Humpday Hall of Shame: Texas Governor & Presidential Candidate Rick Perry

Every Wednesday we’ll be highlighting the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

While Texas Governor Rick Perry's record on criminal justice reform has been mixed, his cozy relationship with the private prison industry has raised eyebrows.   Texas has more private prisons, immigrant detention centers, and jails than any other state.

And, according to an article by Tim Murphy in Mother Jones ("Flush With Prison Industry Dollars, Rick Perry Pushed Privatized Prisoner Care," September 1), Perry has been a friend to the private prison industry:

"As governor, Perry, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, has supported privatizing everything from public lands to highways, but according to Scott Henson, a criminal-justice watchdog who runs the blog Grits for Breakfast, the governor had remained largely quiet on the prisons issue—until this year...

That coincided with an influx of campaign contributions from private-prison executives and lobbyists, among them his former top aide, Michael Toomey, a political powerbroker who represents the nation's largest private corrections contractor, Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, per its website, "provides health care services to male and female inmates and youthful offenders who are housed in local jails, detention facilities, and correctional institutions around the country." (Toomey told Mother Jones he had not lobbied Perry's office or the state Legislature on the prison health care plan; Perry's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)
Toomey, who had not contributed directly to any of the governor's previous gubernatorial campaigns, opened up his wallet for two separate $10,000 donations to Perry two months before Election Day in 2010. Thomas Beasley, the founder of CCA, has given $17,000 to Perry’s campaigns over the last decade. Another private prison firm, the GEO Group, poured $15,000 into Perry’s 2010 reelection effort in 2010 through its eponymous political action committee. Luis Gonzalez, a GEO Group lobbyist, meanwhile, gave $50,000 to Perry’s reelection bid."

Fortunately, efforts to both privatize prisoner health care and much or all of the state jail systemin Texas failed this past legislative session, despite pressure from the Governor's office.   Conservative Republicans - include House Corrections Chair Jerry Madden - opposed the efforts arguing that they wouldn't save any money.

Still, it's not hard to see why the private prison industry had Perry's ear.  CCA lobbyist Toomey is Perry's former chief of staff, and his ties to the governor run deep.  We'll keep watching presidential candidates for possible influence of the private prison industry.

For much more information on the private prison industry in Texas, see the Texas Prison Bid'ness blog that we co-sponsor with our friends at Justice Strategies.