As criminal justice reform looms, private prison companies get into immigration detention, halfway houses, electronic monitoring, mental health

Nixon's War on Drugs, Reagan's three strikes rules, and Clinton's "superpredator" crime bill turned America into history's greatest imprisoner, a carceral state where a racially biased justice system was made worse with every passing day, thanks to the campaign contributions and lobbying by the private prison industry, led by Corrections Corporation of America.

Now CCA and its cohort have seen the writing on the wall: criminal justice reform is finally at hand, and there's a real chance that their investment/immiseration/incarceration cycle will end.

To protect their shareholders, the "prison-industrial complex" is transforming into the "treatment-industrial complex," snapping up companies that run privatized halfway houses, that monitor parolees, that surveil high-crime areas, that lock up people suspected of immigration violations, that provide mental health treatment for people scarred by the prison system that made them rich.

It's hard to get a sense of exactly how much the private prison industry has influenced the criminal justice system. While they maintain that they don't lobby for this at all, the $3B private prison industry has never spent so much lobbying money as it does today.

One of the industry's more successful campaigns has been immigration. Private interests operate nine of the 10 largest federal detention centers, with a Congressional mandate requiring at least 34,000 immigrants be housed daily, a quota that has steadily grown despite the flow of undocumented foreigners leveling off. The Gang of Eight — the group of senators tasked with writing 2013's comprehensive immigration-reform bill — received especially handsome campaign contributions; Gang of Eight member Sen. John McCain is the fourth highest career recipient of CCA campaign cash, according to, and GEO has given Marco Rubio nearly $40,000 in campaign donations — more than any other senator. (Neither would comment to OZY.) Meanwhile, two of the top advisers on Arizona's SB1070 committee were former CCA lobbyists. The ties also go the other way. Operators have been known to open prisons in small counties, where they become the primary employer and county revenue contributor. In Arizona's Pinal County, CCA even pays the county a per-prisoner, per-day kickback.


(via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Protesting the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in NYC 10.2.13, VOCAL-NY (Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders), CC-BY)