Private Prisons And Interest Groups Essay, Research Paper
Privately owned prisons began to emerge in the mid-1980s. These prisons emerged because of the ideological imperatives of the free market, the huge increase in the number of prisoners, and the substantial increase in imprisonment costs. (1) Proponents of privatized prisons put forward a simple case: The private sector can do it cheaper and more efficiently. Corporations such as Correction Corporation of America and Wackenhut promised design and management innovations without reducing costs or sacrificing quality of service. (1) Many interest groups comprised of correctional officers, labor works, and a few citizen groups strongly oppose the privatization of the prison system. I will identify four of these groups that oppose private prisons, describe what each has sought to accomplish, and how they have gone about it and to what extent they have been successful.
The AFSCME Corrections United (or ACU) is an affiliate of the labor group known as The American Federation of State, City, and Municipal Employees. This group is composed of 60,000 correction officers and 20,000 correction employees. They’ve joined forces in a labor union to fight for better pay and benefits, for safe work places, and to uphold the standard of professionalism in their field. (2) AFSCME Corrections United claims that private prisons threaten public and worker safety and rip off taxpayers. They have launched a nationwide campaign to urge legislators to keep prisons in public hands and to educate the public on the dangers of private prisons. This group has used such methods as conducting media campaigns, letter writing campaigns, trying to pass legislation, lobbying government officials, and engaging in appropriate legal action to stop prison privatization.
Members of the Advisory Committee addressed reporters at a May 6, 1998 press conference to kick off the nationwide campaign against the privatization of prisons. At the press conference, ACU released a report that was conducted by ACU Department of Research and Collective Bargaining Services. This report documented private prisons’ high incidence of violence, riots and inmate escapes. This report also documents that private prisons promise savings for taxpayers, yet there is no evidence that these savings exist. (3) Similar press conferences took place May 12, 1998 in numerous state capitals across the country.
In January 1999, Correctional Corporation of America converted its corporate structure into a real estate investment trust, or REIT, called Prison Realty Trust. A REIT is a company that gets a huge federal tax break for owning real estate. The tax break is not supposed to go to companies that own businesses, including prisons. However, CCA believed that they had found a way to get the tax break while operating their private prison business. ACU has sent letters to the IRS and the Treasury Department outlining their belief that Prison Realty should not qualify as a REIT and that CCA is exploiting a tax break that was suppose to stabilize real estate ownership. (4)
Aside from letter writing campaigns and informing the public and the press, AFSCME Corrections United also supports legislature against the privatization of prisons. One important piece of legislation is the Public Safety Act (H.R. 979) At ACU’s lobbying efforts, Reps. Ted Strickland (D-OH), Peter King (R-NY), Tim Holden (D-PA) and John Sweeney (R-NY), introduced “The Public Safety Act” to prohibit the further privatization of our prisons. (5) This bill will require future federal prison operatives to be performed by employees of the United States government. It also would require states that receive federal prison grants to not contract out their prison operations to private corporations. The Public Safety Act continues to gain bipartisan support of members of Congress. This bill has added nine co-sponsors recently and is up to a total of 117 co-sponsors. ACU is making a push for addition co-sponsors in advance of “National Correctional Officers and Employees Week” which will occur the week of May 7, 2000. (6)
ACU has been successful at lobbying members of Congress to introduce the Public Safety Act. They have also been successful at lobbying support for the bill by members of Congress. Although the fate of the bill is still unknown, it is gaining support with the help of ACU lobbying efforts. I was unable to find out if ACU has been successful in their letter writing campaigns or informing the press and the public.
ACU has done a lot of research into private prisons and the results are readily available to the public.
ACU has proven that success can come from lobbying. They are only a group of 80,000 and they were able to lobby a few congressmen into introducing a bill that is against the privatization of prisons.
The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (or OCSEA) is another organized interest group that seeks an end to the privatization of prisons. A Department of Liquor Control employee from Cleveland, who lost his job for political reasons, formed OCSEA in 1938. A few months after the group formed there were only 150 members. Presently, OCSEA has about 38,000 members. (7) OCSEA has utilized different techniques to attempt to put an end to private prisons.
