ALEC's corporate members include at least a dozen companies that do prison business. Like Dupont; the drug companies, Merck and Glaxo Smith-Klein; and the telephone companies that compete for lucrative prison contracts. And Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). It dominates the private prison business building and running prisons and renting cells to governments. At last count the company housed 55,000 inmates in 65 facilities in twenty-one states and Puerto Rico, says CCA Vice President Louise Green.
Prison vendors who've contributed to, or are members of, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC):
Sources: ALEC, American Correctional Association
- Bayer (Sheffield Plastics division)
- Bell Atlantic
- Bell South
- Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)
- DuPont Company
- Merck & Co.
- National Association of Bail Insurance Companies
- Schering Plough
- Sodexho Marriott (until recently a major investor in CCA)
- Turner Construction
- Qwest (formerly US West)
- Wackenhut Corrections
Neither CCA nor the American Legislative Exchange Council will say how much CCA pays for its ALEC membership. The latter group's corporate memberships go for $5,000 to $50,000 a year. Green says belonging to ALEC gives the corrections corporation a chance to explain the benefits of privately-run prisons to state lawmakers "that if those states and counties have considerable overcrowding in their jails and prisons that partnering with a private corrections company can realize cost savings to their taxpayers and we can offer effective programming for their inmates."
But CCA does more than chat up lawmakers at ALEC meetings. On top of its membership dues and contributions to help pay the bills for ALEC meetings, the prison company pays two thousand dollars a year for a seat on ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force. That panel writes the group's "model" bills on crime and punishment. Until recently, a CCA official even co-chaired the task force. For years, ALEC's criminal justice committee has promoted state laws letting private prison companies operate. And at least since the early 1990s, it has pushed a tough-on-crime agenda.
ALEC officials say proudly that lawmakers on the group's crime task force led the drive for more incarceration in the states "and really took the forefront in promoting those ideals and then taking them into their states and talking to their colleagues and getting their colleagues to understand that if, you know, we want to reduce crime we have to get these guys off the streets," says ALEC staffer and Criminal Justice Task Force director Andrew LeFevre.
Among ALEC's model bills: mandatory minimum sentences; Three Strikes laws, giving repeat offenders 25 years to life in prison; and "truth-in-sentencing," which requires inmates to serve most or all of their time without a chance for parole. ALEC didn't invent any of these ideas but has played a pivotal role in making them law in the states, says Bender of the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
"By ALEC's own admission in its 1995 Model Legislation Scorecard, they were very successful. They had introduced 199 bills [that year]. The Truth-in-Sentencing Act had become law in 25 states, so that right there is fairly significant."
By the late 1990s, about forty states had passed versions of truth-in sentencing similar to ALEC's model bill. Because of truth-in-sentencing and other tough sentencing measures, state prison populations grew by half a million inmates in the 1990s even while crime rates fell dramatically.
The result: more demand for private prison companies like CCA.
Next: Truth-in-sentencing in Wisconsin