Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Playing the Political Game

Quick link here to a Newsweek story about how the recession is hurting business for private prison operators.  Aside from that wonderful news, it goes on to mention how the industry now employs some powerful political figures, including a former Senator, a Cabinet Member under Bill Clinton, and the former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, all of whom help the big players (CCA, GEO, Cornell) lobby at both the federal and state level.  Their political influence has helped the industry thrive over the past decade as these companies keep getting new contracts, despite the fact that they don't save much money over government-run facilities and they tend to have more major issues.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Prison-Industrial Complex

The link goes to a fantastic article by Harvey Silverglate and Kyle Smeallie from 2008 that exposes some of the motives of law enforcement personnel in promoting stricter sentencing (basically, the more people they can get arrested and locked up, the more money they and their buddies in the criminal justice system stand to make).  The authors did some great in-depth research on the lobbying activities of CCA, who spent millions of dollars directly lobbying for stricter sentencing laws.  This is one of the perverse incentives of the private prison industry; they literally spend money trying to promote laws that will lead to greater numbers of Americans being incarcerated, despite the fact that we lead the world in locking up our own citizens by exponential amounts (for example, we have twice as many prisoners as China, a country with nearly 4 times our population), and despite the fact that increased levels of incarceration have never been shown to actually deter crime and promote public safety. 

It's all part of a grand scheme being played on the American people, parallel to Eisenhower's nightmarish prophecy of a military-industrial complex, that has resulted in "the land of the free" being the most incarceration-happy country in the world, with a total price tag of nearly $70 billion.  That's right, we spend $70 billion per year just to incarcerate people in this country, almost 2.5 million people to be exact, more than 1% of our adult population.  The Center for Disease Control says a virus or illness becomes an epidemic when it affects that many people; I'd argue this is an epidemic as well.  One that needs to be cured, not by a bunch of industry lobbyists, but by practical politicians who understand that we can't just incarcerate our way out of a crime problem, and that you can't legislate morality.  But I have little faith in that.  Instead, I hope some folks who'd rather be smart on crime than tough on it find their way into this debate, because for too long special interests like the private prison industry have dominated all our discussion on criminal justice reform.

Influence Peddling

CCA is one of the primary sponsors of a $550,000 dinner being thrown for the Western Governors' Association.  Because they were just so generous with helping set up this shindig, representatives from the company get to have a private reception with the governors in attendance.  It saddens me that actions like this are completely legal.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Surprise, Surprise

Just a quick link here to a story from Hernando County, Florida, which is sorting its way through a mess of a maintenance situation that resulted in CCA abandoning its contract and the sheriff taking over operations of the jail.  Apparently, many of the COs that worked at CCA aren't qualified enough to work as CO's in the sheriff's department, which just demonstrates what I've said here time and time again; private prison companies don't adequately train their employees and are more inclined to take a lower caliber of employee than governments that run their own prisons

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself

Governor Lingle of Hawaii has threatened to veto a measure pending before Hawaii's legislature that calls for an audit of the state's contract with CCA to house prisoners stateside.  Why I Hate CCA is firmly in support of such a measure, as I have reported on two murders of Hawaiian prisoners in the Saguaro Correctional Facility that took place over the course of the last 6 months.  Clearly, CCA has failed to adequately secure this facility and protect the Hawaiian inmates under its watch.

