[Pnews] Five Corporations You've Never Heard of Are Making Millions From Mass Incarceration
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 19 17:29:13 EST 2015
Five Corporations You've Never Heard of Are Making Millions From
Monday, 19 January 2015 09:47 By James Kilgore
<http://truth-out.org> | News Analysis
Likely the most well-known prison profiteers in the United States are
the Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group. Between them,
these two firms pulled in about $3.3 billion last year running scores of
private prisons and immigration detention centers.
However, these two firms are not alone feasting at the trough of
corrections expenditure. Many other companies, most of them off the
popular radar, are also benefiting from epidemic prison and jail
building. Some may even be even operating in your neighborhood. Here
we'll do a quick sketch of five such companies, outline their
activities, ponder their deeds of infamy, and reflect a little on how to
curtail their profiteering.
*No. 1: Turner Construction: If We Build it They Will Come*
Let's start with the construction sector. Prison construction managers
don't come with a tool box and a pick-up. They are world-class
operators. The largest player in this field is New York-based Turner
Construction, a subsidiary of the German giant Hochtief.
According to IbisWorld, Turner's average annual income for prison and
jail construction came to $278 million per year from 2007 to 2012. This
represents lots of money in most quarters, but qualifies as only
slightly more than pocket change to a firm that earned $9 billion in
total revenue for 2013. In almost a century and a half of operation,
Turner has been involved in building New York's Lincoln Center for the
Performing Arts, Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium and constructing
corporate headquarters for Boeing and the RAND Corporation. It has about
5,000 employees worldwide.
Despite prisons and jails not being their core business, they are still
virtually omnipresent in the sector. Turner did construction management
for a 6,000-bed facility in Bunker Hill, Indiana, participated in an
$800 million overhaul of several state prisons in Pennsylvania in 2009,
led work on jail construction in Forsyth County, Georgia ($100 million),
Fort Bend County, Texas ($75 million), Johnson City, Kansas ($50
million), Kenton County, Ohio ($41 million), as well as on two jails
custom-built for Corrections Corporation of America in Georgia's Wheeler
and Coffee counties at an estimated total cost of $80 million.
The demand for bigger and more secure court facilities prompted Cook
County in Illinois to contract Turner in 2009 for the $110 million
renovation of Chicago's Everett Dirksen Court House. The Army Corps of
Engineers employed Turner to upgrade their Detroit Border Patrol Station
for $14 million in 2013.
Like many of the firms that reap profits from the prison-industrial
complex, they keep quiet about it. Their website highlights their role
as the "leading builder of green buildings." They also proclaim on their
website <http://www.turnerconstruction.com/about-us/core-values>: "We
have the highest ethical standards in the industry. We "do the right
thing." Perhaps doing the right thing might include pulling out of
prison and jail building altogether, especially since an income cut of
$278 million would reduce their annual revenue only by about 3 percent.
*Number 2: BI Incorporated: Keeping Track of "Offenders"*
Colorado-based, BI Incorporated manufactures electronic monitors. They
specialize in cutting edge GPS-based devices that deliver real-time
location tracking. BI also offers technology for monitoring of alcohol
consumption through an ankle bracelet or a remote breathalyzer known as
Soberlink. BI monitors about 60,000 people at any given moment in all 50
BI also contracts with state and county authorities to supervise people
on electronic monitoring, in essence offering a form of privatized
probation and parole. This supervision is typically done through
"community-based" electronic monitoring offices. In most of their
"community" corrections work, they stress the notion of user pays. In
some instances, BI "probation" officers are expected to be the
collection agents for these fees. Former employees have reported to
Truthout that they received a bonus if they passed a certain target in
collecting fees for services from their clients. In addition to
community-based offices, BI operates a national call center from
Indianapolis, which tracks all those on BI GPS monitors across the country.
While traditionally BI's monitoring market has focused on those involved
directly in the traditional criminal justice system, in 2009, BI entered
a new field: immigration. They signed a five year, $372 million contract
with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to intensively supervise
up to 27,000 people who were awaiting judgment in deportation or asylum
cases, but not held in detention centers. The ICE contract was renewed
though reduced to roughly $235 million for five years.
