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.