Friday, December 17, 2010

What the Heck Took So Long?

Governor Abercrombie of Hawaii has finally promised to bring all Hawaiian prisoners housed on the mainland in private prisons home. Apparently, the two deaths (probably by assault) of Hawaiian men in their 20s was not enough to prompt this decision, but the recent class action lawsuit filed by Hawaiian prisoners convinced him this was the right thing to do. Better late than never, I suppose

Lawsuit Against CCA settles

A lawsuit brought by the ACLU against CCA and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has just reached settlement. The lawsuit stemmed from deplorably inadequate medical and mental health care at the San Diego Correctional Facility, a huge CCA prison which houses immigration detainees for ICE.

The settlement mandates that CCA hire more nurses and come into compliance with medical care standards set by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. Additionally, ICE will not longer be able to deny care to inmates in non-emergency situations. They now must treat any serious medical issue immediately. It's actually kind of frightening that they had to be ordered by a court to do this, but hey, at least the poor immigrants they house won't be denied care for serious issues in the future

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hawaiian Prisoners Sue CCA

18 Hawaiian prisoners housed in a CCA facility in Arizona are suing the company following ongoing patterns of abuse at the facility. Among the allegations are that "'The guards are banging their heads on tables, threatening them, beating them, kicking them, punching them,' In written statements the inmates have sent to Rapp, they say they have been forced to stand in the cold in their underwear, kicked while they are on the ground, and denied the opportunity to change their clothes for days." And on top of the repeated assaults and abuses, CCA guards intentionally falsified documents and tried to cover up the evidence of their wrongdoing.

This is the same facility where 2 Hawaiian men in their 20s died this past year of suspicious causes. Clearly, CCA is having some difficulty keeping the Hawaiian prisoners housed safely, as they seem to do with just about all their prisoners.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Three Days Too Late?

I originally decided not to write about the linked story because I didn't think it was super news-worthy, at least for this blog. About 2 weeks ago, California finalized a deal to send another 5,800 prisoners to private prisons in other states, in addition to the approximately 9,000 they already house out-of-state due to severe overcrowding within their own system. While they continue to fight against a court order to release 45,000 prisoners, and steadily fail to implement any sort of sentencing or parole reform that could reduce the population, California's government has decided to subject an even greater proportion of its prisoners to the abuses of private prisons.

Yes, that's definitely bad. But what prompted me to write about this decision is a letter that was sent three days later. Not just any letter, but one from the Inspector General of California, who had just completed an audit of out-of-state private prisons that house California prisoners.

In the letter, which describes the findings of the audit, the Inspector General details the problems his office uncovered in their work. I often feel that when I write on here, I am unable to convey the range, severity, and pervasiveness of the problems that plague private prisons. Maybe it's because I try to focus on individual issues within private prisons, maybe it's something else. But I rarely feel like I do a sufficient job of describing how a multitude of abuses, neglect, and violations of human/civil rights can all co-exist at a private prison, and the toll their compounded effect can take. This letter from the IG achieves at least the former; the litany of issues decribed in a mere 11 pages is astounding.

Among the issues described: Using Administrative Segregation (solitary confinement) unecessarily, discriminating against Hispanic prisoners in program access, poor screening of COs before they're hired, prisoners in secure areas, not requiring COs to have weapons training, improper evidence handling, using an unapproved Use-of-Force policy, and inmates not even being provided with up-to-date facility rules. I know, that's a lot to take in. Taken together, the potential for violations of prisoners' rights is astronomical.

But maybe the most serious issue is the widespread failure of private prisons to maintain an adequate prisoner grievance process. Boxes that hold grievances forms were often unlocked and poorly monitored. Why is this the most serious issue? Because for a lot of these prisoners, those grievance forms are maybe the only recourse they have when their rights are violated. By not only subjecting these poor men to abuse, but then effectively denying or silencing their right to grieve the abuses they suffer (and they do have an affirmative right to grieve), these prisons amount to little more than closely-controlled totalitarian regimes.

So despite the findings by the IG of California that private, out-of-state prisons which house California's prisoners are essentially s**tholes, they're going to send more people there. That's just wonderful.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hitting the Nail on the Head

From the tendency of poorly trained and low-paid staff to be susceptible to bribes, to how the supposed but unproven "cost savings" of privatizing prisons never matriculates its way down to the average taxpayers, just published one of the most magnificent and pointed editorials on private prisons I've seen in a long time. I strongly recommend you take the time to read it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Monkey See...

State Senator Bill Ketron of Tennessee is close to introducing his own version of SB1070 in his home state. His version will closely mirror the "Breathing While Brown" law, because ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) provided him with a template based on the original super-racist, private prison-friendly bill. A dose of reality was dished out by another conservative state Rep (Vance Dennis) however, who said "Obviously, if you increase the number of folks that are being deported or processed through the federal immigration enforcement, you could potentially increase the need for those prison beds...I imagine any private company that operates prisons could potentially benefit from that."

For a nice editorial on the proposed legislation and consequences that are easy to anticipate, see this article.

More on the Revolving Door at the USMS

An excellent piece from the Daily Kos regarding a shining example of revolving-door politics; the nomination of Stacia Hylton, who has worked in high-level positions with both CCA and the GEO Group, to head the US Marshal's Service.

