Category Archives: CCA

The Unbearable Pandering Of Gov. Haslam

Hey Gov. Haslam: You know what else is higher in Tennessee than the national average? Unemployment. When are you and your fellow Republicans going to get us some damn jobs in this state?

Gov. Haslam’s broad plan to lower crime focuses on prevention
Multi-pronged plan aims to make Tennessee’s crime rate plummet

Citing Tennessee’s record of higher-than-average crime, Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday released a plan to increase penalties for certain violent crimes, tamp down on drug offenses and revamp how felons are supervised in the state.

“While we’ve seen an improvement, Tennessee continues to have a violent crime rate that’s above the national average and that none of us find acceptable,” Haslam said. “This plan not only addresses many of the underlying factors that lead to crime in our state, it takes a comprehensive approach to addressing public safety issues.”

The plan focuses on three broad areas: reducing prescription and methamphetamine drug abuse, decreasing violent crime and cutting the rate at which criminals commit new crimes. It aims to do so through new legislation calling for tougher penalties for gang and drug-related crimes, new administrative moves, an increasing reliance on alternatives to prison and the shifting of some 66,000 felons from the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole to the Department of Correction.

Let’s just call this what it is: blatant pandering to Corrections Corp. of America. I mean c’mon, crime is actually down in the state — as it is nationally. So fearmongering about “crime” might be a good diversionary tactic, but those of us who actually read the damn news aren’t buying it.

Here’s a news flash:

• The TBI announced last year that crime was down for the third year in a row.

• Looking at the past 10 years, the TBI found violent crime rates are at their lowest level, hate crimes are down 50% and property crimes are down 9%. Not surprisingly, credit card fraud is up 135%.

• 2011 marked Nashville’s lowest murder rate in 45 years, with “just” 51 murders recorded. That’s the lowest since 1966, when there were 49 murders.

“Crime” is the lazy politicians’ gambit because it plays into the general fear that crime is “out of control” in our communities (it’s not) and “getting tough on crime” is the kind of thing that everyone is for. I mean, it’s like saying you think puppies are cute and trees are pretty in autumn. Oooh score one for Gov. Haslam! Way to roll up your sleeves and tackle the tough issues!

I called bullshit on this idiocy when then-candidate Haslam released his ridiculous “how can we EVER reduce crime in Tennessee” campaign ad. I wrote then:

These are nice agenda items of the industry-funded ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council, which I wrote about here.) I’m sure Tennessee-based Corrections Corp. of America approves of that message, hell they paid for it. It’s also a nice little dog whistle that plays into peoples’ fears and the “conventional wisdom” that we live in a crime infested land filled with bogey men who want to steal your white women and your flat-screen TV. The fact that crime has been dropping across the state (and the nation) for the past few years is a little inconvenient for this message. Oh well, don’t let facts stand in the way of some fun little pandering.

And of course, Haslam has done more than just pander to CCA, miraculously “finding” $31 million that we apparently don’t have for TennCare or education to keep CCA’s Hardeman County Correctional Facility open. It’s a miracle, I tells ya!

Gov. Haslam, you’re a fraud. You mouth pablum about crime in our state while handing taxpayer money over to the corporate cronies who funded your campaign. But stuff that’s important to people — stuff that’s hard to do, like bringing jobs to our state — forget it. You’ll just pretend the unemployed are lazy and call it a day.

Pretty damned contemptible, if you ask me.

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Filed under Bill Haslam, CCA, Tennessee

Nice Little Police State You Have Here, Gov. Haslam

Nobody could have anticipated this!

Gov. Finds Money For Private Prison Amid Cuts

TennCare, Higher Education To See Deep Cuts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has found about $31 million in recurring money to keep open a privately run prison in West Tennessee while making deep cuts to other areas such as TennCare and higher education.

Former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen had sought to close the Hardeman County Correctional Facility at Whiteville by December, but lawmakers added funding to run the prison through July 31.

Haslam in his budget address last week announced plans to restore permanent funding for the facility operated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.

The governor last week told reporters that he determined that closing the prison wasn’t “the right thing to do for the corrections system.”

According to the governor’s schedule, Haslam met with CCA officials at the Capitol the week before his budget address.

Isn’t it amazing how we’re able to “find” $31 million for the things we feel are important? Especially after a nice little meeting with the Nashville-based CCA, a big campaign donor? Truly the coincidences are astounding.

And remember this?

Tony Grande, chief development officer of CCA, said the private corrections company supports candidates that are likely to pursue the sort of public-private partnerships that match its philosophy and business interests. He said donations aren’t to assure specific business — CCA argues its value to the state does that — and that the support for Haslam reflected his positions and viability. The institute reports CCA giving Haslam $23,750 and McWherter $5,570.