In 1998, OCSEA launched a grassroots campaign aimed at ending the privatization of prisons. OCSEA members participated in marches and rallies, and participated in interviews with the media. They used this grassroots campaign to spread their message against private prisons.
Another of OCSEA political methods in the past has been inducting a Senator into their organization. April 27, 1998, OCSEA made Ohio State Senator Robert Hagan an honorary member of their organization. They honored Senator Hagan because of his active support for legislative issues affecting the operations of prisons in Ohio. In particular, assembly leaders cited Senator Hagan’s recent active role in securing tighter safety and security controls over the operators of private prisons. (8)
OCSEA members are also involved in testifying against bills. In 1998, H.B. 590 was a proposal to privatize all new state prisons. Representatives of the OCSEA Corrections Assembly testified against the bill along with Richard Corday, then a Democratic candidate for Attorney General. (9) Although the bill never passed, it is not proven that it did not pass because of the efforts of OCSEA.
In 1998, Republican Ron Gerberry introduced a bill H.B. 738 that would impose a five-year moratorium on prison privatization in Ohio and create a joint House-Senate study committee. OCSEA supported this bill, but it did not pass.
OCSEA members accompanied a House-Senate Corrections Institution Inspection Committee in an attempted surprise inspection of the Corrections Corporation of America’s prison in Youngstown, Ohio. CCA denied access because two OCSEA members accompanied committee members. The Corrections Institution Inspection Committee is now exploring new legislation that would penalize prison companies from obstructing the work of the committee. (9)
The leaders of OCSEA called on state legislatures to conduct a full and thorough investigation into the circumstances of the escape of six inmates on July 25, 1998 from a private prison in Youngstown. The group also called on the General Assembly to ban future private operation of prisons. Leaders also wrote letters to Senator Rhine McLin and Representative Sam Bateman, requesting that a thorough investigation be conducted. The letter also contained a request for legislation to bar any new prisons housing out-of-state inmates and to repeal sections of laws passed that established two privately managed prisons. (10) OCSEA was somewhat successful because a thorough investigation was conducted, but I was unable to find out if the prison was turned over to the state.
Two representatives of OCSEA Corrections Assembly testified before the House State Government Committee in favor of H.B. 229, which is a bill that would ban state-run private prisons in Ohio. They asked committee members to compare the problems at the private prison in Youngstown else where with the state’s prisons. Several members of OCSEA staff attended the hearings. The fate of H.B. 229 is still uncertain. (11)
OCSEA members worked for the passage of H.B. 293 to regulate the private prisons. They were successful in passing the bill. This proves that member and community support can get legislators to change their positions.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (or OPSEU) was created in 1911 as the Civil Service Association of Ontario. The group changed their name to OPSEU in 1975. They have taken a stand against privatization since the 1980s.
