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Arizona Immigration Law Tied Closely to Private Prison Industry

NPR has become the first news organization to pick up on a Think Progress investigation from over a month ago, about the private prison industry’s role in SB1070 and anti-immigration laws generally. They did a pretty good job with it.

Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal […]

What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.

“They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community,” Nichols said, “the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate.”

But Nichols wasn’t buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years — decades even — with illegal immigrants?

“They talked like they didn’t have any doubt they could fill it,” Nichols said.

That’s because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona’s immigration law.

Essentially, the lock-up opportunities of law enforcement detaining anyone without proof of citizenship are limitless, and the private prison industry stands to benefit. And they know it, and they got involved very early in the process. Russell Pearce, the state Senator who pushed this bill through, basically got blessing for the bill from ALEC, the right-wing group that feeds corporate-friendly legislation into state legislatures. They have private companies often write the bills. And in this case, the Corrections Corporation of America was in on the meeting.

Asked if the private companies usually get to write model bills for the legislators, Hough said, “Yeah, that’s the way it’s set up. It’s a public-private partnership. We believe both sides, businesses and lawmakers should be at the same table, together.” […]

Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.

By April, the bill was on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.

Brewer has her own connections to private prison companies. State lobbying records show two of her top advisers — her spokesman Paul Senseman and her campaign manager Chuck Coughlin — are former lobbyists for private prison companies. Brewer signed the bill — with the name of the legislation Pearce, the Corrections Corporation of America and the others in the Hyatt conference room came up with — in four days.

This is just the result of a corporate capture of the legislative process. Prison companies devise a way to get more profit through getting more prisoners. The legislators figure out how to sell this as an anti-immigration measure. Everybody wins.

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David Dayen

David Dayen