By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
A key amendment in the $845 million prison construction bill could leave state officials negotiating with a company being sued by Mississippi for allegedly offering kickbacks and bribes during that state’s prison transformation project.
The amendment in question, which was added during debate on the Senate floor by Sen. Bobby Singleton, requires state officials to make “a good faith effort” to purchase the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County. (A separate amendment from Singleton makes it clear that private prisons can operate in the state should the prison construction bill pass.)
The group that owns the Perry County facility, the GEO Group, was sued in February by the Mississippi Attorney General under civil RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) statutes.
Alabama’s prison bill, which will be debated Tuesday morning in the House Judiciary Committee, has gone through a number of changes, but Senate sponsor Cam Ward told APR on Monday that the amendment concerning the Perry County facility remains in the bill.
The lawsuit filed by Mississippi AG Jim Hood alleges the GEO Group – the nation’s second-largest private prisons organization – provided “consulting fees” to a retired Mississippi state lawmaker who had worked out a deal with the head of the state’s department of corrections, which controlled the awarding of more than $800 million in construction and management contracts.
The “consulting fees” were actually bribes, the suit alleges, and resulted in GEO Group, which is located in Florida, winning more than $260 million in contracts over an eight-year span.
“Out-of-state corporations were eager to take advantage of Mississippi taxpayers and secure MDOC contracts through bribery and fraud. It is critical for the state to use the remedies at its disposal to recover damages and get back the money exchanged in these schemes,” Hood said.
The GEO Group has denied wrongdoing, claiming it often hires “consultants” in states where it plans to do business.
Six people, including the state’s former prisons chief and the former lawmaker who ran the scheme together, have pleaded guilty so far. Numerous others are awaiting trial.
This is not GEO Group’s only legal troubles.
The company also faces a class action lawsuit brought by inmates and immigrants, who claim they were essentially used as forced slave labor at a private facility.
The company, which also owns the Therapeutic Education Facility in Columbiana, essentially started Mississippi’s prisons trouble, when federal officials launched an investigation in 2012 into the barbaric and horrific conditions inside a youth facility GEO Group managed.