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Sunday, March 6, 2011

The (Un)American Legislative Exchange Council

It is common knowledge that today in the United States millions of people are incarcerated in detention centers, county jails and prisons. What is not such common knowledge are the deep and insidious ties between those who write our laws and those who profit from them. Connections run to much deeper levels than the majority of Americans are aware of, far beyond what seems to have become acceptable by way of contributions and corruption within our government.

In a very brief nutshell, this is how the US prison system currently operates:

There are two major Corporations that run privately operated prison facilities and detention centers; GEO and CCA. There are other, smaller players but these are the two largest. Both trade on the NYSE and their value is determined by the number of beds they keep filled.

The GEO Group, Inc. was initially founded as a division of The Wackenhut Corporation in 1984 under the name of Wackenhut Corrections (WCC). They have acquired a few other companies along the way and today they operate facilities across the globe including Australia, Africa and the UK. They are the folks that run the ICE Detention Center in CO as well as GITMO.

From GEO’s webpage, “We design, construct, finance and manage jails, state and federal prisons, special-purpose institutions, and immigration and detention centers.”  Their profit? Well, according to their page, “Our revenue at year-end 2007 was $1.024 billion, and net income was $41.845 million.”

CCA founded the private corrections management industry more than 25 years ago, establishing industry standards for future-focused, forward-thinking correctional solutions...or so they say.
From CCA’s webpage, “We manage, design, build and own more than 66 correctional facilities and detention centers from coast to coast, in small cities, metropolitan areas and destinations in between.”

What few people realize is that GEO and CCA are both members of ALEC.

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council.

According to their webpage,

“For more than 30 years, ALEC has been the ideal means of creating and delivering public policy ideas aimed at protecting and expanding our free society. Thanks to ALEC's membership, the duly elected leaders of their state legislatures, Jeffersonian principles advise and inform legislative action across the country. Literally hundreds of dedicated ALEC members have worked together to create, develop, introduce and guide to enactment many of the cutting-edge, conservative policies that have now become the law in the states.  Since its founding, ALEC has amassed an unmatched record of achieving ground-breaking changes in public policy. ALEC's far-reaching national network of state legislators that crosses geographic and political boundaries, and affects all levels of government, is without equal. [Emphasis mine] No other organization in America today can claim as many valuable assets - both people and ideas - that have influence on as many key decision-making centers.”

ALEC also files amicus briefs with the Supreme Court advising them how to rule on certain cases. They help form guidelines for educational funding and other legislative actions in this country as well. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between education and incarceration rates and there have been claims made that privatized prison corporations use the statistics of children who cannot read by 4th grade to estimate the number of beds needed in the future; and yet we allow those who gain from incarceration to have influence over our educational policies and funding? Surely I cannot be the only one to see a slight conflict of interest?

A quick recap:

Together, the two biggest prison profiteering corporations help fund a very large group of people, over a 1,000 of who are legislators, to come up with the very laws that incarcerate us. They also are a major contributors to our educational policies in spite of a rather serious conflict of interest.

They conspire to lock up American citizens and then profit from doing so.

There are a myriad of smaller feeders into the system of course. ALEC is comprised of more than just board members from prison corporations; other corporations are involved and are allowed to sit with our legislators and write policies on everything from environmental issues (Think Exxon writing laws concerning oil spills) to public policies nationwide. For a price, the profit mongers are guaranteed equal say in our laws and policies as they work with our represented officials.

Until such time as American voters decide to cast well educated and carefully researched votes for officials instead of voting on the basis of who has the nicest suit, best hair-do and catchiest campaign soundbytes sadly, nothing is likely to change…unless of course by “change” a person happens to mean a continuous greed-profit driven assault on our personal freedoms and liberty until none of us even remember what the word “freedom” ever meant in any pure and undistorted form…

*There is dispute as to whether or not the statistical data is actually gathered and used by prison corporations. Since the time this article was written, new information has been produced that the claim might have been one erroneously made during an election campaign. 

© R.McFarland 2010 All Rights Reserved

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