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University Professor Shills for Private Prison Industry

Much of the statistical and academic information regarding prison privatization that is reported in the media (and consequently relied upon by lawmakers deciding whether to contract with private prison companies) comes from Charles W. Thomas, director of the Private Corrections Project at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

The Private Corrections Project is funded by grants from the private prison industry including CCA, Wackenhut, Cornell, U.S. Corrections Corporation and Correctional Services Corporation that amount to $50,000 to $60,000 annually. The money is channeled as unrestricted donations through the University of Florida Research Foundation. Documents supplied by the university indicate that the Project received over $250,000 between 1990 and 1996; according to Dr. Thomas the amount is more than $400,000. Although Thomas's salary is paid by the university his expenses and summer salary ($26,845 in 1997) are funded by the Research Foundation.

In an interview with The National Times Thomas admitted he had money invested in "substantially all" of the private prison companies, but refused to say how much. On April 25, 1997 the Wall Street Journal reported that Thomas was being named a board member of the CCA Prison Realty Trust; he receives an annual salary of $12,000 with options to buy 5,000 shares of stock. The chairman of Prison Realty is Doctor R. Crants, who is also chairman and C.E.O. of CCA. CCA merged with Prison Realty Trust on January 1, 1999.

According to a Prison Realty document filed with the S.E.C., "Charles W. Thomas, a member of the Prison Realty Board and a director of New Prison Realty, has performed and will continue to perform, certain consulting services in connection with the merger for a fee of $3 million."

An ethics complaint has been filed against Prof. Thomas for his financial involvement with the private corrections industry while conducting research in that field. Kathy Chinoy, chairperson of the Florida Commission on Ethics, stated on June 2, 1998 that "There is probable cause to believe that Dr. Thomas violated [ethics standards] by having a contractual relationship with private corrections companies or companies related to the private corrections industry, which conflict with his duty to objectively evaluate the corrections industry through his research with the University." Prof. Thomas and the Florida Attorney General's office have failed to negotiate a settlement of the case, which is being referred to the Division of Administrative Hearings.

Prof. Thomas has denied there is a conflict of interest.

Sources: The National Times, The Wall Street Journal, Prison Privatisation Report Intl, Corrections USA press release.

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