Yes where is the “public” part of this “public-private partnership,” I’m just curious? Would that be in the form of our tax dollars going straight to CCA’s pockets? Is that what makes this a “partnership”?

A nice little detail is that the Hardeman County prison employs 350 people. Prisons are jobs! As is war. I love Christian America! Government jobs are bad, but privatization of public services paid for by tax dollars is good. Even when you don’t have the money.

When Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen tried to close the prison last year and was overruled by the Republican legislature, he quipped:

Bredesen called the Legislature’s decision to overrule him on closing the two facilities “a case of everybody wants to run government like a business until you actually run government like a business.”

Oh, snap! I seem to recall a foul-mouthed blogger pointing out a few problems with our privatized prison industry last year. Now we have CCA meeting with the governor to make sure it gets a nice return on its nearly $24,000 investment. I mean, check out these programs on the chopping block:

All the commissioners brought their own lists of vanishing programs. Community treatment centers for the mentally ill and alcohol- and drug-addicted would lose funding. The Department of Children’s Services would lose 162 jobs. Six state park swimming pools would close. So would two state golf courses. A prison sex offender treatment program would end, along with convict “community service” work crews. Inspectors who ensure the state’s groundwater is safe would lose their jobs.

If cuts in mental health services go through as scheduled, “We’re off the cliff, sir. We’ve got major problems,” said Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney, who also likened it to an amputation. “With this safety net, we can’t just keep cutting little pieces of the fingers off,” Varney told the governor. “Pretty soon the hands won’t work. I think we may have to decide to cut a finger off here or there, and that’s what we do. At least the hands will still work.”

No, no, Varney was looking at it all wrong. Look at it from the perspective of CCA’s philosophy and business interests! Not the peoples’! Sillies! We’ll just round up all the addicts and mentally ill and throw them in a private, taxpayer-funded facility (and make sure we don’t have community service programs which might eat into our incarceration rate). Problem solved! Why bother and try to get people off of drugs or clean up the meth labs or have social workers who can make sure people stay on their antipsychotics? Community service is so last century! Who needs social workers watching out for kids, or facilities that keep children occupied in the summer? What happens when we don’t have those things? Thinking … thinking …

Yeah you know, it’s so much more profitable for CCA if we just wait for such people to commit a crime: the mentally ill, the drug addicts, the youth with no place to go and nothing to do in the summertime. Let’s wait for them to get in trouble and then we can throw them in jail. Amiright? It’s not about people it’s about CCA!

If we can miraculously “find” $31 million for CCA but we can never find any money for mental health clinics or drug treatment programs, what else could it be?

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Filed under Bill Haslam, CCA, Tennessee government

The Problem With Privatization

Bloggers and journalists across the country are starting to ask the question: is America’s privatized prison industry lobbying for more Arizona-style immigration laws to help their profits?

It’s a good question.

Nationwide there has actually been a drop in the jail population: this should be good news, but in a country where the profit motive has been inserted into every arena of the public good, it actually presents some ethical problems.

(And by the way: lower prison population doesn’t necessarily mean less crime: tight budgets across the country have prompted the early release of inmates to save money.)

Regardless of the reasons, if there’s a steady decrease in the number of incarcerated individuals at the same time that we have outsourced our government’s corrections responsibility to a for-profit private industry, then it makes sense that this industry will look for ways to find more people to put in prison. Its profits and shareholders depend on it. And what better way to do that then to go after the most vulnerable, voiceless population out there: illegal immigrants.

Is that happening? It’s certainly big business in Arizona:

CCA operates three prisons in Arizona that house detainees for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Theoretically, more arrests mean more detainees, which means more money coming into the company.

“There are winners and losers in the business of immigrant detention,” wrote Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition spokesman Elias Feghali in an email. “The winners are often the companies that have a direct financial interest in seeing people detained, regardless of the merits of detention.”

As this City Paper article reveals, Tennessee’s passage of a new bill that basically extends Davidson County’s 287(g) program statewide will mean big business for Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America, the biggest player in the privatized prison business. Not surprisingly, CCA’s PAC made generous donations to Tennessee politicians, including the very legislators who sponsored this bill.

This makes me extremely uncomfortable. The moment our government decided it was okay to allow the profit motive to become part of the people’s gravest responsibilities–fighting wars, and incarcerating and rehabilitating those who break the law–we entered an ethical abyss. And just as there have been abuses in our privatized military, we have seen problems at CCA facilities: violating state laws, even charges of outright abuse.

But even if CCA’s prisons and jails operated as model facilities, I still say: You should not make money off of human suffering, and that includes war and prisons. If we were truly a “Christian” nation we would never allow companies like CCA to exist.