Despite the fact that Obama has pledged to work to shut the revolving door between industry leadership and government, Ms. Hylton has been nominated to lead an agency responsible for a sizeable portion of the income of the industry she has worked in for years. Unfortunately, the process has been mostly favorable to Ms. Hylton, whose work with private prison operators was largely ignored in Committee hearings. Her nomination has been passed on to the full Senate for approval. Sigh.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Blatant Conflict of Interest

You really can't make this stuff up. Harry Coates, a state senator from Oklahoma, is having an affair with a lobbyist. Right, no surprise there. It gets a little thorny however when one learns that the lobbyist he is sleeping with, 29-year-old Haley Atwood, works for a company (Rite of Passage) that recently won a $10 million per year contract to operate a new private juvenile detention center. A contract that Coates was instrumental in helping to secure. Of course, both parties claim the affair has nothing to do with Coates' support of the contract. Sure, a 60 year old state senator and a woman less than half his age would only be in it for the love, right?

Thankfully, though, the awarding of the contract has been delayed. Apparently, their relationship could have led to the bidding process being rigged. I'm stunned.

UPDATE: The Oklahoma Attorney General is reviewing how the contract came to be awarded to Rite of Passage.

I Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself

The fabulous and multi-talented Alex Friedmann at Private Corrections Institute was recently interviewed regarding the release of security footage from the assault of Hanni Elabed at the Idaho Correctional Facility, run by CCA. CCA was upset about the release of the footage, which comes from a facility currently being sued over levels of violence so extreme it's called "Gladiator School" by the residents.

Mr. Friedmann's take on CCA's response to the video release? "The only unnecessary risk it poses is to CCA's liability in prisoner assault cases and the notion CCA's employees are corrections professionals."

Exact-amundo. And for much more in-depth coverage of the current FBI investigation into conditions at the prison, check out this article.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lawsuits Galore

CCA has become a frequent target of litigation in the past few weeks. In addition to the two lawsuits I wrote about previously (here and here), a few others have been filed against or settled recently by the company.

The title link goes to a suit that was just filed on behalf of a Cuban immigrant, who was in the US legally but was unlawfully detained by CCA for over a year beyond his release date while they questioned his immigration status (which, mind you, they don't actually have any authority to do). Alberto Gonzalez Raza, a prominent and beloved local businessman, suffered two heart attacks and a stroke while being incarcerated well beyond his release date, and lost his business while locked up. His medical treatment was so bad while he was in prison that he asked to be deported, even though he was in this country legally.

Also, a woman just reached a settlement with CCA after she was taken hostage by a prisoner that escaped from one of their facilities. The lawsuit alleged, probably rightfully so, that the guards were negligent in watching the prisoner while he was at a hospital for medical treatment, from which he escaped.

Finally, while it has not yet resulted in a lawsuit (though I hope and imagine it will), an 18 year old woman in a CCA facility recently lost her baby. The woman received "no prenatal care" while incarcerated, and lost her baby after being left alone in a cell for hours, crying out for medical attention

Where's the Logic? Redux

Members of Arizona's legislature have proposed privatizing even more of the state's prisons, in addition to the 5,000 private beds they have requested proposals for (along with privatizing some state parks. Yes, state parks). All this despite the fact that numerous reports have come out, including an audit by the state of Arizona, showing that private prisons are more expensive to operate and less safe than government facilities.

Really, it's time to get over this whole "the free market is infallible" misperception that exists in this country. Privatizing services is not always the best option. In fact, introducing a profit motive to certain functions can sometimes be a very bad thing, such as in the private prison industry. Or private health insurance. Or private defense. There are just some things in life where profit should not be the number-one, overarching concern. Governments ALWAYS operate prisons better and more efficiently that private companies, mostly because they aren't seeking a profit and can therefore devote all resources to operating a safe and humane facility. For as much as people disparage and hate on prisoners, they're still people, and deserving of at least a modicum of dignity and respect, which is exceedingly difficult to come by in private prisons.

No, government may not be extremely efficient in all that it does, but private corporations aren't necessarily that efficient either. Until we break this perception that privatization is always better, just because, we will continue to waste taxpayer dollars by funneling them to large corporations who don't give a damn about us. We have a prison industrial complex in this country largely because there's money to be made in it. It's high time to eliminate that motivation.

CCA is Unfair to Its Employees

CCA and other private prison companies traditionally don't hire unionized corrections officers, which allows them to pay their employees far less than what state employees earn. This is the biggest area of legitimate cost savings offered by privatization, but it often comes at a price (see: everything I've ever written about the quality of guards at private prisons).

CCA is currently facing a challenge from a union in Arizona that represents about 1/3 of the employees at a CCA facility. These officers want half the raise that was just awarded to ICE officers. CCA is offering them 10 cents more per hour, on a salary that already pales in comparison to what governments pay for similar work.

For a much more in-depth analysis of the contract negotiations, go here.

Where's the Logic?

I rarely write about the companies that provide specialized contracted services to prisons (as opposed to companies that manage entire facility operations), but you should know that they are their own inefficient, despicable mess as well. Linked here is an editorial out of Kentucky that discusses the state's planned decision to renew its contract with Aramark to provide food service to its prisoners. This is the same Aramark that has come under fire in numerous states for cutting corners in its food delivery, often serving rotted and barely nutritious meals to prisoners. Their food service is so bad in fact that it caused riots among prisoners in Kentucky and protests in Georgia over the company's failure to feed them properly. Throughout its history, Aramark has faced numerous allegations such as these, along with allegations of unfair labor and hiring practices. So yeah they're a model company.

Aramark has a $12 million per year contract to feed Kentucky's prisoners, a contract that says the state auditor should basically have complete access to their records of operation. However, when that office requested documents for an audit last year, they of course got a lot of pushback from Aramark, which refused to release everything the state had requested. So much pushback in fact that they are now being investigated for breach of contract. But even with the scant records provided, some of the preliminary findings of the audit include: "billing errors resulting in overpayments running into the tens of thousands of dollars, delays in service caused by food shortages, unapproved changes in menus, questions about the quantity of the food being served and a health department report on a possible outbreak of food-related illness among prisoners."

