by Scott Grammer
Massachusetts Democratic Senator and current presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren introduced a plan last June that would essentially ban all government entities, at any level, from contracting with private prison companies.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, another presidential candidate, also favors banning private prisons. If elected president, Sanders is considering issuing numerous executive actions to circumvent Congress, including one that would abolish private prisons, The Washington Post reported in January.
Warren’s bill has no chance of passing the current Congress. Still, Warren’s idea did not go over well with private prison companies. Politico reports that CoreCivic’s spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist said, “Our company helps keep communities safe, enrolls thousands of inmates in reentry programs that prepare them for life after prison and saves taxpayers millions. It’s unfortunate that politicians advocate against these benefits without themselves providing any solutions to the serious challenges our corrections and detention systems face.”
In January 2020 Warren took her stance farther in a letter to officials at the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) as well as those at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to express her concern over a series of moves into the private prison industry by high-level BOP and ICE employees during the last three years:
ICE’s acting head resigned to assume a role as Executive Vice President for contract compliance at GEO Group
The ICE official in charge of contracting also resigned in order to become a paid witness for GEO Group in a lawsuit claiming detainees were mistreated
BOP’s assistant director, whose duties included oversight of private prison operators, left to work for GEO Group as its director of operations
The New Orleans field office director for ICE resigned to assume a position at LaSalle, which operates six prisons in the region over which he formerly had control.
“This pattern of high-level ICE and BOP officials leaving their posts to work for the same companies that they were in charge of regulating raises questions and concerns about corruption and compliance with federal contracting and conflict of interest law,” reads Warren’s letter, which was also signed by fellow Senator Kamala Harris of California and Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
Private prison companies employ professional lobbyists to stop just this sort of legislation from happening. CoreCivic spent some $370,000 on lobbyists just in the first quarter of 2019, retaining the services of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the Gephardt Group, Greenberg Traurig, HHQ Ventures, the Ingram Group, Miller Strategies, the Simmons & Russell Group and the Vogel Group. Another private prison company, Management and Training Corporation, spent over $200,000 over the same period, and hired Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Squire Patton Boggs and Upstream Consulting. In 2018, CoreCivic spent some $1.43 million on lobbying activities, according to their own report.
Then of course there’s the GEO Group, which spent $370,000 in the first quarter for lobbyists from Ballard Partners, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, Capitol Counsel, the Da Vinci Group, Lionel Aguirre, Mack Strategies and Navigators Global, not to mention State Federal Strategies, a subcontractor to Capitol Counsel. Avant Bishop Washington & Black LLC registered recently to lobby on GEO Group’s behalf, on the subject of “detention oversight.” Lanier Avant is the registered lobbyist, who according to his disclosure form, was convicted in 2018 for “false statement” and in 2016 for “failure to timely file tax return.”
Warren’s promise to end federal contracting with private prison operators also includes a commitment to deny federal funds to any state or municipality doing business with the companies – effectively ending their ability to operate in the U.S. As of early February 2020, the stock of CoreCivic, with $1.83 billion in 2018 revenues, had lost about one-third of its value over the prior twelve months, while GEO Group, with $2.33 billion in 2018 revenues, had seen its stock price slide 40 percent over the same period.
Warren came under fire for her former investment – ended in 2013 – in a retirement fund managed by Vanguard Group. The right-leaning Washington Free Beacon reported in September 2019 that at the time of Warren’s disinvestment the fund was one of the largest shareholders in the country’s two largest private prison operators, Florida-based GEO Group, Inc. and Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, now called CoreCivic.
“We believe it would be exceedingly difficult to manage our funds effectively and efficiently while seeking to address the many social, political, and environmental concerns of our 20 million clients and the broader global community,” read a statement from the Vanguard Group.
The Washington Free Beacon is backed by billionaire hedge fund manager Peter Singer, who is an activist for conservative causes.
Sources: politico.com; soprweb.senate.gov; CCA 2018 Political Activity and Lobbying Report, freebeacon.com, yubanet.com, seekingalpha.com
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login