Ch 4. Koch Network's Anti-Civil Rights Crusade

Part 5: The Construction and Expansion of the Prison Industrial Complex

  1. "Tough on Crime"

  2. "Koch Crime Institute" and "Superpredators"

  3. Economics of Prison Labor and Privatization

1. "Tough on Crime""

The freedoms won by abolitionists and civil rights activists have been undermined every step of the way. As explored recently in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow; the “War on Drugs,” passage of “Tough on Crime” legislation, and the privatization of corrections have acted as a lucrative replacement for the Jim Crow laws. Instead of being removed, the institution of slavery has evolved into the modern “prison industrial complex,” fueled by the “school to prison pipeline.”

These modern initiatives have been advanced by organizations funded by the Koch network and the private corrections industry, in particular, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

As noted by the Center for Media and Democracy, the private corrections contractor Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic) led ALEC's Public Safety and Elections Task Force as recently as April 2011. This task force developed and proliferated bills that privatized corrections, like the 1995 Private Correctional Facilities Act.

The same ALEC task force developed and proliferated the Tough on Crime laws that filled up these private prisons, including the Minimum-Mandatory Sentencing Act, Truth in Sentencing Act, “three-strikes-you’re-out” laws, and bills allowing juveniles to be charged as adults.

ALEC’s 1994 annual conference, sponsored in part by Corrections Corporation of America and Koch Industries, included a “Campaign School on Crime”:

Controlling crime is the priority concern for voters today. This fall, candidates who campaign on crime, frame the issue effectively, present a credible, tough-on-crime agenda, and debunk the myths and misinformation of their opponents will find an electorate ready to take back the streets from criminals and their apologists.

The 1994 conference program not only lists Koch Industries as a sponsor, but shows that Charles and David Koch were in attendance personally and both received ALEC’s Adam Smith award.

The Kochs political groups continue to fund tough on crime political ads to this day.

2. The “Koch Crime Institute” and “Superpredators”

David and Charles Koch were not the only Koch brothers taking an interest in the criminal justice world during 1994. Their brother William “Bill” Koch was the founder and chaired the William I. Koch Commission on Crime Reduction and Prevention, whose mission included understanding the causes of “violent crime by youth,” identifying “crime reduction and prevention strategies,” and increasing “public safety” and efficiency “in the application of resources.”

The body was commissioned by Kansas Governor Joan Finney at the request of Koch, after “he and his son attended a 1993 Fourth of July celebration that witnessed gang violence and two subsequent deaths” (Bob Hiller, 2015).

On a 1996 Koch Commission panel, Bill Koch expounded on his thoughts regarding the number of juveniles committing violent crimes:

I think now the big problem is that this number is growing astronomically, if not exponentially, through the gangs. I have a hypothesis, and that is that our government, for political motivations, has caused two things: one, the deterioration of the communities, and second is the deterioration of the family. The deterioration of the communities, right after World War II, there was a big push to get low income housing for everybody. Take away the villages and get everybody in a suburbia. And now, the deterioration of the family is primarily the result of welfare (video at 16:11).

Koch’s remarks on the “exponential” growth of violent juveniles mirrored John DiIulio’s discredited “juvenile superpredator” theory, which had gained popularity that year.

In fact, a criminologist frequently cited alongside DiIulio as a leading “superpredator” theorist, Marvin Wolfgang, was a co-panelist and member of the Koch commission. Wolfgang’s 1967 Subculture of Violence blamed the “culture” of urban youths for violent crimes, and his 1972 Delinquency in a Birth Cohort laid the groundwork for DiIulio’s claims about predatory recidivists.

In 1998, the commission “evolved into a national organization named the Koch Crime Institute” (KCI website, accessed 1999).

While a 1998 report from the Koch Crime Institute acknowledged a drastically falling crime rate, it continued to propagate the superpredator concept:

there is a large juvenile population on the horizon. The upcoming group of offenders have already demonstrated a disturbing capacity for violence. The coming crime wave reflects more a poverty of values than a poverty of material wealth (The Falling Crime Rate, 1998).

The above passage identically reflects DiIulio’s theory that crime is born out of “moral poverty” rather than material poverty, as advanced in his 1996 book Body Count: Moral Poverty and How to Win America’s War Against Crime and Drugs. DiIulio is directly cited elsewhere in the KCI report.

The Koch Crime Institute website lists among its accomplishments:

Developing the recommendations that became the foundation for the Kansas Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 1996 (Koch Crime Institute website, accessed Jan. 1999).