And the legislature plans on renewing the contract.

Catching Up

Good Morning.  As I mentioned before, I failed to report on some major issues that had surfaced over the past month or so, which I am hoping to rectify now.  Today's first link goes to a brief story following up on Jan Brewer's office's connections to CCA through the lobbying firm High Ground Consulting, which is run by her campaign chairman.  It turns out the favors run both ways.

High Ground's client list has nearly doubled since Brewer became governor, giving a higher profile to Chuck Coughlin and his company. And now a dozen employees of High Ground's clients have landed positions on boards and appointments to state government positions.  A former senior director of CCA is now the chairman of the Arizona Commission on Privatization and Efficiency (I imagine they're aware of the irony in that nomenclature).  In fact, Chuck Coughlin has such a close and beneficial relationship with Brewer's office that it prompted numerous current and former representatives to remark that "The position and influence Coughlin enjoys is unusual."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shut Down the Gladiator School!

The ACLU is currently suing Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for its operation of the Idaho Correctional Facility, a prison so plagued by violence among the inmates it is called "Gladiator School" by those who are unfortunate enough to find themselves there.  Stories abound of guards intentionally victimizing prisoners by putting them with known enemies, then refusing to protect them when they are assaulted.  The impetus for the lawsuit came after a man was beaten severely in front of guards, who did nothing to protect the man during an assault that lasted so long, the attacker had enough time to stop and rest before resuming the assault.  The poor victim had internal bleeding in his head and spent 3 days in a coma following the assault, and now suffers from brain damage that has severely limited his mental capacity

Today's link goes to a story that details some of the information that came out in affidavits filed in the case by guards who used to work at the facility.  The guards all admit the facility is dangerously understaffed and excessively violent.  "They say the staff lacked adequate training and equipment, was overworked and encouraged by administrators to disregard and undermine the safety of inmates and underreported the number of assaults between prisoners."  The descriptions of the conditions at the facility are horrific; I strongly encourage you all, especially anyone not particularly familiar with private prisons and the abuse that is fostered in these types of facilities, to read the article.

But possibly more shocking is the video of the above-mentioned assault, which was just released to the public.  Of course, CCA is not so much concerned with the content of the video (meaning the failure of their employees to protect a prisoner under their watch), but the damage it could do to the company's reputation.

I really hate you CCA.

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: The FBI has launched an investigation into conditions at the facility.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Barbaric" Conditions at Youth Jail

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU have sued the GEO Group over alleged "barbaric" conditions at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi.  Among the egregious abuses that took place at the facility is the case of a young man who was restrained to his bunk bed for 24 hours and repeatedly sexually assaulted, after he had specifically requested protection.

In the 1,400-bed facility, which has provided more than $100 million in profit to the GEO Group in its lifetime, some young men have also been forced into drug trafficking by guards, have been assaulted while handcuffed, and were denied critical mental health treatment

One of the young men who was unfortunately housed in this hellhole described conditions there.  "'The officers did nothing to protect kids from beat downs and sexual assaults," he said.  There was little time for education, he said, "because the place was so disorganized, and the officers didn't care about our future.'"  For even more horror stories about the atrocities that have taken place inside this juvenile detention center, check out this article, which does a nice job of documenting the abuse.

But what I liked most of all in the news coming out about this facility is the analysis of the guards by a former private prison employee, who said "It is those staff who should be in prison -- as well as their corporate employers."

PA Town Thwarts GEO Proposal

As I mentioned before, a proposal for a GEO Group facility in Upper Mount Bethel Township, PA was crushed by local opposition about three weeks ago, which I have been more than negligent in writing about.  I'll keep it brief, but I want to congratulate everyone who came out against the facility for their hard work, especially the community organizers who were able to not only get the word out about the facility, but were also able to get folks worked up enough that they turned out in droves for a community meeting to voice their displeasure, which led to the council voting down the proposal.  The work you all did was a fantastic example of how strong people can be when they work together for the common good.  Bravo!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What I'm Thankful For

Today, I'm thankful for my readers. Whether this is your first time here or you happen to be one of my few regulars, I'm thankful for you.  I'm thankful for people who care about the havoc the private prison industry is wreaking on small towns, the poor and minority folks who are processed through our prison industrial complex as a commodity, US citizens who are taxed unnecessarily and immigrants who are locked up for trying to make better lives for themselves and their families.  Thanks to those of you who came out against the private prison pitched by the GEO Group in Northampton, PA, which I haven't had the time to write about yet but will soon, and community activists all around the country who rally against such plans.  Thanks to those of you who work in or around the prison system, and private prisons in particular, trying to improve it any way you can.

I really appreciate it.  Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Close the Revolving Door

So much has gone on in the time I've been away that I hardly know where to begin.  Unfortunately I can't commit a ton of time right now to the stories going around, which is terrible because they certainly warrant the type of consideration and analysis I've grown accustomed to giving.

Very briefly, Stacia Hylton, a former consultant for the GEO Group, has been nominated to be the next head of the US Marshals' Service, one of the main government agencies that contracts with private prisons, especially the GEO Group.  She's also got some connections to CCA that I honestly haven't had the chance yet to review myself, but from preliminary reports are nearly as damning.  Basically though this is another sad example of the revolving door between the industry and the government that I've spoken about in the past. 

As Ken Kopczynski of the Private Corrections Working Group said, this is "Like the fox watching the henhouse."  But Ms. Hylton doesn't think the more than $110,000 she earned as a GEO Group consultant will influence her in a position in which she'll have authority over the awarding of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of federal contracts.  She's wrong.

