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For-Profit Prisons Are the Biggest Lobby No One Talks About



A prison guard tower viewed through razor wire fencing
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With the growing influence of the prison lobby, the nation is, in effect, commoditizing human bodies for an industry in militant pursuit of profit.
That’s the view presented by New York freelance writer Michael Cohen in an article published in The Washington Post. Cohen says for-profit prisons have become the biggest lobby no one is talking about.

“With the growing influence of the prison lobby, the nation is, in effect, commoditizing human bodies for an industry in militant pursuit of profit.” — Freelance writer Michael Cohen for The Washington Post
In his article, Cohen writes that the two largest for-profit prison companies in the United States – GEO and Corrections Corporation of America – and their associates have funneled more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts.

Meanwhile, Cohen writes, these private companies have seen their revenue and market share soar.
According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute, they now rake in a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenue and the private federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010.

Are Private Prisons Corrupt?

Private prison companies house nearly half of the nation’s immigrant detainees, compared to about 25 percent a decade ago, a Huffington Post report found. In total, there are now about 130 private prisons in the country with about 157,000 beds, Cohen said.
Although private prison companies say they don’t lobby on policies that affect “the basis for or duration of an individual’s incarceration or detention,” Cohen argues otherwise.
“Several reports have documented instances when private-prison companies have indirectly supported policies that put more Americans and immigrants behind bars,” Cohen said.

Some of the policies Cohen alludes to include California’s three-strikes rule and Arizona’s highly controversial anti-illegal immigration law – by donating to politicians who support them, attending meetings with officials who back them, and lobbying for funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Whatever It Takes To Make a Profit

This outlook, Cohen says, runs counter to what should be a rehabilitative mission of the nation’s criminal justice system.
Cohen writes that private prison contracts often require the government to keep the correctional facilities and immigration detention centers full, forcing communities to continuously funnel people into the prison system, even if actual crime rates are falling.
“We can’t allow the proliferation of private prisons and their political influence to remain the most important issue that no one’s talking about,” Cohen said.
You can read Cohen’s full article here.