How Sessions Profits from Prisons or Snopes v. Crooks and Liars

By Jenn Budd Crooks and Liars

It's more than a conflict of interest. The more people Attorney General Jeff Sessions sends to private prisons, the more money he shoves in his pockets. From announcing he wants federal law enforcement agencies to bust people for a little bit of weed, to ordering federal prosecutors to find ways to convict more immigrants, Sessions is looking for ways to provide more clients to private prisons that are contracted by the federal government.

On Tuesday, Sessions announced orders to expand the prosecution of undocumented workers.
Anyone caught crossing the border without inspection will no longer be charged with a misdemeanor and returned to their countries of origin. Each will now be charged with a felony and be required to be formerly deported. This process can require detention anywhere from a week to eighteen months.

Plans to increase the number of immigration judges by three-fold and prosecutors are officially under way. If immigrants return after being formerly deported, they will be subject to a felony charge of re-entry after being deportation which can result in a two year prison sentence.

Additionally, Sessions ordered prosecutors to begin charging anyone "harboring" three or more undocumented immigrants with felony harboring statutes. This will mean a father with three family members can now face years of prison time for putting a roof over his families head. The undocumented with fake or stolen ID cards used to enter the U.S. and obtain employment can now be charged with felony document fraud and aggravated identity theft. Time for these charges can be two or more years.

The increase in prosecutions will lead to an increase in convictions. The Trump administration has abandoned the Obama administration's promise to no longer contract with private prisons. Private prison companies like The GEO Group and CoreCivic Inc. lead the industry and have contracts with the federal government and specifically the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

As Attorney General Sessions fills these private prisons, he is making money. According to his latest financial disclosures required by congress, dated December 23, 2016, he divested of other investments that were found to be in conflict. In these disclosures, he also lists numerous Vanguard funds. Vanguard owns more private prison stock than any other investment management company. None of the Vanguard funds listed below were included in the divestiture.

The latest data of Vanguard funds' portfolio information is dated February 28, 2017. The following are a list of funds owned by Jeff Sessions that was from Vanguard's website:
  1. Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Admiral Shares - consists of both GEO Group and CoreCivic, Inc. stocks worth over $164,000,000. Sessions investment value is from $15,001 - $50,000.
  2. Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Admiral Shares - same fund as above, but Sessions lists investment value between $1,001 - $15,000.
  3. Vanguard Small-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares - consisits of stocks from The GEO Group and CoreCivic, Inc. valued at over $173,500,000. Sessions shows investments valued from $15,000 - $50,000.
  4. Vanguard Total International Stock Index Admiral Shares - contains GEO Holdings Corporation stock valued at over $4,400,000. Sessions owns $1,001 - $15,000 of this fund.
If he still owns these funds, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making policy that he will financially profit from. This blatant lack of morals and ethics shows once again how Sessions is not fit to be the U.S. Attorney General.


Jeff Sessions does have shares in two funds that include holdings in two leading private prisons companies.

On 12 April, the partisan web site Crooks and Liars reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions owns shares in the private prison industry, and stands to gain financially from some of his recent policy announcements.

The article lists three funds that Sessions has shares in, all of which are managed by the investment firm Vanguard, and claims that the funds contain holdings in two leading companies in the private prison industry: CoreCivic and GEO Group. This is true of only two of those funds.

The third seems to be listed as the result of a mix-up. The article rightly states that one of these funds, the Vanguard Total International Stock Index fund, contains holdings in “GEO Holdings Corporation”. However, this is a Japanese company that has no relation to the Florida-based private prison company GEO Group, as confirmed to by a spokesperson for GEO Group.

As for the other two investment funds, federal financial disclosure records show that the Attorney General owns between $31,003 and $115,000 worth of shares in the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund, yielding a total of between $1,403 and $4,500 in income per year for Sessions.

And this fund does indeed include CoreCivic and GEO Group.

However, what the article does not mention is that CoreCivic and GEO Group constitute just two out of 3,557 companies in the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund.

Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund is what’s known as an Excepted Investment Fund (EIF) – that means the fund is independently managed (that is, not by Sessions himself), and either publicly traded or “widely-diversified” (that is, it doesn’t focus on one particular sector of the economy), according to the Office of Government Ethics.

A brief look at this particular fund shows that its more than 3,500 holdings relate to companies from throughout the economy, including well-known names such as Cracker Barrel, Zillow and Rite Aid.
The same is true of the Vanguard Small-Cap Index fund, in which Sessions has between $15,001 and $50,000 worth of shares, yielding between $201 and $1,000 in income for him, per year.

While it does include holdings in CoreCivic and GEO Group, these are just two of 1,422 companies listed in the fund, which come from a variety of sectors and include names like Domino’s Pizza and JetBlue Airways.

According to Kathleen Clark, a Professor at Washington University School of Law and an expert on legal and government ethics, investments in widely-diversified funds such as these are unlikely to leave a public official vulnerable to conflicts of interest.

So while it’s true that Jeff Sessions has some shares in funds that include holdings in two private prison companies, it’s misleading to say that this means he stands to gain in any meaningful way from an increase in the value of those companies, or that “The more people Attorney General Jeff Sessions sends to private prisons, the more money he shoves in his pockets.”

The Attorney General’s annual income from these funds – which is relatively low – depends on the overall performance of those funds. A surge in the value of CoreCivic or the GEO Group would very quickly be cancelled out by a dip in the value of just a handful of the thousands of other companies included in those two funds.

And because these are widely-diversified Excepted Invested Funds, they don’t fall foul of conflict of interest regulations.


The companies CoreCivic (which until recently was known as Corrections Corporation of America), and The Geo Group, are both generous contributors to President Trump, they run the majority of the BOP's contracted prisons, as well as dozens of other facilities used to detain immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The companies' fortunes climb and fall with federal criminal justice policies. Their stocks plunged after Obama's deputy attorney general issued the phase-out memo on Aug. 18, and shot up after Donald Trump, who'd called for more private prisons, won election on Nov. 8. Since then, companies' share prices have been steadily rising — and they enjoyed a bump from Sessions' memo.

The inspector general released a report, which focused on CoreCivic's prison in Natchez, Mississippi, where a May 2012 prison riot, triggered by complaints of poor conditions, ended with a correctional officer's death. The December report found the prison "was plagued by the same significant deficiencies." CoreCivic responded that it had corrected many of its problems, and took issue with some of the methods used by government auditors.

Investigative journalists have uncovered other alleged abuses. A series in the Nation documented dozens of deaths that the magazine attributed to substandard care. And a reporter for Mother Jones went undercover as an officer at a private prison in Louisiana, vividly detailing many of the problems documented by the government audits.

Sessions crackdown on everything from medical marijuana to sanctuary churches will lead to more arrests, which in turn will result in more people in prison. Which, is why Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a six-month-old Obama administration directive that sought to curtail the government's use of private prisons.

Read more: DHS for profit Prison plans for immigrants

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