In a country that has a long history of claiming liberty and justice for all, there has been a significant lack of equality for many. Within the criminal justice system, for example, there was a major shift to promote incarceration over rehabilitation in the late 20th century. The reason for the change in philosophy cannot be viewed as an anomaly, or a change in the ideological tide alone. Rather, the economic and greedy strategies behind the criminal law policies put forth by politicians are the reason, and can be attributed specifically to an organization that has for years hidden in plain sight, ALEC.
ALEC, which stands for the American Legislative Executive Council, is an organization where corporations and politicians converge, and the corporate executives voice their opinions towards the policy matters of the day. It is highly troubling that corporations and their CEOs find it necessary to supply, in their official capacities, their ideological viewpoints to politicians. The politicians, in turn, take the viewpoints to the floor of their respective house, and advocate the viewpoints as bills to become law. ALEC has highly conservative viewpoints, and coordinates very closely with the conservative members of Congress. An embarrassing example of the direct correlation between ALEC policy and the positions of members of Congress is when one congressman forgot to remove the ALEC logo from the letterhead of a proposed piece of legislation that was being debated on the House floor.
ALEC had a defined stance and involvement in criminal sentencing and prison management policy. Because of the greed of some of its corporate constituents, ALEC sought an opportunity to advance their financial interests through policies such as being “tough on crime,” “three strikes,” and “truth in sentencing laws” (which eliminated early release policies such as good time credits). ALEC aided and participated in the exploitation and stoking of people’s fears, making minorities the face of those fears to pursue a monetary gain. Their main purpose was to use the fear and anger, and build it into a policy of being tougher on crime to have more individuals, who turned out to be predominately African-American and Latino, be sentenced to lengthier terms of prison sentences. These longer sentenced individuals would then be forced to occupy prison cells in private prisons, run by third parties and whose primary form of making money is to have as many inmates locked up as possible. A private prison corporation, the CCA (Corrections Corporation of America), was a contributor to ALEC. For this reason, ALEC advocated for states to build and open private for-profit prisons that CCA and other prison companies could operate.
A law that was endorsed by ALEC to achieve this objective was the “Private Correctional Facilities Act,” which would allow for any governmental organization to contract with a privately run for-profit prison for imprisoning any inmates accused or convicted of violating any criminal laws. In advocating these types of policies, ALEC had no second thoughts about their practices and how it may be affecting Americans, specifically minorities. The notion was to try and bring in as much money for their corporate members, and to keep feeding the politicians all the right words and bills to achieve their objectives.
Further, the endorsement by ALEC of the for-profit prison system led to an array of issues, when it came to prison food or the exploitation of the inmates to make products for the member companies at the ALEC table.
The food, for example, which was made by Aramark, was found to be of the lowest quality, and at one point contained maggots. All of this done by the corporations in the name of greed.
Additionally, the labor being done by the inmates was exposed, and forced prominent companies such as K-Mart and J.C. Penney to leave ALEC. Out of shame, these two companies along with others (such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi) were forced to remove themselves from ALEC to distance themselves from this highly greedy and heartless organization. One of the most prominent companies in recent years to leave ALEC is Ford. Essentially, all the companies who were initially part of ALEC had a moment in time where they were exposed as being a part of this unscrupulous organization, and it was embarrassing to be associated with them. While it appears these companies made a stand and honorably left the organization, it is surprising and sad to note the number of corporations who affiliated themselves with this organization to begin with.
Then, when policy across the board was starting to shift, and the sentiment went against the populating of prisons with inmates due to an increase in reports of overcrowding, ALEC attempted to change its viewpoint. However, what appeared to be a change of heart and shift in policy by ALEC was no more than a recalibration to the demands of the time to keep up with the greed of the organization and its members. For example, despite having the private for-profit prison companies on their board, ALEC decided to pursue the angle of trying to reduce prison overcrowding in favor of alternative sentencing. The form of alternative sentencing that ALEC began to endorse was electronic monitoring (ankle bracelets). ALEC may have thought that this new approach was clever; yet, it was as transparent as the previous policy of trying to stuff prisons with inmates. This new policy was fueled by greed, and again going to come at the expense of Latinos and African Americans.
To conclude, while this organization had been hiding in plain sight for many years, they are now very well-known and have been exposed for what they are and what they stand for. It is up to us to reject organizations like this, that exploit minorities’ liberties and individual rights for the sake of earning a dollar. ALEC must be stopped once and for all.
These are a list of the sources utilized for this post:
13th. Dir. Ava DuVernay. Netflix, 2016. Netflix documentary.