In December 1999, OPSEU filed complaints with the Ontario Labor Relations Board over Ontario government plans to privatize prisoner transportation. The Ministry of Correctional Services agreed to provide training and equipment to make community escorts safer. Then a few months later, they announced that they would contract out prisoner transportation. OPSEU filed complaints against The Ministry because “the employer has violated both the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Ontario Labor Relations Act” (12) OPSEU also says that the employer is trying to intimidate correctional officers so they won’t try to exercise their rights. OPSEU has called on the Board to order the government to “cease and desist from continuing to attempt to privatize the community escorts.” (13)
In January 2000, OPSEU gained the support of the powerful Police Association of Ontario. They are backing OPSEU campaign to stop the privatization of correctional services. Bill Baxter, head of the police union wrote a letter to Corrections Minister
Rob Sampson, stating that “transporting and escorting correctional inmates is a job for trained and professional correctional officers,” He also wrote “Public safety cannot be compromised by leaving the care of prisoners with private citizens who lack the training and experience so crucially required.” (14)
In January 2000, members of OPSEU made a 500-km round trip to attend a meeting with the Penetanguishene jail liaison committee. They went there to talk the jail out of privatizing. The meeting turned out in OPSEU favor when the committee left opposing a private jail. (15) Also in January, OPSEU joined hands with the staff at the Sudbury Jail and local citizens to fight the privatization of correctional services. OPSEU has a new policy that will support locals to finance public events in their communities that speak out against privatization of correctional services. OPSEU gained the support of two municipal councils. The two councils threw their support behind the anti-privatization motion that was passed by the town of Midland. OPSEU has also mailed lobby kits to all corrections locals. “Our goal is to have 100 councils support a motion opposing the privatization of correctional services,” said Barry Scanlon, chair of the OPSEU Ministry Employee Relations Committee in the Corrections Ministry. (16)
OPSEU has also been involved in protests against privatization. In February, members showed up for a demonstration at the Bell Cairn Training Center in Hamilton. They came to protest privatization and the continuing misuse of unclassified staff in Ontario jails. (17) Also in February, OPSEU went public with government plans to have lone private security guards to escort violent offenders in communities across Ontario. They have planned to use one private guard to perform the duties of two professional correctional officers. The Health and Safety Act had ordered the government to use two professional corrections officers for all community escorts. (17) OPSEU is also involved in getting correction officers in jails to gather petition signatures against privatization. OPSEU also holds informational meetings on anti-privatization.
In March, the Ontario government offered some corrections workers in OPSEU a bribe in an attempt to get them to shut up about privatization. The members refused the bribe. Also in March, Lindsay Town Council voted unanimously to oppose a private jail in their community, which was another win for OPSEU. OPSEU saw over two protests in March against privatization. The first took place in front of pro-privatization Mike Harris’ constituency office. The second protest involved a truckload of steaming cow manure with signs in it saying “Stop the B.S. – Come Clean on Private Jails.” (18) Both protests made the front pages of their respective newspapers. In March alone, OPSEU gained the support of 18 municipalities thanks to the Lambton County Council that passed the no private prison resolution. This council just happens to speak for 18 municipalities. (19) March 2000 was a very successful month for OPSEU.
In April, over 400 members of OPSEU and citizens showed up in the town of Penetanguishene to hear Corrections Minister Rob Sampson try to justify his privatization plans. Sampson was not successful in justifying his plans and was overwhelmed by the crowd’s questions. He lost his composure after the first two questions. (20) Also in April, three townships pass the resolution in support of public jails.
The past few months have been very successful for OPSEU. As they stepped up their campaign against private prisons, they have gained the support of quite a few municipalities and influential people and have expanded their resources. It will be interesting to see what they will accomplish in the next year in Ontario in their crusade against privatization.
There aren’t very many citizen groups against private prisons, but I was able to get information on one of them. Citizens Against Private Prisons or (CAP) is a purposive interest group that was formed in the spring of 1999 in Wellsville, Ohio when the towns’ mayor and council was approached by a Congressman to consider the construction of a 2500 bed private correctional facility. The facility was to be owned and operated by Correctional Corporation of America. The group formed in response to this and because of the CCA owned prison in Youngstown that has had many questionable escapes and deaths. This purposive group formed in response to an enemy. So far, the group has mainly targeted the general public, the mass media, and other interest groups. They haven’t successfully targeted policy makers.
CAP was able to get an initiative on a November ballot. Basically it says that the sewer services are prohibited to a private correctional facility that houses out-of-state prisoners. CAP has gained the support of AFSCME-CU, OCSEA, AFGE, and Senator Hagan helping them in their group’s efforts. (20) CAP was able to get Eric Bates, private prison critic and widely acclaimed author to speak at a Wellsville open meeting. They also held an informational meeting for the community with representatives from different unions in 1999. In October 1999 CAP canvassed neighborhoods along with members of different unions to join their group. In 1999, CAP also wrote many letters to the editors of local newspapers. Also, in October, CAP spoke to the School Board about prison privatization. With the help of OCSEA and AFGE, CAP passed out packets of information including a copy of their initiative to 1300 registered voters. In November, the CAP initiative did not pass. It failed 657 to 622. In December, CAP tried to get the initiative back on the ballot, but they were unable to because a contact at the election board did not inform them on how to correctly file the initiative properly.
