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.
Since 1983, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), our country’s largest for-profit prison company, has been finding ways to make money off of the criminalization and incarceration of people. In the early 80’s, when incarceration rates at the federal, state, and county levels were on the rise, CCA began contracting with states to build, expand, and manage prisons. In the early 2000’s, as draconian immigration enforcement measures were ramped up by the federal government, CCA saw yet another profitable opportunity and began contracting with an increasing number of immigrant detention facilities. More recently other private for-profit prison companies have been branching into public sectors. GEO Group, for example, has broken into the market of operating mental health and behavioral health facilities around the country, in addition to correctional facilities and immigrant detention centers. As advocates working to stop profiteering off incarceration and detention of people, we keep tabs on where companies like CCA and GEO show up.
Our red flags were activated last week when we caught wind of a story in Arizona’s Casa County Dispatch which reports on the arrest of three public high school students during a drug sweep at Vista Grande High School. The article reports that, “Eight officers with dogs from Casa Grande Police, Gila River Police, Arizona Department of Public Safety and Corrections Corporation of America arrived at the school at 9 a.m. and the school was placed on lock-down.”
It is disconcerting to learn about CCA’s presence in law enforcement activities that involve public high school students. Given CCA’s infamous reputation when it comes to safety and security standards in its correctional and detention facilities, a reputation largely based on undertraining of security officers and understaffing facilities, we are concerned about the qualifications of CCA officers to safely and appropriately conduct drug sweeps in a high school setting.
Furthermore, this case raises a number of questions which we’ve not yet been able to answer. How did it come to be that CCA became a participant in this event? Who can authorize their participation and what authority does CCA have in operating drug sweeps in public schools? What is the relationship to CCA and the other public authorities who conducted the sweep?
More pressing, this is a telltale sign of private prison corporations branching out into another profit-making realm: criminalizing kids. In each of the areas where CCA has already built its empire, it relies on and has become a powerful force in legislative advocacy that has had tremendous impacts on public policy in the areas of corrections and immigrant detention. As a business that relies on high occupancy numbers to make a profit, CCA’s advocacy interest lies on the side of increasing, rather than decreasing, the rates of incarceration and detention. We bristle at the thought of CCA becoming a stakeholder where criminal justice and education policy intersect. In our opinion, private for-profit prison companies have no business being school cops.