"Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), based in Nashville, runs the Bay, Graceville and Lake City correctional facilities, and South Florida's Moore Haven correctional facility, its website says. The GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut), headquartered in Boca Raton, operates South Florida's South Bay correctional facility and Broward Transition Center, and Blackwater correctional facility in the Panhandle, according to its website."
Companies like CCA and GEO own and operate adult prisons, juvenile facilities and immigration detention centers across the country. They have been widely criticized by many prison professionals for hiring inexperienced staff willing to work for less, focusing their management initiatives on keeping their beds filled (and thus paid for), and neglecting the health and safety of inmates. A number of their facilities have turned out to be public health nightmares, with substandard food and unsanitary conditions. There have been a number of deaths and sexual assaults in for-profit prisons.
Despite such well-publicized shortcomings, the for-profit prison business has grown consistently, spurred recently by the industry's sales pitches that play to the necessity for cash-strapped states to balance their budgets. But prison professionals report that the resulting savings, if any, are marginal.
The two largest companies in the field, CCA and GEO, reported revenues of over a billion dollars each in 2011, and forecast healthy growth for 2012.
CCA and GEO are also major players in the organization known as ALEC -- the American Legislative Exchange Council -- an association of corporate lobbyists and state legislators. ALEC prepares "model bills" that states can adapt to their particular politics. For example, the egregious stack of paper known as B-1070, Arizona's disastrous anti-immigrant bill, is largely an ALEC product, as are many parts of a similar bill in Alabama.
The link between private prisons and immigration? These companies and others also operate detention centers for tens of thousands of people -- whole families, in fact -- who are awaiting hearings before immigration judges to decide whether they will stay in the US or be deported. The tougher the laws, the more people will be picked up and detained.
Given the obvious clout of the industry, it was a rare act of genuine courage for these nine Florida Republicans to buck their Senate leadership, their Governor, and their campaign coffers to vote the vote this bill down. I was particularly struck by the reasoning of one of the rebellious Florida lawmakers, Sen. Steve Oelrich, a Republican from Alachua.
He told his Senate colleagues: "No sooner should we privatize our military than we should be privatizing our corrections department and our
correctional officers. I think it's bad policy."
But Mr. Oelrich must know how naÃ¯ve it would be for Florida lawmakers to expect private prisons to just go away. With the financial and political firepower this industry has exhibited, they will surely be back next year if not sooner.
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