By E.A. Barrera
"Thus the shift to privatization was a business move that involved a number of typical business practices for the firms involved, including the long-established practice of contributing to political campaigns." -- The Institute on Money and State Politics "Policy Lock-Down ... Prison Interests Court Political Players" April 2006
May 29, 2010 (San Diego)--Interim San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore has received campaign contributions totaling more than $2,000 from employees of The GEO Group, a private prison corporation currently running the San Diego Downtown jail. No other Sheriff candidate has accepted donations from GEO Group or its employees, ECM has learned.
In documents filed with the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, as well as memos revealed under the California Public Records Act, GEO Group used San Diego lawyer Mike McDade and GEO Group executive Ken Fortier to lobby county officials in an effort to renew their lease of the Downtown Jail facility, as well as take charge of the Descanso detention facility.
According to its web site (http://www.thegeogroupinc.com) GEO manages 61 facilities - encompassing approximately 60,000 beds world-wide.
"Our team, of over 13,000 professionals, is dedicated to the safety and care of the 60,000 plus individuals assigned to our custody on behalf of federal, state, and local government agencies." states the GEO Group web.
Formerly a unit of Wackenhut Corp. and known as Wackenhut Corrections, GEO Group is headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida. The rise of their influence in California has coincided with the administration of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his attitudes regarding increasing privatization of the California's prison system.
According to a November report in the Associated Press, Schwarzenegger seeks to build new private prisons in California for 5,000 inmates, "besides sending more inmates to private prisons in other states."
Since taking office in 2003, a top focus of the Governor has been prison reform, often pitting him and private prison interests against the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA). Schwarzenegger's 2006-2007 budget proposed $12 billion for jail and prison construction, adding 83,000 beds over the next 10 years, some of which would be in two new private prisons.
As reported by Stephanie Chen in a November 2008 article for The Wall Street Journal, California has shipped more than 5,100 inmates to private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and other states since late 2006.
"Prisons were so overcrowded that hundreds of inmates were sleeping in gyms," wrote Chen. "An additional 2,900 prisoners are scheduled to be transferred to private prisons outside the state ... according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation."
In a 2006 study of private prisons titled "Policy Lock-Down ... Prison Interests Court Political Players" and prepared by the Institute on Money and State Politics, it was reported that of California’s seven private facilities, (labeled community correctional facilities), the GEO Group operates four of those, housing over 1,800 inmates. GEO Group has donated thousands of dollars in political contributions. GEO/Wackenhut Corrections gave $34,900 to California committees during the 2002-2004 election cycle.
"In 2005, GEO Group, Inc. was tentatively awarded a $20 million contract to operate a San Joaquin Valley correctional facility," stated the Institute's report. "Wackenhut gave two Schwarzenegger committees a total of $58,000 in the latter part of 2003, including $36,800 to his committee supporting the recall of then-Governor Gray Davis. According to the (San Jose) Mercury News, GEO gave another $10,000 to a third Schwarzenegger committee."
A 2001 Federal Bureau of Prisons' study titled "Growth and Quality of U.S. Private Prisons: Evidence from a National Survey" stated that the growth in the jail and prison populations in the United States generated "tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs to build, own and operate prisons in the 1980s and 1990s.
"Private prisons in the United States, though, are not new phenomena," wrote Senior Social Science Research Analyst Scott D. Camp, Ph.D. and Director of Office of Research and Evaluation Gerald G. Gaes, Ph.D.. "In the 19th century, some states entered into agreements with private parties to lease the labor of inmates. In some of these agreements, the private party became responsible for the housing and care of the inmates in addition to paying a fee for the labor of the inmate. This system was fairly widespread, and the lease system was subject to abuse. The convict lease system came to an end in 1923."
The first modern private prison was opened in 1984 by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). From 1985 to 1996, the number of inmates in U.S. prisons and jails grew 10 times faster than the U.S. population, according to a report titled “Private Prisons” by Matt Ikeler, Peter Bowers, Stork. In 2008, the New York Times reported that one in every 100 adults in the U.S. was in prison. America also has the highest prison population in the world, with 2.3 million people behind bars, according to the New York Times report titled “U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations.”
In April of 2006, The Institute on Money and State Politics issued a white paper titled "Policy Lock-Down ... Prison Interests Court Political Players" which was highly critical of the use of private prisons and said their existence was largely due to political decisions regarding crime.
