Back in October, NPR presented the results of their investigation into the writing of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. I was listening to NPR when the story first aired, and I was stunned. The discussion of the law, which allows Arizona law enforcement officers to ask people they stop for proof of citizenship/legal immigration (and to arrest them if they don’t have it), has generally left out one important part of the story: the role of the private prison industry (the above link has an audio file of the story; you can get a complete transcript here):
NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it…
Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit prison company, used its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that brings government officials and corporate representatives together, to lobby for and shape the wording of the bill, which they see as being in their direct interest:
According to Corrections Corporation of America reports reviewed by NPR, executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market. Last year, they wrote that they expect to bring in “a significant portion of our revenues” from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that detains illegal immigrants.
Once the bill was introduced, CCA began lobbying the broader Arizona legislature. This graphic illustrates the interconnections between ALEC, private prison companies, and final sponsorship of the bill. Of the co-sponsors of the bill, only 6 didn’t receive campaign contributions from the private prison industry (represented by the dollar signs), and the vast majority had either been at the ALEC meeting or were at least members:
In a foll0w-up story (transcript here), NPR explains how ALEC’s “conferences” allow legislators to meet with corporations but get around regulations that normally require disclosure of corporate gifts:
Videos and photos from one recent ALEC conference show banquets, open bar parties and baseball games — all hosted by corporations. Tax records show the group spent $138,000 to keep legislators’ children entertained for the week. But the legislators don’t have to declare these as corporate gifts…legislators can just say they went to ALEC’s conference. They don’t have to declare which corporations sponsored these events.
I know that corporations regularly lobby legislators. That in and of itself shouldn’t be surprising — or even inherently problematic if done in a transparent manner. But I have to say, thinking about the fact that private prison industries are actively lobbying to get elected officials to create new categories of crime so they’ll have to lock up more people, and that this connection was ignored for over 6 months after the bill was implemented, struck me as particularly disturbing — as did the fact that once this came out, we haven’t seen any widespread backlash or citizen outcry at the idea that there are companies that directly stand to benefit from putting people in jail helping to write and pass criminal codes.