BI was an independent firm for over two decades, but their contract with
ICE made them an attractive target for acquisition. Hence, in 2011, the
GEO Group bought out BI for $415 million
GEO Group's acquisition of BI was in line with the increasing
specialization of private prison companies in immigration. While the
private prisons own or operate only about 8 percent of prison beds
across the country, they control more than 40 percent of the immigration
detention cells. However, acquiring BI also helped position GEO to limit
the extent to which BI might market electronic monitoring as an
alternative to incarceration. More people out of prison on ankle
bracelets could mean plummeting profits for the GEO Group prison operations.
*Number 3: Aramark: Would You Like a Maggot with Your Meal?*
Some Truthout readers might actually be familiar with Aramark's role in
food service provision in colleges and universities. Their dedicated
higher education website <http://aramarkhighereducation.com/> proclaims
the company offers a "total hospitality experience . . . customized for
each higher ed institution we work with." In 2014, Fortune magazine
included Aramark on its list of "World's Most Admired Companies," and
Ethisphere added them to the list of "World's Most Ethical Companies."
Aramark markets itself as a "green" corporation, taking credit for the
recycling of 17.8 million pounds of waste on the campuses it services
via participation in the Coca Cola-sponsored Recyclemania Program. In
2013, its revenue was just under $14 billion. It employs 162,000
While the company wins prizes for its work in higher education and
upmarket conference centers, far less well known are Aramark's
operations in more than 600 correctional facilities in which they serve
more than a million meals per day. They hold or have held food contracts
with state prison systems in Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky,
Michigan and Ohio as well as with dozens of county jails. The two-year
contract with Ohio in 2013 involved $110 million. A similar agreement
with Michigan was concluded for $145 million.
While these contracts have been healthy for corporate bottom lines, they
have brought Aramark far more reprimands than accolades. Their
reprimands include $200,000 in fines
in Michigan for food shortages and a $142,000 penalty in Ohio
<http://www.nbc24.com/news/story.aspx?id=1033125> for not hiring enough
staff, as well as other infractions.
Apart from shortages, there were also a series of reports of maggots
in the food in both states. While Corrections authorities later absolved
Aramark from responsibility for the presence of maggots in Michigan, the
numerous Ohio prisons, where Aramark operations coincided with the
presence of maggots, registered no denials of the company's guilt.
These problems in Michigan and Ohio are but the latest chapter in
carceral food service debacles involving Aramark. Florida terminated a
contract with Aramark in 2008 after repeated violations. In addition,
Aramark employees have been involved in a number of activities deemed
An Aramark employee in Indiana was charged with a felony for delivering
marijuana and a cellphone to prisoners. In Michigan in 2014, four
Aramark employees were suspended for allegedly having illicit sexual
contact with male prisoners in a walk-in kitchen cooler, and dozens of
other former Aramark staff have been permanently banned from Michigan
While they may be winning prizes on college campuses, Aramark clearly
has lower standards when it comes to serving people behind bars.
*Number 4: Securus Technologies: Justifying $1.3 billion in Kickbacks*
Securus Technologies specializes in telecommunications in prisons and
jails. It currently is the second largest provider of carceral phone
services. The company was acquired by Castle Harlan, Inc., a New
York-based private equity corporation, in 2011 for an estimated $450
million. Securus currently operates in some 2,200 correctional
facilities in North America.
For years, companies like Securus have been winning phone contracts by
overcharging customers, then paying kickbacks to state departments of
corrections and local sheriffs. Nationally, the FCC estimates that
kickbacks come to over $400 million annually. All of these kickbacks,
officially called "site commissions" are legal - written right into the
Illinois is a typical example of Securus's operations in this world of
phone superprofits. The company currently holds the phone contracts in
76 of the state's 102 county jails, as well as the lucrative pact
covering some 48,000 men and women in Illinois Department of Corrections
In 2012, the kickbacks for the state prison contract alone put some $12
million back into the IDOC's coffers. For a person in an Illinois state
prison, any intrastate phone call, even a one-minute conversation, will
cost $4.05. Plus, to pay for the call, family members must deposit a
minimum of $25 in a pre-paid account, and pay an extra fee of $7.95 to
be able to make the deposit. At the county level, some rates are even
higher, with some callers paying up to $7.55 for a 15-minute local call.
