On the state level, Governor Jerry Brown of California has by far been the biggest beneficiary of private prison money, with $160,200 in contributions over his career. Historically, Brown has received more than double the amount of the next highest state-level recipient, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, with $65,000 from the private prison industry.

Rounding out the top five are Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico ($48,400), Gov Mike Pence of Indiana and the current Republican vice presidential nominee ($40,750), State Sen. John Whitmire of Texas ($34,700), and Florida CFO Jeff Atwater ($26,300).

Unsurprisingly, the majority of private prison political contributions is going into states that have implemented controversial, highly-punitive legislation, such as California's 3 strikes rule, Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law, or Florida's drug legislation, one of the strictest in the country. These states - Florida, Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico - also handle the bulk of undocumented immigrants held in ICE facilities, many of which are privately managed by GEO and CCA.

Regardless of one's stance on the need to incarcerate non-violent offenders, or on the effectiveness of private groups providing key public services, it seems clear that the DOJ's decision not to renew contracts with private prison groups opens up and injects new life into the discussion of how to address the problem of mass incarceration in the United States. It remains to be seen whether or not this will impact private prison contracts at the state level, where the majority of the problem lies. As long as private prison groups continue to dominate campaign finance without significant opposition, status quo politics will always have the upper hand.

Header image courtesy of Luis Argerich.

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