How Are Corporations Interfering With Our Criminal Justice System?
Corporations and their politician allies voted behind closed doors through ALEC to change America's criminal justice system and enrich profits.
On the surface, many ALEC bills look like basic tough-on-crime legislation, but corporate leaders of ALEC benefit financially from such legislation--meaning that what has been sold to the public as good for public safety was actually pushed by corporations that profit from such changes in the law, without politicians disclosing their corporate allies' financial interest to the public when such bills were introduced.
Spotlight on Gun Bills
For many years, until this spring, the National Rifle Association (NRA) actually co-chaired the ALEC "Task Force on Public Safety and Elections." (The election bills are discussed in the section of this site titled "Democracy, Voter Rights and Federal Power.") ALEC bills include "model" legislation that advances the constitutionality of an individual's right to bear arms (an argument vindicated by a recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court). The legislation also would likely benefit the firearms industry closely connected to the NRA.
Bills or resolutions in this area:
Other examples of bills that superficially advance public safety while conveniently increasing industry profits include--
Bills that prop up the for-profit bail bond industry, a long-time ALEC board member, through:
Bills that benefit long-time ALEC members of the relatively new, global for-profit prison industry, like Corrections Corporation of American and Wackenhut (now a foreign firm called G4S), by for example:
Bills that add new penalties for retail theft, which increase prison population and aid ALEC corporations that are retailers, like corporate board member Wal-Mart, such as:
Other drug use related bills would require that any college student convicted of a drug crime lose financial aid, promote drug testing in American workplaces, even if the work has nothing to do with public safety, and suspend the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug crime.
The bills also include anti-immigrant legislation that requires local law enforcement to enforce complex federal law, result in racial or ethnic profiling, and destroy the law enforcement-community relationship (see this bill, this bill, this bill, and this bill).
The bills would also overturn long-standing rules designed to protect Americans' constitutional rights, including the right to be free from warrantless searches and the right to confront one's accusers, such as legislation to:
Still other bills would aid corporations in other ways, like bills to punish homeowners for the mortgage crisis by creating the crime of "mortgage fraud," that focuses primarily on consumers, but no corresponding new crimes for the Wall Street shell game that sank the U.S. economy.
Some of this Corporate Agenda Has Become Law
Truth in Sentencing & Private Prisons
When current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was a state representative, he was an ALEC member and introduced several bills proposed by ALEC, including "Truth in Sentencing" and bills to privatize the state's prison system.
Passed in Wisconsin in 1997, "Truth in Sentencing" requires inmates to serve their full sentence without options for parole or supervised release. The program has inflated prison populations and greatly increased the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on prisons -- in Wisconsin, to an estimated $1.8 billion through 2025. In many states, Truth in Sentencing has increased profits for private prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America, a member of ALEC's Private Sector board. In 1999, then-Rep. Scott Walker introduced two bills that would allow private prisons in Wisconsin. While those bills did not pass, some inmates were contracted out to private prisons in other states, and the Corrections Corporation of America has registered lobbyists in the state ever since.
A former head of Wisconsin's prison system who is currently a University of Wisconsin Law Professor, Walter Dickey, told American Radio Works it is "shocking" that lawmakers would write sentencing policy with help from ALEC, a group that gets funding, and supposedly "expertise," from a private prison corporation.
"I don't know that they know anything about sentencing," he said. "They know how to build prisons, presumably, since that's the business they're in. They don't know anything about probation and parole. They don't know about the development of alternatives. They don't know about how public safety might be created and defended in communities in this state and other states."
The Wisconsin state legislature apparently recognized the folly of Truth in Sentencing and rolled back the law between 2001 and 2009. When Scott Walker became governor, he reversed this progress and requested legislation to restore the ALEC corporation-supported Truth in Sentencing, despite the costs to taxpayers and despite claiming Wisconsin was "broke." It is unknown whether privatized prisons will soon follow.
To learn more about this story, click here, or here.
The NRA's "Castle Doctrine Act"
In 2011, Wisconsin ALEC members introduced AB-69, a bill nearly identical to the ALEC "Castle Doctrine Act" approved by the National Rifle Association. The bill allows a homeowner to shoot and kill a person they claim is breaking into their home, without fear of civil liability. A marked-up version of AB-69, noting the relevant sections of the ALEC Castle Doctrine Act, can be found here.
Have any of these bills been introduced or enacted in YOUR state? If so, please add that information to the ALEC Exposed page on your state by searching for your state's name in the search engine at the top of this page.
More Helpful Resources
Additional resources on ALEC's corporate agenda:
- ALEC Funding, PRWatch (2011)
- American Legislative Exchange Council and other related articles, SourceWatch (2011)
- Ghostwriting the Law for Corporate America, American Association for Justice (2010)
- Climate Denial Report on ALEC and Exxon Funding for ALEC, Greenpeace (2011)
- Governing the Nation from the Statehouses, Progressive States Network (2006)
- Wolves in Sheep's Clothing, Common Cause (2006)
- Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law, NPR (2010)
- Exposing ALEC, blogging group, Daily KOS (2011)
- ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests In State Legislatures, People for the American Way (2011)
- Corporate America's Trojan Horse in the States, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council (2002)
- The Attack on Trial Lawyers and Tort Law, Commonwealth Institute (2003)
- Wisconsin's Cronon Affair: The Power of a Simple Fact, The Nation Magazine (2011)
- Ghostwriting the Law, Mother Jones (2002)
- ALEC Behind Voter Disenfranchisement Efforts, Center for American Progress (2011)
- ALEC Report, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (2011)
- ALEC Exposed: Business Domination Inc., The Nation Magazine (2011)