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The Pun's on US

Down in Pinal County

by GREG MOSES

Back in January, the jobs picture in Eloy, Arizona wasn’t looking so good. Thanks to federal budget cuts, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced it would cancel a contract with the town’s biggest employer, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) at a cost of 300 jobs.

Today, however, the jobs picture is much improved. Not only did CCA manage to save the jobs at the Eloy Detention Center by picking up a contract to detain 1,500 male "noncitizens" for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but the giant prison contractor has also broken ground on two new projects in Eloy that will together import about 3,500 new prisoners from Alaska and Hawaii.

"This means an awful lot to the city. It opens more job opportunities for people in the region," said Eloy Mayor Byron Jackson in a dispatch filed by reporter Eli J. Long of the Arizona Daily Star.

In addition to Eloy’s three prisons, CCA already manages two prisons in the nearby town of Florence that together import nearly 4,000 prisoners from ICE, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), US Air Force, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. When all five prisons of Pinal County are up and running, they will bring a total of 2,000 jobs.

"Our contracts create predictable revenue streams," brags the CCA investor report for Q1 2006. And the news does look good for investors. The prison industry is not much affected by economic downturns; 93.3 percent of the market share is yet to be privatized; overcrowding is pervasive; and demographic trends "point to higher prison populations."

In addition to these favorable trends for investors, CCA points to "strong federal demand substantially driven by an increasing emphasis on border security" (CCA Q1 investor report 2006, pdf page 10.)

By "increasing emphasis," CCA means increasing funds. To hold more prisoners, Congress has given USMS a 38 percent increase in detention funding, good for about 5,000 new beds. ICE is getting another $90 million for new cells, too.

"This represents the third consecutive year of increased funding to ICE and USMS," announces CCA in a blue box filled with bold red italics. So you see, Congress has been addressing somebody’s needs. But there’s more, because the President also has taken action in time to make the Q1 pdf.

"On May 15, 2006, President Bush requested $1.948 billion in emergency funding to help secure America’s borders," heralds the May 30 report from CCA. That emergency money is supposed to include 4,000 prison beds more.

Then, if you look at the schedule for FY 2007, things get even better for CCA investors. The USMS will be looking at another funding increase of $110 million for prisoner detention, which sounds pretty good until you look at ICE, which is even better, because ICE is looking at a $700 million increase in funds, which will translate into anywhere from 4,780 to 6,700 new beds for immigration prisoners alone.

"Although the ultimate form of a comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill is not certain at this time," reports CCA once again in red italics, "the Company believes any bill ultimately passed will provide for substantial increases in the arrest and detention of illegal immigrants crossing the US border with Mexico." And why should we not believe the company?

But CCA is not yet finished with the prospects of federal demand for prisoners, because it’s not all about immigrants, you know. There are 190,000 prisoners in the BOP; the agency is running 34 percent over capacity; and for plain ole U.S. Citizens, it will need at least another 30,000 beds before 2011. Funding for this need will be forthcoming. The CCA isn’t worried about that.

Factor in only one thing more, that the CCA’s preference for warmer climates of the South and Southwest tends to "mute" the impacts of rising energy prices, and you have the total picture: "Superior returns on investment," says the bullet point, "The Company is able to generate unleveraged, pre-tax returns on new real estate investments of between 13-15 percent of cost at a stabilized occupancy of 95 percent."

Which brings us back to Pinal County and the obvious pun. Just put your money on the table. CCA and the feds will stabilize the prison occupancy. Ask not for whom the beds are built. Whether you’re a CCA investor or not, either way you’re guaranteed a secure place to sleep.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at gmosesx@prodigy.net

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