What does hundreds of thousands of dollars buy in Washington these days? Potentially a lot of private detention centers by the Trump administration.
That’s the accusation two members of Congress have laid at the doorstep of President Donald Trump and two of the nation’s biggest private prison companies after newly confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions dismissed extensive research into the problems of the private prison industry and – with the swipe of a pen – overturned an Obama administration decision to phase out its use.
“That connection seems suspiciously evil,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.
The swift action by Sessions after his confirmation and the rapid blowback from Cleaver and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., highlight the sensitive concerns about the influence of money in Washington and help explain why government contractors are not allowed to contribute to presidential campaigns.
The White House blasted the Democrats for implying any kind of “pay-to-play” scheme.
“This is just more partisan politics by Democrats who have made clear they intend to ignore the priorities of the American people and launch meritless attacks against this administration at every turn,” said White House spokesman Michael Short.
Steve Owen, a spokesman for one of the companies, now known as CoreCivic Co., said the company did not contribute to any presidential candidate or campaign. He acknowledged that his company had contributed to this year’s inaugural events but said it was consistent with past practice. He pointed out that the company doesn’t lobby or take positions on proposals or policies that would affect the duration of an individual’s detention.
Pablo Paez, vice president of corporate relations for the other company, GEO Group, which is based in Boca Raton, Florida, defended his company’s $225,000 donation to a pro-Trump political action committee, saying it was legal because it had been made by a subsidiary, GEO Corrections Holdings Inc., that has no contracts with any governmental agency.
“Our contribution was fully compliant with all applicable federal election laws,” Paez said.
THAT CONNECTION SEEMS SUSPICIOUSLY EVIL.Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.
Private prisons became an important part of America’s corrections system starting in the 1980s, as tough sentencing guidelines were adopted to address the drug wars. The population has since dropped, and private facilities are largely used to detain immigrants.
Forty-six of the roughly 180 facilities in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds detainees are privately run, according to ICE. About 60 percent of its 400,000 annual detainees are held in privately operated facilities.
They’re being held for alleged crimes, while awaiting deportation or while fighting asylum cases to remain in the country.