Prison firms know how to win profits from lawmakers

According to this superb investigative story by the progressive advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, one of the for-profit prison firms bidding to take over the New Hampshire Corrections system has built a cozy and lucrative relationship with lame duck lawmakers in Michigan. Officials there are trying to help the GEO Group score big for its bottom line before the new legislature takes office.

GEO and the other three suitors for New Hampshire incarceration business had spent $130,000 lobbying in this state as of mid-August, according to the Union Leader. Election campaign finance reports may tell an even bigger story of locval political influence when they become public in the next few months. - Chris Dornin, founder, CCJR
Is the State of Michigan GEO Group’s Not-So-Secret Santa?

Posted on December 12, 2012 by kymberlieqc

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.

While much attention has been focused on the Michigan legislature’s historic initiative to strip away the rights of workers in its version of Right to Work legislation this week, lame duck lawmakers seem to be hoping that the people of Michigan won’t notice them also bringing to a vote a bill that would allow GEO Group to re-open a correctional facility that the state had shut down in 2005 due to violence, chronic understaffing, unacceptably high turnover, and even corporate violations of their contract with the state of Michigan.

The North Lake facility for youth in Baldwin, MI was built in 1997 through a contract with private prison company Wackenhut Corrections Corp. which became GEO Group. According to Pitfalls and Promises: The Real Risks to Residents and Taxpayers of Privatizing Prisons and Prison Services in Michigan, a report issued by Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), SEIU, the UAW, AFSCME, and MSEA, problems at the North Lake facility started immediately. Youth there were assaulting corrections officers, attacking each other and trying to kill themselves. North Lake was found to be three times more violent than Michigan’s other maximum security prisons. In the first five months of operation, the facility reported 110 critical incidents, including 46 assaults and 12 attempted suicides. Even more outrageous, youth with modest offenses who could have been incarcerated in lower security level facilities were being sent to maximum security at North Lake and the state of Michigan was paying $75.81 per person per day for confinement that cost $64.89 per day in sufficiently secure state facilities.

In 2005, facing a major lawsuit against Wackenhut and state officials over conditions of confinement, as well as a recognition that it was costing too much to incarcerate youth at North Lake, Michigan withdrew from its contract with GEO Group and in response, GEO sued, costing taxpayers even more in litigation that took the case all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Since 2005 GEO has been operating an empty prison with a skeleton staff at North Lake in the hopes of trying to find some way to make their investments profitable. Several prospects, including a contract with the federal Bureau of Prisons and a contract with the state of California, both fell through. Now it looks as though the state of Michigan, despite its plagued past with the company, is positioning itself to give GEO Group a tremendous gift this holiday season.

Senate Bill 878, which would allow the Michigan Department of Corrections to contract with GEO Group to re-open the closed facility in Baldwin to house adults, was brought to a vote today in the House Appropriations Committee where members voted 16-9 to pass it to a floor vote in the Michigan House this week. The bill, which had momentum earlier in the year but which had been standing still for “lack of votes” for months, is now suddenly on the fast track to passage as some of its most vocal opponents in labor are fighting against the passage of the Right to Work bill. We think it’s pretty naughty of a lame duck legislature to push forward legislation in this way; it’s kinda like a bully kicking his victim when he’s already on the ground.

Michigan knew that its contract with GEO was bad news in 2005, and all signs point in the same direction now. Nationally GEO’s rap sheet for mismanagement and prison scandals continues to grow. Research shows over and over again that private prisons are more costly in the long run than those that are publicly run. Furthermore, Michigan’s prison population is on the decline, which raises many more questions about why the state would make unneeded beds available through a private contract. Passing Senate Bill 878 will likely mean state employee layoffs, and will once again put the state in a difficult position to hold the prison company accountable to how it supervises and cares for those incarcerated at North Lake, opening to the door to new lawsuits. The price of this gift to GEO will be levied on the taxpayers of Michigan, its workers, and the lives of those who would be incarcerated there. No wonder Michigan lawmakers are trying to pass it quietly.

For more information and for Michigan residents who want to take action, please visitMCO-SEIU Local 526 action page.