Last year, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) ran for re-election, the private prisons industry gave Perry tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations. Perhaps that explains why he suddenly developed a passionate desire to privatize Texas’ state prison health system after his campaign was over:
[Corrections Corporation of America lobbyist Michael] Toomey, who had not contributed directly to any of the Governor’s previous gubernatorial campaigns, opened up his wallet for two separate $10,000 donations to Perry two months before Election Day in 2010. Thomas Beasley, the founder of CCA, has given $17,000 to Perry’s campaigns over the last decade. Another private prison firm, the GEO Group, poured $15,000 into Perry’s 2010 reelection effort in 2010 through its eponymous political action committee. Luis Gonzalez, a GEO Group lobbyist, meanwhile, gave $50,000 to Perry’s reelection bid.
Perry first floated the health care privatization proposal in his 2011 budget, which noted: “The Governor’s budget recommends canceling necessary contracts early to explore private sector delivery options, or instructing the state-supported institution to provide correctional care according to the constitutional minimum level.” Mike Ward of the Austin American-Statesman reported that Perry adviser Mike Morrissey held a closed-door meeting in March to discuss the privatization proposal with potential vendors—but not, pointedly, the state university-operated facilities that currently run things.
Perry’s privatization plan eventually died in Texas’ overwhelmingly Republican state legislature because, in the words of Republican State Rep. Jerry Madden “[t]here was no evidence that it could be done cheaper.”
Despite this fact, Perry is just one of several right-wing state governors with cozy ties to the prisons-for-profit industry. Two of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R) most senior aides are current or former lobbyists for private prisons, and this industry stands to earn a windfall off the anti-immigrant SB 1070 law that Brewer recently signed. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) turned over $600 million in corrections funding to the private prison industry after one private prisons company doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to Scott and the Florida GOP. And Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) plans to sell five of its prisons to a private company. Meanwhile, the private prisons industry has spent millions to lobby state lawmakers to make criminal laws harsher in order to drive up their profits.
Yet while private prisons are having no trouble getting the attention of GOP lawmakers, they aren’t actually very good at running correctional facilities. A study of Arizona’s prison system found that private prisons cost more than their government-run counterparts, despite the fact that they typically steer clear of the costliest inmates.