Colorado Budget: Private Prisons Get Their Pound of Flesh

Kit Carson Correctional Center, Burlington.

Kit Carson Correctional Center, Burlington.

As the Pueblo Chieftain’s Peter Strescino reports, the Colorado state legislature gave final passage to the 2016 budget on Friday–but not before a last-minute request from the Governor’s office, supported by Senate Republicans, almost derailed the deal yet again:

A last-minute request by the governor to keep afloat a private prison — and help a rural economy — held up the final budget deal until the state Senate approved it Friday.

The budget, $25.8 billion, is headed for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk, where he is expected to sign it.

Hickenlooper requested at the last minute to spend $3 million to boost payments to a private, for-profit prison company that is threatening to close the Kit Carson Correctional Center on the Eastern Plains — a move that stalled the budget bill after Senate Democrats raised complaints…

Corrections Corporation of America.

Corrections Corporation of America.

The Denver Post’s John Frank has more on the $3 million to subsidize operations at the Kit Carson Correctional Center just east of Burlington, which is operated by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America:

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, noted that the state gave Corrections Corporation of America a cash infusion four years ago to keep the facility open and now it’s back asking for more money. At the same time, other parts of the state budget are facing cuts or no new funding increases. [Pols emphasis]

Johnston said the timing of the request — just as budget negotiations finished — amounted to “blackmail.”

“It’s not in the best interest of the state of Colorado,” he said.

In the end, the $3 million for Corrections Corporation of America was not enough to blow up the long negotiations that led to this year’s budget compromises–which include hotly-contested line items like funding for the state’s groundbreaking IUD contraception program, a big win over the objections of the Senate’s far-right “Hateful Eight” caucus. But that doesn’t mean this “bailout” of an underutilized private prison was a good thing, as a statement from the state’s public employee union Colorado WINS makes very clear indeed:

According to WINS Executive Director, Tim Markham, “The for-profit prison industry is built on exploitation. They exploit our criminal justice system, they exploit their workers, they exploit the communities in which their facilities are located and they exploit Colorado taxpayers.

Unlike our state correctional facilities and professional correctional officers, for-profit prisons are not accountable to taxpayers. And they do not provide stable, community-building jobs – these are low-wage, low-security, high-turnover positions.

Colorado WINS has long stood publicly against the for-profit prison industry. This latest bailout is just one more example of why Colorado should extricate ourselves from this predatory and morally corrupt industry.” [Pols emphasis]

“Extrication” of Colorado’s prison system from for-profit corporate interests that have little regard for the state’s actual needs, unlike state employees who could be redistributed throughout the system and–key point–are much more qualified professionals who contribute far more to their local economies than the CCA’s low-wage employees, is a debate that will have to wait for another year. But these threat-laden “requests” for infusions of cash to a for-profit corporation under threat of closing underused prisons and “killing jobs,” this being the second such request in four years, is not at all what the private prison industry promised in the early 1990s: a happy arrangement in which private capital took the risk of operating the prisons and the public benefitted from “lower costs.”

Since that logic has now been turned on its head, we’d say it’s appropriate to question the state’s whole relationship with the private prison industry.

36 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Zappatero says:

    it's Bipartisan so that means it must be a good policy.

  2. MichaelBowman says:

    That same amount would have given every homeless person in Denver one hot meal every weekday for an entire year – while the extractors at CCA rack up record profits and are the biggest lobby no one is talking about. 


  3. BlueCat says:

    There should be no such thing as private for profit prisons.  The whole concept is barbaric and ripe for abuse of all kinds. I would be in favor of legislation to outlaw them.

  4. Diogenesdemar says:

    Corporate welfare is just wrong!  When has CCA ever fielded a winning Super Bowl team, huh?

    • MichaelBowman says:

      Well actually, Dio….

      Who ever said these corporate whores weren't Patriots?  Jesus. H. Christ.  This shit makes my head want to explode.  (P.S. after a massive public outcry, the offer was withdrawn). 

