Private prisons and the ‘tough on crime’ lobby

Written By: - Date published: 10:25 am, March 10th, 2009 - 29 comments
Categories: act, corruption, national, prisons, privatisation - Tags: , , ,

One of the features of a privatised prison system is the potential for corruption of the political process by the commercial interests of private prison operators.

Thanks to Tom in the comments it’s come to light that GEO Group, the company formerly known as Wackenhut and main contendor for National’s privatised prisons, has funded ‘tough on crime’ lobby groups in the US to help fill their private prisons and improve their profit margins.

CCA and The GEO Group are major contributors to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Washington, D.C. based public policy organization that develops model legislation that advances tough-on-crime legislation and free-market principles such as privatization.

Under their Criminal Justice Task Force, ALEC has developed and helped to successfully implement in many states ‘tough on crime’ initiatives including ‘Truth in Sentencing’ and ‘Three Strikes’ laws. Corporations provide most of the funding for ALEC’s operating budget and influence its political agenda through participation in policy task forces. ALEC’s corporate funders include CCA and The GEO Group. In 1999, CCA made the President’s List for contributions to ALEC’s States and National Policy Summit; Wackenhut also sponsored the conference. Past cochairs of the Criminal Justice Task Force have included Brad Wiggins, then Director of Business Development at CCA and now a Senior Director of Site Acquisition, and John Rees, a former CCA vice president.

By funding and participating in ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Forces, critics argue, private prison companies directly influence legislation for tougher, longer sentences.

Could the same thing be happening here? The extremely well funded and media savvy Sensible Sentencing Trust has come to dominate our public discussion on law and order in recent years but they’ve steadfastly refused to reveal where their funding is coming from. Their policy platform of “truth in sentencing” and “three strikes” matches ALEC’s right down to the rhetoric.

As we’ve pointed out in the past, the SST has gone to such lengths to hide their funding that they’ve publicly refused to comply with the Electoral Finance Act and have even declined to register under the Charities Act despite the tax benefits, because doing so would force some transparency over who’s paying the bills.

In the interests of democracy, now would be the time to start putting some hard questions to Garth McVicar about whether his organisation has received any funding or help from GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America or any other private prison company or interest group. And while we’re at it, it might just pay to ask ACT and National too.

29 comments on “Private prisons and the ‘tough on crime’ lobby”

  1. BLiP 1

    The corporates must be rubbing their hands together in glee – at last, a captive workforce at their disposal in New Zealand for a minimum wage less than that paid in China. Thanks National.

  2. infused 2

    Yes, keep talking shit BLiP.

  3. Tim Ellis 3

    Fair enough to ask those questions of the SST, Tane, but I think you’re just stirring when you ask the same questions of ACT and National. Both of them were required under the EFA to disclose donations; the fact that they didn’t make any disclosures with respect to those organisations is a fairly clear indication that they weren’t receiving money from them. Unless you’ve got any evidence to the contrary.

    Under the EFA it would have been illegal for Act or National to accept large donations from a foreign corporation anyway. Suggesting that they might have funneled money, without any evidence, is about as credible as saying the Chinese Communist Party channeled money to the Labour Party.

    • Tane 3.1

      Tim, agreed. I seriously doubt ACT and National have taken money from the private prison industry, at least since the EFA came into force. That’s why it’s a one line aside at the end – the real question is over the SST.

      • Tigger 3.1.1

        Nothing wrong with stirring. 🙂

        And to be honest, given NACTs ties to business they need to be squeaky clean when making decisions that have economic outcomes so it would pay for them to be open about these sorts of things – just last week we had the whole cigarettes in dairies issue – historically we’ve seen relationships between National MPs and a tobacco company so any pro-smoking decisions are going to be viewed in that light.

        ACC private providers are another sensitive area. What relationships do NACTs have with such companies and will these companies benefit from the decision to open up competition.

        These are fair questions that I expect the media to be asking.

    • Macro 3.2

      You Might care to take a look at this Tim
      Talk of transparency is all well and good! But in the Nat’s case its mainly talk!

  4. Fair point bout the corruption, Tane, but haven’t we already got corruption issues in the services as highlighted by various reports last year of lags bringing in cellphones, drugs etc. And why if it were privatised would there DEFINITELY be more corruption? We don’t know that. Is there the possibility of corruption? Sure. Whenever you have a system, it is open for twisting. Just look at communist Russia.

    We gave it a go for 5 years and nothing too untoward happened. Why not try it again? If they fail, lets change back.

    But lets not get stuck in the rut of not changing something because of what MIGHT happen.


    • BLiP 4.1

      National seems stuck in the rut of changing for change’s sake – private prisons are more expensive and more likely to lead to corruption. There is no logic behind the move – just greed.

      • higherstandard 4.1.1

        Labour seems stuck in the rut of not changing for not changing’s sake – the previous experiment with private prisons in NZ suggests they are less expensive and less likely to lead to corruption.

