The Huge Revolving Door

The private prison industry, like many other private industries that have interests in politics (think oil, pharmaceuticals, energy companies, etc.), routinely sees “revolving-door” activity between its leaders and the political scene. What I mean by this is that leaders in the industry often get jobs in government where they can directly influence legislation and policy to the benefit of the industry they left, and vice-versa. They also routinely get gigs lobbying for major companies, and the three different positions (and the circulation between them) make for the “revolving door” effect, which blurs the lines of distinction between corporations and government.

The real danger of this situation is in the inevitable conflicts of interest that arise when people with connections in a certain industry find themselves in positions that wield power and influence over how that industry operates. It is not healthy for a society to be regulated based on the interests and desires of industry leaders looking to protect corporate interests, which almost invariably run counter to social and human interests.

So it’s particularly troublesome that the former director of the largest prison system in the country, the federal Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin, was just hired by CCA as an executive VP. He retired from the BOP on May 7, and less than three weeks later was hired by CCA, a company that receives approximately 40% of its operating revenue from the federal government, including the BOP. Lappin is now one of two former BOP directors on CCA’s payroll.

While going from government to the private sector isn’t nearly as troubling as its opposite, it still raises questions about the influence CCA has on the BOP and its relationship with the leaders of our federal prison system. Having a private company with a long track record of human rights abuses and contract noncompliance be apparently close enough with the leaders of a government agency supposed to be in charge of overseeing its operations explains a lot about how CCA is able to get away with all the terrible things they do



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