      On Tuesday, that trend took another strange turn when Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, firmed a deal to rename its football building GEO Group Stadium. Perhaps that pushed stadium naming to its zenith, if only because the GEO Group is a private prison corporation.

      For this partnership, there is no obvious precedent.

      The university’s president described the deal as “wonderful” and the company as “well run” and by a notable alumnus. But it also left some unsettled, including those who study the business of sports and track the privatization of the prison industry. To those critics, this was a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue, of the way that everything seems to be for sale now in sports — and to anyone with enough cash.

  5. mamajama55 says:

    It's not just the prisons that bleed the poor, the taxpayers, and undercut union wages. It's also the "recovery" industry – the pee testers, the monitoring bracelet makers, the halfway houses, the addiction treatment industry. It's totally set up for people to fail, so that they go back to prison, keeping the prisons full, in a truly vicious circle.

    Get out of jail. Get a job immediately, find affordable housing (good luck!), get treatment. Fail at any of those, relapse, and you go right back behind bars. Neat, huh?

    It's part of why we need universal healthcare. When we see a mentally ill homeless person in the street, we need triage to immediately assess needs according to Maslow's hierarchy: food, shelter, safety, then treatment, then sanity. Sometimes folks will need to be locked up. Sometimes they won't.

    The present synergistic treatment / prison system is fucking insane. It doesn't keep society safe, it doesn't help people heal mentally, it doesn't treat addictions.


    • Voyageur says:

      And the pity is this counterproductive sysyem costs taxpayers more, even I. The short run, than a rational system would.


    • Voyageur says:

      And the pity is that this insane system costs the taxpayers more, enen in the short run, than a rational rehabilitation syem would.

    • MichaelBowman says:

      Could the CoLeg at the very least have insisted that CCA scrub the stars and stripes from their logo?  It looks like they are from a scene in The Hunger Games.  /rant off/

      • Conserv. Head Banger says:

        I don't have an opinion one way or another on private prisons. Altho many of those in the prison system are there due to the so-called "war on drugs."  Probably would be valuable for members of the legislature to actually visit this prison after the session ends.

        I don't see a connection between prisons and universal health care other than "thread drift." 

        • Conserv. Head Banger says:

          No edit button, so a reply. As for people being on the streets, how does one immediately determine, just by observation, if they're mentally ill and in need of triage? Unless they're talking to themselves or engaging in otherwise inappropriate behavior. My experience from working in the state social services programs for 17 years; including at least 10 years on an active caseload; is that the majority of homeless are homeless by choice. Or homeless due to poor personal decision making. Mental illness does play a role, but not as large as made out by the media or by the far left.

          • mamajama55 says:

            CHB, I'm talking about addiction and substance abuse treatment being readily available on a medicare-for-all system. Now, it just isn't. Shelters are full, treatment is expensive and prison is easier, but nobody "gets better" in prison.

            Homelessness, crime, and social chaos all ensue.

            Crime (and prison population) has decreased 10% since cannabis was legalized. That's a piece of the necessary reforms. Medicare for all would be another.


        • MichaelBowman says:

          Curious, C.H.B.  Serious question: can you point to a successful outcome from any privatization models the conservatives have fought for?  I know the number can't be 'zero'…but it seems to be far from 'a majority'. 

          BTW – if you're in the mood for new reading material check out Dreamland.  If you had any loathing at all for the BioPharma, venture capitalists, politics (and arguably the private prison complex) this book will take it to an entirely new level.  It's a great sequel if you've read Methland although I don't think it matters in which order you would read them. 

          • Conserv. Head Banger says:

            Michael: answering your question would require a lot of research that I don't have time for in next couple weeks. Way behind after a short trip to South America Apr. 2-10. Interesting question though and I've made a mental note to remember this thread. 

