Purchasing Prisoners, Creating Criminals & How Occupy Could be Next

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Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), owner of the largest private prison system in the United States, recently sent a letter to 48 states offering up to $250 million to manage government-owned detention centers. The letter lists the criteria of eligible purchases, which include an assurance that state corrections agencies “have sufficient inmate population to maintain a minimum 90 percent occupancy over the term of the contract.”

This guarantee isn’t difficult to rationalize when considering it from CCA’s point of view. They are paid by the government for each prisoner they house, so they want to house as many prisoners as possible in order to maximize their revenue.

But what if there aren’t enough prisoners to fill CCA’s quota? Private prisons have faced this dilemma before, and they’ve responded by buying prisoners through legislation, government infiltration and old-fashioned bribery. And in the not too distant future, these conditions may mean that the mass arrests of Occupy protesters could become a windfall for investors.


1. Write the Laws

From 1998 to 2010, CCA contributed almost $90,000 to governors, senators, representatives and assemblymen on behalf of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). For the last two decades, CCA paid an additional $5,000 to $50,000 a year directly to ALEC for corporate membership.

According to its website, ALEC is a “nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism and individual liberty.” The group drafts model bills that are heavily influenced by its industry members and disseminates these bills to its legislative members. By ALEC’s own account, the process results in almost 1,000 bills based on its models being introduced in state legislatures each year, of which 20 percent go on to become law.

In apparent conflict with its belief in individual liberty, ALEC has drafted a number of bills that benefit CCA, particularly by shoring up sentences and creating new laws requiring arrests. In 1995 alone, ALEC’s Truth in Sentencing Act, which requires any person convicted of a crime to serve no less than 85 percent of their sentence, was enacted by 25 states. Arizona’s controversial Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, which requires police to arrest anyone who cannot prove they entered the country legally when asked for documentation and prohibits officials from limiting the enforcement of federal immigration laws, was drafted at an ALEC conference in the presence of CCA. And although the full details of ALEC’s model legislation are only available to its 2,000 legislative and 300 corporate members, some of the initiatives listed on the group’s website also stand to benefit CCA through harsher sentencing. The Swift and Certain Sanctions Act, for example, requires state corrections agencies to punish parole and probation violators with a system of increasing penalties, including incarceration.

2. Infiltrate government

Ohio Governor John Kasich

Beyond the model legislation produced by ALEC, CCA also influences government by hiring former politicians and infiltrating state agencies with its own employees. The company’s chief corrections officer, Harley G. Lappin, for example, joined CCA after 25 years with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, serving as the agency’s Director during his final eight years there. Perhaps not coincidentally, Lappin is the writer of the aforementioned letter offering to buy states’ detention centers.

But the revolving door spins even faster: When Ohio Governor John Kasich took office in 2011 and proposed to sell five state prisons, he appointed Gary Mohr as the state’s director of rehabilitation and correction. Mohr had served as an adviser to CCA since 2005, and eight months after his appointment by Kasich, CCA purchased Ohio’s Lake Erie Correctional Institution for $72.7 million. CCA has also hired Governor Kasich’s former chief of staff, Donald Thibaut, to work as a lobbyist on its behalf in Ohio.

3. Bribe officials

Although this does not apply to CCA in particular, other private prison companies have demonstrated that it is possible to purchase prisoners in a more direct fashion. In 2002, Michael Conahan, a judge from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, used his budgetary discretion to shut down the local county-run juvenile prison by eliminating its funding. Over the next five years, Conahan and fellow Luzerne County judge Mark Ciavarella sent thousands of juveniles to two private detention centers, PA Child Care and its sister company, Western PA Child Care. On average, the proceedings lasted less than two minutes, with the defendants often lacking legal counsel and receiving harsh sentences for nonviolent or insignificant crimes, even against the advice of probation officers.

In exchange for shutting down the public non-profit prison, ensuring a stream of inmates to the two new for-profit prisons and contracting the court to pay $1.3 million in annual rent to the private prisons, Conahan and Ciavarella received $2.6 million in kickbacks from PA Child Care.


A map of private prisons across the country.

The troubling growth of private prisons and their political consequences are augmented in light of the recent spat of ad hoc legislation enacted across the country to outlaw Occupy Wall Street protests. While the Occupy movement has been beset by mass arrests from the start, the few Occupations which outlasted the initial crackdowns are now facing targeted laws concocted by local governments. On December 9, a bill allowing the removal of personal property stored on city sidewalks in Honolulu was signed; less than two months later, the law was used to evict Occupy Honolulu protesters and confiscate their belongings. On January 30, a recently passed ordnance giving police the ability to evict and arrest people camping, living or sleeping on Charlotte’s City Hall lawn went into effect; later that day seven Occupy Charlotte protesters were arrested and charged with misdemeanors. Going forward, Occupy Boise faces a bill evicting them and Occupy Nashville faces legislation “banning unauthorized camping on public grounds.”

Up to this point, most of the 6,557 Occupy protesters who have been arrested were charged with low-level misdemeanors, but Gideon Oliver, head of the National Lawyers Guild, which has been working on behalf of protesters, has pointed out: “More and more of these cases are being charged as felonies.”

Considering the growing number of felony charges, it’s possible that Occupy protesters could begin facing prison time. And with the trend in anti-Occupy legislation already set in motion, little is in place to prevent private prison companies from manipulating these bills in their favor via their tried-and-true methods of lobbying, collusion and bribery.