Thankfully, a collection of organizations, led by the great team over at Prison Legal News, has already stepped up to oppose Ms. Hylton's confirmation.  Among the organizations opposed to her leading the agency responsible for 13% of GEO's revenue is the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).  WhyIHateCCA strongly supports this effort to prevent a private prison industry insider from taking the reins of a government agency with such tremendous authority over the awarding of contracts.

More on this story:

TPM Muckraker's coverage

Information from the National Lawyers' Guild, another of the organizations opposing Ms. Hylton's nomination

More coverage of the nomination and Ms. Hylton's blatant conflict of interest

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Hi Boys and Girls,

I'm putting up maybe my first personal note ever here to apologize for my silence in recent days.  Don't worry; I still hate CCA, and passionately so.  But unfortunately, due to other engagements, I've been a little out of commission and will be until at least next week.  Till then,

Keep the Hate Alive.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More on NPR's Investigation

Just a quick link here to the transcript of yesterday's "Talk of the Nation," an NPR show that discussed the organization's investigation into SB1070 and its connections to the private prison industry.  This was a very good episode of the show that really got down to the dirty details of CCA's and GEO's influence on the drafting and passing of the legislation.

Debunking the "Economic Stimulant" Myth

Aside from the promises of cost-savings that private prison companies tout when pitching a facility (which often fail to materialize as anticipated), another major selling point for many towns considering a private prison is the expected economic benefits the facility will bring.  Proponents argue that private prisons bring in more tax revenue from facility operations, bring more money to the local economy as employees from other towns come there to work, and provide jobs to locals.  Well it turns out that most of that isn't true, either.

In an interesting article that discusses California's decision to send medium-security inmates to a GEO Group facility in Baldwin, MI, Frank Smith, superstar of the anti-private prison movement, described how private prisons "look like a prison," but are essentially "cracker boxes," meaning the guards and operations of the facility aren't up to part with what you'd find at a state-run facility.  But even more disturbing were the findings of an Iowa State professor, who determined that when private prisons come to small towns, they actually wind up damaging the local economy more than help it.  Median housing value declines, unemployment rises, average household income decreases, and poverty rises after private prisons come to town.  The professor's overall finding was that "private prisons don't offer nearly the advantages that state prisons do." (emphasis added)

So the next time a private prison operator tries to pitch a facility based on the stimulation it will provide to the local economy, take that with more than a grain of salt.

More Revolving Door Politics

Eight organizations concerned with the privatization of prisons have banded together in opposition to Obama's nominee for the new director of the US Marshall's Service.  Why?  Because the nominee, Stacia Hylton, has worked as a consultant to the GEO Group over the past year, steering millions in federal contracts their way.  Previously, she had worked in the Dept. of Justice, where she helped CCA win a 20-year contract with the US Marshall's Service to hosue immigration detainees.  She's so cozy with the industry in fact that CCA's President, Damon Hininger, attended her birthday party this past February.

Why I Hate CCA stands with these organizations firmly in opposition to having an industry insider take command of one of the private prison industry's biggest clients.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Crack Team

The new Governor of Georgia has assembled a powerhouse team of former lobbyists and legislators to serve on his transition team.  As Zaid Jilani of found, "The list reads like a who’s who list of some of the state’s top special interests and lobbyists — people who have represented corporate giants ranging from Georgia Power to Goldman Sachs."  Included among the incoming team is Dan Lee, a former legislator and former lobbyist for CCA, which already holds thousands of Georgia's prisoners.  Unfortunately, the political climate in Georgia just became even more hospitable to the private prison industry.

Strong Opposition

The residents of Upper Mount Bethel Township in Pennsylvania came out in force last night to protest the GEO Group's proposal to build a 2,500-bed immigration detention center.  The council members present, many of whom support the proposal, dodged questions all night.  But three officials, Supervisers Jerry Geake and Robert Gerwig, and council president Ron Angle admitted to having met with GEO Group brass in private meetings leading up to the proposal.

The estimated 100 citizens comprised a "hostile, overflow crowd" that vocally demonstrated their opposition, despite the council's endorsement and GEO's promise of new jobs for the area. 

Excellent work, folks!

Friday, November 5, 2010

GEO Group's 3Q Earnings WAY down

The GEO Group's profit this quarter is way down from what it was a year ago, nearly 75%.  That's right - 75 friggin percent!

Unfortunately though this won't be an ongoing trend, as the profit they earned was tempered by "one-time" expenditures at a facility in Florida and some debt-avoiding maneuvers they employed in the Cornell merger.  All told, they had $22 million or so in profit, $17 million of which went to these costs.

So it's good that their profits are down, but I don't expect them to stay down for long.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Bit of Not-As-Bad-As-I-Expected News

It's earnings time, boys and girls!  Time to find out how badly the private prison giants bent over the American taxpayers this quarter.  First to announce is CCA (as usual - GEO always seems to take longer for some reason), whose profits are down 7% (over the same quarter last year)!  Yippee!  They only earned $42 million in profit over the past 3 months.

Misplaced Priorities, Wasteful Spending

Private prisons are often touted by supporters as being more cost-efficient alternatives to government-run prisons.  They fail to mention how those cost savings are realized, namely through under-training staff, short-staffing facilities, and cutting corners on things like medical care, security, and maintenance.  But it turns out in Arizona that, despite the private prison industry employing all these tactics, they still cost more per prisoner than state-run facilities.

Significantly more so, in fact.  It costs Arizona about $7.70 per inmate, per day MORE to house their incarcerated population in private facilities, amounting to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in wasteful spending.  Arizona spends more than ten percent of its budget incarcerating people; more than it spends on funding for higher education.

