Private Prison Investors See a Rosy Future under Trump

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By William Warby from London, England (Alcatraz Cells) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

November 18, 2016; Bloomberg BusinessWeek

As soon as Trump’s election win was announced, the share price of two major private prison groups in the United States spiked, recovering significant parts of their major losses since mid-2015. Shares of the GEO Group jumped by 30 percent and the Corrections Corporation of America saw its stock increase by 40 percent. GEO Group’s stock is trading near its 52-week high, while CCA’s rebound still leaves it one-third below its August share price.

This shift reverses the visible decline after the current administration announced in August that it was withdrawing federal prisoners from private facilities. Acclaimed at the time by advocates for the elimination of private prisons, that decision was one element of a bipartisan move to reform the criminal justice system to reduce mass incarceration overall. But Trump’s plans to increase deportation activities and his “law and order” orientation toward crime have apparently given the industry a new lease on life. Trump’s uncompromising stance on immigration has an immediate solution in the use of immigration detention centers, 70 percent of which are run by private corporations.

For-profit prison companies “were likely to face negative headlines and persistent contract uncertainty under a Clinton White House,” Isaac Boltansky, senior vice president and policy analyst at Washington-based Compass Point Research & Trading, wrote after the election. “We expect a Trump administration to be more supportive given its focus on immigration and crime.”

Most of the above facts were well known, but Mother Jones reports that over the summer, the GEO Group contributed $200,000 to groups supporting Trump’s presidential campaign. The largest contribution came the day following the Justice Department’s phase-out announcement.

“Our company’s political activities focus entirely on promoting the use of public-private partnerships, including in the delivery of offender rehabilitation programs, both in-custody and post-release,” says GEO spokesman Pablo Paez. “As a matter of long-standing policy, our company does not take a position on or advocate for or against any specific criminal justice, sentencing, or immigration policy.”

As a matter of fact, given that President Obama’s administration has also been active in carrying out raids and deportations of undocumented immigrants, including Central American families fleeing violence, some, like Jeremy Mohler at the Washington watchdog group In The Public Interest, see Trump’s potential plans as “more of the same but on steroids.”

What is particularly chilling is the possibility that the Trump administration could use the DACA database (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) against the people who willingly submitted their personal information (e.g., names of their parents, home addresses, utility bills and school transcripts) in good faith. The Trump administration may turn over that information to Homeland Security to help it track down immigrants for detention and deportation.—Ruth McCambridge