Let’s say you’re the CEO of one of the nation’s largest private prison corporations, or maybe just a rich American (who is more likely than low or middle-income folks to favor building more prisons). You’re almost certainly white, and perhaps you’re not particularly concerned with the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on communities of color resulting from structural racism ranging from the school-to-prison pipeline to skewed enforcement of drug crimes and punitive immigration policies.

You have plenty of money. But how do you use it to get what you want from government policy and, in this case, more public money spent to lock people up? Here’s a handy guide. 

The three largest private prison companies in the U.S. seem to know what they’re doing (the private prison population more than doubled between 1999 and 2012), so we’ll follow their example throughout.  Thanks for showing the way, GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and Management and Training Corp (MTC).

Embrace your role as gatekeeper for aspiring elected officials

Candidates running for U.S. Senate need to raise $3,300 every single day for six years to match the median 2014 winner. That much money is much easier to raise in large chunks. So, round up some friends and write some early $1,000+ checks to be sure that folks who support your pro-prison agenda can crush the competition in the “wealth primary” that decides who will actually go before the voters in the summer (primaries) or fall (general election). 

Your early money will make sure your allies’ political parties and the news media view them as “credible,” which will help open up the spigot from other donors. Florida-based GEO Group made $100,000 contributions to both Jeb Bush’s and Marco Rubio’s Super PACs, helping fuel their drives for the Republican presidential nomination. Didn’t work out this time, but good try.  If either had won, that might have been a hell of an investment.

Whisper in their ears

Once you start giving, you’ll end up on all the candidates’ call lists. So, answer the phone. Sitting legislators spend several hours per day dialing for dollars at “call time” so you’ll get to talk with plenty of folks already wielding power. And, before you commit to writing a big check make sure they know how you feel about the need for more prisons, mandatory minimums and harsher drug and immigration laws. You might as well rant against the minimum wage while you’re at it. They’ll be spending so much time talking with rich donors, they’ll start to believe everyone thinks like you. Don’t mention all the evidence showing that the wealthy have very different priorities than the rest of us—that’s their job to ferret out, not yours.

Do everything you can to keep our system just like it is.  When the size of our wallets determines the strength of our voices, you can keep locking people up for profit.

Help your allies cross the finish line

Money can’t buy an election 100% of the time—just ask Jeb Bush.  But, typically 80% or more of the candidates who raise the most go on to win, and that’s not a total coincidence. So, after your favorite pro-prison candidates establish themselves be sure to kick in another $1,000+ check to build up their arsenal and give them the best chance to win. And, make sure your corporate PAC kicks in the maximum allowed under federal or state law.  This does double duty—helps your allies win and ensures they know where their bread is buttered.

The PACs and employees of the big three prison companies gave more than $725,000 to federal candidates alone in the 2016 election cycle. And, the industry has given more than $7.3 million to state candidates and political parties between 2001 and 2013. This includes investing more than $50,000 in a couple of U.S. senators who are trying to guarantee criminal penalties for undocumented immigrants.  In a totally unrelated matter, CCA and GEO Group took in more than $700 million in revenue in 2012 from contracts for incarcerating non-citizens.

Spend big on lobbying

Now that you’ve shaped the field of play, it’s time for your high-paid lobbyists to get into the game.  It helps if your lobbyists used to work in government so they can trade on the relationships they built while on the inside. Then you can arm them with an avalanche of “research” and other “unbiased information” to make the case for why your product (incarceration) is the cure to all of our ills.  And, be sure to work with major trade associations and corporate lobby groups to provide understaffed lawmakers with handy sample legislation and talking points.  Your favorite elected officials can just drop their name in and file your favorite bills.

GEO, CCA, and MTC spent more than $2.8 million lobbying the federal government over the past couple of years, and more than $25 million since 2000.  And, more than three-quarters of their registered lobbyists have previously held government jobs.  But, lots of action is on the state level.  So, they teamed up with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to lobby successfully for policies such as “three-strikes” laws, mandatory minimums, and elimination of parole—all of which increase demand for their “product.”  CCA was the co-chair of ALEC’s “Criminal Justice Task Force.” And, CCA alone has employed more than 200 lobbyists in 32 states since 2003.

OK, there’s your handy guide. Go ruin some lives and devastate some communities, all while raking in handsome profits. 

Oh, one last thing! 

Make sure to oppose any efforts to transform the Supreme Court’s approach to money in politics so We the People can put caps on big money spending. And, definitely don’t let any pesky bills like the Government By the People Act slip through Congress—that would match small contributions six to one with public funds, empowering ordinary Americans to have a larger say over the decisions that affect our lives. 

Do everything you can to keep our system just like it is. When the size of our wallets determines the strength of our voices, you can keep locking people up for profit.