[Ppnews] Business is Booming for the Prison Profiteers

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 9 13:07:13 EST 2012

January 09, 2012

Business is Booming for the Prison Profiteers


Private corrections company The GEO Group celebrated the holiday 
season by opening a new 1,500 bed prison in Milledgeville, Georgia on 
December 12th. The $80 million facility is expected to generate 
approximately $28.0 million in annual revenues.

Though GEO (formerly Wackenhut) is hardly a household name, they are 
a major player in the private corrections sector, combining a self 
righteous amorality in profiting from human misery with a ruthless 
sense of just how to make a buck in this business. The GEO Group is 
so notorious that they were the target of an Occupy Washington D.C. 
action in early December. In addition,  the United Methodist Church 
sold off more than $200,000 in stock in GEO Group over the holiday 
season, judging that holding these shares was "incompatible with 
Bible teaching."

While such actions may irritate a few within the company's rank, the 
GEO Group is thick-skinned.  Over the years journalists have exposed 
a long history of violence, abuse and corruption in the company's 
facilities.  Such scandals would have driven most firms out of 
business, but GEO has always managed to find the way back to 
prosperity. While the U.S. economy has plummeted in the past eighteen 
months, GEO has been positioning itself for the future.  In addition 
to opening the Georgia facility, during this period the company has:
    * bought up competitor Cornell Corporation and its prisons in 15 
states, an acquisition expected to add about $400 million a year to 
GEO's revenues.
    * acquired BI Incorporated for $415 million. BI is the U.S.' 
largest producer and provider of electronic monitoring units with 
60,000 "customers" for their ankle bracelets
    * begun the intake of new detainees at the 650 bed Adelanto ICE 
Processing Center East in Southern California. Adelanto West is 
scheduled to bring a further 650 beds online in August 2012.
    * expanded their first facility, Aurora Detention Center (founded 
in 1987) from 400 to 525 beds
    * moved ahead with plans to develop a 600 bed Civil Detention 
Center in  Karnes County Texas, expected to generate $15 million in 
annual revenues

For the first nine months of 2011, GEO reported total revenues of 
$1.2 billion, an 11% rise over 2010. Shareholders are gloating with 
the company's success. A hundred dollars invested in GEO in 2005 
would have risen to $322 by 2010. At the top of the profiteers 
stands  long-time CEO George Zoley. The owner of 70% of GEO's stock, 
Zoley consistently pulls down annual compensation in excess of $3 
million, landing him squarely in the ranks of the one per centers. 
His Chief Operations Officer Wayne Calabrese, is not far behind at 
around two million a year.

GEO's rising profitability is a result of their capacity to change 
with the times. While the War on Drugs and facility construction were 
the cash cows of the industry from 1980 to 2001, 9/11 and the sinking 
economy have shifted the terrain. Immigration and alternatives to 
incarceration are the new windows of opportunity in the freedom 
deprivation sector.  GEO, as usual, is right on the money. In Zoley's 
prosaic jargon, the company is developing a "full continuum of care 
with leading competitive positions in every key market segment in 
corrections, detention and treatment rehabilitation services."

Along with the new centers at Adelanto and expanding Aurora, the 
acquisition of BI has enhanced GEO's potential  to  capitalize on 
anti-immigrant crackdowns. The takeover included BI's five year, $372 
million contract with ICE for monitoring 27,000 immigrants under 
Federal supervision but not held in detention centers.

Grabbing BI has also put GEO in a position to take advantage of the 
early release programs being implemented in California and other 
states. BI operates a network of daily reporting centers which offer 
drug treatment, anger management workshops, counseling, and a host of 
other services to individuals on parole and probation. These centers 
stand ready to help state agencies address the increasing need for 
supervision of people released or diverted from prison. In the long 
run, the large scale privatization of probation and parole functions 
is an obvious aim.

Further moves in line with the changing times are the firm's forays 
into the psychiatric field through their GEO Care division.  With 
mainstream mental hospitals suffering massive cutbacks, GEO Care has 
found a niche market in facilities for the involuntarily 
institutionalized, in other words, psychiatric prisons. GEO Care runs 
three such facilities in Florida alone. Their prize plum is the  720 
bed Florida Civil Commitment Center. (Courts impose a civil 
commitment on those judged a threat to public safety though not 
convicted of any crime. People with sex offense histories are the 
most frequent targets.) In addition to its Florida operations, GEO 
Care has a presence in Texas as well, having gained a contract to run 
a 100 bed facility for people awaiting trial in 2009.

Predictably, GEO could not have achieved these financial successes 
without the usual assortment of dirty tricks and influence peddling. 
The firm's team of 63 lobbyists has been active in 16 states over the 
past decade. In the first quarter of this year alone GEO spent more 
than $100,000  on lobbying in Florida  as the legislature was 
considering a plan to privatize 29 state prisons. Unfortunately for 
Zoley and company, the initiative stalled this time around but is 
likely to resurface in upcoming legislative sessions.

GEO complements its lobbying activities with political campaign 
contributions, which totaled just over $2.4 million between 2003 and 2010.

Perhaps even more worrying than the GEO Group's political 
maneuverings, however, are their efforts to export the U.S. model of 
mass incarceration and immigration detention. In  the late 1990s, GEO 
(then Wackenhut) had a financial stake in Australia's notorious 
Woomera Immigration Detention Center. UN Envoy Justice Bhagwati 
visited the facility and said he felt he was "in front of a great 
human tragedy."  Barbara Rogalia who worked there as a nurse, echoed 
these sentiments: "It reminded me of a Nazi concentration camp I 
visited in Czechoslovakia, now a museum. The only thing that was 
missing from the gate, at the top near the razor wire, was a sign 
saying 'Arbeit macht frei' ('Work sets (you) free')."

Following massive demonstrations by community activists, a string of 
uprisings by those detained and a series of escapes the center closed 
in 2003. A corporate restructuring process ensued and the company's 
corrections wing re-emerged as GEO Australia and continues to operate 
four prisons.

GEO's ventures in the U.K. have had a slightly smoother landing. In 
2011 GEO UK won a contract for prison escort services worth  $150 
million a year. In addition, they took over management of  the 
217-bed Immigration Removal Center in Glasgow, Scotland.

GEO Group's last overseas venture is a 3,000 plus bed prison in the 
Limpopo Province of South Africa. Not long ago, it appeared that 
South Africa was preparing to embark on a large-scale prison 
privatization project, with GEO in the lead. However, a change in 
cabinet personnel landed Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula as Minister of 
Corrections. She has declared her intention to keep all facilities in 
state hands. Unlike in the U.S., at least someone in a national 
position of power in South Africa is prepared to say no to the 
private prison industry.

At the moment there doesn't seem to be a Mapisa-Nqakula emerging in 
the Obama administration. Instead, the GEO Group looks set to make an 
increasing variety of projects "shovel ready."  If the halting of 
private profiteering from freedom deprivation is to become a reality, 
we will need a lot more Occupiers and political leaders with the 
courage to listen and act.

James Kilgore is a Research Scholar at the Center for African Studies 
at the University of Illinois. He is the author of three novels, We 
Are All Zimbabweans Now, Freedom Never Rests and Prudence Couldn't 
Swim, all written during his six and a half years of incarceration. 
He can be reached at <mailto:waazn1 at gmail.com>waazn1 at gmail.com

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