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Arizona’s SB 1070 and the Prison Lobby

October 28, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



We have written before that the rationales Arizonans were given for the passage of SB 1070 (the “papers please” law) did not comport with the facts on the ground in Arizona.  While crime was down in Arizona, and border residents and law enforcement in border communities believed their communities were safe, politicians claimed that Arizona was “under attack” by criminal “illegal aliens.”


Today, National Public Radio ran a story about the Arizona law which helps us understand why it was needed.  The law wasn’t meant to protect Arizona residents.  It was meant to generate business for the for-profit prison industry and, as a consequence, to line the pockets of politicians who supported SB 1070. 


Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce, the chief sponsor of SB 1070, came to Washington to get the bill drafted with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that, according to their tagline, favors “limited government, free markets, and federalism.”  The group’s members are state legislators and corporations.  Among the corporate members is the nation’s largest prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).


According to NPR, officials of CCA believe that


“immigrant detention is their next big market. Last year, they wrote that they expect to bring in "a significant portion of our revenues" from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that detains illegal immigrants.”


They helped Pearce write a “model bill” that became, almost word for word, SB 1070—right down to the title, the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.”


Pearce took his bill back to Arizona, and it was time for the prison corporations to buy some influence.  According to NPR,

“Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.”


CCA hired a lobbyist to work the Arizona capitol during the time SB 1070 was being considered. 


We all know the result.


NPR called the law a “new business model” for prison corporations.  The Arizona’s law will (if it ever gets out of the courts) generate a huge new revenue stream for private prisons, as Arizona police lock up anyone who cannot prove they were in the country legally. 


If the law proves lucrative in Arizona, you can bet the prison corporations will be taking the model on the road, and looking to build new prisons in states that intend to follow Arizona’s lead.  They’ve already written the legislation.  All they need to do now is to spread some cash around in state capitals across the country.


NPR will continue with its report tomorrow.  You can also check out this report from Think Progress, with much of the same information and links to other media reports that have looked into ties between the prison industry, SB 1070, and other prisoner-generating (and thus cash-generating) legislation.


Image by Flickr user AMagill

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