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I have a new and self-imposed policy that I follow when I see a news report of some bull-headed politician proposing some law to put low-level drug possessors in prison. That rule? Follow the money, of course.

Because something hideous is festering under the surface of these laws. It's the private prison lobby, which makes campaign contributions to secure harsher penalties. You see, these prison companies are in need of warm bodies, since they can put those people to work inside the walls of those prisons. The companies double-dip, too, pulling in a guaranteed sum from the state in addition to whatever they can make with their legalized slave labor. Weed offenders are just the sorts of people these prison profiteers are looking for. They're mostly non-violent people who will comply. They can be put to work without much worry.

This week, Indiana got into the mix, as its governor Mike Pence pushed for changes to legislation on drug crime. Among his suggested changes:

Tougher marijuana possession and dealing penalties could be added to a proposed overhaul of Indiana's criminal sentencing laws by legislators after Gov. Mike Pence questioned whether the plan was strict enough on low-level drug offenders.

One proposed change expected to be voted on Thursday would make possession of between about one-third of an ounce and 10 pounds of marijuana the lowest-level felony rather than the highest-level misdemeanor.

Why would this Republican governor suggest policies designed mostly for the destruction of communities and budgets alike? Mostly because he and others are politically aligned with the very prison companies that run the show.

GEO Group is one of the largest private prison companies in the country. Based in Florida, GEO is a nationwide political player. It makes the majority of its contributions in its home state, but it's been known to contribute to federal and state elections in places like California, New Mexico, Virginia, and, believe it or not, Indiana.

Over the last decade, GEO Group has spent more than $3 million in direct campaign contributions, the majority of that money going to Republican candidates and causes. This is most likely on the low end of estimates, too, since many state contribution records are either incomplete or missing altogether.

Indiana is eighth on the list of states where GEO does its spending, as it's sunk more than $60,000 into state elections there. It specifically contributed $12,500 to the 2012 Pence campaign, which doesn't seem like much without context. That contribution made GEO one of Pence's top 30 corporate contributors, ranking in front of US Steel Corp, Caterpillar, and Koch Industries.

The group has also thrown its financial weight behind Brian Bosma, the Indiana State House Speaker, who has been quoted as saying:

“As an entry drug, I think marijuana is more powerful than it’s given credit for,” he said. “I know some states have taken that step (to legalize it), but I don’t find it advisable at this point.”
Business has been quite good for GEO in Indiana. In 2005, they signed a contract to operate a prison in New Castle. That first contract reads like many that GEO signs with its depraved partners. Indiana guaranteed a prison population roughly 90% of capacity. Or, as the state's excited press release put it:
During the first year of operation, the 2,416-bed prison is expected to house approximately 1,068 security level 1-4 adult male inmates for the Indiana Department of Correction and generate approximately $12.8 million. Under the terms of the contract, GEO will be paid for a guaranteed average daily population of 961 inmates, or 90 per cent of the initial contract capacity, following a ramp-up period of approximately four weeks.
Some might argue that private prison companies are worth it. After all, the private market is better equipped to handle things effectively and efficiently, right? Wrong:
State Police responded to the prison around 2 p.m., where inmates set fires outside the cell blocks.

Mayor Tom Nipp described the situation as, "A full-scale riot."  Nipp says police have set up a perimeter around the prison, assuring residents that no one has escaped.

Video taken by Chopper 13 shows inmates standing near small flames that appear to be mattresses set on fire.

The Indiana Department of Corrections confirms the disturbance involved prisoners from Indiana and prisoners from Arizona.  Tear gas was used by correctional officers and State Police to gain control.  Police moved hundreds of prisoners outside to an area along the outer fence line while cell blocks were searched for others involved in the riots.

The Indiana governor wants to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a felony because, apparently, we aren't nearly hard enough on those non-violent pot smokers. Or something. Lurking beneath the surface is an insidious actor. The unmentioned hand of political influence guides his actions, as prison corporations like GEO own their candidates and wreck state criminal codes.

Originally posted to Coby DuBose on Criminal Injustice, Race, and Poverty on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 07:28 PM PDT.

Also republished by American Legislative Transparency Project, DKos Cannabis Law and Drug War Reform, Indianapolis Kossacks, Barriers and Bridges, and Daily Kos Classics.

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