Last year, there was a vigorous effort to privatize prisons in Florida that failed. It was a top priority in which a Republican Senator who opposed it was even stripped of a chairmanship, and when that bill ultimately failed, Governor Rick Scott talked of looking into finding a way to move ahead with privatization on his own. At the time, Sen. Mike Fasano, (R-New Port Richey) spoke out to Democracy Now! about his objections and fears if privatization were to move forward.
Another politician from Florida joins the rest of those who were recipients of campaign cash from Geo, Marco Rubio. He's received at least $27,300 from them. In addition to those from Florida, he joins another list of Republicans that get donations from the private prison industry, among them the group who are working with Rubio on so-called immigration reform. Rubio has been "talking" about his big immigration ideas for over a year now, but they've yet to be seen.
Some of those Republicans listed have put forth legislation in the past to the benefit of the prison privatization industry and which dealt with immigration. Another company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has also provided large donations to the group.
Among members of Congress, the top two recipients of contributions from CCA are its home-state senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee. The Republican lawmakers, each of whom has received more than $50,000 from CCA according to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, represent important swing votes for advancing a reform bill through the Senate. Another top CCA recipient is Arizona Republican John McCain, who has gotten $32,146 from CCA and is a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that is working to draft legislation. His fellow Gang of Eight member, Marco Rubio, ranks among the top recipients of contributions from the Florida-based GEO Group, receiving $27,300 in donations over the course of his career.
In recent years, each of these senators has sponsored bills that would have increased the detention and incarceration of immigrants. Legislation put forward by Alexander in 2009, for example, would have provided for “increased alien detention facilities.” And a 2011 bill cosponsored by McCain and Rubio sought to expand Operation Streamline, a federal enforcement program that makes illegal entry a criminal offense in some jurisdictions.
Although there are few specific details of reform from the Republican side yet, there are differences between what they, and Rubio claim to want, and what President Obama's plan would do. As CJR points out, some of Rubio's ideas would also have potential benefits for private prison companies who provide him with those big donations:
While the companies insist that they do not seek to shape immigration policy, the private prison industry has at times acknowledged its business could be affected by the reform debate. “Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us,” the GEO Group declared in a 2011 SEC filing. And with the White House saying its goals for reform include “expanding alternatives to detention and reducing overall detention costs,” the limited media coverage so far has focused on potential losses for the industry. “Private prisons will get totally slammed by immigration reform,” read the headline on a Feb. 2 Business Insider piece.
But any immigration reform bill will be shaped by Congress—and the impact of reform on detention and incarceration still hangs in the balance. Divisions have already emerged between the White House and the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight about the crucial path to citizenship. One key difference is that the Gang of Eight—which includes McCain and Rubio—has proposed that the Homeland Security department must certify that the border is secure before any undocumented immigrants can get green cards.
There's much more to the article beyond this, which you can read here.
CCA famously worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to pass SB1070, the "papers please" anti-immigration law in Arizona.
Geo has it's own controversies, some that came to light all over again earlier this week when Florida Atlantic University announced that in exchange for $6 million dollars, the FAU football stadium would be named for the company. It's bad enough that a university would want the name of a prison company on its stadium. It hardly compares to other sponsors that do, like Raymond James, Heinz, or Papa John's, to name a few. It's a prison, not a fast food drive through.
Putting that aside, the name Geo itself is associated with the deaths of prisoners, uprisings, squalid conditions, and worse. Lawsuits, some stating that prison guards engaged in sexual intercourse with prisoners, smuggled illegal drugs into facilities, and that prison authorities denied education and medical care, in a prison that held 1,200 prisoners from ages 13–22. All things that Geo well understands wouldn't bode well with "feel good" college sporting events. When the news of the naming went public, Geo tried to scrub the controversial incidents from their Wikipedia page. (Wikipedia caught them however, and those details and many more are still there.)
Given all these Republican's associations with the prison companies, ALEC, and the upcoming immigration reform, not to mention the generous donations they've received from CCA and Geo, it's no easier to imagine anyone would just brush that aside as easily as some tried to do over naming a stadium for a prison.
The Republicans know they have a problem with Hispanic and minority voters. Some also hoped by putting Marco Rubio out there, he would bring some of them into the party. Part of their reasoning was placing him front and center on immigration reform. (It might have looked a little more convincing if Rubio had bothered to put immigration as an issue front and center on his website. He didn't.)
Better for those with a stake in the details to be worked out on immigration to know that Rubio's taken campaign cash from prison for-profit companies who have more of an incentive for locking up and detaining people, and at times under "less than ideal conditions." So far, Rubio isn't making any promises for a path to citizenship. While vague, he's stated that his "plan" on that subject is conditional. It's part of Obama's plan that Rubio adamantly criticizes.
Perhaps now we see more clearly why.