What do private prisons have to do with the upcoming elections?
Let's start with several hundred thousand dollars in campaign contributions.
Idaho, for instance, has recently seen how campaign contributions can ease corporate accountability when scandals and lawsuits hit. Corrections Corporation of America, the country's largest private prison provider, had been contracted to run the Idaho Correctional Center, the state's largest prison, when it opened in 2000. CCA has also contributed $20,000 to Idaho Governor Bruce Otter's campaign since 2003.
Over the years, story after story of the violence inside the Idaho Correctional Center emerged. The prison, which was dubbed "Gladiator School," has been the subject of multiple lawsuits around the widespread brutality and violence, much of which was deliberately allowed by prison staff as a management tool. In 2010, the ACLU filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners against prison officials and the CCA. The suit highlighted 24 cases of assaults that occurred between 2006 and 2010. The following year, CCA settled with the ACLU, agreeing to changes around staffing and safety. However, violence and lawsuits continued. In addition, it seemed that CCA also billed the state for more than 4,000 staff hours that were never worked.
In January 2014, the state opted not to renew its contract. Although Governor Otter recently stated that he recused himself from the settlement negotiations, top members of his staff did not, agreeing on terms that heavily favored CCA. CCA, which received $29 million per year under the contract, settled with the state for only $1 million for the unworked staff hours. The settlement states that all staffing disputes are "fully, forever, irrevocably and unconditionally" settled. In March, the FBI began an investigation, but the terms of the settlement prevent the state from pursuing civil penalties against the corporation.
Otter is not the only politician whose campaign coffers benefited from private prison industries. In 2010, GEO Group, the country's second largest private prison company, contributed $25,900 to Jerry Brown's successful run for California governor. In 2013 California awarded GEO contracts to reactivate two 700-bed prisons. The state also awarded GEO a contract for a third prison, which included an expansion from 600 to 700 beds. According to its 2013 annual report, 66 percent of GEO's revenue came from contracts to operate 59 prisons and immigrant detention centers (approximately 65,000 beds).
In 2014, Brown received $54,000 from GEO for his reelection campaign. As reported earlier in Truthout, in April 2014, California contracted with GEO Group to open a 260-bed women's prison. The contract allows GEO to double the number of beds, potentially increasing its four-year revenue from $38,132,640 to $66,394,276.