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How Private Prison Corporations Hope Arizona’s SB1070 Will Lead to Internment Camps for Illegals

Reverend Billy Talent and the Church of Life After Shopping protest the Correction Centers of America building, a commercial immigrant detention center (privately-owned prison) | Photo by Reverend Billy and the Church of Life After Shopping

Reports reveal that private prison corporations with interests and operations in Arizona stand to benefit and profit greatly as a result of immigration laws like SB1070. And, that isn’t altogether surprising because these same reports are indicating these corporations played a role in influencing the law, which is proof that border politics and the private prison businesses are tied.

Progressive news magazine, In These Times, reported on State Sen. Russell Pearce’s (R-Mesa) involvement in the passage of the Arizona immigration law and his ties to private prison corporations. The report explains how Pearce submitted a version of the legislation to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)," an organization which he and 35 other Arizona legislators belong," a "full month and a half before SB1070 was introduced to the Arizona Senate and nearly two months before its counterpart was first read in the House."

A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, ALEC bills itself as "the nation’s largest bipartisan, individual membership association of state legislators" and as a public-private legislative partnership. As such, ALEC claims as members more than 2,000 state lawmakers (one-third of the nation’s total legislators) and more than 200 corporations and special-interest groups.

The organization’s current corporate roster includes the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, the nation’s largest private jailer), the Geo Group (the nation’s second largest private jailer), Sodexho Marriott (the nation’s leading food services provider to private correctional institutions), the Koch Foundation, Exxon Mobil, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Boeing, Wal-Mart and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, to name just a few.

Rachel Maddow covered ties between private prison corporations in Arizona and Arizona’s lawmakers on her show Thursday night:

"Last year, Arizona state officials moved legislation to try to privatize the whole state prison system. Arizona planned to "seek bids from private companies for nine of the state’s 10 prison complexes." It was the first effort by a state to put its entire prison system under private control.

Great news for the private prison companies, right? Great news, in particular, for Corrections Corporation of America, which is the single largest private prison company in the country. CCA already runs six detention facilities in Arizona. They hold prisoners from other states at their facilities in Arizona. They also hold the federal contract to hold federal detainees in the state.

So, you know what would be awesome for a company like that? You know what would be awesome? What would be really awesome for the shareholders and everybody if the state of Arizona started producing a whole lot more federal detainees — people detain on federal issues, federal issues like, I don’t know, say, immigration violations.

Imagine the boon to the private for-profit prison company that has the contract to house federal detainees in Arizona, if Arizona came up with a whacky plan to arrest a lot more people for suspected immigration violations. Imagine how awesome a law like S.B. 1070 would be for an industry like the for-profit private prison industry in Arizona. Sure, it’s an industry with an incredibly awful record in Arizona, but there is money to be made here — and it turns out that that industry, particularly, Corrections Corporation of America, which stands to benefit the most, that industry and that company in Arizona, they’re really well connected""

Just as one might say there’s no racial profiling in the Arizona immigration law, CCA is maintaining they have no plans to "house" any illegal immigrants in Arizona. Morgan Loew, a reporter with CBS’s local Phoenix affiliate, KPHO, whose reporting was a source in Maddow’s report, addressed this claim:

"Maricopa County, the Phoenix Police Department, we don’t deport illegal immigrants. When someone’s picked up on the side of the road or for a crime, they’re taken to the jail. At that point, their immigration status is determined. If they’re an illegal immigrant, they’re reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Then their taken to one of these private prisons, Corrections Corporation of America.

So, you’d have to do the math. But if you increased the number of people who are picked up, illegal immigrants, increase the number that are sent over to ICE, you’re likely going to increase the number that companies like Corrections Corporation of America are going to be housing.

Right now, they’re — I think they’re charging ICE here in Arizona about $11 million a month to have about a 5 percent vacancy rate that they keep sort of for big busts or that kind of thing. So, obviously, that number would go up and they would have to make extra accommodations to handle more illegal immigrants."

A watchdog report by Philip Mattera and Mafruza Khan of the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First and Stephen Nathan of Prison Privatisation Report International, showed CCA’s dependence on federal contracts tied to the incarceration of immigrants:

CCA got its first contract from the federal government and has continued to depend on its friends in Washington, DC. In 2002 the three federal agencies with correctional and detention responsibilitiesthe Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now a branch of the Department of Homeland Security and known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE)accounted for about 32 percent of CCA’s total revenues"

"the explosion of the so-called "criminal alien" population in the wake of the 1996 Immigration Reform Act. The federal government’s campaign to lock up non-citizens for a wide range of crimes, including relatively minor ones such as attempting to re-enter the country without proper documents, generated a huge new demand for prison beds. The BOP addressed the problem by calling on private contractors to help meet its "criminal alien requirements," or CAR. As a result of the CAR-I solicitation process, CCA got two contracts in 2000 that allowed it to fill its long-empty speculatively built prison in California City, California, and its Cibola

County Correctional Center in New Mexico. Together, these deals are estimated to be worth $760 million to CCA over ten years. In 2002 CCA was rewarded again with a $103 million CAR contract to fill its struggling McRae Correctional Facility in Georgia. Analyst Judith Greene has referred to these CAR contracts as a "virtual bailout" for CCA.

The same watchdog report hints at the sentiment that may be shared by many in CCA thanks to the Arizona immigration law. A 10-K filing from CCA from nearly a decade ago reads:

"We believe that recently proposed initiatives by the federal government in connection with homeland security should cause the demand for prison beds, including privately managed beds, to increase. The proposed funding [for homeland security] is intended to support the agencies’ efforts to prevent illegal entry into the United States and target persons that are a threat to homeland security. We believe that these efforts will likely result in more incarceration and detention, particularly of illegal immigrants, and increased supervision of persons on probation and parole

Those who hear Marg Baker talk about supporting Japanese internment camps for illegal immigrants should not think she is that crazy. She is merely expressing the solution to the sentiment of fear that the businessmen working in the private prison industry in Arizona wish to implement.

Her notion is totalitarian but so is the notion that you can incarcerate and control a prison population and make money. And the people of Arizona should fear the existence of an industry that depends on "criminals" to succeed because if crime isn’t high then the industry will always work to find a way to "criminalize" a population for profit.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."