Securus has vigorously defended the $1.3 billion in kickbacks it has
paid out over the last decade. Company CEO Richard Smith argued that
"Clearly these commission payments that have been used to fund critical
inmate welfare programs and support facility operations and
infrastructure have improved the lives of inmates, victims, witnesses
and individuals working in the correctional environment, and helped to
fund government operations."
A national Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, involving more than 50
vehemently disagrees with Smith's assessment. Members have been
pressuring federal authorities to cap the charges on prison phone calls
and to eliminate the kickbacks. The Federal Communications Commission is
presently considering action
to curb the profits earned by Securus and others involved in carceral
In recent years, Securus has been branching out into other revenue pools
in the prison-industrial-complex. One new area of operations has been
video visiting. Typical video visitation contracts charge loved ones a
dollar a minute to have what is essentially a Skype session with a
person inside a jail. Moreover, many Securus video contracts mandate
that the jails ban face-to-face visits to generate more money for the
video system. However, its plans to impose a system to eliminate
face-to-face visits in Dallas County, Texas, earlier this year were
blocked through a national mobilization
lead by the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice.
More recently, Securus bought up controlling interest in STOP, a major
provider of electronic monitoring services in the United States, another
future income stream. User fees for being monitored currently run
anywhere from $5 to $40 a day.
*Number 5: Bob Barker: "Honoring God in All We Do"*
While a host of suppliers have found prisons and jails to be a unique
niche, perhaps none has adapted to the new marketplace as masterfully as
Bob Barker Industries. Founded in the 1970s and now based in
Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, Bob Barker (no connection to the former
TV game show host) produces a wide range of goods for prisoners and
The firm bills itself as a "worldwide leader in delivering innovative
products and services to correctional and rehabilitation customers." The
company vision: "Transforming criminal justice while honoring God in all
we do," captures the divine inspiration behind their profit-making.
Barker's transformation program includes a variety of cheaply made goods
for the incarcerated: jumpsuits, sandals, T-shirts, board games, and
black-and-white-striped canvas shoes. They also sell steel stools and
benches for day rooms and yards.
In 1999, they opened their "officers-only" line and began to offer
corrections staff a range of uniforms plus security items like
handcuffs, and leg shackles. In more recent years, they have diversified
into body armor, eyeglasses featuring imbedded digital cameras and riot
One of their points of pride is innovation. A 1996 trademark application
them the brand "Correctional Classics." Since that time these classics
have taken a number of forms. In response to overcrowding, they designed
a three-tier bunk, which many facilities have used to house people in
gyms and day rooms and other places which were never designed as living
space. Perhaps their most heavily marketed product is the van cell,
which allows officers to lock a person inside a cell while they are
being transported from one destination to another.
However, likely their most famous catalog item is the most simple: the
throwback, striped prison uniform. With the revival of such stigmatizing
clothing in the last decade, Bob Barker has been at the forefront, with
an edition the firm markets as the "convict classic."
While production has sapped most of the firm's energy over the past four
decades, about two years ago, Bob Barker Industries underwent a process
of reflection and added a vice president of social responsibility,
tasked with monitoring and improving the company's impact.
Since that time, some changes have taken place, including the
installation of solar panels at company headquarters as an energy-saving
measure. However, perhaps their most daring venture has been the
initiative sparked by Bob Barker, Jr. (son of the company founder) to
address recidivism. Based on the newfound company revelation that
"incarcerated individuals have value in the eyes of God," the newly
minted Bob Barker Foundation has attempted to support a number of
In fact, Bob Barker, Jr., in an interview
<http://www.bobbarkernewsroom.com/social-responsibility/> with a North
Carolina TV show, said that he "would die a very happy man" if the
company could be so successful in combatting recidivism that they would
go out of business. Though the company's finances are not public, they
earn an estimated $100 million a year
in revenue. And despite Bob Barker's vows of self-sacrifice and devotion
to ending recidivism, they are not likely to close up shop any time soon.
James Kilgore <http://truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/49334>
James Kilgore is a research scholar at the University of Illinois'
Center for African Studies and an activist with the Champaign-Urbana
Citizens for Peace and Justice in Illinois. He is the author of three
novels, all of which were drafted during his six and a half years of
incarceration. His forthcoming book, to be published by the New Press in
2015, is titled /Understanding and Ending Mass Incarceration: A Primer/.
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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