"The number of private prisons grew across the United States in the 1990s, in part because a tough-on-crime attitude put more people behind bars for longer periods of time. As prison populations increased, so did the costs to the states. These conditions brought private-prison companies to the halls of state government with promises of savings," stated The Institute on Money and State Politics.
"While the companies and their officials were working the halls of state capitols to advocate their policy positions, they also were opening their checkbooks during campaign season," stated The Institute on Money and State Politics . During the 2002 and 2004 election cycles, companies involved in private prisons and those affiliated with them contributed generously to candidates and state political parties."
"All told, the companies, their executives, directors and lobbyists gave $3.3 million in 44 states between 2000 and 2004 — a figure that includes contributions from not only private-prison firms, but also the investment and construction companies, food service providers, health-care management and counseling services that do business with them," added the Institute on Money and State Politics.
The Institute on Money and State Politics noted that Florida, where GEO Group is based, led all states in contributions, with candidates and political parties there receiving $647,600. The Institute on Money and State Politics stated that Private prison firms "favored incumbents, both those seeking re-election and those not up for election but raising money for future campaigns.
"These incumbents received $1.6 million of the $2.2 million given to candidates, while those challenging a seated incumbent received about one-tenth of that amount, at $167,250. Candidates vying for an open seat received $410,830," stated The Institute on Money and State Politics.
McDade, an attorney with the downtown firm of Wertz, McDade, Wallace, Moot & Brower, is registered as a lobbyist in the city of San Diego, but not the County. McDade once worked for former San Diego County Supervisor and San Diego City Mayor Roger Hedgecock. He served as chairman of the San Diego Port Commission in 1997 and has been heavily involved in redevelopment projects downtown.
Last September, he and Fortier lobbied April Heinze (Director of the County's Department of General Services, which oversees county leases of buildings) about renewing GEO's lease on the downtown jail. Neither McDade nor Fortier registered as lobbyists with the County of San Diego during the past twelve months.
San Diego County defines a Lobbyist (Legislative Advocate) as "any individual who, on behalf of another individual, firm, corporation, or organization other than himself attempts to influence any County decision by contacting, personally or by telephone any of the specified County officers or employees."
The county does provide exemptions to this requirement, including allowing "a member of the State Bar of California who is performing a service which lawfully can be performed only by an attorney licensed to practice law in California."
McDade's primary focus as an attorney is government and land use issues and he said it was not necessary for him to register as a lobbyist with the county, citing the provision for attorneys. He added that his role in advocating for GEO Group was "sporadic" and he considered himself only a part-time consultant for GEO. "The county usually provides an exception for practicing attorneys working on leasing issues. My advise was focused on renewing the downtown jail lease for GEO and I was not trying to lobby for any new lease," said McDade.
Questions to the San Diego District Attorney's office on what work would exempt an attorney from registering as a lobbyist with the County were not answered at press time. District Attorney spokesman Steve Walker said he was not sure what the exemption included, nor what the penalty for failing to file would be. But David Hall of the San Diego County Clerk's office noted that "every attorney was not exempt from registering as a lobbyist due to being an attorney."
Fortier does not fall under any County exemptions, however, and his involvement was more involved. A former San Diego police officer, Fortier graduated from the San Diego Police Academy in 1962 and served as a patrol officer until being transferred to investigations in 1966. A year later, he was promoted to sergeant.
"He continued to climb through the ranks, earning the positions of lieutenant, captain, inspector, deputy chief and assistant chief. He left San Diego in 1992 and began employment with Riverside on Jan. 18, 1993, " wrote Lisa O'Neill in an August 17, 1997 article for the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper.
Fortier took over as Riverside's police chief and his tenure was credited with lowering the city's crime rate and modernizing the Riverside police department's organization.
As reported in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, City Attorney Stan Yamamoto, credited the chief with "turning the department around 180 degrees. " "I know the difficulties organizationally he has faced," said City Attorney Stan Yamamoto when Fortier announced his retirement. "I know how difficult change is for this organization. Personally, I commend him for the job he has done . . . I think he was a good chief for the time. "
Then Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge credited Fortier with "bringing the concept and practice of community policing to Riverside" and "a 36 percent reduction in serious crimes" during his tenure.
