Over the past few years, private prison firm GEO Group has become known for inmate abuse, workplace violence, and fraudulent reporting at its U.S. facilities. One federal judge found that GEO “allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate” at one Mississippi facility for juveniles.
But on Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) will headline a $10,000-per-person VIP fundraiser at the home of GEO Group Chief Executive Officer George Zoley, Mother Jones reports. Attendees can also attend a general reception for $3,000 per person. The proceeds will go to both Rick Scott’s gubernatorial campaign and the Republican Party of Florida.
Scott has long been a proponent of private prisons, even as he has maintained a cozy relationship with prison executives. In 2010, he campaigned on pledges to save the state money by turning more state-run prisons over to private companies. But several years later, prisons were costing Florida more money. Scott has since backed a move to privatize prison health care, and his Department of Corrections forged ahead with a plan to do so even without the approval of the state legislature. That move was eventually upheld by an appeals court and the move will now cost 2,000 state workers their jobs.
GEO and its top executives, meanwhile, have dipped into their pockets to encourage lawmaker moves toward privatization of prison services. Over the past 12 years, private prison firm GEO Group has spent at least $4.2 million on direct, reported political contributions, in addition to other contributions by affiliated political action committees, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money and Politics. Both Zoley and GEO have made significant other contributions, including a $20,000 gift to renovate Scott’s mansion. A 2012 Associated Press report found that GEO and the two other largest private prison firms had spent $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists over the course of ten years.
GEO executives have been open with their investors about their financial interest in more incarceration. During a conference call touting its success in boosting profits, GEO Group executives boasted that the company continues to have “solid occupancy rates in mid to high 90s” and that they are optimistic “regarding the outlook for the industry,” in part due to a “growing offender population.” Last year, filings showed GEO Group hired a lobbyist to influence federal immigration legislation, despite promises not to do so.
GEO’s significant investment in immigration detention facilities could be a particular flash point in Florida, where racial insensitivity has prompted several top Republican Latinos to abandon Scott and the party. As Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer points out, a GEO immigration detention facility in Broward County, Florida has reportedly held people who should have been released and provided substandard medical care, prompting members of Congress to call for an investigation of the facility. GEO Group earns $20 million annually from that facility alone, according to Mencimer.
Zoley, who founded GEO in 1984, oversaw its expansion into a billion-dollar corporation that almost had a college football stadium named after it. Just last year, the firm saw a 56-percent spike in profits, after adopting a strategy for drastically reducing its taxes. Zoley has earned more than any other individual in the corrections industry, at $22 million in compensation between 2008 and 2013.