Friday, May 25, 2012

NH May Send All Its Male Prisoners to Private Facilities

A proposal in New Hampshire to send all male prisoners in the state to private prison facilities has raised some serious concern.  This would be the first time any state has turned over such a sizable portion of its incarcerated population to the industry, though some other states have proposed similar measures in the past (such as Arizona).  The state is currently weighing bids from four companies to provide the beds it is seeking, and unfortunately some local officials have already started to fall for the "economic stimulus" trap.  But many others have already realized that the industry has an agenda all its own, that doesn't exactly correspond with the best interests of New Hampshire's taxpayers or prisoners.  The state expects to spend most of the summer reviewing applications, and has targeted September as the month in which a decision is likely to come down.

2 New Reports on the Private Prison Industry

I just want to quickly draw some attention to two great reports that have come out recently detailing some of the workings of the private prison industry.

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency released a study of how private interests are reshaping US criminal justice policy, titled "Prison Bed Profiteers."

The ACLU of Georgia just released a report documenting problems immigrants face in detention in that state.  The report is based on interviews with detainees at the 4 immigration detention centers in the state, 3 of which are privately-operated (2 by CCA).  Among the issues detailed were problems with due process violations, delivery of medical care, and low staffing levels

Update on the Fight in Crete, IL

Just wanted to give a brief update on the continuing battle over a planned immigration detention center in Crete, IL.  CCA and ICE are basically trying to force the town to accept a private prison it doesn't want, and locals have gotten really fired up about itUSA Today featured an excellent article on the situation a few weeks back that is really worth reading. While it seems like CCA/ICE have the upper hand in negotiations, the deal is far from certain; the village council still needs to approve the plan, and says it won't do so before holding public hearings on the matter.  I'd also just like to link to another article from the American Independent that gives some background on how the industry has been targeting Crete for years.

Shareholders Challenging the Private Prison Industry

In an interesting bit of grassroots advocacy, a few shareholders of the country's two largest private prison companies have worked to bring more accountability to the industry, which is exempt from public records laws in nearly every jurisdiction despite the fact that it performs inherently governmental functions.

The GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, FL, had its annual shareholders' meeting in Palm Beach a few weeks back.  Some demonstrators protested outside, but the true challenge for the company would come from inside that very meeting.  The Dominican Sisters of Hope and Mercy Investment Services, both of which own a small amount of stock in the company, introduced a resolution that would have required the company to improve its policies to address human rights abuses within its facilities and submit to third-party audits.  A resolution by the Capuchin Order of Priests would have required the company to publicly disclose all the money it spends lobbying and which issues that money is meant to influence.

Meanwhile, CCA has been fighting off a resolution by an activist and shareholder that would require it to report on efforts to reduce sexual abuse within its facilities.  The resolution would bring some much-needed accountability to an industry that has proven quite effective at skirting it.  CCA has been aggressively fighting the resolution with the SEC from its inception, I assume because they'd rather spend their money lobbying Congress and state legislatures than trying to protect the prisoners under their watch.

Unfortunately, all three of these proposals were defeated in the respective meetings.  But there is reason for optimism - they all managed a sizable margin of support.  The resolution before the GEO Group concerning human rights abuses garnered nearly 30% of the vote.  The resolution introduced by the CCA shareholder was likewise rejected, but did garner more than 14 million votes out of a possible 86 million, nearly 20% of the vote.  With such support, I am optimistic these resolutions will be introduced again in the future, which would continue to pressure the industry into more accountability for its actions and transgressions.

Wells Fargo's Cash Cow

I'd be remiss if I didn't put a link here to an excellent article by Charles Davis about Wells Fargo's ties to the private prison industry.  It's more than a month old at this point, but still an excellent piece.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Corrections Corporation of America Sued over Working Conditions

By Jenny Landreth

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has been sued by six current and former employees. The employees, who were supervisors at the Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary’s, Kentucky, assert that CCA forced them to work additional hours whilst denying them overtime.

Supervisors claim they are required to work additional hours, denied meals and breaks, and forced to participate in training on their days off.

The employees are seeking damages of an unspecified amount. They are also seeking an injunction which would require CCA to pay appropriate levels of compensation to any employees working in excess of 40 hours per week.