This is the second such study in Arizona within the past year or so that has found private prisons to be more expensive than state-run ones, in addition to various studies in other states. Unfortunately for Arizonans, Governor Jan Brewer and the state legislature have already demonstrated their affinity for the private corrections industry, as has been reported on extensively in the past.  Governor Brewer has hired former and current CCA lobbyists to her staff, while state Senator Russel Pearce introduced SB1070, Arizona's "Breathing While Brown" law, which NPR showed to be a product of CCA's influence through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). 

After getting the bill introduced, the private prison industry in Arizona went to work, donating thousands of dollars to state legislators to ensure it would be passed.  Unfortunately for Arizona taxpayers, they were successful.  Now, the nation's most racist and draconian immigration statute will help funnel an ever-increasing number of illegal immigrants (nonviolent offenders) into private prisons.  The same private prisons that the state has found repeatedly to cost MORE than government-run facilities.  Facilities that are operated by companies that engage in the sanctioned bribing of politicians, companies who have for years been working to pass harsh criminal sentences, mostly against nonviolent offenders, all across the country.

So despite audits that dispel the common myth of cost savings, and with clear evidence of the abuse, negligence, and cost-cutting inherent to the industry, the private prison industry continues to thrive.  It does so by wooing conservative politicians with promises of savings that never materialize.  It's a shame that these sorts of politicians, who rail against pork and wasteful spending, are seemingly incapable of even seeing this inefficient and disgraceful situation in Arizona.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The GEO Group is being sued by the family of a 20-years-young diabetic man who died at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in 2007.  Dennis Earl Homes was only incarcerated in this facility for 5 months, during which time he lost 30 pounds due to being denied medical treatment for his diabetes, leading to his death.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Letting The Experts Do Their Job

I'll keep it simple today.  The title link goes to part 2 of NPR's outstanding expose on how the private prison industry helped draft, promote, and eventually pass SB1070, Arizona's "Breathing While Brown" law.  This has garnered a tremendous amount of media buzz, to which I can offer little that hasn't been said.  So I'll just provide you with a few links here to some of my favorite pieces of coverage surrounding this groundbreaking story.

Coverage of a hearing on private prisons in Tucson, AZ, that took place shortly after NPR's story dropped, including even more background on CCA's and ALEC's influence on the state legislature to promote harsh criminal sanctoins

7 Striking things to take away from NPR's story

A story from US Catholic that describes the immigration debate and the legislation.  Though not surprising, it's nice to see the religious establishment come out against this sort of thing

An article that allows Russell Pearce to feebly try to refute the story and CCA's impact

Another article in which Mr. Pearce basically admits CCA had a heavy hand in drafting the legislation he later introduced as SB1070


Thursday, October 28, 2010

I've Been Saying This for Months

I couldn't possibly NOT post the article linked to in the title today.  As I have been ranting about on here for months and months, CCA had a direct and heavy influence on the drafting and passing of SB1070, Arizona's "Breathing While Brown" law.  NPR did a bang-up job on exposing the true nature behind the negotiations and donations that led up to the bill's passage, and this story has been picked up by many varied media outlets.

So you're probably asking yourself, "OK Mike, just exactly how much influence did CCA have on the bill, and how was that influence exerted?"  It turns out that:

1) State senator Russell Pearce, in a highly secretive meeting, made a presentation before ALEC (with CCA reps present) on how immigration needed to be addressed.  The meeting, like many of ALEC's, was filled with corporate reps who spent literally tens of thousands of dollars to have direct access to lawmakers

2) from this presentation, the idea for the bill was hatched.  The bill was then drafted by a task force that included CCA employees

3) after the bill was introduced, an unexpectedly high number of cosponsors signed on almost immediately.  more than 2/3 of those cosponsors are either ALEC members or attended the meeting.

4) 5/6 of those cosponsors received campaign donations from private prison industry interests over the next six months

5) Jan Brewer hired a former CCA employee, and their current lobbyist, to work as advisers while the bill was finalized and eventually passed.

To put it simply, this stinks.  It's terrible that a corporation, representing a very small constituency, can have such tremendous influence over the drafting and passing of legislation.  It's not often we get a glimpse into the workings of how legislation is drafted, introduced, and eventually passed to anywhere near this degree.  CCA corrupts the democratic processes of our government, usurps power from individual constituents, and manipulates legislators all in the name of ever-expanding profits, at the direct expense of American taxpayers and the poor souls who are forced into their prisons.  If they aren't the face of evil, I don't know what is.

Moving Along

A pretty alarming story today out of Florida, where Youth Services Interational (YSI), a private prison company that operates juvenile facilities, is being sued by a 15-year-old boy who was sexually assaulted by a staff member multiple times.  YSI used to be a subsidiary of Correctional Services Corporation, which was founded by a loathsome welfare hotel owner that moved into the private detention business (James Slattery, who now runs YSI).  After riots broke out at an immigration detention center run by CSC (then known as "Esmor"), the company moved to Florida, changed its name, and was back in the business of abusing its wards.  Despite all this, the state of Florida does not have plans to investigate any other facilities run by YSI.

I've seen stories before of guards with criminal records or histories of physical, mental, or sexual abuse moving from private prison to private prison, where background checks and training are in short supply.  But I must say this story kind of took me by surprise; I had no idea entire abusive companies moved around the industry like this.  There most certainly ought to be an investigation into the other facilities run by this abhorrent company.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Who Woulda Thunk?