The 1996 Kansas Juvenile Justice Reform Act creates a legal framework for giving adult sentences to minors:

created a new juvenile offender category known as "extended jurisdiction juvenile prosecution" for juveniles convicted of violent crimes. . . If a juvenile is prosecuted as an EJJ, the juvenile will simultaneously receive both a juvenile and an adult sentence. The juvenile serves the juvenile sentence, but, if s/he violates the condition of juvenile sentence, the juvenile is taken immediately into the custody of the Department of Corrections to serve the adult sentence (Justice Research and Statistics Association, 1999).

3. The Economics of Prison Labor and Privatization

Other bills brought forth by ALEC include the “Prison Industries Act,” allowing the proliferation of prison labor and the further profiteering by ALEC sponsors from the incarceration boom.

We can also see how Koch’s academics help these model bills become actual law, using privately funded research to support privately funded advocacy groups.

Florida State University economist Bruce Benson’s 1998 book, To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice, was the result of nearly a decade of privately funded research on correctional privatization. Published by the free-market think tank, Independent Institute, it explores the:

outsourcing of government functions such as prisons and corrections, security, and arbitration to full-scale “private justice” initiatives, such as business and community-imposed sanctions, citizen crime prevention, and increased private security and self-defense. (Independent Institute)

According to the book,

Since 1980, at least twenty-five states have passed legislation to authorize contracting out for correctional services, and some have begun to consider other options as well. Among these promising developments is the William I. Koch Commission on Crime Reduction and Prevention for the State of Kansas, which in 1994 commissioned a report from me on privatization in criminal justice in order to explore a broad range of privatization alternatives. (pg xx) . . .

The foundation of this book was developed in a report prepared in 1994 for the Koch Commission on Crime Reduction and Prevention for the State of Kansas, entitled “Privatization in Criminal Justice.” (pg xxv)

According to Benson’s CV, he was contracted $4,250 to present findings that included “Privatization and the Criminal Justice System” at the 1994 Koch commission. He lists the commission as having been “administered by the Independent Institute.”

That following year, the Independent Institute contracted Benson to write a “book and other publications” on “Privatization of Criminal Justice” with $29,000 from the conservative Carthage and Earhart foundations. Other publications included his 1997 “Market Alternatives to Crime Control,” which advocated for prison labor through the use of “private labor markets.”

Missing from Benson’s current CV is his position in1998 as Adjunct Fellow at the Enterprise Prison Institute (EPI), an organization devoted to promoting for-profit prison labor and reported to be financed by “state grants, research centers, and private companies.” The Chair of EPI was Edwin Meese, who joins Charles Koch on the board of the Mercatus Center. Meese served as President Ronald Reagan's Attorney General, personally overseeing the implementation of harsher sentences for drug offenders.

In To Serve and Protect, Benson describes how:

As information spreads about successful programs, both through organized efforts such as the Enterprise Prison Institute and through word of mouth within the business community, misperceptions about the potential benefits of prison labor markets will be corrected. In Florida, the Federation of Independent Business originally opposed the state’s prison industry program, but it is clearly reevaluating that position; it even cited “significant recent improvements” within the program. (Benson 1998)

The Enterprise Prisons Institute is cited by the Florida Senate in 1998 on “Attracting Businesses to Come Behind Prison Walls,” stating EPI provided “unconventional wisdom” on expanding prison labor through a federal program called Prison Industries Enhancement (PIE):

why are private businesses not knocking down the Department [of Corrections’] door to operate inside prisons and employ inmates? According to The Enterprise Prison Institute, there is conventional and unconventional wisdom to answer this question. The conventional wisdom consists of: inadequate education of the public, inadequate financial incentives, resistance from prison officials and correctional officers, and inadequate space. The unconventional wisdom, however, tells a more interesting story. It advocates that there is: a difference in culture between corrections officials and business entrepreneurs making it difficult for each party to understand what is most important to the other party; a reciprocal lack of trust between government and business; a difficulty in embracing changes on both sides of the PIE equation, a problem with the perceived market risks and political risks for both sides; and that there is a relative insignificance in the cost savings or favorable lease rates offered to PIE participants. (Report of the FL Senate Criminal Justice Committee, 1998)

The Florida Senate report recommended that:

PIE programs should be maximized by encouraging development of industries in local jails, juvenile facilities, and youthful offender facilities in addition to increasing their numbers in adult prisons

Beyond Florida, Benson’s publications for the Independent Institute were used to influence policy in other states. Benson’s works make up 20% of the references in a 1997 Koch Crime Institute “Privatization Task Force” report, which concluded that:

the many advantages to privatization discussed in this report illustrate that Kansas, as well as other states, has benefitted and could continue to benefit in the future from the privatization of selected correctional services or the management of minimum security facilities. (KCI Privatization Task Force Report, 1998)


Part 6 of this chapter examines how the Koch network is attempting guide the criminal justice narrative yet again, using the same people and organizations as "Tough on Crime," only now it is called "Right on Crime."