Their attorney, Tom Miller, has stated concerns that CCA has been cutting essential costs so as to increase its profit: “This is a for profit company…the way you maximize profit is to reduce expenses”

He also indicated that the lawsuit may also relate to employees of two other CCA-run prisons in the State of Kentucky, namely the Otter Creek Correctional Center in Wheelwright and the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville.

In response, CCA Spokesman Mike Machak stated: “Overall, we are committed to ensuring that our employees are fully compensated, and we strive to provide lasting career opportunities for those professionals who chose to work with our company.”

The Fair Labor Standards Act
The FLSA was enacted in 1938 in order to provide protection to private sector and government workers and sets several standards relating to record keeping, minimum wage, youth labor, and overtime pay. The Act States that non-exempt employees must be paid overtime, at the rate of at least time-and-a-half, when their working hours exceed 40 per week.

At present CCA claims that all supervisors and assistant supervisors can be categorised as exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), as their job encompasses management duties.

However, the process of defining a post as exempt due to managerial responsibility is complex. Multiple criteria must be satisfied. Namely, the employer must regularly supervise two or more other employees and management must constitute the primary component of the position. They must also have some input into the employment status of fellow employees, for example with regard to hiring, promoting and dismissing.

Tom Miller, however, suggests that the work completed by prison supervisors does not constitute an exemption under the FLSA.

Previous Case Law
This is not the first time that CCA’s application of the FLSA has been challenged. A previous suit, settled in Kansas in 2009, bears strong resemblance to this case. Keith E. Barnwell et al. alleged that: “CCA violated the FLSA by failing to compensate correction officers, and pay overtime, to correction officers for work performed.”

Alleged violations included a failure to compensate workers for pre and post-shift work, briefings attendance or completion of paperwork.  A damages settlement was reached. Sealing of this settlement was overturned following a legal challenge by Prison Legal News.

“This is a for profit company…the way you maximize profit is to reduce expenses”
In private prisons, inmates are confined by a third (for profit) company that has entered into a contract with a government agency. Typically, that company is then paid, on a contractual basis, a daily or monthly rate per prisoner.

Critics of private prison provision highlight the inherent difficulty of reconciling drive for profit with quality of service - in order to generate profit, costs must be cut. They argue that cuts are made in the training of prison guards, with poor investment in career development programs, learning tools, and supervision. They also argue that cuts are made in the payment of staff.  It could be suggested that the above cases are illustrative of this.

In January 2012, the Sentencing Project published an extensive review, titled Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America. This review concluded that:

“Private Prisons must make cuts in important high-cost areas, such as staff training and programing to create savings. The pressure that companies feel to maintain low overhead costs combined with less direct oversight are likely what led researchers at the University of Utah to conclude that ‘quality of service is not improved’ in private prisons.”
Jenny Landreth is a freelance writer from England who has written for a number of journals and textbooks on the issue of workers' rights.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2 Riots in CCA Facilities

Two weeks ago, prisoners rioted at a CCA prison in Georgia, resulting in the prison being put on lockdown.  There's not much more information available on that

But a second riot occurred at another CCA prison, this one in Mississippi, and what has come out so far isn't pretty; 200-300 prisoners were said to be involved in the disturbance, and at least one guard has died.  A handful of staff and inmates were injured at the immigration detention facility.  The situation lasted for hours, with prisoners taking moire than a dozen staff hostage.  Which makes sense, because a former employee said the staff-to-inmate ratio was dangerously low, so much so that he left his job there.  Sixteen staff members had to be transported to a hospital due to injuries.  Prison riots are a relatively rare occurrence; this one even more so because of the facility's population.  It houses immigrants charged with illegal re-entry, not many of whom have criminal convictions beyond that.  So this isn't a population that necessarily lends itself to violence and rioting; I imagine they are upset with the living conditions in the facility, though no word has yet come out about what incited it.

Thankfully, the company is already coming under fire for its poor management by a Mississippi Congressman, and the riot is being investigated by the FBI.

The guard who died was 24-year-old Catlin Carithers.

David West Hates Private Prisons Too

Add NBA Star David West to the list of people who hate private prisons.

