After reading The color of money, or orange is the new green: Koenen & Miller push for reopening CCA prison, a reader active in a faith-based social justice organization shared a proposal submitted by Hill Capitol Strategies to Swift County for lobbying for the re-opening of Prairie Correctional Facility, a private prison owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
Hill Capitol Strategies serves as a contract lobbying firm for CCA, according to records online at the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
Swift County rejected the bid in favor of the proposal submitted by Goff Public, but the Hill Capitol Strategies document nonetheless provides an interesting window into the world of criminal justice politics.
We find a number of fascinating items scattered throughout the document. First, Andy Mannix's MinnPost article about Minnesota's inmate population binge, Minnesota crime is at a 50-year low. So why are we imprisoning more people than ever?, is cited again as the source for the information that the Department of Corrections plans to request bonding for the expansion of the Rush City Correctional Facility.
SEIU: The biggest purple impediment to private pens in Minnesota?
Next, the proposal identifies SEIU's opposition to using the facility as the "biggest impediment" to persuading the Dayton Administration to use the facility. While this will come as quite the shock to Dayton's allies in AFSCME--see our post Union's Director of Public Affairs & Public Policy says AFSCME opposes re-opening private prison--the opposition of SEIU Local 26 President and DNC member Javier Morillo-Alicea is well-documented.
While leading the service employees' comprehensive immigration reform effort in Washington DC in 2011, Morillo-Alicea and others challenged CCA's involvement in "immigrants for sale," the corporation's profiting from crackdowns on undocumented workers in the United States. The photo at the top of this post illustrates the Yale-educated army-brat-turned-labor-leader's speech at an action against CCA in the nation's capitol.
His opposition to private prisons remains from the 2010 education, but he is not alone. AFSCME, ISAIAH and other criminal justice reform groups question systems that profit from inmate numbers. If profit comes from locking people up, incarceration--rather than crime prevention, diversion and rehabilitation or addressing underlying inequities--is incentivized.
For a recent look at the issue nationwide, check out the Washington Post's article, How for-profit prisons have become the biggest lobby no one is talking about.
Walker: prison population task force member would have lobbied for opening PCF
According to the source who provided us with the document, Hill Capitol Strategies consultant Sarah Walker is a member the Prison Population Taskforce. It will meet on Friday, September 25 at 9:00 a.m. in Room 10 of the State Office Building, according to the Minnesota Senate calendar. The notice reads:
The meeting is for the Prison Population Taskforce, an informal discussion by a group of stakeholders including the Senate Judiciary Committee, members of the House of Representatives, and officials from state and local agencies, among others. Rep. Tony Cornish will serve as the co-chair of the meeting.
As we noted in our last post, The color of money, or orange is the new green: Koenen & Miller push for reopening CCA prison:
Koenen asserts that a bonding proposal from the Department of Corrections has been "put out and it is just sitting there." The conservative Clara City Democrat casts doubt on the willingness of capital investment committee chair Senator Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, to adopt the proposal. Koenen also speaks of an effort to meet with the Department of Corrections about the CCA re-opening, as well as an informal working group of legislators from both chambers and parties to look at prison space.
Had the proposal been accepted, a lobbyist working for Swift County;s effort to open the prison would have been seated at the table; the firm she consults for represents the corporation itself. If that's not regulatory capture by an industry stakeholder, we're not sure what is.
Moreover, Walker earned her cred advocating for criminal justice reform. According to her website:
Her previous positions include as Research Consultant at the Council on Crime and Justice, Director of Workforce Development at the Center for Court Innovation, Executive Director of the Youth Justice Funding Collaborative, and Interim Research Director at the Council on Crime and Justice. Sarah also serves as a board member of the William Mitchell Reentry Clinic Advisory Board, St. Paul African American Leadership Council and Twin Cities Rise. Sarah is currently a member of the Minnesota DFL State Central Committee and is a past member of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s Racial Fairness Committee. In 2010, Governor Pawlenty appointed Sarah to the Council on Black Minnesotans and, in 2011, Governor Dayton appointed her to Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. In January of 2011, Sarah accepted the Presidency of the Coalition for Impartial Justice and is leading efforts to ensure a fair and impartial judiciary in Minnesota.
Sarah’s public policy work has received many accolades. She was the recipient of the 2010 Minnesota Council of Non-Profits Statewide Advocacy Award, 2010 Hennepin County Bar Association Advancing Justice Award, 2010 and 2011 winner of the Politics in Minnesota’s Leaders in Public Policy Award and 2012 Minnesota Associations for Children’s Mental Health’s Outstanding Service Award for her work in Juvenile Justice. . . .
It doesn't mesh with the CCA vibe.
A proposal for making this work
One of the more interesting rationales we've heard floating around for reopening the Appleton prison might actually rescue Walker's progressive cred: the notion that leasing PCF for the short term while inmate populations soar will give the state legislature and administration time to work out criminal justice reform without committing to new facilities.
When reforms bring down inmate numbers, after the coming spike, the state can terminate its lease for Prairie Correctional, rather than being overbuilt with prison beds. Dead prisons are hard to unload.
That's the supposedly progressive case for a state Department of Corrections lease of the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton. Since the state would be doing the actual management of the prison, the jobs would be union.
At its core, there's as marvelous a premise as one can imagine when faced with the need for more prison beds, a temporary place for prisoners while we address why Minnesota's prison population climbs, though crime goes down.
But we propose that reformer Walker--no longer burdened with the responsibility for opening the facility--flip the order here.
Let's get the reforms signed into law first, then take out a short-term lease of the Appleton prison. Passing the reforms first will ensure that there's no temptation to forget why we didn't build our own prison to begin with. An economic development package to rescue Appleton from it's economic doldrums can be designed to relieve the pain of terminating the lease. Together, the efforts will remove the incentive to lease the prison forever.
Walker can led the way on just what those reforms should be. Can she rise to the challenge?
Here's the Capitol Hill Strategies proposal:
For our earlier coverage of the plan to re-open the prison, check out the links below:
Photo: SEIU Local 26 president Javier Morillo-Alicea (center, microphone in hand) speaks at an action at the CCA offices in Washington DC in 2011. Photo via Facebook.
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