Trump Offers a Ray of Hope for America’s Embattled Private-Prison Industry

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Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

There are always some particular interests with a particular reason for political engagement in any given election. I vaguely recall that during one of Jerry Brown’s presidential campaigns practically every chiropractor in America supported him because he favored making their services eligible for Medicaid funding. In 2012, a friend of mine who worked for a big bank in an area affected by new regulations cast his first presidential vote for a Republican because “Barack Obama has made my life a living hell the last four years.” It happens. I’m sure no one in Hillary Clinton’s camp expects a lot of support from people who work for coal companies, or who used to work for them, and buy Donald Trump’s cruel promise to bring the mines back.

But one of the stranger special interests to emerge with a big stake in campaign 2016 is the private-prison industry. As you may recall, in August the Justice Department announced it was phasing out the use of contracts with private correctional companies to house federal prisoners. At Monday’s presidential-candidates debate, Hillary Clinton praised that decision and said she’d like to see it emulated by state correctional departments (who house the bulk of America’s incarcerated population). Though she has no power at present and the federal government has no control over state prison contracting practices, the stocks of the two largest private-prison companies took a dive right away.

And so, as Betsy Woodruff reports, the private-prison industry could really, really use a friend like Donald Trump in the White House. Back in June, when asked about private prisons, Trump was bullish:

In an interview with Chris Matthews in June, the Republican nominee praised the industry.
“I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons,” he said. “It seems to work a lot better.”
The line didn’t get much attention at the time because in that same interview Trump called for punishing women who get abortions. Trump’s campaign didn’t respond to a query about whether he still holds this view on the corrections industry.

Who knows if he had any idea what the question was really about. It’s possible he was just winging it and, being a Republican these days, figured he should favor any kind of “privatization.”

It’s true that Trump has to be counted generally as a fan for incarceration, as part of his belief that we need “law and order” to quell a “crime wave.” His closest ally in Congress, Senator Jeff Sessions, is a bitter opponent of criminal-justice-reform legislation aimed at reducing the number of people in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.

So perhaps if you or a loved one is a private-prison guard, your employer will quietly let you know between now and Election Day that Making America Great Again includes a bright future for corporate hoosegows. It’s not like the industry has a lot of choice.