But Fortier left Riverside under repeated battles with the police union of Riverside, and in July 2000 he was appointed vice president of GEO-Wackenhut's western region. The company announced Fortier would be based in Irvine, California, and would manage "eight current facilities and one facility under development, with a total of 6,866 beds."
Repeatedly in e-mails last summer to county staff, Fortier actively campaigned for GEO Group to gain control of the Descanso Correctional Facility and to renew the lease on the Downtown Jail site. Fortier contacted Carl Harry, Real Estate Services Division Project Manager for the County, on several occasions. Harry often referred to Fortier as a representative of GEO Group to other County officials.
"Ken represents GEO Group in California and Nevada and is currently working with both the US Marshall and with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on programs to try to provide more beds in San Diego County," said Harry in an October 12 exchange with April Heinze and CAL-FIRE unit chief Howard Windsor.
CAL-FIRE expressed a brief interest in the Descanso site. But between June and November, it was Fortier who maintained constant contact with Harry and other members of County staff regarding the Descanso detention facility and the Downtown Jail. April Heinze acknowledged meeting with Fortier and McDade. GEO Group, which operates private prisons through out the United States and specializes in the detainment of immigration detainees, was seeking to expand their base in San Diego through acquisition of the Descanso facility.
GEO did not get Descanso, which was eventually turned over to the San Diego County Probation Department. But on November 26, the Probation Department announced they would not take the facility, citing expenses. Heinze said the Department of General Services had contacted GEO Group and CAL-FIRE to let them know the facility was once more available, but nobody from either organization had responded to date.
The nature of the relationship between GEO and Gore is unclear. Fortier gave Sheriff Gore $1000 in the last year. Fortier donated $500 on February 19 and gave a second donation of $500 on June 30. Both times he identified himself as "retired" on Gore's campaign donation lists. Among other contributors to Gore's campaign were Wayne Calabrese, President and Chief Operating Officer for GEO Group, which is based in Boca Raton, Florida. Other GEO Group employees who contributed to Gore include Eric Noonan and Kyle Schiller.
When asked to comment on why his employment by GEO was not disclosed on Gore's campaign statements, Fortier refused to comment and referred all questions to GEO Groups corporate headquarters in Florida. Repeated calls to Calabrese or anyone in authority at GEO Group as to why they were contributing money to the Friend's of Bill Gore campaign for sheriff were not returned.
According to Roman Porter of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, complying with the state's legal requirement to disclose true occupations of contributors is the responsibility of the campaign. A campaign has 60 days from the date of the donation to either correct the information or return the money. Repeated calls to the Gore campaign were unreturned.
A 2001 Federal Bureau of Prisons' study titled "Growth and Quality of U.S. Private Prisons: Evidence from a National Survey" concluded that privatization of prisons was problematic in several areas.
"Privately operated prisons appear to have systemic problems in maintaining secure facilities. The data on inmate escapes and random urinalysis are important indicators that signal a host of issues," sated the report. "Escapes are rare events in any prison system. However, an escape usually signals failures in multiple levels of security procedures such as a failure by the perimeter patrol, a failure to discover escape contraband, a failure to gather intelligence, and a failure to monitor and secure potential escape routes."
The Bureau of Prisons' study stated that one criteria of failure could be seen in the amount of "contraband drugs" in a given facility, which the study concluded "may also signal the occurrence of many failures, including an inability to monitor the visiting room, inmates on gate passes, and inmate mail. It also may signal a lack of sophistication in the ability to gather intelligence information. These failures can reflect problems in policy and procedures, in technology, and in staff capabilities."
The Bureau of Prisons' study noted that organizational and management problems were more likely to be found in the private prisons. This was pointed out in relationship to GEO-Wackenhut's management of facilities in New Mexico.
"(GEO-Wackenhut) also experienced highly publicized problems in two of the prisons it operated in New Mexico: the Lea County and Guadalupe County Correctional Facilities," noted the Bureau of Prison's study.
The study reported that a panel composed of New Mexico State Senators, State Representatives, the State Corrections Secretary, and the State Deputy Attorney General, was formed to investigate problems with private prisons. The panel asked a group of independent consultants to examine and compare the operations in both New Mexico's public and private prisons. The correctional consultants presented their evaluations in a report submitted to the panel.
