Private Prisons Donate $1.9M in Runup to Election

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Photo by kgroovy via Flickr

As a result of this summer’s nationwide protests against systemic racism as well as Joe Biden’s selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate, criminal justice is set to be a front and center issue in this year’s presidential election.

In response, private prison companies – which have been accused of rampant prisoner mistreatment and recording inmates’ phone calls – have given more than $1.9 million to candidates and parties thus far, Mother Jones reports.

That is more than the industry has spent on any campaign, 14 percent more than it spent in 2016, and 16 percent more than it spent in 2018.

In fact, The GEO Group alone has been giving $20,000 in regular payments to the Trump Victory Committee since April of 2019.

Breaking another record, nearly 92 percent of the $1.9 million went to Republicans.

Major recipients include Republican Sen. Corey Gardner of Colorado, a state that houses a network of private halfway houses, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).

Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, an ardent defender of private prisons and whose district includes several, is one of few Democrats who have received donations from the industry.

As part of his criminal justice platform, Biden has promised to reinstate an Obama administration policy of phasing out the use of private prisons to hold individuals convicted of federal crimes.

Biden says he will “make clear the federal government should not use private facilities for any detention, including detention of undocumented immigrants.”

Biden also pledges to create a federal grant program that will only give aid to states that do not have contracts with private prisons.

With this in mind, private prison companies are crafting a foolproof plan to ensure their continued existence under a Biden-Harris administration.

CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger explained that, “We’ve had some conversations with folks in leadership and they’re always obviously preparing potentially what happens in the coming days, weeks and months — with not only the pandemic but also going into 2021 and maybe some outcomes in Congress and the White House…So they’re preparing. And with that, working with us to prepare.”

This preparation includes a host of detention center contracts with federal officials, many of which will last well beyond Donald Trump’s presidency.

For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has finalized 10-year contracts with two private facilities in Texas, one owned by CoreCivic and the other owned by The GEO Group.

Hininger said he expects to receive another 10-year contract for a facility in Houston shortly.

“ICE really wants to maintain the capacity they’ve got nationally for their detention system,” he added.

Additionally, The GEO Group signed 15-year contracts with ICE for 5 facilities across California last year.

Of note is that government officials and local advocates have been fighting these long-term contracts.

Before ICE signed contracts with the two facilities in Texas, ten Democratic representatives from Texas penned a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Acquisition Management.

The letter read: “All three facilities ICE is targeting with this solicitation are notorious for a wide range of mistreatment, including various sexual assault cases and the deaths of individuals in custody.”

Meanwhile, Bethany Carson, a leader of the anti-private prison group Grassroots Leadership, said, “If ICE is able to secure these contracts in Texas, it will mean extending the harm of this administration far beyond Trump’s term in office.”

Editor’s Note: For additional information on private prisons, please see The Crime Report’s resource page on “Private Prisons.”

See also: “Do For-Profit Prisons Violate the Constitution?” by Andrea Cipriano, The Crime Report, July 20, 2020

Michael Gelb is a TCR News Intern. He welcomes comments from readers.

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