The Political Bribe that Turned Prisoners Into Profits
Private prison companies are exploiting our corrupt political system to lock people up… for profit.
The two largest private prison companies alone have spent $35 million on lobbying and campaign contributions to state and local officials since 1989. Evidently, it was money well spent:
The number of prisoners housed in private facilities has jumped 1600% since 1990.
By buying favor with the right politicians, private prison companies have been able to secure everything from lucrative government contracts to harsher laws to guarantee a steady stream of inmates for their facilities. These companies turn our tax dollars into a lucrative business that hauls in $3 billion a year.
Our latest episode of Follow the Money takes a look at the simple, 3-step process:
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Note: All Sources Are Linked at the Bottom of the Page
Step 1: Campaign Contributions
Private prison corporations exploit our corrupt political system by using campaign contributions and lobbying to curry favor with legislators and regulators. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies in the United States, have funneled more than $10 million directly to State Lawmakers since 1989. They pick candidates who are likely to win and donate enough money to ensure they get a seat at the negotiating table when it comes time to start writing laws.
Step 2: Hire some lobbyists
Private prison corporations employ hundreds of lobbyists at the state and federal level. Lobbyists use political contributions, personal connections, and direct lobbying efforts to wield influence over legislators — then they help write laws that make sure private prisons stay full, regardless of what’s actually best for public safety. The nonpartisan Justice Policy Institute did some digging to find out exactly what this strategy looks like:
“Over the years, these political strategies have allowed private prison companies to promote politics that lead to higher rates of incarceration and thus greater profit margins for their companies.”— Justice Policy Institute
Step 3: Get paid
Once private prisons have buttered up politicians, they get everything from lucrative state contracts to new, harsher laws that lock up more people, for lesser crimes, with longer minimum sentences. Nearly every private prison deal includes a “bed mandate” that requires the state to fill 90-100% of the beds in privately-owned detention facilities. That means taxpayers are mandated to either lock up more people or pay the private prison companies for empty beds. You, the taxpayer, are paying for that.
Really think about that for a second. These companies are buying political influence to actually change criminal law — Not because it improves public safety, but because their entire profit model depends on it. This may sound like the stuff of conspiracy theories, but CCA openly admitted as much in its own 2014 annual report:
How we can fix this:
Everything private prisons do to re-write our laws is completely legal — in fact, it’s a smart investment with huge ROI. So until we make this kind of corruption illegal, it’s going to go right on happening.
That’s where you come in. Right now, Represent.Us members across America are working together to fix corruption in their own home towns by passing tough new Anti-Corruption Acts. If we pass Anti-Corruption Acts in cities and states across America, we can build enough momentum and political power to pass the American Anti-Corruption Act in Washington, D.C.
But the first step is making sure every American understands how corrupt the system really is, and that we have a solution that works.
We need your help to spread the word about America’s corrupt system of government, and our plan to fix it, together. Share this page now:
Sources / Further Reading
- The Washington Post (Background on private prison lobbying and political contributions)
- Yahoo Finance (Background and topline numbers on growth of private prison industry)
- Influence Explorer: Corrections Corp. of America (Report on political spending by CCA)
- Influence Explorer: Geo Group (Report on political spending by GEO Group)
- Public Campaign: Unholy Alliance (In-depth report on how the private prison industry uses political influence to promote mass incarceration)
- Justice Policy Institute: Gaming the System (In-depth report on how the private prison industry uses political influence to promote mass incarceration)