Mississippi, of all places, has had enough. Not exactly known for its hospitable prison system, the state announced last Friday that it intends to terminate its contract with the GEO Group to operate 3 facilities, effective in July. One of those facilities is Walnut Grove, which was recently the target of a lawsuit that brought sweeping change to the way Mississippi incarcerates its youth. Plagued with violence, medical neglect, and persistent sexual abuse, the facility's conditions were so abysmal that the Department of Justice called it "some of the worst abuse" they had seen in any investigation of a prison or jail. Children housed there used terms like "barbaric," "a war zone," and "the deepest depths of hell" to describe it. The settlement in the lawsuit removed all juveniles from Walnut Grove and mandated that they never be held in solitary confinement. Lest you feel bad for GEO getting slapped around so hard in the lawsuit, remember that they earned millions of dollars in profit by treating children like shit.
Now, the state will pursue a new company to take over operations of the prisons. Apparently, it hasn't crossed the Governor's mind to just have the government run them. Anyway, CCA probably has the inside track to take over the prisons, since they already contract with the state to operate two others and can probably offer the lowest bid, because they're the largest and operate the biggest economy of scale in the industry. I imagine maybe the things like the murder and the multiple suicides in one of the prisons, along with GEO's request for $5 million more per year to operate the prison, caused the state to want to move in a new direction. GEO, playing the perfect jilted lover, claims it's the one who initiated the split, because the facility had been "financially under-performing," which if true just proves how fickle and greedy their corporate mentality is.
Change is long overdue. The federal judge who ruled in the lawsuit against Walnut Grove called it a "cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the [children] at substantial ongoing risk." I have no faith in any private prison company to come in and operate these prisons much better - this is far from the first time the industry has dramatically failed to live up to its promises and the terms of its contracts. Mississippi should think long and hard before inviting yet another for-profit company to operate these prisons. Keeping the door open for the private industry simply invites more abuse. The state would be much better served by assuming responsibility for its prisoners. In addition to the considerable improvement many prisoners would see in their living conditions, the state should not continue to funnel taxpayer dollars to an industry that profits by performing an inherently governmental function. Especially when the state's own experience shows just how poorly that money is being spent.