Grassroots Leadership Blog

Another Bad Party: CCA "Celebrates" Women's History Month While Women Perish at Dawson State Jail

Last month we were nauseated by Corrections Corporation of America’s “celebration” of Black History Month.  In a message from CCA President and CEO Damon Hininger, citing Dr. King’s legacy and the second inauguration of President Obama, the company touted themselves as one that values progress, equality, and diversity.  Dr. Niaz Kasravi, Director of the NAACP Criminal Justice Program, in response to Hininger’s message stated, “we believe that there is nothing to celebrate about an industry that has built a fortune on the incarceration of people of color”.

This month CCA is at it again with their commemoration of Women’s History Month – “celebrating women’s contributions to history and society”.  A few days ago, the country’s oldest and largest private prison corporation posted an article on their website that oozed with pride for their female CCA employees who “continue to make history and challenge old ideas by advancing in corrections”.

The article cites two female CCA employees who have ascended to leadership roles within the company, in addition to two women who serve on the CCA board of directors.  The women are lauded for “challenging stereotypes” and the “unique contributions” they bring to the workplace.  Twice women are quoted expressing their gratitude to men who have mentored them and helped them to succeed… a view that seems to support old ideas rather than challenge them. 

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What Schools are Promoting Private Prisons?

Last week, the announcement that GEO Group had bought the naming rights to Florida Atlantic University’s new football stadium set off a firestorm.  The for-profit private prison corporation’s $6 million donation to the school is shocking, but its ties to FAU go back much further; CEO George Foley isn’t just an alum, he’s also a former chair of the FAU Board of Trustees and member of the Foundation board of directors.  He even served chair of the Presidential Search Committee that hired Mary Jo Saunders, who has been quoted calling GEO Group “a wonderful company” and that she is “very proud to partner with them.”

This incidence of crossover between the for-profit private prison industry and schools is not unique – both GEO Group and CCA have close ties to universities.  In this Humpday Post we'll look into a few other universities elevating and validating the private prison industry.

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Students Protest Naming Stadium After GEO Group, FAU President Agrees to Public Meeting

Private prison industry giant GEO Group has promised a $6 million gift to Florida Atlantic University in exchange for naming rights to their new football stadium. Yes, the GEO Group logo will plague the school’s stadium building for at least the next 12 years...

Or will it?  

Interesting move for a for-profit prison company whose track record is marred with abuse and inadequate medical care among other human rights violations.  Up until the announcement Tuesday, GEO Group ran their prison business largely under the public radar.  Just three days later, however, the controversial deal has been covered by numerous news outlets from the Huffington Post to the New York Times (who quoted Grassroots Leadership’s very own Bob Libal), two petitions -- from the DREAM Activists and Beyond Bars -- are circulating the web, one with over 9,000 signatures, FAU students organized a protest, and even Stephen Colbert weighed in on his Comedy Central show. [node:read-more:link]

New Grassroots Leadership Report, Petition Call for Closure of Dawson State Jail

Today, Grassroots Leadership and a coalition of groups representing criminal justice, civil liberties, policy, and faith organizations released a report, detailing abuses at the privately-run Dawson State Jail in Dallas and outlining further rationale for closing the facility. The report is co-authored by Texas-based Grassroots Leadership and The Sentencing Project, a national organization working for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system.

Privatized Mental Health Services is Bad Medicine

Last week we began a conversation about the privatization of services within correctional facilities, highlighting Ohio Governor John Kasich’s move to privatize food service throughout the state’s prison system, including juvenile detention facilities.  Today we want to examine another vital service that has been increasingly seized by private providers – health care, specifically mental health services, within correctional facilities.  

The high prevalence of mental illness among incarcerated populations is given little public attention.  In 2005, more than half of our country’s incarcerated population, a total of more than 1.2 million people, had a diagnosed mental health condition.  This fact should give us pause and raise national concerns about how mental health care is addressed in correctional settings.  Perhaps this crisis would seem more compelling if people knew that incarcerated persons with mental health issues have lower rates of employment, high rates of substance dependence or abuse, high rates of homelessness, and high prevalence of violent offenses – all of which have far reaching, negative effects.  It’s clear that mental illness among incarcerated populations is a serious, systemic issue with dire consequences for all of us. 

