Last month, I posted several times on the profit motive flow of the private prison industry. To follow up here, nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman weighed in this week on the privatization of prisons (amongst other areas, including education) in the New York Times by describing the role of lobbyists in influencing and creating legislative policies that impact American lives. In his opinion piece Lobbyists, Guns and Money, Krugman details the activities of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), a self described non-partisan lobbying organization, and its massive emerging influence. Krugman describes ALEC as follows:
“What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.
Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.”
Based on the last sentence of Krugman’s description “And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatizations, such as . . . the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization,” he received a tense response letter from the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) trying to force a retraction for things that Krugman did not actually say.
The CCA claims that it does not, and never has lobbied for increasing prison sentences or developing new areas for detention (like criminalizing immigration). The CCA letter claims that “CCA does not and has not ever lobbied for or attempted to promote any legislation anywhere that affects sentencing and detention — under longstanding corporate policy.”
Krugman is dubious about this claim, as am I. CCA employs dozens of lobbyists and spends millions of dollars per year lobbying legislatures around the United States in connection with promoting its business interests. CCA was in the news just last month after it sent letters to 48 states offering to buy the state’s prisons in exchange for a 20 year agreement to pay CCA to warehouse the state’s prisoners and contractual agreement to keep the prisons filled at 90% capacity.
A private prison company contractually obligating a state to keep its prisons filled to 90% capacity seems to me to be an attempt to influence sentencing and detention policy for profit.