In January 2000, CAP set a strategy meeting with OCSEA. They discussed sending more flyers out, making more signs, and contacting different people. Also in January, several members of CAP joined other anti-private prison groups in protest. In February, members of CAP met with an author for the magazine Mother Jones. The author is Barry Weohm, and the editor is Eric Bates. They are going to write an article about private prisons. The author interviewed the Youngstown Prison Forum, took a tour of the CCA-run facility in Youngstown and interviewed a prisoner. The article will be published in May. (20) The author also attended one of CAP council meetings and interviewed the mayor. Also in February, CAP members met with Lyle Williams who is running for Congress on the Republican ticket. He has made his views on private prisons known. CAP is supporting his campaign. In April, CAP got a local newspaper to write an article on Correctional Corporation of America’s $206 million loss. (21)
Although Citizens against Private Prisons is a very new interest group, their voice is already being heard in Ohio. They have made attempts at Astroturf lobbying by contacting constituents by telephone and direct mail. They have experienced the two problems with lobbying already. They are having a hard time getting the attention of policy makers, and influencing the policy makers. They don’t have many resources yet, but with the help of other interest groups, they may become stronger in the future. It is interesting to study the politics of a newly formed interest group and to see the mistakes that they make. Some of these new groups learn from their mistakes, and others do not and disappear from the world of politics.
In researching these four interest groups against private prisons, I have learned a lot about interest group politics. I have learned that when these groups work with other groups for a common cause they are more likely to become successful. I have also learned that the Corrections interest groups and the Labor groups seem to have more resources and more connections with influential people. The Corrections interest groups are more likely to gain support of police chiefs, other correction officers and other law enforcement officials than a citizens group would. They are also more likely to get the attention of key constituents. Also, I have learned that the groups like OPSEU that try many different strategies have been more successful. They utilized strategies such as lobbying government officials, protesting, petitioning, informing the press and the public, and lobbying municipalities to bar private prisons. They have been quite successful in their varying efforts. Citizens Against Private Prisons have been less effective. They have mostly aimed their efforts at informing the press and public. When they tried to get an initiative on a ballot, they were unable to because they were inexperienced in politics. This group is new and probably had no idea what they are in for. More experienced groups like OCSEA and AFSCME-CU have been more successful at lobbying for legislation. This is most likely because they have been around for a long time and are more experience and more political connections. In conclusion, I have learned that no matter how strongly an interest group believes in a cause, success does not come from strong opinions and a little hard work. Success comes from many different resources. These resources include money, political connections, size, knowledge, experience, credibility, and expertise. Interest groups need these resources in order to influence the policy making process.
AFSCME “Legislative Agenda-Law Enforcement Issues.”
AFSCME-CU “ACU launches campaign Against For-Profit Prisons.” Summer 1998.
AFSCME-CU “Index.” http://www.afscme.org/acu/index.htm
AFSCME-CU “Stop the CCA Private Prison Realty Scam.”
CAP “Ongoing Updates.”
OCSEA “Assembly reps testify for private prison ban.”
OCSEA “A Brief History.” http://www.ocsea.org/history.html
OCSEA “Many Fronts to Prison Privatization debate.”
OCSEA “Prison Employee Union Calls for Broad Hearings, Full Ban on Private
Prisons.” 31 July 1998. http://www.ocsea.org/news/press_release_4.html
OCSEA “State Corrections Employees Group to Induct Senator Hagan Monday” 24 Apr
OPSEU-Lock Talk 30 Dec 1999
OPSEU-Lock Talk 21 Jan 2000
OPSEU-Lock Talk 18 Feb 2000
OPSEU-Lock Talk 10 Mar 2000
Smith, Phil. “Private Prisons: Profits of Crime.” Covert Action Quarterly Fall 1993