Over the past several years, reports have documented the millions of dollars the nation’s largest private prison companies spend on both federal and state campaign contributions and lobbyists to bolster their profit from incarceration. But GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez specifically told several media outlets earlier this year that the prison corporation would not lobby on immigration reform, in spite of the huge financial interest the corporation has in immigration detention.
As The Nation’s Lee Fang reports, it looks like GEO is lobbying on immigration reform after all. According to lobbying disclosure forms filed for the first quarter of 2013, GEO paid $40,000 to federal lobbying firm Navigators Global to lobby both houses of Congress on “issues related to comprehensive immigration reform,” including “issues related to alternatives to detention within ICE.” Private prison corporations have much to lose if immigration reform means a reversal of the massive immigration detention spike. A 2012 Associated Press report found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons is paying $5.1 billion to private prison corporations for immigration detention through several years-long contracts. And GEO profit margins have only increased since then. Fellow prison firm Corrections Corporation of America actually assured investors of a continued “strong demand” for beds, even after immigration reform, while GEO executives assured their investors a few months later of “growing offender population.” Private prison firms have an incentive to lobby for more incarceration, and with so much invested in immigration detention, their interest is particularly strong. In addition to lobbying, GEO and CCA have allocated some of their largest political contributions for the members of Congress with the most influence over the immigration reform debate.
Paez’s false promise isn’t the first instance of GEO executives misrepresenting the facts. After GEO garnered negative controversy over its sponsorship of a Florida college football stadium, Paez falsely claimed GEO was not involved in abuse at a Mississippi juvenile facility. And last year, GEO Group Senior Vice President of Project Development Thomas Wierdsma testified under oath that lying to a federal agency would be just fine.
In addition to contracting with the federal lobbying firm, GEO paid a Texas lobbyist $30,000 for his services during the first quarter of 2013. Texas is one of a number of states that is finally coming around to “smart” criminal justice policies that de-emphasize incarceration for nonviolent offenders and toward rehabilitation. And in spite of GEO’s investment, a provision to block the closure of several private prisons was killed this session, meaning the prisons may be shuttered due to the state’s shrinking prison population.