Update on Michigan

I just want to give a super-brief update on the asinine prison privatization proposal in Michigan.  First is a great story from the Detroit Free Press detailing how a company (GEO Group) that just came under intense federal scrutiny for deplorable conditions in one of its juvenile facilities could end up securing a piece of the pie.  That was one of many papers in the state that highlighted GEO's abysmal track record.

Monday, May 21, 2012


I'm pretty behind on a lot of news, so I'll try to just get down to it.  First up we've got the first quarter 2012 earnings, where we get to see yet again how much a couple of companies profit by locking people up.  I'm happy to report that CCA didn't do quite as well this year as they did last year; it looks like the Corrections Investment Initiative hasn't quite paid off.  They only earned $31.7 million in the first three months of this year, a measly $352,222 per day.  Just last year, the company earned $40 million over that same time frame.

The GEO Group's profit dipped as well, despite the fact that its revenues increased by about $21 million.  They earned a little more than $15 million in profit, which comes out to about $166,666 per day. 

That seems totally justifiable.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

GEO Group Makes Another Bold Move

The GEO Group just purchased another smaller private prison company, Municipal Corrections Finance L.P.  This comes a little more than two years after they announced the purchase of the third-largest company, Cornell Corrections, to try to increase their market share and bed capacity.  The new deal gives the company ownership of 11 additional facilities with10,000 beds, and further solidifies the company's position as the number 2 private incarcerator in the country.

Is The Industry Losing a Lifeline?

California, the state with the highest prison population, has also historically been one of the most privatization-friendly states, despite the influence of the powerful corrections officers lobby.  The state has given hundreds of millions of dollars per year to the industry to house some of its prisoners in a vain attempt to reduce the burden of its overcrowded prison system, rewarding the industry's investment in campaign contributions and lobbying.  But the industry's hold on the nation's most desperate prison system seems to be slipping in the wake of the Brown v. Plata decision from the Supreme Court.

That decision basically held that the state needed to remove about 40-45,000 prisoners from its state system just to ease overcrowding to the point where it could provide medical care that would not be so insufficient as to violate the prisoners' right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.  At the height of the overcrowding, it was estimated that one prisoner died every week from a preventable cause, because the state simply didn't have the resources or manpower to treat all the people it decided to lock up (coincidentally enough, its prison population exploded due largely to sentencing initiatives like 3-Strikes and Truth in Sentencing laws, which were passed by the industry through its work in ALEC during the 90's.  But that's a topic for a whole different post).  The governor's plan to fix the overcrowding is to send thousands of state prisoners to county jails; basically, he's shifting responsibility for the state's overzealous criminalization of nonviolent activities onto counties, many of which are poorly equipped to handle an influx of new prisoners.

In addition to shifting prisoners to county facilities, the Secretary of Corrections announced a few months ago that the state was looking at ways to reduce its reliance on private prisons and stop shipping prisoners to private facilities in other states. It looks like the state has actually started to work towards this goal; a few weeks ago, it announced a plan to halt $4 billion in new prison construction and return nearly 10,000 state prisoners from private facilities in other states.  This plan would save the state almost $400 million per year that it spends on private prisons, and reduce the prison system's impact on the state budget by nearly 4%; in a state with a budget near $137 billion, that's an awful lot of money.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

More on the Riot in Oklahoma

A pretty serious riot took place at a private prison in Sayre, Oklahoma last year, in which 46 prisoners were injured and many needed to be transported to a hospital.  CCA operates the prison, and has been very cagey with the information that has come out about it, which would not have been possible if this were a government-operated facility.  Finally, a report has come out about the riot; 2,700 pages' worth, detailing how officials at the prison allowed for racially fueled violence to get so out of hand that 19 people are now being charged with Oklahoma's equivalent of attempted murder (leave it to Oklahoma to have no law against attempted murder)

The Battle for Southwest Ranches

I just wanted to give a brief update on the ongoing struggle over an unpopular immigration detention center in Southwest Ranches, FL.  After some legal wrangling, the town of Davie has agreed to provide fire and emergency medical services for the hotly contested facility, stepping in after commissioners in Pembroke Pines heeded the calls of their constituents and canceled the service contract they had signed with ICE.  Davie Council Members did this without seeking public comment, probably because they knew the community would not approve of the decision.  Along with this decision, it was revealed that the proposed size for the facility has nearly doubled; what was originally going to be a 1,500 bed facility now could house up to 2,500 immigrant detainees, because more brown people = more money for CCA.  Southwest Ranches eagerly hopped on board, approving the contract Davie signed, which puts the once-threatened construction back on track.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Michigan Repeating Florida's Mistakes?