        There is no logic behind their position – just blind opposition and ideology.

        • Tane

          What do you mean? It cost $42,000 per inmate to run the Auckland remand centre. The equivalent public prison remand cost was $36,000.

          • higherstandard

            Keep up Tane that piece of sophistry put out by the PSA has already been shot down.

          • Matthew Pilott

            Where has that been shot down, HS? The only sophistry was the patently misleading comparison between normal and remand prisioners made by those wanting to prove that private was cheaper, and realising they had to resort to lying to do so.

        • BLiP

          The previous experiment was a “loss leader”. A common enough sleight of hand practised by the private sector. Perhaps its something new to you?

        • Macro

          As usual HS you DON”T know what you’re talking about! Under the previous experiment it cost $42000 per annum per prisoner in the new privately managed purpose built prison whereas it cost $36000 per annum per prisoner in public service managed prisons of similar type.
          The privately run prison was also less likely to provide successful rehabilitation outcomes.
          I could provide even more examples of why the UK and many states in the USA are now rethinking their experiments in privately managed prisons but why waste my time!

    • Razorlight 4.2

      I totally agree. The system at the moment is not what anyone would descibe as acceptable. If there is a commercial incentive for those in charge to put the prisons in order then I am all for it.

      I think this opposition is based on a total opposition for any privatisation. It is an ideological barrier in many of these arguments when people automatically think private bad public good.

  5. TomSe 5

    Does anyone really know where the blind trusts who contribute to National and ACT get their money from? Has the Waitemata Trust receieved any money from the GEO Group? That is the question I would ask Collins and Key or the president of the National Party.

  6. curious 6

    Tane – do you have a link to the analysis of prision costs? A detailed analysis with methodology and data that is….

  7. Ianmac 7

    I somehow expected a blast of support for SST but what does the silence mean? Follow the money the experts say but under what circumstances can you get access to SST funding? Surely the IRD knows because some must be getting a salary. McVicar for instance?

    • Tim Ellis 7.1

      Ian, I don’t know anything about the SST or their funding. Nor do I have any qualification to speak about it. I suppose in my case, my silence on the matter indicates nothing more suspicious than that I know nothing about it, and care even less.

      The SST don’t influence the way I vote, and I suspect they get far more free media than their funding or organisational capacity might warrant. There’s no evidence that National’s prisons policy has been driven or influenced by the SST, or any of its funders. As far as the funding arrangements go, there’s actually evidence of no relationship, by virtue of the fact that National hasn’t disclosed any offshore funding from the prisons organisations, or from the SST, as it would have been required to do under the EFA.

  8. Ianmac 8

    The final post on Centrist Bullshit posted by Tomse seemed to sum it up.

  9. 9

    Maybe a question in the house to new ACT MP Garrett. Can he confirm whether overseas prison companies contributed to the SST. If so, how much. Is there any tie in between overseas prison companies, the SST and his 3 strikes lock em up bill.

    • Ianmac 9.1

      Can a question be asked in the House of an ordinary MP? I think that there were many questions about funding directed at Peters. Interesting.

  10. rave 10

    Corrupt judges send kids to private prisons for profits.

  11. morag 11

    Dear curious,
    The whole point about the cost comparisons is that they are utterly useless! There is no such thing as:
    “A detailed analysis with methodology and data”
    because the private companies refuse to provide that, as state and federal governments around the world have discovered, often to their detriment.

    The only responsibility the corporations have is to return a profit to their shareholders. They plead ‘commercial in confidence’ at the drop of a hat, and have absolutely no obligation to disclose how they reach the random figures they pluck out of their arses.

    For some comment on that you may like to read:
    which cites no lesser wacky liberal than the NSW Auditor General commenting on this little problem, and admitting they were forced TO MAKE THE FIGURES UP to even produce a comparison.

    It also points out that the two new public prisons in the state (where they actually do know what the figures comprise) are running more efficiently than NSW’s one privatised prison Junee, but why let that stand in the way of a rapacious company handing out money?

    I’d be a little careful taking too much of this to heart though, as it’s recently revealed that not only has the company (GEO) been throwing money at both political parties for some time, they were slipping money to the chair of the Public Affairs Committee that produced this report, at the time he was chairing said committee.

    Not unusual this side of the ditch, but should give one pause for thought. In fact, some American city councils are now refusing to accept and/or returning money from GEO as it is seen as too tainted.

    not that people like you, Curious, Razorlight et al, would care, but another group of renowned leftie rabble rousers, the US Department of Justice, produced this report showing the massive increase in assaults in private prisons, on both staff and inmates.

    I don’t even know where to start with the horror stories, increased costs and dangers to the community, inmates and staff. But then, the great god of neo-liberalism tells you the market can do it better (read the papers much recently?) so you go with that.

    And you accuse us of ideological blindness!!

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