        • BlueCat says:

          CHB, not wanting to get involved in the discussion you're having about mental illness issues  I just wan to point out that the profit motive is a very dangerous basis for running a prison. Remember the scandals involving corrupt judges using any excuse to send youths to for profit youth detention centers for kick backs? The possiblities for abuse and corrupton are pretty much limitless. 

    • Duke Cox says:

      It doesn't keep society safe, it doesn't help people heal mentally, it doesn't treat addictions.  

      Yeah, but it makes a nifty profit….you can't have everything, mama.

  6. MichaelBowman says:

    A rich editorial in this weeks Wray Gazette by Mark Hillman (a Kit Carson County resident).  Predictably, he can't get to the fourth column inch without …

    "The problem is that , over the last ten years the ruling Democrats have over promised social welfare entitlements which are now devouring everything else"

    "When Democrats expand social welfare entitlements , they make more people dependent on state government.  They cynically calculate that expanding that expanding entitlements make entitlement recipients more likely to vote for Democrat candidates.

    Not a word about the corporate whores who operate in the shadow of his Kit Carson County farm and just got a $3 million gift from the Governor.  Not a word about other types of reform like the federal farm program, a trough that feeds him well.  He may have missed the news that over the past 10 years the Democratic leadership has built one of the most robust economies in the nation? Or that his windswept eastern plains continue to be the billion-dollar beneficiaries of the New Energy Economy, policies almost exclusively fought by his fellow Republicans? Do you suppose he's done the math on the fact his $500,000+ haul from the federal program are tax dollars generated in large part by evil Democrats on the Front Range?  Or that the evil Democrats, who are consuming the majority of green electrons generated in his region, are the ones directly and indirectly (via their utility bills) paying the property taxes on the billion-dollar wind investments in his back yard? 

    Dumphucksitan is not in independent region of our state economy – it's an interdependent region of our state economy.  

    Unfortunately the Colorado Democratic party has been neglectful in pushing back in local newspapers in the rural regions of the state on just how their policies are directly benefitting rural Colorado residents. That is a serious flaw for a state party; one that empowers mouthpieces like Hillman, Brophy and Sonnenberg to continue to promote their 'bad math'.


    • BlueCat says:

      Neglectful? More like scared stiff of being seen as commies out to get rich people. Perhaps the new populist fervor on both the left (thank you Warren and Sanders) and right will convince Dems that it's now safe to point out who is really squeezing the most welfare out of taxpayers and returning the least. Those who receive welfare payments, food stamps and the like because they are poor spend it all because they have to. It contributes to the economy. It isn't  a loss.

      Even welfare recipients are better job creators than the supposed job creators in the conservative trickle down narrative because spending on stuff is what creates jobs in a consumer economy.  

      Where would Walmart, probably the most ginormous welfare queen on the planet, be without food stamps spent in their stores, never mind keeping their employees (who also spend them in the their store) alive on non-living wages? I mean really. They get us to subsidize their workforce with welfare to make up for the fact that they don't pay their people enough to…. you know… eat enough to survive and those same people then  increase the benefit of that subsidy to Walmart by spending it in their stores. Sweet.

      So…. OK Dems. It's safe to say something about that now. Safe to say raising the minimum wage means less welfare for workers because workers paid a living wage can afford to pay their own way without it and less reverse Robin Hood wealth redistribution from people like truckers to people who own NBA teams. Stop being so damned scared .

    • Voyageur says:

      How many times do I have to tell you lefties: IT AIN'T WELFARE WHEN THE MONEY GOES TO RICH WHITE GUYS!

  7. MichaelBowman says:

    Here's a fascinating story about the Bard Prison Initiative in NY State.  Critics say it's unfair; proponents point to its 2% recidivism rate.  

    “The success of this team reveals the potential and the capacity of incarcerated people,” said Max Kenner, founder of the initiative. It shows “how much more has to be done to rethink college admissions, access and opportunity in prison and otherwise.”

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