As Daniel Gluck, an attorney at the ACLU of Hawaii put it, "Hawaii allowing a $61 million no-bid contract to go on for 15 years with no independent oversight is an unsound financial practice for the state"

Now That's Something You Don't See Every Day

Kentucky is pulling its inmates out of a CCA-run prison in the eastern part of the state, in order to save money.  Yep, you read that right.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why I Hate ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) Today

I strongly recommend everyone stop what you're doing and go read the article linked to in the title.  It concerns the American Legislative Exchange Council, pretty much the pre-eminent conservative legislative think tank in the country, boasting nearly 1/3 of state legislators as members.  Though registered as a non-profit, ALEC reaps millions of dollars from some of the country's biggest corporations, who literally pay to have a stake in ALEC's direction on one of 10 task forces.  ALEC drafts models of, and lobbies for, corporate-friendly legislation (often to the detriment of the American people); in fact, it was behind much of the "tough-on-crime" and truth in sentencing laws that were passed in states and at the federal level over the past few decades, which have directly benefitted one of ALEC's biggest contributors, CCA by sending ever-increasing numbers of citizens to prison for ever-increasing periods of time.  In fact, the prison rate grew so exponentially as a result of these types of laws, many of which are the direct result of ALEC's influence on various legislators/legislatures that many states and the federal government were practically forced into expanding privatized prison services because they literally coudln't expand their own prison systems' capacity rapidly enough to keep up with the surge.  ALEC functions as almost a shadow organization, and has been behind much of the legislation across the country that has directly benefited corporations at the expense of many Americans.  While this article looks mostly into ALEC's connections with the recent Arizona Immigration bill specifically, it has some great background information on what this author considers to be one of the most sadistically influential organizations in our nation's history.

UPDATE: The second part of this great story can be found here.

Screwing Up Left and Right (or West and South)

Just a quick link here to a great piece by G.W. Schultz at the Center for Investigative Reporting, documenting all the recent messes CCA has found itself in as a result of the various ways in which it cuts corners and fails to properly train staff. Schultz highlights recent cases in Texas, Idaho, and Arizona as great examples of why the private prison industry should be outlawed in this country and elsewhere (well, he doesn't exactly make that conclusion but I'm ready to).

A Bad Return on Hawaii's Investment

Following the deaths of two Hawaiian inmates at the Saguaro Correctional Facility in Arizona, which is run by CCA, the state's contract with the company and CCA's execution thereof have come under much greater scrutiny from the public and the press.  The author of the article learned from an anonymous prisoner that the facility is severely understaffed according to the contract the state has with CCA.  But this doesn't dampen Honolulu Attorney Peter Carlisle's enthusiasm for sending Hawaiian prisoners to be assaulted in Arizona; because the prison is accredited by the American Correctional Association (which is easier to come by than he'd like to imagine, when CCA helps fund their conferences), apparently it's just peachy.

Going International

So I've heard from a few folks who asked me to include some reports on private prisons in other countries (other than the US, that is).  My first entry in Why I Hate CCA's new International series is a story that describes the "shameful" treatment of youth at a juvenile facility run by the SERCO Corporation in England.  The case involves a "cataglouge of safeguarding failures," sexual activity between children, and the failure of multiple government agencies to heed repeated requests for investigation into the numerous instances that took place at the facility.  So for all those who want America to follow in the example of some European countries, I say to be wary at least of modelling our juvenile facilities after this one.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Corruption and Negligence

The son of a Texas prisoner who died in a GEO facility is suing the company for corruption and negligence in his father’s death, seeking $595 million (GEO’s net worth) in damages. Good luck Mr. McCullough!

Why You Can't Trust Private Prison Operators

A man charged with murdering someone at a playground in broad daylight was wrongfully released from confinement in Pennsylvania earlier this week.  The mix-up occured at a facility run by Community Education Centers, a smaller company based out of NJ. There is rampant speculation that this could have been an inside job, perpetrated by someone in the records department.  Regardless of whether his release was intentional or not, this just demonstrates an expectable outcome of having poorly trained staff that aren't properly vetted before working in high-risk positions.  Hopefully this will be enough of a lesson to the Delaware County prison officials to teach them to not privatize their prisons.  Doubtful, but I can hope, right?