As I reported on extensively in the past, Sheriff Richard Nugent of Hernando County, Florida, took over the county jail after CCA bailed on its contract earlier this year.  Following a prolonged battle over who owned particular appliances and systems within the facility, it seems as though the commotion has died down and the jail is running smoothly.  So smoothly, in fact, that the Sheriff anticipates being able to return $277,000 to the county commission at the end of the year.  It turns out that by not operating a prison for profit, one can actually save money while simultaneously operating a humane, constitutionally-adequate facility.  Someone should alert CCA to this development

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Broken Security Systems

MTC finally fixed the alarm system at the Kingman, AZ prison that had been malfunctioning prior to the escapes in July.  The escapes took place on July 30, and the alarm system had been broken before then, which means the facility, which holds medium-security prisoners, went about 3 months (or maybe longer) with a malfunctioning alarm system, because MTC neglected to repair it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What The Heck Were They Paying For?

One of the most common arguments in favor of privatizing prisons (granted, it usually comes from the privateers themselves, but that's not the point) is that they generate cost savings for financially-strapped governments looking to manage more prisoners than they have capacity for.  More often than not, the cost savings they generate come from cutting corners in things like medical care, maintenance of the facilities, staffing (and training of staff), and programming.

It turns out however that even all these reductions in services aren't enough for the private prison industry to save money in New Mexico.  The state has decided to remove 114 prisoners from private prisons and transfer them back to state-run facilities.  This move will save them approximately $2.1 million over the next year, or more than $18,000 per prisoner.  So for nearly $20,000 per prisoner per year LESS than what private prisons charge, New Mexico can incarcerate its own citizens.

Or alternatively, New Mexico has been overpaying its private prison operators by millions upon millions of dollars for years.  Whichever way you slice it, the private prison industry is a scam.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Smart Investment

No, I'm not going to begin telling you that investing in private prisons is a good idea.  Don't worry.  Rather, the title is a reference to the investment(s) CCA has made in itself in the form of political contributions.  I have, on occasion, mentioned how CCA, the GEO Group, and other private prison operators lobby the federal government and cultivate political relationships through campaign contributions (For more on that, see pretty much every entry I've ever done on here).  Those contributions help to ensure these companies continue to secure contracts with state and federal governments to operate correctional facilities.

It turns out the money they invested in these political relationships have really paid off.  A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which audits government contracts, found that CCA took in more than $800 million in contracts last year.  They were able to make all this money despite the fact that they have been cited for numerous safety violations and circumventing labor laws.  So you can feel confident knowing that your tax dollars are being funnelled to a corporation that repeatedly violates the terms of its contracts, fails to maintain safe facilities, and doesn't see the need to follow labor regulations.  Great.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mass Incarceration and Profiteering

Diversity, Inc. has come out with two fantastic articles that detail how the private prison industry has helped contribute to the US far and away leading the world in its rate of incarceration.  We lock up more than one out of every 100 adults in this country, and more than 1 out of every 31 are in prison, or on probation or parole.  We have more people in prison, in both real numbers and percentage-wise, than Russia, North Korea, Iraq, or any other country in the world.  We have over 1 million more people in prison than China, despite the fact that they have more than 4 times our population.  And all this amidst the fact that rates of crime are actually dropping across the country.  So what happened?

The private prison industry happened.  After it was nearly crushed out, for a second time, in the late 90s following a series of abuses, lawsuits, and mismanagement, the industry was resurrected (largely) by the immigration detention boom that took place over the past decade and a half.  After CCA and GEO had worked through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to increase penalties for repeat felons and drug offenders in the 80s and 90s, in the late 90s and early 2000s they began to focus on immigration.  Both companies lobby the federal government and state governments, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, on immigration issues.  Additionally, both work with ALEC to promote and pass model legislation like SB1070, which guarantees them a steady flow of more and more prisoners for their beds.  The other article on Diversity, Inc. delves much deeper into the connections each company has with ALEC, and how they have used this conservative front group to promote their anti-American agenda.  (Yes, it's anti-American, because they're trying to incarcerate as many of us as possible, regardless of whether its sensible or moral to do so.)

As today's title link points out, the privateers exploited the poor planning of government agencies who passed tough-on-crime legislation but failed to build enough prison beds to handle the added capacity.  Able to design and build facilities in half the time it takes the government, using private funds, CCA and GEO capitalized on a market that had a high demand and very little supply.  As CCA's CEO readily admits, they want to continue to exploit those decisions in the future: "we have the salespeople and lobbyists pitching the benefits of privatization to the governors and legislators... they wake up one day and they don't have beds and will have to turn to the private sector." 

Unfortunately, private prison companies, especially CCA and the GEO group, have a tremendous foothold on the industry, especially in immigration detention.  By cultivating relationships with tough-on-crime and pro-business politicians, they have all but ensured their continued survival, and thriving, despite the fact that they have each established independent track records of negligence, abuse, contract noncompliance, and malfeasance.  Simply put, there is no place in our criminal justice system that should lend itself to someone making a profit, especially the incarceration of American citizens.  It's a sick, sick world out there.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Criminalization of Immigrants

Peter Cervantes-Gautchi, a writer for the Americas Program at the Center for International Policy, has written a fantastic and scathing report on how corporate interests have dominated the immigration debate in this country, and how that has paid dividends for CCA and GEO, who have both profited tremendously off America's rush to incarcerate illegal immigrants.  This article is really just amazing; it explains how major corporations have invested in the tycoon companies, and how the companies have manipulated politicians (who often have a personal stake in the issue) to ensure they continue to get contracts despite the fact that they can't operate a prison humanely or efficiently.  He really knocks it out of the park with this one.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Corrections Corporation of America, CCA, is based in Nashville, Tennessee.  They also happen to have a lot of friends in the government in Tennessee, relationships that have been cultivated through lobbying and campaign contributions.  CCA very nearly had its former chief counsel appointed as a federal district judge in Tennessee, but thanks to a fantastic public education campaign by Alex Friedmann and the Private Corrections Institute, that nomination was thwarted.  However, they still have tremendous pull within both local and state governments in Tennessee (as well as a lot of other places),  In fact, CCA is so friendly with the state government that they were able to secure a 10% increase in the per diem rate they are paid to house Tennessee prisoners, while the state decided to release low-risk inmates from county jails due to cost.  It actually costs the state more money to house prisoners in the CCA facilities in the state than they are charged by many counties.  Henderson county in particular charges the state nearly $13 per prisoner, per day less than CCA does.  They charge the federal government $7 per prisoner per day less than CCA.  Yet the state is sending more prisoners to private prisons.  Something smells awfully fishy in Tennessee.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


