An investigative report released this month by In These Times details how Arizona’s anti-immigrant S.B. 1070 law not only promises dramatic financial benefits for the private prison industry, but that lobbyists and administrators working for private prison corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group, played substantial parts in drafting and ensuring the passage of the bill.
In spite of claims to the contrary by Arizona Senator Russell Pearce’s (R-Mesa), records indicate that the legislator submitted a draft version of his S.B. 1070 bill for revisions to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a legislative consulting firm made up of elected officials and business leaders.
ALEC, a 501c3 non-profit, accepts draft bills submitted by lawmakers and corporations, and funnels them through a series of revisions meant to increase the bill’s viability both politically and legally. They also develop ‘model legislation’ which they hand out to legislators to bring back to their home states. In spite of a federal prohibition on 501(c)(3)s participating in the creation of legislation, ALEC boasts that their legislator members submit 1,000 pieces of ALEC-inspired legislation yearly, 20 percent of which passes.
In December 2009, Pearce introduced the bill to the Public Safety and Elections Task Force of ALEC, a branch whose corporate members include CCA, the American Bail Coalition, made up of bounty hunters and bail bonds companies, and the National Rifle Association. A month and a half later, the version this task force returned to Pearce ended up on the desks of Arizona legislators nearly untouched.
In 2008, $5.6 million of ALEC’s $6.9 million in revenue came from contributions made by the organization’s corporate and special-interest members, including Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, the nation’s largest private prison corporation), Geo-Group (second largest only to CCA), Sodexho Marriott (the largest food services provider to private prisons), Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and a host of other major corporations. The majority of the organization’s additional revenues come from membership fees of legislators, 36 of whom represent districts in Arizona.
About a week after Sen. Pearce introduced the legislation, CCA hired Highground Consulting, a powerful Phoenix lobbying firm also on the payrolls of Maricopa County during the time of the bill’s formation, to represent the corporation in the Arizona legislature.
The governor’s office also has deep ties with the private prison industry. Charles “Chuck” Coughlin, Gov. Jan Brewer’s campaign manager, owns Highground Consulting. In addition, the governor’s current spokesperson, Paul Senseman, was previously employed as CCA’s chief lobbyist in Arizona through another influential consulting firm, the Policy Development Group (PDC). Kathryn Senseman, the spokesperson’s wife, still works for PDC, and continues to lobby on behalf of CCA. The connections go on; for a more in-depth account, and a diagram, see In These Times article, “Ties that Bind,” at: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/6085/ties_that_bind_arizona_politicians_and_the_private_prison_industry/ .
Gains and Losses
Under the new law, anyone found without papers could face a 20-day prison sentence, not to mention holding time as those individuals await a newly burdened immigration court system, and a $100 fine. According to a report released by the National Immigration Forum in July 2009, the cost to taxpayers just to detain someone for those 20 days alone is about $2,820.
Another study, published by Syracuse University research institute TRAC, reports that the average waiting time between detention and trial date for undocumented immigrants has climbed in recent years to 443 days. That’s a cost of $62,463, about 70 percent of which is money in the pockets of the operators of detention facilities. Implementing S.B. 1070, however, will undoubtedly place extreme new burdens on an already financially strained court system, dramatically extending detention times for residents found to be without proper documentation.
Deficit Spending, or a Burst Bubble’s Inflation?
Unsurprisingly, S.B. 1070 was introduced at a time when cheap migrant labor was becoming all but unnecessary. For the past half century, Arizona’s economy has largely been built upon growth itself; the state’s population rose faster in the last 50 years than any other state besides Nevada. And the bursting housing bubble arguably hit Arizona the hardest of all states. The number of construction jobs has fallen around 50% since the industry’s peak in 2006. As the housing bubble burst, one of the largest segments of the Arizona economy, a workforce heavily populated by Hispanics, faced obsolescence.
The massive surge in detention spending comes at a time when Arizona is facing arguably the nation’s worst deficit—$1 billion on a total budget of $9 billion. As the state slashes kindergarten programs across the board, sells government buildings—including the capitol—to lease them from private owners, the legislature continues to find ways to finance the immigrant round up S.B. 1070 promises.
Given these rather dire financial times, state officials are, however, considering alternatives to private detention. Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arapio declared he has room for 1000 immigrants in his tent city jails in the deserts surrounding Phoenix, “next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,” he bragged regarding his response to the financial burden of paying for indoor facilities. Republican gubernatorial candidate Dean Martin, who’s running against Brewer in the primary, has endorsed the ideas as well, criticizing Brewer as ‘soft on immigrants.’
The private ‘correctional’ industry, meanwhile, seeks to become increasingly enmeshed in local economies in ways that make its own growth profitable to local residents. CCA’s website boasts that their facilities create construction jobs, bring sales and property tax dollars, and creates an average of 200 jobs in every new facility. They even have a video of a Tennessee mayor praising CCA as practically feudal lords—willing to build or produce for the communities they operate in anything from a senior center to inmate-produced t-shirts.
A History of Influence
Nationwide, the scale and influence of the private prison industry has expanded rapidly in recent years. Changes in legislation promoted by industry lobbyists has extended private prison corporations’ role in Legislatures across the country, as well as ballooning the population under their supervision.
During the early 90s, ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force—at the time co-chaired by CCA—contributed to the development of the now-notorious ‘three-strikes’ and ‘truth in sentencing’ legislation passed in several states. Championed primarily by the NRA through their “CrimeStrike” campaign, three-strikes laws were passed in Washington, California, Georgia, Delaware and North Carolina, while truth-in-sentencing laws were adopted in Arizona, Mississippi and Virginia. Accordingly, the number of inmates in the United States increased by nearly five times between 1980 and 2003, largely because of policies related with the ‘War on Drugs.’ Between 1995 and 2003, however, the number of inmates in private prisons increased by nearly 500 percent.
Private Prison watchdog site, The Business of Detention reports that between 2002 and 2007, returns on CCA stock increased by more than five times. These figures are in part due to changes in policy at the federal department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Beginning in August 2006, ICE adopted a policy of detaining all undocumented immigrants until their trial date, creating huge new demands for detention facilities.
Backed by these record-breaking profits, CCA has increased lobbying efforts, specifically regarding immigration policy. In 2005 alone, the corporation spent $3.5 million lobbying on issues of immigration and homeland security. They’ve also managed to acquire considerable political capital by drafting former politicians and their family members.
After S.B. 1070
Given the law’s questionable legal status, it remains to be seen how much new business S.B. 1070 generates for the private prison industry, or what kinds of resources they will dedicate to seeing it stands up to federal legal challenges. But after the law does go through a period of enforcement, Arizona’s inmate capacity per capita may be left at levels matching California or Texas—where 649 per 100,000 residents total, and 3,743 per 100,000 African-Americans are behind bars—even if the law is eventually overturned in its entirety.
Hallett, Michael A. Private Prisons in America, University of Illinois Press, Chicago
Hodai, Beau. “Corporate Con Game” In These Times, July 2010. Pp 16-20
Khimm, Suzy, “Arpaio Plans to Jail Arizona Immigrants in ‘Tent City’” Mother Jones, July 19, 2010: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2010/07/arpaio-arizona-illegal-immigrants-tent-city
Silverstein, Ken. “Party in the Sonora: For the future of G.O.P. governance, look to Arizona.” Harper’s, July 2010. Pp. 35-42.
- Jesse Strecker, Daily Censored