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President Obama’s IncarcerNation
During his State of the Union Address in January President Obama claimed that he “will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products.”
What if “anywhere in the world” means inside U.S. prisons?
With widespread spending cuts already scheduled for public assistance programs like Medicare and Medicaid and yet another deficit anticipated in FY 2013, President Obama has managed to request a 4.2% increase in allocations to the Federal Bureau of Prisons operating budget, one of the largest of any federal agency, which would bring its total operating resources to more than $6.9 billion. Oddly enough, the President’s budget is being submitted despite a national decrease in incarceration rates for the first time since 1972.
Moreover, the Obama administration has for the third consecutive year set a record in the number of undocumented immigrants detained and deported—nearly 400,000—from the U.S. during FY 2012. Nearly half of detainees are housed in privately owned or operated detention centers. Just two companies—the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO)—account for 70% of the “private detention” market.
In total, more than one-million undocumented immigrants have been deported since President Obama assumed the presidency. These record-breaking detention and deportation figures come at a time when “illegal immigration” rates have dropped precipitously and violent crime rates are at their lowest levels in over forty years.
The agency responsible for the hyper-detention and deportation of people of color, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, claims that more than half of those deported in 2011 were “criminals.” ICE, however, currently classifies “criminals” as those “found guilty of minor violations of law such as traffic offenses, disorderly conduct, as well as immigrations violations such as illegal entry.” That is, “breathing while undocumented” constitutes criminality.
The massive deportation campaign signals the titanic horizontal growth of the American surveillance apparatus. It involves new police-state instruments and practices, including the Secure Communities Program, which requires that the fingerprints of any person processed at a county or municipal jail be submitted to a Homeland Security database. The Obama administration continues to use the Secure Communities Program to achieve his annual deportation quota, currently set at 400,000. In fact, an internal ICE document from 2010 warned the agency to increase its “non-criminal removals” in order to meet its deportation quota. The administration hopes to implement fully the Secure Communities Program in all 50 states by 2013.
Sadly, President Obama’s collusion with the private prison industry cannot be fully captured by his FY 2013 budget for Federal Bureau of Prisons or his blighted record on deportation.
In October 2011 President Obama tapped Broderick Johnson as a senior advisor for his re-election campaign. According to OpenSecrets, a clearinghouse for lobbying data, Johnson lobbied extensively on behalf of the GEO Group since the mid-1990s. And Johnson’s so-called “advisorship” comes on the heels of President Obama’s 2010 nomination of Stacia Hylton as the new Director of the United States Marshals Service (USMS). Just months before her nomination Hylton started a private prison consulting firm— Hylton Kirk and Associates—while working at the Department of Justice (DOJ) as the Federal Detention Trustee. After retiring as a trustee, Hylton agreed to a consulting contract with The GEO Group worth $112,500.
As current Director of the U.S. Marshals Service, Hylton now leads an agency that has a well-established contractual relationship with The GEO Group. In 2011, the U.S. Marshal’s accounted for 11% of GEO’s revenue. With Hylton in a position to recommend government contracts with private prisons, the ongoing influence of private prison companies in the public sphere remains largely undisturbed.
Since President Obama’s first day in office the Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group have been awarded $1.7 and 1.8 billion dollars in federal contracts, respectively. And beginning in October 2011 the Corrections Corporation of America has taken its place as the government’s top contractor whereas the GEO Group comfortably maintains the third-place position. Finally, according to USAspending, over one-quarter of private prison contracts have been established under “non-compete” agreements.
The Obama Administration’s complicity with the private prison industry must not go unnoticed today or this November. For more information on private prison divestment please visit the National Prison Divestment Campaign’s website at http://prisondivestment.wordpress.com.