The irony is that the incarceration of Occupiers could be a byproduct of the very forces they’re railing against. The tragedy is that the suppression of an American Spring could be lining someone’s pockets.

Arvind Dilawar is a writer and editor living in New York.

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  • Ubetcha

    This is what a fascist state looks like. Occupiers can now experience what Hispanics and Latinos do in the GOP’s private prison system: no phone call, no attorney, no visitors, no protection.

    • Sage

      You are RIGHT!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LHXV4ZALVVFUWQ5VN5OV2UFHAU A A

    Good article, although I would have liked to have seen a mention of ows’s efforts regarding stop and frisk, as I feel thats quite pertinent to the subject.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/gndlf1 Robert Sloan

    Your information neglected to point out that Governor Kasich not only hired a former CCA “adviser” to head the Oh. DOC – Kasich is an ALEC Alumni, having been an ALEC member for years and is sometimes credited with being a founding member of ALEC: http://www.alec.org/about-alec/history/ “Among those who were involved with ALEC in its formative years were: Robert Kasten and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin; John Engler of Michigan; Terry Branstad of Iowa, and John Kasich of Ohio, all of whom moved on to become governors or members of Congress.” Taken directly from ALEC’s History page at their site.

    Governor Brewer of AZ. is a former member, Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Scott Walker of WI. all ALEC alumni (along with 91 US House members and 9 US Senators: http://www.alec.org/initiatives/federal-relations/. These alumni are part of a huge cabal funded with Koch, Scaife, Coors and Bradley money who have begun flexing their political muscles following the 2010 elections. To learn who else is involve, which “Foundations”, “Institutes” and universities read my articles at: http://www.dailykos.com/blog/Bob%20Sloan/.
    Bob Sloan, Executive Director, Voter’s Legislative Transparency Project.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ArvSux Arvind Dilawar

      Thanks for the addendum, I had overlooked Kasich’s role in ALEC.

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  • FedCURE

    The reality in America today is that prisons have become an huge industry. People, entities, that collectively, spend millions of dollars each and ever year lobbying Congress, very effectively, for more business. An industry known to employ the covert antics of Agent Provocateurs. All of us are taken-a-back and most people are overwhelmed by the scope of our federal criminal statutes. We are in wonderment as to who in the world thinks up some of these laws and the penalties for them. Agent Provocateurs? Follow the money for the answers.


    mailto: FedCURE-org-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Randolph/1072710600 John A Randolph

    As a retired US Border Patrol/INS/ICE agent, my favorite example of the exact points of this article concern Arizona Senators John McCain’s and Joh Kyl’s creation of “Operation Streamline”.

    Read how these two teamed up with ALEC and the CCA. They all profit from the use of US immigration laws, the US Border Patrol, the US Marshall’s, and the US Attorney’s Office.

    They turn Mexico’s poorest people (non-criminals) into “instant cash cow criminals”.


  • Sandy

    I feel nauseous 8

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Newbern-W-Johnson/100000623265344 Newbern W Johnson

    Time to replace your tinfoil hat.

  • john petrone


  • Anonymous

    Now that it’s advantageous for corporations to shift their employment bases back to the USA, they’ve brought back PEONAGE to keep their overhead costs low. Since we’re “citizens” (legally, corporations are now people, and citizens are subjects, as in feudal serfs), the government regards us as their own commodities, to be disposed of as they see fit. Why should we receive the benefit of social programs, when their profits lie in enslaving us, or if we’re unfit or unwilling, trafficking our organs? They’ve prepared for it ALL (including the facilities, guillotines and coffins), and the biggest hiring surge currently happening on the federal level is in corrections. All along, many of the facilities were unstaffed and virtually empty. When they’re hiring staff in corrections, it’s because they’re at the beginning of a huge crackdown, imprisoning the nation’s citizenry, and killing whomever they want.

    This was fortold, both in Daniel and Revelations. The Word describes how to fight back. It’s got to be done by faith, using the Word. What did Amos say? What did the prophets say? Read and discover your arsenal. These things may only be commanded by faith, but God backs up His Word. And His tools make man’s tools look like paper dolls.

  • Anonymous

    You might consider, in light of the failure of even ONE DEMAND being made by protest leadership, that whoever is backing the protests is actually in the business of guerilla street theater himself; and wants to create (visually) the justification for a series of unjust laws and executive orders being passed; moreover, the protests are drawing out those who might be able to lead a revolt (and arrests are necessary to get their names).

    Just as the passage of the NDAA was necessary to enact the Red & Blue Hit Lists plan against individual citizens, stripping away those who could lead and educate others, the next phase (attack and distract: attack the US, which will be CIA/Fed.-led, and blamed on foreign governments, or domestic threats at home that are sympathetic to foreign governments) will be used to levy martial law against the entire nation, and force us into more wars we don’t want (which will go nuclear).

    It’s time to realize that life in these circumstances will be tenuous and arbitrary. Get right with God and ask for His help to be faithful. No one knows what will happen in the next moment. The “Beast’s” reign of terror will be just under 8 years, but the Lord said if He didn’t return at the time He’s planned, all life on Earth would cease (so they’ll kill alot of people during their brief reign). That’s their stated intent, by the way.

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