"Some of the documented problems were attributed to the New Mexico Department of Corrections, such as lack of surveillance of gang activities and inequity in housing conditions between the public prisons and the more Spartan private prisons," noted the report. "Problems with inadequate numbers of staff, inexperienced staff, insufficiently trained staff (partly caused by difficulty in scheduling access to the state training academy), and physical plant deficiencies in the facilities," wrote Senior Social Science Research Analyst Scott D. Camp, Ph.D. and Director of Office of Research and Evaluation Gerald G. Gaes, Ph.D.
Richard Crane, a former legal counsel to the Louisiana Department of Corrections and one of the consultants advising the New Mexico panel, argued that part of the problem in operations at the two facilities originated with the complicated contractual arrangements between the state of New Mexico and the GEO-Wackenhut.
"In the end, the complex contractual arrangements, the unclear facility missions, the need for prison beds, and the involvement of too many agencies and individuals in negotiations, resulted in contracts which fall well short of industry standards and create significant security, programmatic and fiscal implications for the State."
The Bureau of Prisons report cited two separate incidents in 1999 where one inmate in each incident was able to successfully escape from inside of a secure prison. This included the Taft Correctional Institution, which was managed by GEO-Wackenhut.
In contrast to the number of inmate escapes from secure private correctional facilities, the Bureau of Prisons had one escape in 1999 from inside of a secure prison. This was the first escape from a secure Bureau of Prisons facility since 1996. The Bureau of Prisons, with 80,800 inmates in secure prisons in July of 1999, was almost 17 percent larger than the combined inmate populations of all private adult prisons in July of 1999. Taken together, private prisons had 18 inmates escape from inside of secure prisons in 1999, and five inmates who were housed in secure prisons were able to escape while they were being transported elsewhere.
"Private prisons are a short-term solution while we work on long-term solutions, rehabilitation programs and recidivism strategies," said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state's corrections department in Chen‘s Wall Street Journal article.
Last August, a three-judge Federal panel ordered California to release 43,000 prisoners from California's correctional facilities. Governor Schwarzenegger said he would immediately order the release of 27,300 prisoners in California's penal system as a means of saving $200 million in the budget. A large number of these prisoners are illegal immigrants either in prison for committing crimes in the United States, or awaiting deportation back to their countries of origin.
"Every dollar not spent to house an undocumented immigrant inmate is a dollar that can be spent on health care services and education and other important programs to Californians. These inmates are the federal government's responsibility and California taxpayers shouldn't be paying the bill," said Governor Schwarzenegger last June.
Tom Barry, a journalist with the Center for International Policy and director of their Trans-Border Project, discussed immigration and private prisons during a December 10, 2009 interview for National Public Radio.
"The government, whether it be ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the Department of Homeland Security, or U.S. Marshals Service or the Bureau of Prisons, they're not building any new prisons or detention centers," said Barry. "So what they have to do is when they have prisoners - and in this case, an explosion of prisoners that they're getting because of the immigrant crackdown ... they contract regularly with local governments, particularly in the Southwest ... poor, local governments that are interested in prisons as an economic development project."
Barry said the local governments "have no capacity to run a prison, but they have capacity to raise municipal bonds to construct a prison. When they arrange the financing, and they do this with - in consultation with the private prison industry, then they sub-contract their responsibility to a private prison corporation to operate and manage the prison that they own."
Barry told National Public Radio that since 2005, under the George W. Bush Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, was that "we're upholding the rule of law, that these people are breaking the law, they need to suffer the consequences. But if you look beyond that, the strategy behind it, they'll say, just as clearly, that this is a strategy of deterrence."
Barry said that both Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals Service reported that the numbers of prisoners grew 400 percent in the last four years, due to so many immigrant detainees taking space in the federal penal system.
"And to deal with that, what they do is create special prisons for criminal aliens," said Barry. "They only get one lawyer, and this one lawyer is responsible for as many as 80 immigrants ... and they're convicted and sentenced en masse," said Barry.
He reported he'd seen "a number of courts where you have 50, 60, 70 immigrants all being trooped into a courtroom, all in shackles, and all asked if they understand their rights and if they're guilty. And they all reply, in unison, yes, and then they're escorted out of the prison and back to the private prison that they came from," added Barry.
"There isn't a real precise definition of criminal aliens. The general definition is that these are non-citizens who have committed crimes, either immigrants who are illegal or legal immigrants that have committed crimes," said Barry.