Here's a link to the initial story about the improper release:

The title link goes to a more in-depth article about how and why this could have happened.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Details on Clifford Medina's Death

Clifford Medina, a Hawaiian prisoner serving his sentence in a CCA prison in Arizona, was strangled to death by his cellmate, also a Hawaiian prisoner. Clifford is the second Hawaiian prisoner to be murdered in this facility, the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy Arizona, in the past five months. Hawaii's Department of Public Safety says it will investigate the death and the state's contract(s) to house prisoners on the mainland, which I think is a good idea considering the state spends $61 million per year to incarcerate some of its citizens in private prisons.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Spreading the Love

The former warden and assistant warden at the Idaho Correctional Facility, the prison being sued by the ACLU because it’s so violent it is called “gladiator school” by the inmates, have already been moved to assistant warden positions at two other CCA facilities (both of which contract with federal agencies), so they can spread the love and good cheer they fostered in Idaho, elsewhere.  What's even better: according to the contracts CCA has with the US Marshalls' Service and the Office of Federal Detention (the two agencies contracting with the facilities these guys were moved to), the government can't even prevent CCA from doing this, as long as the wardens pass a background check.  This is why contracts private prison companies sign with governments should be made available to the general public, because clauses like that unduly handicap our government, making it incapable of ensuring the safety of prisoners housed in private prisons.

Dubious Contributions

In a very well-researched (and kind of long) article, E.A. Barrerra of East County Magazine discovered that the interim Sheriff of San Diego, a county which houses a few private jails, received campaign contributions from, and was lobbied by, two people working for the GEO Group that weren't registered as lobbyists with the county. One thought that just because he was an attorney he didn't need to register (he did), and the other listed himself as "retired" on campaign contribution forms, even though he was still receiving a paycheck from the GEO Group. The GEO Group is one of the major players in the private prison market, and they contribute tons of money to the campaigns of "tough-on-crime" politicians, both through the company formally and in the form of individual donations from employees. And as this article demonstrates, they also find clever ways to work around restrictions on who can lobby or contribute to campaigns.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A New Era of Transparency?

I doubt it.  But, the Obama Administration has apparently said it wants to post the full text of contracts the federal government enters into with private contractors online.  I am very cautiously optimistic that this will help partially expose some of the secretive workings and contract details of private prisons.  However, I'm not in any way convinced this will help improve the system or lead to the abolition of private prisons (oh wouldn't that be nice...)

Sound Advice

Globe, Arizona seems to have fallen under the spell of James Parkey, robber baron / frontman of Corplan Corrections, who, along with representatives from Cuny Corporation and Emerald Correctional Management, was able to convince council members to approve a bid to build a new private prison.  Corplan, Emerald, and Cuny have a long history of building private prisons in desperate small towns on speculation, with grandiose promises of swarms of inmates that will provide much-needed revenue for counties hurting economically.  However, in a lot of instances counties are not able to get contracts to house inmates in the facilities for a variety of reasons, and a bunch of small towns have lost considerable sums of money by defaulting on bond sales they used to finance the prison.  As the mayor of Hardin, Montana warns, any small town looking to do business with Corplan/Emerald should "do a lot of research."  Hopefully though that research won't include looking at the economic feasibility studies conducted in conjunction with the bids, as the consultant who does them (Howard Geisler) has been working with Emerald for years on projects all across the country, and has included some major inaccuracies and assumptions in his reports.

Another Dead Hawaiian Prisoner

Another Hawaiian prisoner, Clifford Medina, has died, stateside, in a CCA-run facility in Arizona,  This is the second Hawaiian inmate under the age of 30 to have died in the past 5 months at this prison.  In February, Bronson Nunuha was killed there.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Another Hernando County-Type Fiasco

A jail in texas, operated by Community Education Centers, a NJ-based company, appears to be in need of more than $1 million in repairs, which the county will likely end up paying for.  Much of the equipment in the facility has not been upgraded for decades, even though CEC claims to pay $60,000 per year in maintenance.  Currently there is some debate about how much of the repairs the county should be responsible for, considering the most recent contract it signed with CEC somehow omitted a clause that CEC "shall return the facility to the county in the same condition as when leased, normal wear, tear and depreciation excepted,” which had been included in recent contracts.  But no one is quite sure why this contract doesn't include it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why I Hate the Census Today

