GEO Group Federal Contracts Rise As Former Sessions Aide Lobbies DOJ

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on July 30, 2018.


Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

A former legislative aide to now–Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been lobbying his former boss’s Department of Justice on behalf of a private-prison giant that has seen its DOJ contracts increase under the Trump administration.

Roughly two months before Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, two former Senate aides to former Alabama Sen. Sessions registered to lobby for the Florida-based GEO Group, which has gotten more government funding for detention and re-entry services since Trump took office. Lobbying records reviewed by TYT show that one of these lobbyists, David Stewart, has helped his law firm, Alabama-based Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, pull in $390,000 from GEO Group since the third quarter of 2016.

Since this lobbying arrangement commenced, GEO Group bought its first facility in Alabama, a state that has generally opposed private prisons despite support for the industry from Sessions, the state’s former attorney general and U.S. senator. In April 2017, GEO Group purchased the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility, which the company calls “the first and largest residential re-entry center in the region.” The purchase was part of GEO Group’s acquisition of the company Community Education Centers.

Two months earlier, Sessions had rescinded an Obama-era DOJ order to reduce federal contracts with private-prison companies. According to GEO Group, the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility contracts with the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. The latter entity has four ongoing DOJ grants for re-entry and reducing recidivism totaling nearly $2.3 million.

According to GEO Group’s website, the facility provides “cognitive behavioral therapy, substance abuse programming, educational services, life skills, relapse prevention, cultural diversity programs, family services programs, workforce development activities, work release services, community volunteer service, faith-based services, and alumni and aftercare programs.”

In February, an inmate at the Alabama re-entry center likely died from exposure to a stimulant drug known as flakka.


GEO Group also owns a vacant prison in Perry County, Alabama, which it purchased in 2015. This is likely the same facility that Sessions, as Alabama attorney general, helped score a federal contract in 2006 to house undocumented immigrants.

Stewart and other lobbyists have been lobbying on rehabilitation and re-entry programs for GEO Group, which has a “Continuum of Care” initiative to add to its lucrative detention facilities. The most recent lobbying report from Bradley Arant Boult Cummings shows that Stewart and his colleague Paul Kavonoky brought in $40,000 from GEO Group during this year’s second quarter to lobby the DOJ, the Department of Homeland Security, and Congress on “federal government use of contract correctional facilities and Residential Reentry Centers” as well as on a Senate bill that would expand recidivism-reduction programs.

Stewart and Kavonoky also advocated for GEO Group on two appropriations bills and “federal government use of contract correctional facilities, federal contract monitoring and supervision services.”

Under Sessions, the DOJ has doled out more federal contracts to GEO Group than ever before, possibly due in part to the immigrant crisis that he and other Trump administration officials created. According to data from, GEO Group received $285 million in 2017 from DOJ contracts, and the company is on track to exceed this amount in 2018.


In the most recent contract, from April 1, DOJ’s Bureau of Prisons awards $20 million to GEO Group for “social rehabilitation” services in Winton, North Carolina, where GEO Group operates the Rivers Correctional Institution.

GEO Group also pays, among other firms, Ballard Partners to lobby the federal government. Its founder Brian Ballard is a Trump insider, and Politico has called him “the most powerful lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.” Ballard and his colleagues registered to lobby for GEO Group in February 2017, and since then, the firm has received $850,000 from the private prison company. Ballard Partners’ most recent lobbying disclosure shows Ballard and four other employees lobbying the DOJ and the Department of Labor on “promoting the use of public-private partnerships in correctional services, including evidence-based rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing recidivism.” The lobbying covered immigration, homeland security and law enforcement matters, according to the issue codes listed in the disclosure.

Ballard Partners is based in Florida, where GEO Group is headquartered. Brian Ballard, a GOP fundraiser, was a longtime lobbyist for the Trump Organization in Florida. Another Ballard lobbyist, Susie Wiles, was Trump’s Florida campaign manager.

As it rakes in government contracts from DOJ and Homeland Security, GEO Group is spending directly on elections. A company subsidiary donated $225,000, potentially illegally, to a pro-Trump super PAC during the 2016 election. GEO Group PAC is a big donor to state and federal legislative campaigns. Although most of its federal donations go to Republicans, several Democrats have accepted contributions from the company. As TYT previously reported, some defended the donations, while others explained why they rejected or donated the funds.

Follow TYT Investigates on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube to stay on top of exclusive news stories from The Young Turks.