Barry said the working definition of "illegal immigrant" had expanded since 2005, meaning "simple border-crossers, illegal border-crossers, are now criminal aliens" and are not just deported ... but spend time in prison first, before they're deported.
"We want to punish these people to send a message, both to them, to their families, to people in Mexico and farther south, that they shouldn't come to the United States," said Barry.
Sheriff Gore has said publicly that the question of Sheriff's deputies detaining illegal immigrants becomes "a legal issue."
"When does a detention become an arrest?" said Gore last July. "Our lawyers who have looked at this say you're probably safe if you keep it under an hour."
Former state Assemblyman Jay LaSuer is a candidate against Gore in next year’s sheriff's race. He blasted Gore's position, saying when he was a deputy sheriff, the department worked "hand-in-hand with federal officers on catching illegal immigrants."
"One-third of our prisons are occupied by illegal immigrants," said LaSuer. The Governor wants to save money by releasing prisoners, but what about the public's safety? The first job of any law enforcement officer is to protect the public, yet deputies are not allowed to do their job because of bureaucracy and politics," said LaSuer.
He was joined by fellow sheriff's candidate Jim Duffy.
"An easy answer to this problem in San Diego would be to cross-swear the deputies working in our county jails so that they could arrest and book illegal immigrants," said Duffy. "Contrary to what is happening in the state prisons, the county jails have some 12,000 empty beds. We have the space to properly hold immigrant detainees and others who are in violation of the law. But they are not held due to constraints placed on our deputies."
Duffy noted that the California and Federal governments could pay local communities to house immigrant detainees as easily as paying private prisons. Yet both Duffy and LaSuer supported the use of private prisons as a means of controlling the prison population.
"Private prisons can be effective. There are no union-pay issues with the private prisons. The public doesn't care who is managing the prisons, as long as the bad guys are in jail," said LaSuer.
This point was made in a November 1, 2002 Reason Foundation article by Geoffrey Segal. The Reason Foundation is a conservative think tank supporting privatization of many government functions as a means of shrinking the role of government.
"This research supports a conservative estimate that private facilities operate at about 10 to 15 percent lower cost than do government facilities," wrote Segal. "These lower costs are reflected in the amount governments must pay to house their inmates in private facilities, especially in the very competitive business of contract bed space."
Segal addressed another issue involving private prisons - prisoner safety and humane treatment of inmates. Segal wrote that abuse and violations of prisoner rights "should be easier to prevent in private prisons than in government prisons" due the contractual obligations private prisons make with the governments they contract with for penal facilities.
"Critics of private prisons legitimately wonder who will watch the watchmen," wrote Segal. "The government remains responsible for ensuring that prisoners’ rights are protected even if they send them to a private prison. Exploiting or abusing prisoners can occur in both government and private prisons. We hear terrible stories all too frequently: of "gladiator" fights between inmates orchestrated by correctional officers, sexual assaults by correctional officers, and other individual and systematic abuses. Our goal should be to prevent this in any institutional setting."
"Prisoners have more legal options against private prison officials than against government officials," added Segal. "Private prisons are monitored by state inspectors, and the state is liable for abuses committed by employees of the private firm, so they have an incentive to monitor their conduct," wrote Segal.
Yet as early as February 2001, in a report titled "Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons" by James Austin, Ph.D. and Garry Coventry, Ph.D. it was concluded that privatization of prisons was not as cost effective as proponents argued ... nor as safe.
"Private prisons offer only modest cost savings, which are basically a result of moderate reductions in staffing patterns, fringe benefits, and other labor-related costs. No evidence was found to show that the existence of private prisons will have a dramatic effect on how non-private prisons operate," wrote Austin and Coventry. "It was discovered that, rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only about 1 percent, and most of that was achieved through lower labor costs."
Private prisons also create a disincentive for rehabilitating prisoners, since owners make more money by keeping people in jail longer and having repeat customers, some critics have suggested.
"History shows that privately operated prison facilities were plagued by problems associated with the quest for higher earnings. The profit motive produced such abominable conditions and exploitation of the inmates that public agencies were forced to assume responsibility. The lack of contract supervision contributed, in part, to the squalid and inhumane living conditions in privately run prisons," wrote Austin and Coventry.