Today is Earth Day, and it’s sure to be historic. More than one hundred world leaders plan to sign the Paris Agreement, the first global pact that commits nearly every nation to take action on climate change.
Remember when maggots were found in potatoes about to be served at a Michigan prison? That was just the tip of the iceberg.
A new report released this week details widespread cost-cutting by the food service company Aramark, whose contract was terminated by that state last year. Kitchens were not only unsanitary but dangerous. The company hired inexperienced staff, allowing prisoners to steal makeshift weapons and control the lunch line. Food shortages were especially common.
Michigan eventually replaced Aramark with a new contractor, but the report comes to an unambiguous conclusion: The underlying problems that ended the contract are “likely to resurface under any contract relationship.”
This is because, in a drive for profits, private corrections companies like Aramark routinely cut corners to lower costs. In private prisons, this drive often leads to more prison violence, lawsuits and staff turnover.
Last Monday the U.S. Department of Justice announced a powerful new effort to stop local practices that unfairly target poor people by trapping them in “cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.” Courts across the country are requiring people arrested with minor misdemeanor charges—like driving with a suspended license—to pay fines before getting their day in court. If they can’t afford the fine, they are forced to wait behind bars until they can.
In a statement and letter, the DOJ shed light on what the agency calls a “bureaucratic cover charge for the right to seek justice,” but also on another alarming practice: the use of for-profit companies to collect fines and manage probation.
On top of fines collected on behalf of courts, many private probation companies charge their own fees for things like drug testing and supervision. If people can’t pay these fees—which can be as high as the fines themselves—they can be sent back to jail.
Last week, the country’s two largest private prison operators, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, released their annual financial reports. The numbers were what we’ve come to expect — staggering. Combined, the two publicly traded companies collected $361 million in profits last year. That’s profit — taxpayer money that could be going to fixing our criminal justice system, which is badly broken.
In the Public Interest ran the numbers and that means CCA made $3,356 in profit for every person it incarcerated, and GEO Group made $2,135. What if we spent that money on mental health care, drug treatment, education or job training for those prisoners? What if, instead of lining the pockets of private prison corporate executives and shareholders, that money was invested in cultivating safer conditions in our jails and prisons?
Most agree that our criminal justice system is in crisis.
Yesterday, state leaders scrapped a bill that would have made it easier for private corporations to buy municipal water and sewer utilities across the state. The bill, introduced at the request of a for-profit water company based in Pennsylvania, would have made it more difficult for Wisconsin residents to vote on who controls their water.
The evidence against privatization is plain as day. Customers of Wisconsin’s only privately owned system—which services the city of Superior—pay the highest rates in the state. On top of the costs of water and infrastructure maintenance, Superior’s residents pay an additional nine percent to cover their private operator’s profit margin and higher private-sector debt costs.
And Superior isn’t an outlier. A new report released on Tuesday by Food and Water Watch shows that,
As many as five million undocumented immigrants are waiting in limbo as the Supreme Court reviews challenges to President Obama’s 2014 executive actions, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). But there’s one group that’s more than happy with the status quo.
A new look under the hood of the nation’s immigration detention system reveals a staggering trend: Immigrant detention has become increasingly reliant on facilities and services provided by private companies, which are driven by profit to keep or even expand existing services.
Companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group — the nation’s two largest private prison companies — are benefiting from our bloated immigration detention system, which has grown by 75 percent over the last decade. Together, CCA and GEO Group operate eight of the 10 largest detention centers.
By now, many are familiar with the tragic details of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. But a key chapter in the story is being overlooked.
In February 2015, almost a full year before the news of widespread lead poisoning gained headlines, the world’s largest private water corporation, Veolia, deemed Flint’s water safe. It was hired by the city to assess water that many residents had been complaining about—a General Motors plant had even stopped using Flint’s water because it was rusting car parts.
Veolia, a French transnational corporation, declared Flint’s water to be “in compliance with State and Federal regulations.” While it recommended small changes to improve water color and quality, Veolia’s report didn’t mention lead.
Flint’s water system needs to be fixed today regardless of costs. But one thing should be completely off the table: privatization.
In the Public Interest is happy to be kicking off 2016 with good news. Pushed by students and workers, the University of California has announced it will divest from private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group.
This is yet another win for criminal justice reform—Columbia University divested from CCA last summer. The private corrections industry, which makes more profit when more people are in the system, is an obstacle to the changes many of us want to see.
