, this is important. For so many reasons.

  6. Having been a guest of the state, I can tell you that, at least on minimum security yards, 85% of inmates have no business being there (the other 15% shouldn’t ever leave). Most are young, impressionable kids, in for what even the state terms “non-dangerous, non-repetitive” crimes.

    There are many in both the public and private sector who have a vested interest in making sure those they find unworthy end up as felons. Because once you are, you’re never truly free again. They consider it no worse than tagging and releasing wildlife.

    Private prisons undermine the whole concept of a fair justice system. Once a profit motive is associated with the loss of liberty, no one is safe. Society must necessarily bear a burden when taking someones’ freedom. Even for the worst. Otherwise, freedom itself becomes just another commodity to be bought and sold.

    The poor don’t usually fare well in situations like that.

  7. Was so happy to see the depth this article went to. For those of us that have seen the connection of ALEC/CCA and state govt…this was a godsend. People need to know and pay attention! Glad that you have all been on top of this, as well as other AZ blogs (Democratic Diva)…and so glad to see that MSM is FINALLY putting this information out to all. Thanks to everyone!