Hillary Clinton recently announced that she will no longer be accepting direct political contributions from lobbyists for private prisons. According to a prepared statement, the $133,246 her campaign had already received will be donated to charity. However, the existence of those contributions at all speaks both to the ties Mrs. Clinton has to the private prison industry and the influence of the industry as a whole. Lee Fang of the Intercept reports:
Lobbyists for two major prison companies are serving as top fundraisers for Hillary Clinton… Fully five Clinton bundlers work for the lobbying and law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in America, paid Akin Gump $240,000 in lobbying fees last year.
“Bundlers” are individuals who raise money for campaigns and are often rewarded with special access or preferential treatment from politicians; a study from 2014 showed that political donors were 231% more likely to meet with lawmakers and 423% more likely to meet with high-ranking staff members than someone who had not made a contribution.
Clinton is not the only presidential candidate with ties to private prison money; Marco Rubio is the top career recipient of direct contributions from GEO Group, the second largest private prison company in the country and the largest in his home state of Florida. Rubio has received close to $40,000 over the course of his Senate career and $133,450 from the private prison industry so far in his presidential campaign. In a completely unrelated coincidence, Rubio’s chief of staff from 2011 to 2014 was also a top lobbyist for the principle lobbying firm of GEO Group.
Our corrupt political system is being exploited to lock people up… for profit.
Political spending has become an integral part of the business model for private prison companies; CCA and Geo Group 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 leveraging connections and lining the right pockets private prison companies have been able to secure lucrative government contracts to provide correctional services, but studies have found private prison contracts actually cost states more than public-run facilities. Almost all of the $3 billion in revenue these companies bring in comes from our tax dollars. For example, CCA’s revenue in 2013 was nearly $1.7 billion, 100% of which came in the form of taxpayers funded government contracts.
They influence policies and laws to ensure high incarceration rates
In addition to lucrative state contracts, private prison companies support “tough on crime” policies, three strike laws and mandatory minimum sentencing acts which put more people behind bars for longer periods of time. The most chilling policies promoted by these companies are the “bed mandates” included in nearly every private prison contract. They require the state to fill 90-100% of the beds in privately owned detention facilities; meaning taxpayers are legally obligated to lock up more people or pay the private prisons for empty beds.
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: