Friday, June 17, 2016

the clinton years: mass incarceration and the aristocracy of prison profits


narconews |  The Clinton Administration took the groundwork laid by Nixon, Reagan and Bush and embraced and blossomed the expansion and promotion of federal support for police, enforcement and the War on Drugs with a passion that was hard to understand unless and until you realized that the American financial system was deeply dependent on attracting an estimated $500 billion-$1 trillion of annual money laundering. Globalizing corporations and deepening deficits and housing bubbles required attracting vast amounts of capital.

Attracting capital also required making the world safe for the reinvestment of the profits of organized crime and the war machine. Without growing organized crime and military activities through government budgets and contracts, the economy would stop centralizing. The Clinton Administration was to govern a doubling of the federal prison population.[1]
 
Whether through subsidy, credit and asset forfeiture kickbacks to state and local government or increased laws, regulations and federal sentencing and imprisonment, the supremacy of the federal enforcement infrastructure and the industry it feeds was to be a Clinton legacy.

One of the first major initiatives by President Bill Clinton was the Omnibus Crime Bill, signed into law in September 1994. This legislation implemented mandatory sentencing, authorized $10.5 billion to fund prison construction that mandatory sentencing would help require, loosened the rules on allowing federal asset forfeiture teams to keep and spend the money their operations made from seizing assets, and provided federal monies for local police. The legislation also provided a variety of pork for a Clinton Administration vogue constituency — Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). The CDCs and CDFIs became instrumental during this period in putting a socially acceptable face on increasing central control of local finance and shutting off equity capital to small business.

The potential impact on the private prison industry was significant. With the bill only through the house, former Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti joined the board of Wackenhut Corrections, which went public in July 1994 with an initial public offering of 2.2 million shares. By the end of 1998, Wackenhut’s stock market value had increased almost ten times. When I visited their website at that time it offered a feature that flashed the number of beds they owned and managed. The number increased as I was watching it — the prison business was growing that fast.

However, the Clinton Administration did not wait for the Omnibus Crime Bill to build the federal enforcement infrastructure. Government-wide, agencies were encouraged to cash in on support in both Executive Branch and Congress for authorizations and programs — many justified under the umbrella of the War on Drugs — that allowed agency personnel to carry weapons, make arrests and generate revenues from money makers such as civil money penalties and asset forfeitures and seizures. Indeed, federal enforcement was moving towards a model that some would call “for profit” faster than one could say “Sheriff of Nottingham.”

On February 4, 1994, U.S. Vice President Al Gore announced Operation Safe Home, a new enforcement program at HUD. Gore was a former Senator from Tennessee. His hometown of Nashville was home of the largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). He was joined at the press conference by Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen, Attorney General Janet Reno, Director of Drug Policy Lee Brown and Secretary of HUD Henry Cisneros who said that the Operation Safe Home initiative would claim $800 million of HUD’s resources. Operation Safe Home was to receive significant support from the Senate and House appropriations committees. It turned the HUD Inspector General’s office from an auditor of program areas to a developer of programs competing for funding with the offices they were supposed to be auditing — a serious conflict of interest and built-in failure of government internal controls.

According to the announcement, Operation Safe Home was expected to “combat violent crime in public and assisted housing.” As part of this program, the HUD Office of Inspector General (OIG) coordinated with various federal, state and local enforcement task forces. Federal agencies that partnered with HUD included the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, the Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). The primary performance measures reported in the HUD OIG Semi-Annual Performance Report to Congress for this program are the total number of asset forfeitures/seizures, equity skimming collections and arrests. Subsequent intra-agency efforts such as the “ACE” program sponsored by DOJ and initiated by U.S. Attorney’s Offices, working with the DOJ Asset Forfeiture Fund, HUD OIG and HUD Office of General Counsel promoted revenue generating activities as well.