As we hand off more of the public good to for-profit corporations, we see corporations exerting their muscle over a wider array of public life. Companies like CCA, Koch Industries, and RJ Reynolds and industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute don’t just lobby legislators and make donations to political PACs to ensure favorable attention: Through groups like the industry-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, they are actually writing their own laws:

Though it calls itself “the nation’s largest bipartisan, individual membership association of state legislators,” ALEC might better be described as one of the nation’s most powerful — and least known — corporate lobbies. While other lobbyists focus on the federal government, ALEC gives business a direct hand in writing bills that are considered in state assemblies nationwide. Funded primarily by large corporations, industry groups, and conservative foundations — including R.J. Reynolds, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute — the group takes a chain-restaurant approach to public policy, supplying precooked McBills to state lawmakers. Since most legislators are in session only part of the year and often have no staff to do independent research, they’re quick to swallow what ALEC serves up. In 2000, according to the council, members introduced more than 3,100 bills based on its models, passing 450 into law.

Through a quick Google search I learned that ALEC is behind the many state legislative efforts to opt-out of healthcare reform.

So yes, there is a mechanism in place by which companies such as CCA can write legislation favorable to their profits, legislation that is ultimately adopted by state legislatures across the country virtually verbatim. And yes, there is a precedent: CCA apparently worked through ALEC in the past to draft pro-incarceration legislation ultimately adopted in over 40 states:

In another instance of profitable policymaking, ALEC drafted a model “truth in sentencing” bill that restricts parole eligibility for prisoners, keeping inmates locked up longer. One of the members of the task force that drafted the bill was Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison company, which stands to cash in on longer sentences. By the late 1990s, similar sentencing measures had passed in 40 states. “There was never any mention that ALEC or anybody else had any involvement in this,” Walter Dickey, the former head of Wisconsin’s prison system, told reporters after his state passed a version of the measure.

No wonder CCA touted “exciting growth opportunities” in its investor presentations:

Both “high recidivism” among felons and “inmate population growth following prior recessions” are highlighted as positives for the company in the 48-page report.

Conflict of interest much? It’s bad enough that corporations have so much power in America, but this is nothing new. We’ve been beating a pro-corporate drum since the 1950s when we first heard “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” But when that corporation makes its megamillions off of human suffering, then what’s good for the corporation isn’t necessarily good for America. Where is the incentive for peacemaking? Where is the incentive for rehabilitation of prisoners? A company that profits from recidivism put in charge of our prisons is the kind of company that gives rise to a place dubbed the “Gladiator School.” Shame on us.

Allowing anyone to profit off of human misery, while giving them the power to write laws on a local, state and national level, virtually ensures that human misery will spread. This isn’t a path to progress. This is a path to wretched misfortune. It starts with the lowly and least powerful, but make no mistake: it’s a hungry beast and it won’t stop until its worked its way up the food chain.

Some things should not be for sale. Some things do not benefit from a liberal sprinkling of free market fairy dust. Some parts of the common good should be left in the peoples’ hands.

I mention all of this as a warning. Keep your eyes open and pay attention to what your state legislatures are doing, and who is behind them.

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Filed under CCA, corporations, immigration, privatization

Gus Puryear: Still A CCA Crony

Why is Democrat Thurgood Marshall Jr. endorsing Gus Puryear, Bush’s controversial pick for the federal bench in Middle Tennessee?

Yet, sources close to Puryear as well as the Judiciary Committee said a renewed public relations push is getting a batch of letters from Democrats supporting Puryear in front of Democratic Senators on the committee. At the top of the stack is a letter endorsing Puryear from former Clinton White House staffer Thurgood Marshall, Jr., son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

This is very odd since as I wrote here, Puryear investigated Clinton’s fundraising back in the 90s. Besides being a GOP loyalist, Puryear is the lawyer for Corrections Corp. of America, making him a corporate shill. This raises conflict of interest red flags, since CCA gets sued in this district all the time.

So I repeat: why is Thurgood Marshall Jr. endorsing Puryear?

Marshall is a member of CCA’s board.

Never mind.

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Filed under CCA, Gustavus Adolphus Puryear IV, Thurgood Marshall Jr., U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee

>Prison Nation

>A source I used in Tuesday’s item about Corrections Corp. shill Gustavus Adolphus Puryear IV mentioned this country’s “incarceration boom” — a phrase that took me aback. I wanted to explore this issue further. Well, wouldn’t you know, today Pew Research has a study on this very topic.

It’s disturbing, to say the least:

1 in 100 Americans Are Behind Bars, Study Says

By ADAM LIPTAK
Published: February 28, 2008

For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.

Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 is behind bars, but that one in 100 black women is.

Wow. That’s just astonishing. Think about it: of 100 adults you personally know, at least one of those people will have served time in the criminal justice system.