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Operation Streamline Days of Action get underway in Texas and Arizona

This week, groups around the country will be holding press conferences, letter deliveries, and other actions to call on Congress to end Operation Streamline and the criminalization of immigration.

Operation Streamline, a little-known border enforcement program, is part of broader trend funneling immigrants into the criminal justice system and charging them with felony or misdemeanor crimes for crossing the border.   Senate and House negotiators are reportedly considering expanding funding of Operation Streamline and criminal prosecutions of immigrants as part of the comprehensive immigration reform bill being negotiated in Congress.

“These prosecutions channel billions of dollars to private prison corporations and are fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in federal prison,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership.  “It’s time that Congress moved to end Operation Streamline once and for all.” 

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ICE Official that Pushed Deportation Quota Now Works for Private Prison Corporation GEO Group

Today's USA Today carried a disturbing article highlighting Immigration and Customs Enforcement's effort to increase the number of deportations through aggressive enforcement mechanisms.

Internal emails at the agency showed that ICE agents "were trolling state driver's license records for information about foreign-born applicants, dispatching U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to traffic safety checkpoints conducted by police departments, and processing more illegal immigrants who had been booked into jails for low-level offenses."  

The former official whose emails are heavily quoted in the article is David Venturella, former assistant director at ICE.  Guess where Mr. Venturella ended up after his term at ICE?  Mr. Venturella is now the Executive Vice President for Corporate Development at GEO Group, according to his LinkedIn profile.  GEO Group is a private prison corporation that heavily depends on federal immigration contracts to ensure a steady profit stream and employs a stream of heavily connected lobbyists in DC.  

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Privatizing Prison Food Leaves a Bad Taste in Our Mouths

Welcome to The Hump Day Hall of Shame:  Every Wednesday we highlight the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

It’s no secret that prison privatization is not merely bad policy, but fundamentally counters our efforts as a nation to reduce incarceration and rehabilitate members of our society who need it most.  Week after week, we highlight the pitfalls of privatized corrections with accounts of inadequate medical care, understaffing, security and safety issues, inhumane conditions, and the list goes on.  

Today, however, we want to highlight not the privatization of prisons, but something just as troubling and dangerous - the privatization of services within correctional facilities, public and private alike.  

In the past week, reports have surfaced of plans by Ohio Governor John Kasich to hire a private vendor to provide meals to over 50,000 inmates within the state’s prison system, including juvenile detention facilities.  Kasich argues that privatizing Ohio’s prison food service will save the state up to $16 million annually... but at what cost?

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Meet the private prison industry’s lobbyists who could shape immigration reform

In the last two years, major private prison companies Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group have spent at least $4,350,000 on lobbying the federal government, primarily to win immigration-related contracts.  What does that kind of money buy you?  Some pretty lucrative contracts, apparently.  In 2011, the federal government paid $1.4 billion to the two corporations, nearly a third of their total profits.

In fact, a 2011 report by Grassroots Leadership and Detention Watch Network found that private prison corporations operate nearly half of all Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds.  What's more, private prison corporations are benefiting greatly from the criminalization of migration through programs like Operation Streamline.  

It’s no surprise – or secret – that immigration reform which reduces detentions and deportations would be a threat to private prison corporations' business.  Business Insider reported on February 2nd that in 2011, GEO Group CEO George Zoley told investors:

"At the federal level, initiatives related to border enforcement and immigration detention with an emphasis on criminal alien populations as well as the consolidation of existing detainee populations have continued to create demand for larger-scale, cost efficient facilities."

That same year, CCA stated in its annual earnings report that immigration reform

“could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them."

So who are these wealthy private prison corporations looking to to win them immigration detention contracts?   Below the jump are just some of the some the major lobbyists for private prison interests in Washington:

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