CCA has decided to sue Hernando County, Florida for the payments the county has withheld from them that would cover the last few months of the contract they bailed out of.  Hernando has withheld $1.8 million or so in payment to CCA while a team of experts is inspecting the jail to determine the extent of the damage done to the facility by CCA's failure to properly maintain it.  Thankfully, the county has held firm and won't pay CCA, which is a good thing, because....

In further news, the facility needs 15 EFFING MILLION DOLLARS worth of repairs and work.  It needs not only maintainenance, but upgrades to meet building code and security standards, all of which CCA neglected to do.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Peter Shumlin for Governor! (of Vermont)

Peter Shumlin, a Senator from Vermont, is running for Governor.  He has vowed to cancel the state's contract with CCA and bring Vermont's inmates home:

"Currently almost 700 inmates are housed in private, out-of-state prisons owned by the Corrections Corporation of America. This contract costs taxpayers roughly $18 million a year and poses a threat to public safety when inmates return more dangerous after mixing with populations in other states. The CCA contract will be terminated if Peter is elected."


This link goes to a financial news website called The Street, which has an article about the future prospects for CCA and GEO stock.  The article properly points out that violent crime, along with the prison population, has declined over the past year.  The author speculates that this will adversely impact CCA's and GEO's business as states will have less of a need for new prison beds in the future.  But the icing on the cake is that both CCA and GEO have lost a great deal of value in their company stock.  CCA's stock is down 6.6% this year, and 17% over the past 3 years.  GEO is down an amazing 26% over the past 3 years.  All of this is great news.

Arizona is Indeed Seeking More Private Beds

Arizona just re-issued a request for proposals (RFP) for 5,000 new private prison beds.  Instead of following national trends towards reforming parole/probation, de-prioritizing drug prosecution, and increasing alternatives to confinement that have reduced prison populations in places like Texas and New York, they have just decided to solicit more prison beds.  This is the second RFP they have put out this year (after they tried unsuccessfully to sell then lease back the state government building.  Seriously.); the first was cancelled shortly after the escapes from the Kingman prison, amid the public perception that "hey, maybe private prisons aren't all they're cracked up to be."

This new RFP is slightly revised, and contains more stringent regulations on the oversight of the potential contract.  It has stronger enforcement mechanisms for non-compliance (meaning the government will be able to asses stronger penalties), stricter reporting requirements, and more formalized auditing procedures.  So basically whichever company wins the bid will be subject to greater oversight due to MTC's failure to maintain a secure facility.   While I am still adamantly opposed to increasing the amount of private prison beds, at least any beds that come about in response to this RFP will be better-regulated than the private prisons currently being operated in the state (in theory, anyway.).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Political Favors Reveal Lack of Oversight

I wrote in the past about how the Secretary of Corrections for the state of New Mexico, Joe Williams, declined to enforce penalties against CCA and GEO for contract non-compliance in the form of ongoing staff vacancies.  Mr. Williams was employed by the GEO Group for years prior to joining Gov. Richardson's cabinet, and apparently decided that consistent failures to abide by the contracts they have with the state on the part of CCA and GEO didn't warrant fines.  Well it turns out that Mr. Williams probably cost his state close to $20 million in uncollected penalties (which would be awfully nice to receive in this era of fiscal restraint and tight budgets).  But what is even more troubling is that that amount can't be verified because the Department of Corrections isn't even sure about how long the positions were vacant.

That's right; the government agency charged with overseeing private prisons in New Mexico can't provide oversight because they don't have access to the information.  "We do not have adequate records to demonstrate how long some correctional officer positions remained vacant,” corrections spokeswoman Tia Bland said.  Aside from the public's inability to access information about private prisons, it is preposterous to think that the government agency charged with overseeing a private company's responsibility to incarcerate prisoners is incapable of doing so because it can't access the information. 

Private prisons must be subject to stricter oversight.

Failure of Oversight

Arizona's Department of Corrections had an employee specifically designated to provide oversight of the operations of the Kingman prison, the facility from which 3 inmates (2 of them convicted murderers) escaped in Juyl, leading to a huge headline-grabbing manhunt.  But it turns out he was so overwhelmed with paperwork that he wasn't able to properly monitor the security or operations of the prison.  He had not even read the contract the state had with MTC to operate the facility in over 14 months on the job.  He knew nothing of the alarm system that had not been maintained in over 2 years since MTC's contract with the vendor expired.  The prison would go months between inspections, which were done so poorly they weren't able to identify the problems that lingered at the prison for years.

Private prison proponents love to point out that the facilities are most often monitored by an employee, or handful of employees, in state governments that ensure contract compliance.  However, it's obvious that simply having a person designated to provide oversight of a private facility is not enough to ensure they will operate according to the contract, or that the company will maintain a safe and humane facility.  But private prison companies continually lobby against increased oversight of their facilities, in both state and federal governments.  They spend millions opposing legislation that would improve the public's access to their records, thereby increasing the amount of oversight on the industry. 