The industry doesn’t want change. An executive with GEO Group, the second largest private prison operator in the U.S., recently boasted that the country would continue to “attract” crime. He shared the “good news” to investors: “The reality is, we are a very affluent country, we have loose borders and we have a bad education system.”
Private prison companies claim to do a better job more cheaply,
Get this. In some states, charter school operators can purchase school buildings from public school districts — using taxpayer money. That’s right. The public pays twice for a building it no longer owns.
This scheme and many others are detailed in the National Education Policy Center’s new research brief on charter school policies. Through a study of policies from across the country, Bruce Baker and Gary Miron reveal how many charter operators use existing laws to profit from the privatization of public assets.
Their conclusion: Many current policies allow new actors into public education who skim profits from the system, pocketing money that might otherwise be spent on direct services for children.
These policies have serious costs. In Florida for example, a recent analysis by the Associated Press found that now-closed charter schools in 30 school districts had received more than $70 million in taxpayer money for capital needs.
It’s unusual for a private contractor to terminate its own contract, especially a contract for $1.2 billion. But that just happened in Florida.
After two years of controversy, Corizon, America’s largest for-profit prison health care provider, just decided to end its care of 74,000 prisoners in the state. The company—which is owned by a private equity firm—says it is leaving because the contract terms aren’t flexible enough. But Corizon’s time in Florida has a familiar ring to it: understaffing, poor service and hundreds of lawsuits by prisoners.
Last year, 346 prisoners died in Florida prisons—the highest number in the state on record, even though the total number of prisoners has declined. Of those prisoners, 176 were listed with no immediate cause of death.
A recent state audit found nursing and staffing shortages, “notable disorganization” among medical records, and “life threatening” conditions.
In the Public Interest has made exciting progress over the past few years. Our team has worked incredibly hard, so I’d like to take a step back and share what we’ve been up to.
Even I was surprised by how much we’ve accomplished. We get calls every week from organizations around the country asking for campaign help; from state and local policymakers looking for model bills or support on legislative proposals; and from journalists needing background or quotes. Just recently, a Barcelona TV station interviewed me about private prisons in the U.S. (There are zero in Spain!)
When we added it up, we found that we’ve directly helped state and local organizations in 32 states, and our research and commentary have been cited in over 150 publications, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and local papers across the country like the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Bakersfield Californian.
Chicago just took a huge step towards closing the door on irresponsible sales of public assets and reckless outsourcing of public services. Last week, the city council passed an ordinance that mandates real public review of large privatization deals and increases transparency and contractor accountability.
The Privatization Transparency, Accountability and Performance Ordinance (PTAPO) is a significant move by Chicago’s leaders to ensure meaningful accountability to the city’s taxpayers and working families.
Unfortunately for Chicagoans, the rules weren’t in place a decade ago, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley leased the Chicago Skyway toll bridge to an Australian-Spanish private consortium for 99 years. The bridge has since become one of the most expensive toll-per-mile roadways in the U.S.
But Daley’s lease of the city’s parking meters to Wall Street in 2008 is the ultimate example of privatization gone wrong. Chicago sold the meters to Morgan Stanley at least $1 billion under their value,
As America’s heartland prepares for another frigid winter, low-income families in Iowa are also bracing for a significant change. That’s because private companies are scheduled to take over management of the state’s Medicaid program the first of the New Year, a shift Iowa’s governor is calling “modernization.”
Governor Terry Branstad says that concerned Iowans “should not be afraid of change,” but private management could make it harder for almost 600,000 people—about 22 percent of the state’s population—to get the health care they need.
The Des Moines Register says the current state-run program “spends less per person than the majority of other states, while still providing comprehensive coverage.” Why jeopardize that? A chaotic transition, diminished services or reduced coverage could threaten low-income families and people with disabilities.
But Iowans still have a say. The federal government has to sign off on the transition,
Like many states in the “tough on crime” era, Minnesota is struggling to reduce overcrowding in its prisons and jails. For now, the state’s government is paying counties to house over 500 incarcerated people that its prisons can’t hold. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the notorious private prison operator, says they have a long-term solution for Minnesota.
But Minnesotans, backed by the criminal justice reform movement sweeping the country, are responding with “No thanks!”
CCA wants to reopen the shuttered Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, MN, and lease space to the state. They deny they’re lobbying in Minnesota, but a politically connected lobbying firm, Goff Public Affairs, is pushing state officials to reopen the prison. That would be a costly mistake for both moral and economic reasons.
