In recent years, where stadium naming rights could be sold, universities and professional sports teams have sold them — to airlines and banks and companies that sell beer, soda, doughnuts, cars, telecommunications, razors and baseball bats. This led to memorable examples like Enron Field, the KFC Yum! Center and the University of Phoenix Stadium.
On Tuesday, that trend took another strange turn when Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, firmed a deal to rename its football buildingGEO Group Stadium. Perhaps that pushed stadium naming to its zenith, if only because the GEO Group is a private prison corporation.
The GEO Group, which is based in Boca Raton, secured the naming rights with a $6 million gift, paid out over 12 years through its charitable arm, the largest such donation in Florida Atlantic’s athletic history.
Marc Mauer is the executive director of The Sentencing Project, and the author of “Race to Incarcerate”, which has just been released in graphic format, illustrated by Sabrina Jones, as “Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling” (The New Press).
Mark Karlin: In praising your original book “Race to Incarcerate,” Julian Bond states that prisoners have become commodities in the United States. In what ways?
Marc Mauer: The question of whether persons convicted of a crime should be imprisoned or not is now increasingly influenced by economic interests. While prisons have long tended to be located in rural communities because of the availability of cheap land, this trend has accelerated in recent decades as a result of lobbying by rural officials. With declining economic prospects in many of these communities, many local leaders have come to view prisons as their best hope of economic opportunity through the jobs that are generated. In practice, this has not proven to be beneficial to these areas, but nonetheless rural legislators continue to seek such opportunities. Perhaps not coincidentally, many of these officials are also strong supporters of harsh sentencing policies.
These developments have taken a perverse direction as some states have managed to reduce their prison populations in recent years. In New York State, for example, despite a 25 percent decline in the prison population over the past decade, state officials trying to close prisons due to excess capacity have been met with great resistance from these same rural interests. Rather than pitting “rural” vs. “urban” interests, to move forward we should be exploring economic development strategies that will provide opportunity both in the urban neighborhoods from which a disproportionate share of the prison population originates and in the rural communities that are searching for reasonable sources of employment. […]
(Click the headline to continue reading the interview.)