I thought about it and realized: yes, I know one of those people! I have a good friend whose punishment for their second DUI offense included serving time in jail.

What is going on here? A nation with incarceration rates this high needs to do some serious soul-seaching.

Are we breaking more laws than before? Do we really have this many “bad” people? Or are we locking people up for violations that really don’t warrant incarceration? Is this the inevitable result of decades of “tough on crime” talk from politicians and the media?

The article goes on:

The Pew report recommended diverting nonviolent offenders away from prison and using punishments short of reincarceration for minor or technical violations of probation or parole. It also urged states to consider earlier release of some prisoners.

I know that law-and-order types get in a tizzy over the idea of early release for some prisoners, but something isn’t working here.

Who is benefiting–besides CCA, of course –from pulling so many people out of the mainstream of society and locking them up? So many of these “get tough on crime” laws haven’t served as a deterrent or made us safer. Instead, they’ve made a bunch of people feel macho and tough by doing what’s easy, not what works.

There’s something seriously wrong with a country that would rather throw people in jail and forget about them, instead of fixing the social problems that cause people to break the law to begin with.

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Filed under American trends, CCA, incarceration

>Bush Picks A “Brownie” For TN Bench

>Oh, great. Gustavus Adolphus Puryear IV, Bill Frist’s old legislative aide, is President Bush’s pick for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

This just reeks of partisan, good-ole-boy, glad-handing. “Gustavus Adolphus Puryear IV” (what a mouthful!) is vice president and general counsel for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). He earned his cred with the GOP brass by investigating Bill Clinton’s fundraising back in the 1990’s, and even prepped Dick Cheney for the VP debates in 2000 and 2004.

That’s a great GOP political background, but for a seat on the federal bench, don’t you want some trial experience? Apparently not:

Of greater concern is that Mr. Puryear lacks familiarity with the federal courts and has little trial or litigation experience. By his own admission he has tried only two cases to verdict; he has been personally involved in only five federal cases, most recently a decade ago. He is not admitted to practice before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is over the Middle District of Tennessee, and received only a “qualified” rating from the American Bar Association rather than a “highly qualified” rating.

So, he’s a GOP loyalist, but without trial experience, why is he in consideration for the federal bench? It seems Gustavus Adolphus Puryear IV is just another corporate shill:

Puryear has spent the bulk of his legal career at the Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison company. As its general counsel since 2001, Puryear has made millions of dollars working for a company that profits from the country’s incarceration boom, particularly through his recent sale of more than $3 million worth of the company’s stock. (His financial disclosure form shows a net worth of more than $13 million.) His employer creates enormous conflicts for Puryear as a potential federal judge, as the CCA gets sued all the time, often in the very district where he hopes to preside as judge. Since 2000, roughly 260 cases have been filed in that court against the CCA, its officers, and subsidiaries. [ … ] Inmate lawsuits typically account for more than 10 percent of the docket in Tennessee’s Middle District, meaning that Puryear will see his share of them if he gets confirmed.

This isn’t ho-hum, so-what, it-doesn’t-affect-me stuff. By stacking the courts with corporate shills, we give more power to the corporate world, and take it away from ordinary citizens.

Look at the U.S. Supreme Court, and its corporate-friendly ruling last week:

The Supreme Court yesterday protected the makers of medical devices that have passed the most rigorous federal review standards from lawsuits by consumers who allege that the devices caused them harm.

The court ruled 8 to 1 against the estate of a New York man who was seriously injured when a balloon catheter manufactured by Medtronic burst during an angioplasty in 1996. Charles Riegel, who died three years ago, and his wife sued under New York law, alleging that the device’s design was faulty and its labeling deficient.

Do you see where this is going? I do, and I don’t like it. This is a slippery slope that rings all sorts of alarm bells with me.

Puryear looks like just another corporate crony. In his job as CCA’s chief counsel, he’s called inmate litigation “a nuisance,” and “an outlet for inmates .. something they can do in their spare time,” despite the fact that CCA has been found in the wrong in several significant verdicts and settlements against the company:

For instance, in 2000, a South Carolina jury hit the CCA with a $3 million verdict for abusing juveniles. Other successful suits have alleged that the company’s employees abused inmates and provided negligent medical care.

Great, just the kind of guy we want on the courts. I’d urge you to call Senators Corker and Alexander to oppose this clown’s nomination, but being good GOP partisans, they probably won’t listen:

Both Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker strongly support Mr. Puryear’s nomination. Neither Senator has acknowledged the substantial financial contributions received from Mr. Puryear and his employer, CCA – which include over $80,000 to Senator Alexander and $27,000 to Senator Corker since 2004.

Is this the best judge money can buy? I want a government that takes care of people, not corporations.

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Filed under CCA, Gustavus Adolphus Puryear IV, Sen. Bob Coker, Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee