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Hackers target prison system with latest defacement

Large private prison operator has Web site vandalized in protest against politics of incarceration.

Hackers aligned with the Anonymous group of online activists defaced today the Web site of a major contractor operating detention facilities, calling the move a protest of the for-profit prison system, which, they said, benefits from stricter laws and more arrests.

The home page for the Geo Group's Web site was inaccessible this afternoon after it had had been replaced with an image of imprisoned activist Mumia Abu-Jamal and audio of a song about him, according to news site

Phone messages left by CNET at the Geo Group headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., were not returned late today. But company spokesman Pablo Paez said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that no information on staff or operations had been accessed. "Our public Web site is hosted by an external offsite third-party vendor--therefore no such information was compromised," he said.

Hackers operating under the "AntiSec" banner claimed responsibility and released a statement that alleges that owners of private prisons lobby for expansion of criminal laws, even as they operate at near capacity.

Those claims seem to be corroborated in a recent report from the nonprofit Justice Policy Institute, whose statistics find there are nearly 2.4 million people behind bars in the United States, giving it the highest incarceration rate in the world.

"While private prison companies may try to present themselves as just meeting existing demand for prison beds and responding to current market conditions, in fact they have worked hard over the past decade to create markets for their product," the Justice Policy Institute says. "As revenues of private prison companies have grown over the past decade, the companies have had more resources with which to build political power, and they have used this power to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration."

"For-profit private prison companies primarily use three strategies to influence policy: lobbying; direct campaign contributions; and building relationships, networks, and associations," concludes the report.

Florida state records show that since 2004, Geo has paid more than $2 million to state candidates, parties, political committees, and lobbyists, according to investigative news Web site the Broward Bulldog.

Meanwhile, Geo Group has been sued by the ACLU over alleged poor conditions at a youth prison in Mississippi, according to a National Public Radio report.

Geo Group representatives declined repeated requests by NPR to comment on the allegations and lawsuit and did not respond to a request for comment from the Broward Bulldog. If the company responds to CNET's request for comment, this story will be updated.

Anonymous and affiliates have proclaimed Friday as the day to launch digital attacks on law enforcement, government, and other targets representing authority.