The company has a long rap sheet of cutting corners for the sake of profit,
Last month, the Los Angeles Times released a terrifying confidential roadmap for privatizing L.A.’s schools that was produced by billionaire Eli Broad. Broad plans to raise and spend $490 million to create enough privately operated charter schools to house half of the city’s public school students.
The “Broad Plan” is an ambitious, all-sided assault on public schools, potentially funded by money from a who’s who of the nation’s billionaires, including the Walton heirs, Elon Musk, and Steven Spielberg.
Broad’s strategy is to compete directly with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for what he calls “market share,” by more than doubling the number of charters already in the city. Diane Ravitch writes that Broad wants to “decimate the remaining public schools by draining them of students and resources.” Former LAUSD board president and state Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg calls it a plan to “privatize and destroy public education.”
Just imagine what these resources—which are in the Broad Plan budget—could do for L.A.’s existing public schools:
You wouldn’t hand your laptop to a hacker, right? Well, the Senate could make a move just as foolish. They’ll soon vote on nominations to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors and the nominees include a longtime advocate for postal service privatization and a lobbyist for the payday lending industry.
The Internet has changed how most of us communicate, but mail remains a central part of our communications infrastructure. A public postal service supports democracy and commerce by providing affordable mail service to everyone, rich or poor, in all areas of the country. It also nurtures marginalized communities by providing access to good jobs and career advancement.
Despite being under attack, including by the absurd requirement to “pre-fund” the next 75 years of its retiree health benefits in a 10-year span—a demand not made of any other federal agency or any well-run private company—the USPS has remained a vibrant public service.
A few weeks ago I went to a conference in Miami on infrastructure private-public partnerships, or “P3s.” We’ve written plenty about the pitfalls of P3s that don’t have strong public protections. I learned at the conference that Miami has big plans. We’re paying close attention and helping local advocates ensure that these plans to rebuild Miami serve taxpayers, workers and families, not just private investors.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez spoke at the conference and made it clear that his vision includes privatizing essential public goods. “It used to be Miami-Dade County wanted to operate everything,” Gimenez said. “I don’t want to operate anything.” He talked about tapping the private sector to finance, build and operate a new transit line and courthouse. A P3 for a new water treatment plant is already underway.
Miami is growing fast and has real infrastructure needs.
As the edge of summer burns into early autumn, students across the country are going back to school. Most are returning to friends and meeting teachers, but students at Illinois’ Barrington High School are arriving this year to signs that read, “Can’t live on $8.50,” and shouts of “Devuelvenos nuestros salarios!” (Give us back our wages!)
A majority of the school’s contracted janitors—organized by the Service Employees International Union—are striking because, after the Barrington school district renewed a contract with its employer in June, their wages were cut from $9.77 an hour. Already without sick days and health insurance, the janitors are now faced with even lower poverty wages.
As our publication, Making the Grade? Questions to Ask About School Services Privatization, discusses, school districts often don’t save money when they outsource support positions rather than keep them in-house. When contractors aim to maximize profit,
Last week, in a powerful affirmation of the common good, commissioners in Tennessee’s Johnson County unanimously opposed the privatization of the state prison within their county’s limits. A response to fears that the state government could soon outsource management of the Northeast State Correctional Complex, the resolution reads like a checklist of what democracy and public control can provide a community.
The “no” vote was prompted by the state government’s recent exploration of outsourcing the management of state properties, including prisons, hospitals, parks and even the University of Tennessee. State officials have also been trying to manage a shortage of prison officers after introducing a controversial overtime policy statewide to cut costs.
But the Johnson County commissioners recognize that outsourcing isn’t the answer: “Any type of privatization would be detrimental to our county, citizens and staff of Northeast Correctional Complex.” They also honored public service by dedicating a day each year in recognition of the prison’s current staff.
As public officials across the country continue to manage shrinking budgets, experiments for funding public services are emerging. One new idea, the Social Impact Bond, has been advertised as a “win-win” for private investors and the public, but the reality is beginning to look a little different.
The results are in from the first SIB tried in the U.S. and it failed to meet its goals. The SIB was aimed at reducing the rate by which adolescents housed on Rikers Island returned to jail, with a goal of at least an 8.5 percent drop. Therapy was provided to inmates, but recidivism wasn’t significantly reduced.
SIBs are complex arrangements—private investors lend funding for a program and the government repays them only if certain goals are met. For the Rikers SIB, New York City was lent millions by Goldman Sachs, backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Proponents of SIBs claim that,