Michigan, a state that has already had a bad experience with privatizing prisons, is back at it again, like an abused spouse returning to her mate.  The House and Senate are considering budget proposals, put forth by (guess who!) Republicans, that would privatize multiple prisons, including juvenile facilities.  Republicans claim they can save more than $11 million dollars, despite a growing body of evidence showing that privatization doesn't save money, and without any supporting evidence.  In fact, the state's last foray into privatization ended when it determined its private juvenile prison cost more than about 90% of the government facilities to operate.  The budget could also cut 580 positions from the department of corrections, including librarians and support staff, because, hey, fuck those prisoners.

The real kicker of the whole situation is that none of the Republicans pushing the measure decided it would be a good idea to consult with the Department of Corrections about how to operate prisons, much like the situation in Florida (which ended up costing the head of their DOC his job when he challenged the privatization effort).  I imagine that has something to do with the fact that the GEO Group, which will likely get the prisoners to be transferred because it already owns the aforementioned expensive-as-hell facility in the state, has hired the former Speaker of the House (a Republican) as its chief lobbyist.

Predatory Capitalism and Cronyism

Quick link here to an excellent article from that covers CCA, the largest private prison company in the country.  It's called "America's Top Prison Corporation: A Study in Predatory Capitalism and Cronyism," and it's fantastic.  Enjoy.

Effing Arizona.

Sometimes, a story comes along that really makes me wonder whether a lot of politicians just really don't give a shit about people at all.  And no, I'm not even talking about how North Carolina decided it would be a good idea to codify discrimination in its frigging constitution.  I'm talking about the great state of Arizona, whose political leaders have given up their charade of pretending to represent their constituents.

Now, you might say that's a bit of hyperbole, but how else can I explain the fact that, faced with evidence from numerous sources, including a government study, that demonstrated private prisons actually cost Arizona taxpayers more than government run facilities, the Arizona legislature decided to not only fund more private prisons, but to eliminate the requirement for the government to report on the efficiency and services it receives from the companies it contracts with to operate these money pits?

The industry is already exempt from public records laws that government agencies must adhere to, a distinction granted because it is comprised of private corporations (despite the fact that they perform an inherently governmental function).  So Arizona actually found what might have been the only way to further reduce transparency and oversight for an industry that's not required to report much of anything about how it operates.

In addition to removing that reporting requirement, the budget that just passed allocated $16 million for 1,000 new private prison beds, while taking $50 million from funds intended to help struggling homeowners manage their mortgages.  That $16 million might go to MTC, the company that operates the Kingman prison, from which 3 prisoners escaped in 2010 in one of the most highly-publicized prison escapes in years (largely because they murdered an elderly couple).  Or it could go to CCA, the company that, despite all its denials about its influence on the legislation, was in the room when SB1070 was drafted and stands to profit handsomely from it.

In yet another example of the corrupting and toxic influence of money in government, this budget proposal was really the handiwork of Governor Brewer's Chief of Staff, Chuck Coughlin.  Coughlin founded HighGround Consulting, the most powerful lobbying force in the state.  HighGround happens to represent the private prison industry.  A former CCA lobbyist, married to a current CCA lobbyist, also works on Brewer's staff.  And John Kavanagh, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, is quite cozy with Public Policy Partners, a lobbying firm that represents the GEO Group.  So it naturally made sense for him to be the one to introduce the provision that eliminated the analyses of private prisons in the state.

I don't even think it's a question who Governor Brewer and the rest of the Republican establishment in Arizona represent.  And it's a damn shame.  Thank god I don't live there.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Update on Labor Struggles in Australia

Just a quick update on the labor struggle taking place between the GEO Group and its employees down under.  Employees have threatened to stop working, demanding better pay and better staffing ratios, because the guards feel incapable of properly operating the facility with the staffing levels the management wants.  Cutting staff is the quickest and most effective way to save money when operating a prison.  Unfortunately, it's also the quickest and most effective way to make a dangerous working and living environment.  Now, the situation is coming to a head; guards threatened to walk off the job tonight if their demands aren't met.