The US Census counts prisoners as residents of whatever town they happen to be incarcerated in, rather than where they are from. This has, for decades, resulted in small, rural towns that house prisons having greater representation in Congress than they would with their populations alone. What makes that even more unfortunate is those places are typically some of the more conservative areas, and the undue political influence they get to wield is rather unsympathetic to the plight of most prisoners. Political power gets transferred out of the cities, where a lot of minority citizens live, into rural areas whose interests often run counter to those of the poor and disadvantaged minorities who lose out.

The title link is to a brief article that pretty clearly demonstrates the problem; a small town of less than 5,000 residents in Georgia will be counted as having nearly 7,700 because of the population of immigration detainees housed there, even though many of those detainess will spend 2 months or less at the facility. That count will translate into more federal funding for the area than it really needs or deserves, and could possibly result in a re-districting measure that could give them an additional Congressional seat. Which is just great.

More on Jan Brewer's Conflict of Interest

Just a quick link to a really good article on how Governor Jan Brewer's support and signing of Arizona's controversial immigration law could be perceived as a conflict of interest, considering how much money her campaign received from CCA and its employees, given how much the company stands to profit from the increased incarceration of illegal immigrants

Why I Hate LCS Today

A 27-year-old man, Leo Guajardo, just died at an LCS Correctional Services facility in Texas. He went to the doctor for high blood pressure, a doctor who failed to notice he had a massive brain tumor and gave him blood pressure medicine. Details are sort of unclear on what happened after that, but he ended up going to the hospital and dying within a matter of days. I just don't understand how you can miss something like a massive brain tumor, when he's been incarcerated at the facility for about 6 months.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why You Shouldn't Send Inmates to Private Prisons

Vermont sends a bunch of its prisoners, including those held for misdemeanor offenses, out of state to private prisons in Tennessee and Kentucky, where they have experience all sorts of problems. Now, the Vermont DOC has to install inspectors at the facilites these inmates are at because of the abysmally poor care, programming, and security the inmates receive. Complaints from the inmates primarily revolve around the absence of counseling, programming, vocational, and educational opportunities. As Defender General in the Vermont Prisoners' Rights Office Matthew Valerio properly points out, "these offenders are going to come back to Vermont and they're going to bring these problems back with them," which will wind up costing Vermont more than it saved by privatizing prisons, in the long run. Privatizing is just never, ever a good idea

What the Hell is Going on in Idaho?

Boy is the Idaho Correctional Center, run by CCA, ever a mess. In addition to the $155 million lawsuit the company faces from the ACLU over charges that its levels of violence are so high it's informally called "Gladiator School," the prison was just fined thousands of dollars by the Idaho Department of Corrections for its failure to comply with the terms of the contract CCA has with the state. 10 of 13 drug counselors are not properly licensed, and the prison has "extensive problems administering medical care" (and they've already missed a deadline to improve the care). Of course both these issues will cost Idahoans in the long run, as drug addiction and dependence among these inmates won't be properly treated, and most will be released following years of deficient medical care (meaning they will suffer from various sorts of preventable diseases and seek more emergency care, which will wind up costing taxpayers). Unfortuantely, situations like this are all too common among private prisons, and highlight some of the hidden social costs of privatizing corrections.

In other Idaho clusterfugazy news, the IDOC has demanded CCA beef up security at the prison after continued high levels of violence:

And a little note from a great editorial on CCA's inability to operate a humane facility: staffing levels have been so abhorrently low at the facility that there have been times when 2 guards were in control of 350 prisoners. This is exemplary of another major problem with private prisons; understaffing to save money and maximize profits. This places both the prisoners and the guards (who typically aren't trained or paid as much as employees at state-run institutions) at increased risk: