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Private corrections companies hoped to cash in on Oklahoma reforms

BY CURTIS KILLMAN AND CARY ASPINWALL Published: January 6, 2014
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Documents released by Gov. Mary Fallin's office show concerns that may have quashed parts of Oklahoma's prison reforms included the role private facilities would have under the new law.

Operators of private prisons in Oklahoma also angled for a slice of the prison reform pie, campaigning to have their halfway houses serve as the “intermediate sanctions facilities” spelled out in the new law to handle low-level offenders who violated terms of their release. Leaders from Avalon Correctional Services and GEO both sought meetings with the governor's office and Corrections Department officials regarding the JRI reforms, records show.

Private corrections and their supporters hand out a lot of campaign donations in Oklahoma politics. Since 2004, private corrections interests and those that represent them have spent more than $400,000 to fund various elected officials' campaigns and political causes, a Tulsa World analysis of Ethics Commission disclosure reports shows.

The amount spent includes $50,750 in contributions for incumbents' 2014 re-election campaigns, the analysis shows.

The $414,397 total spent ranges from a few bucks spent by lobbyists whose clients include a private corrections company to thousands spent to fund political events such as the Oklahoma Speaker's Ball.

Three private corrections companies with operations in the state are the primary donors to political campaigns in Oklahoma — Corrections Corp. of America, The Geo Group Inc. and Avalon Correctional Services Inc.

An April 2012 email from a private prison lobbyist shows he sought a meeting with the governor on behalf of GEO President John Hurley and other executives.

“We would like to hear your thoughts on JRI and future impact on corrections,” lobbyist Brett Robinson wrote.

That email is among more than 8,000 documents released by Fallin's office in response to Open Records requests regarding Oklahoma's stalled prison reform laws enacted in 2012 under House Bill 3052. The records also show an internal document from Fallin's office that listed a “possible concern” of HB 3052:

“Excludes private facilities,” the email notes.

In March 2013, Avalon Chief Operating Officer Brian Costello sent Fallin's staff an email outlining his company's campaign to house the inmates sent to intermediate sanctions facilities under the prison reform law, something they began requesting in 2011.

Fallin's campaign committee is the top recipient of corporate corrections funding, receiving $38,250, through Sept. 30, records show.

Political action committees representing two private corrections companies with interests in the state have donated the maximum allowed, $5,000, to Fallin's 2010 and 2014 campaign committees.

A Fallin campaign spokeswoman said in an email that the donations represent less than half a percent of nearly $11 million raised by Fallin since 2002.

“The $10.9 million raised from the 2002 campaign to the present are donations received from hardworking Oklahomans of every background who have supported Mary Fallin. ... Pick any industry and odds are it will have donated the most to Mary Fallin simply because she has been around the longest and run and won more campaigns than her current peers at the Capitol.”

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