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Congressional Black Caucus Institute Accepts Donations from Private Prison Companies

by Matt Clarke

Although the website of the Congressional Black Caucus states that banning private prisons is part of its agenda during the current congressional session, the legally separate but affiliated Congressional Black Caucus Institute (CBCI) has accepted donations from CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, and the Institute’s 21st Century Council lists lobbyists for private prison firms as “platinum members.”

For-profit prison companies “are among the most committed entities in opposition to transforming our criminal justice system,” said Scott Roberts, senior director of Criminal Justice Campaigns at the racial justice organization Color of Change, which previously pressured then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Congressional Black Caucus’s political action committee to stop taking donations from private prison operators.

“They are the most invested in maintaining the status quo that’s got us to being a country that is leading in the history of the world in incarcerating its own people,” Roberts stated in an August 2019 article, adding, “It’s incredibly disappointing to know that any of the entities affiliated with the Congressional Black Caucus continue to take money from CoreCivic or any other private prison company, so there’s just no excuse for it. It’s unacceptable.”

In a lobbying disclosure report, CoreCivic revealed that, on April 15, 2019, it donated $25,000 in “honorary expenses” to the CBCI. The document listed as honorees CBCI chair U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and CBCI board members Rep. Jim Clyburn and Cedric Richmond. CoreCivic made a similar $25,000 “honorary expenses” contribution to the CBCI in 2018.

“It’s clear that the prioritization on fundraising has outweighed the principles that these people should be governing under,” Roberts noted. “One being that you can’t sell out our communities to the people who want them to be incarcerated, people who have benefited from the racial bias in the criminal justice system.”

Rep. Thompson chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, which includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Rep. Richmond is a committee member. Since 2008, ICE has awarded almost $1.9 billion in contracts to GEO Group, while CoreCivic has received over $1.1 billion in contracts.

Jeremy Wiley is a registered lobbyist and CoreCivic’s managing director of government relations. Emanuel Barr is GEO’s national director of legislative and community affairs. Both were listed as “platinum members” in the CBCI’s 21st Century Council 2019 annual report.

That report promotes a new “pay for success” performance-based model to align prison contractors with public policy objectives for reducing recidivism, by holding “providers accountable for delivering measurable results, allow[ing] for ‘success’ payments if recidivism rates improve beyond a certain threshold, and penalties for unachieved goals.” This refers to programs like CoreCivic’s community corrections initiative, which includes running re-entry centers and providing non-residential services like electronic monitoring.

CoreCivic is reaping increasing profits from community corrections and reentry services. In 2018, its revenue from such programs grew by 37% over the previous year to almost $102 million. To maintain and expand its contracts, CoreCivic hires lobbyists and makes political donations as part of its business model.

The Congressional Black Caucus’s political action committee (PAC) cut ties with private prison lobbyists in 2016, following a campaign by Color of Change. That included lobbyists with the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP who represented CoreCivic’s interests. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.17].

PLN previously reported a similar issue with private prison donations to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which returned the contributions from Corrections Corporation of America after they were publicly reported. [See: PLN, Dec. 2009, p.26]. Thus far, there is no indication that CBCI intends to return the private prison money it received. 

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Sources: readsludge.com, prospect.org