Friday, October 5, 2012

How lawmakers and lobbyists keep a lock on the private prison business

Private prison corporations say they don't lobby on custodial policy. They seem to find legislators with views aligned anyway

Early in August, the Associated Press reported that America's three largest private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Inc and Management and Training Corp spent in the region of $45m over the past 10 years in lobbying state and federal governments. During the same period, these companies saw their profits soar as they scored more government contracts.

During the same period, various pieces of legislation got passed ensuring that immigrant detention, in particular, would remain a lucrative growth market. The companies get defensive, however, if anyone attempts to draw a connection between their lobbying efforts and their booming businesses. But whatever the purpose of the lobbying, the very fact that these companies, which perform a public service using taxpayer funds, are first and foremost profit-making entities highlights the flawed incentivisation of the private prison model and its growing presence in the American criminal justice system.

I'll get to the lobbying in a moment, but first let's have a look at that flawed incentive. Thanks to mandatory sentencing laws and the "war on drugs", the prison population has exploded over the past 30 years – to the point where it has become an untenable burden on state budgets. As a result, many state lawmakers have begun to look at ways to reduce their prison populations. This is good for society, as needlessly locking people up for excessive periods for nonviolent crimes has proven to be counter-productive and cost-prohibitive – not to mention inhumane.

Read on....

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