What $45 Million In Campaign Contributions Buys the Private Prison Industry

How Much Money?

In the past decade, the private prison industry spent $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists with the purpose of influencing decision-making in Washington. That amounts to almost $100,000 for every single member of Congress.

Money from the private prison industry flows into the pockets of campaigns of both major parties.

So What Do Campaign Contributions and Lobbying Buy?

Big Profits for the prison industry, of course!

It’s no secret that lobbying is lucrative, and the prison industry has become Big Business in recent years. In fact, private correctional facilities were a $4.8 billion industry last year, with profits of $629 million according to market research firm IBISWorld.

The most recent annual reports from CCA, the largest private prison company, showed annual revenues of $1.6 billion. According to ThinkProgress:

A decade ago, more than 3,300 criminal immigrants were sent to private prisons under two 10-year contracts the Federal Bureau of Prisons signed with CCA worth $760 million. Now, the agency is paying the private companies $5.1 billion to hold more than 23,000 criminal immigrants through 13 contracts of varying lengths.

In 2010, the two largest private prison companies alone received nearly $3 billion dollars in revenue, and according to one source their top executives,, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million.

So How Does Private Prison Lobbying Affect Our Country?

Well, It Buys A Lot Of Prisoners, Of Course!

Leading private prison companies essentially acknowledge that their business model depends on high rates of incarceration. So naturally, it’s in their business interest to spend millions in lobbying with the goal of putting more people in jail.

In its 2014 annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company, wrote:

The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws.

The US Prison Population Is Skyrocketing

The United States imprisons more people — both per capita and in absolute terms — than any other nation in the world, including Russia, China, and Iran.

Despite that, a 2011 report found that the private prison industry spent millions seeking to increase sentences and incarcerate more people in order to increase the industry’s profits. To see the effects of lobbying on one particular state, Arizona provides the perfect example: 30 of the 36 legislators who co-sponsored Arizona’s now mostly invalidated immigration law — which would have landed many more people in detention — received campaign contributions from private prison lobbyists or companies, including CCA and GEO

Human Rights Violations

A recent report found a Georgia prison run by CCA charges detainees $5 a minute for phone calls while paying them just a dollar a day for menial labor that keeps the facility running. And immigrants in civil detention centers claim exploitation by the same program.

Private prisons have been found guilty of abuses including:

  • understaffing facilities
  • bribing judges to sentence juveniles with minor offenses to disproportionately long terms in privately-owned correctional facilities
  • providing terrible conditions for inmates. In a juvenile facility in Texas, for example, auditors reported, “[c]ells were filthy, smelled of feces and urine.”

No Effect On Costs

Think private prisons save taxpayers money? Nope. A prominent review of Arizona’s private prisons found they cost 8% more per inmate then public prisons.

The Problem Is Not Getting Better

Since Election Day, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group’s stock value has increased by 75 and 54 percent. This despite an August 2016 conclusion from the Justice Department that private prisons “compare poorly” to federally run prisons and directed the Bureau of Prisons to begin phasing out its private prison contracts.

It’s time to put an end to The Swamp.