Education not prisons,” Andy Blackledge

November 13, 2019; Truthout

For many years, NPQ has covered the growth of private prisons in this country, as well as activists’ efforts to get various institutions, including philanthropies, universities, and financial institutions, to divest from them. Now, a new nonprofit promises it will bring “honesty and common sense back to the conversation about the role of contractors in America’s criminal justice and immigration systems.”

The Day 1 Alliance, put plainly, is a new industry group established to protect private prisons from those who would disparage their proliferation in the already prison-rich United States. The members are few but will include the GEO Group, CoreCivic, and Management and Training Corporation of Utah.

Apparently, the record needs to be set straight after a handful of large financial institutions bowed to pressure from a reform-minded public and refused to do business with them. This has resulted in the loss of $2.35 billion in available credit.

Notably, all of the publicly disclosed banks that provide credit and term loans to GEO Group have committed to end their future financing relationships with the industry. These commitments are the result of ongoing campaigns from #FamiliesBelongTogether and #BackersOfHate to end Wall Street’s financing and profiting off of the private prison industry.

This mass exodus of banks has had a cascading effect on the industry. Fitch Ratings, one of the three premier credit rating agencies, recently downgraded CoreCivic from BB+ to BB. This downgrade will make it more difficult for CoreCivic to secure the plentiful, cheap credit and loans they have accessed in the past.

The GEO Group’s founder blames the phenomenon on a “false narrative” circulating around its role in immigrant detention.

Alexandra Wilkes will be the organization’s first CEO, and that promises a new level of aggression in the industry’s self advocacy. Sue Sturgis at Truthout writes that Wilkes specializes in down-and-dirty campaign tactics:

Wilkes previously worked for America Rising, an Arlington, Virginia-based opposition research group that has come under fire for its tactics. Founded by Mitt Romney’s former presidential campaign manager, the organization operates a super PAC that spreads negative stories about Democratic elected officials and candidates, as well as an arm that houses a video library with materials it sells to GOP candidates and groups…

Wilkes served as the America Rising PAC’s executive director from July 2017 until December 2018, and then as senior vice president of the America Rising corporation until leaving for the Day 1 Alliance. During Wilkes’ tenure, America Rising branched out from focusing on elected officials and candidates and turned its attention to career employees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who criticized President Donald Trump and/or EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt—an effort that has been called a “witch hunt.”

In the six years ending in 2018, the industry had already more than doubled its spending on lobbying at the federal level and set its own record for supporting federal candidates. Sturgis provides further details in her article; suffice it to say the industry does not intend to go down without a fight.—Ruth McCambridge