So here's to you in solidarity, GEO Group guards in Australia, from the other side of the globe.

Virginia Considering Privatization

Quick link here to an article discussing how Virginia is considering privatizing the only prison facility in the state devoted to sexually violent offenders.  Because what better population would you want a profit-driven company in charge of?  But it's a very good article that discusses a lot of the risks and drawbacks associated with privatization, including the industry's ability (or lack thereof) to save money, its many security issues, and the millions of dollars it spend in political contributions to cover all that up.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Immigration Detention Center Struggling Financially

Just a quick link here to an article about the Irwin detention center in Georgia, run by a small private prison company called Municipal Corrections, LLC.  The company owes more than $1.5 million in back taxes (about 1/3 of the entire county's budget) and the facility has defaulted on tax-exempt bond payments that were used to finance its construction.  The local community is nervous about the potential loss of nearly 200 jobs, but this is the risk you run when you rely on a private prison for economic stimulus.

Jailing Americans for Profit

I've tweeted this article once or twice before, but wanted to put a link to it here on the blog as well.  It's an excellent piece from the Afro-American Statesman called "Jailing Americans for Profit: The Rise of the Prison-Industrial Complex."  And it's great.

Monday, May 7, 2012

More on ALEC's Demise

I must say, I've been more than a little pleased to see all the negative press coming out about ALEC, especially considering how it has helped promote prison privatization and laws (like stricter immigration legislation and sentencing "reforms") that boost the industry's bottom line.  Many people are jumping on the Hate ALEC bandwagon, and I say, "Welcome aboard!"

Much of the coverage has focused on the corporations who have stopped sponsoring these conservative dbags, but not so much the thousands of state legislators who are members.  One of the first legislators to dissociate from ALEC is NM State Senator George Munoz, who basically said that ALEC's solutions to his constituents' problems were "not right for New Mexicans."  Soon after, the New Mexico ALEC State Chairman called the organization "too partisan," indicated that model legislation coming from the group is often altered to remove indications of its origin, and that its member list is actually larger than disclosed.

So maybe, hopefully, state legislators are beginning to see just how unpopular it is to support corporate-written legislation, and we're witnessing the beginning of the end of one of my pet peeves.  More likely, ALEC will just figure out new and inventive ways to disguise its insidious handiwork and push corporate welfare privatization on all of us.

Privatization Issues in New Zealand

Unfortunately for prisoners of the world, the private industry is not relegated to the United States.  New Zealand is one of a handful of other countries that allows private companies to operate prisons, but their results aren't much better than what we see here in the states.  Officials have noticed a couple of "worrying trends," including poor management of facilities and escapes, at a prison operated by Serco.  This has some calling for a reconsideration of the government's plan to house up to a quarter of its prisoners in private prisons.  The facility has also suffered from a high rate of drug test failures among employees, which might explain the prisoners they mistakenly released.

Senator Fined for Taking GEO Group Donation

The FEC has fined Senator Marco Rubio, a young all-star within the Republican Party because he hates latinos as much as the rest of them, for failing to disclose certain campaign contributions.  Among those whose contributions led to the fine was the GEO Group, which is based in Rubio's state (Florida)

Outsourcing Medical Care is a "Bad Move"

Quick link here to an article discussing the pros and cons of hiring a private, for-profit medical care provider to provide medical services to prisoners in North Carolina.  I think the first sentence sums it up nicely: "Hiring private contractors to take over the state's prison health care system is a bad move for North Carolina and for all of us in the state who pay taxes."

Friday, May 4, 2012

MTC Also Hires Crappy Guards

A guard working for MTC has been charged with grand theft and destroying evidence after he, while on duty, stole a wallet from a patient in a hospital containing more than $7,000.  He then burned the wallet and initially lied to investigators about how much was in there.  Who says private prison companies can't attract professional and quality staff with their abysmally paltry salary and benefit structure?

I do.