Considering the industry's track record of negligence and abuse, along with repeated failures to ensure compliance with the contracts they enter into at the expense of American taxpayers, private prison companies need to be held accountable to the public.  To borrow from Louis Brandeis, sunlight is the best disinfectant.  It is high time that the contract violations and human rights abuses that take place within the private prison industry are brought out into that light.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tulsa, OK Saves Nearly $15 Million by De-Privatizing Jail

The sheriff of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has saved his town approximately $14 million over the past 5 years since he took over operations of the jail from CCA.  His initial budget proposal was $2 million cheaper than CCA's in 2006, so the county properly decided he should take over operations.  With some clever ideas to bring in new revenue streams and by improving efficiency, he has saved the taxpayers of Tulsa millions of dollars that would have otherwise gone into the pockets of CCA executives.

As the county's fiscal officer, Jim Smith, puts it:

"If CCA would have continued operating the jail, the Criminal Justice Authority would have been millions in the red by now."

CCA Costs the Public Jobs

42 citizens of Las Vegas are out of work this week after a new CCA prison opened that will take inmates from the North Las Vegas Detention Center.  The article linked of course only praises CCA for bringing jobs to the economically-starved town of Pahrump, while largely ignoring the fact that 42 government employees are now out of work in Vegas.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Maybe I Jumped the Gun With Yesterday's Title

Because the article I've linked to today might just be the most depressing analysis of CCA's political clout and its dealings with ALEC over SB1070 and similar immigration laws that I've ever seen.  Basically, CCA (and to a lesser extent, GEO), contribute directly to the campaigns of politicians in at least 5 states that are considering introducing, or have already introduced, legislation similar to Arizona's "Breathing While Brown" law.  They circumvent limits on contributions by sending donations from the company itself, an independent Political Action Committee, and from employees directly, so that they are able to bribe politicians with far more money than campaign finance laws are supposed to allow for (Oh, loopholes). 

In addition to direct campaign contributions, CCA employs a lobbyist that sits on the Public Safety task force of ALEC, the same task force that drafted and then shopped around a model version of the "Breathing While Brown" law.  CCA then contributes to the campaigns of politicians who support the legislation, as the article notes.  "Many of the legislators helping to earn CCA more profits with radical anti-immigrant bills mirroring SB1070 have been recipients of private prison industry cash or have worked closely with the CCA-funded ALEC organization."  ALEC is also a membership-based organization, and has claimed in the past that up to 1/3 of state-level legislators were members, giving them direct, unfettered access to the corporate manipulation employed by CCA and other industries trying to harm this country.

But apparently for CCA, even all that spending doesn't buy it the type of political influence it wants to ensure we continue sending ever-increasing hordes of American citizens to prison.  No, they directly lobby on issues like immigration and oversight of government contractors.  They lobby to enhance penalties for immigration violations, which has caused our immigration detention system to explode tenfold in the past decade.  They lobby against oversight of their facilities by opposing legislation that would simply require them to respond to FOIA requests, so the public's access to information about the abuses and negligence that take place in their facilities is all but completely snuffed out.  I have reported in the past on the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spend trying to influence legislation in the Federal Government, but they also retain lobbyists in the legislatures of every state they have operations in.  CCA spent $50,000 already this year lobbying in just Tennessee, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions more, in other states.

I really hate you both, CCA and ALEC.  You are working to systematically destroy this country and the freedoms it was founded upon.  You are thinly-veiled cogs in the machine of social control.  You are parasitic, amoral entities and a drain on the American economy and society.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Mighty Political Influence of CCA

Great expose today in the Florida Independent that looks at the situation in Hernando County, Florida, where CCA recently backed out of a contract with the county to run the jail once the Sheriff discovered they had let the facility fall into hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars worth of disrepair.  After the sheriff proposed taking over the facility and inspected it, CCA skipped town and is now engaged in a battle with the county over their last payment on the contract.  The county is withholding payment until a firm determines whether they or CCA are responsible for the failure to maintain the facility over 22 years.  Considering CCA ran the day-to-day operations for over two decades, I'll go out on a limb and say they were responsible for most of the upkeep, or lack thereof.

Today's article though goes far deeper than just CCA's decision to bail on the county when their practices came into question.  It examines the political influence private prison companies wield in Florida in both toughening criminal sanctions and ensuring industry growth despite scant evidence they offer any sort of increase in efficiency over government-run facilities.  CCA had donated so much money to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that the company was a co-chair of their Criminal Justice Task Force, which was behind Florida's truth-in-sentencing act that significantly increased the prison population.  CCA's director of business development still holds a prominent position in ALEC, which has been called "Corporate America's Trojan Horse," for the anti-consumer, pro-business legislation it has covertly introduced all across the country.  CCA has donated millions of dollars to politicians and PACs (mostly Republican) in the state over the past few years, and has recruited former government employees to work for them.

So what exactly has CCA purchased with these donations to politicians and the money they gave to ensure a substantial role in developing ALEC's criminal justice policy?  Well they helped to buy the state of Florida the 3rd-largest inmate population in the country, costing the state nearly $2.3 billion to house their prisoners.  They have purchased political influence to ensure extensions of the contracts they have with both the state and smaller jurisdictions despite the fact that reports have shown they don't offer significant cost savings (in fact, private prisons might even cost more than government-run ones) and are less effective at reducing recidivism (which makes sense because if CCA rehabilitates its prisoners it will lose clientele).  CCA is costing the state of Florida millions of dollars by having directly influenced the Truth-in-Sentencing legislation that caused the incarceration rate to rise dramatically, and by not working to reduce recidivism among the poor prisoners who are forced into their facilities.  CCA and other private prison operators do not even offer fiscal savings over government-run prisons.

I hope that the situation in Hernando County will be a lesson to the rest of the state that privatizing prisons is a terrible idea, and that introducing a profit motive into the incarceration of human being can never have a good result.  Aside from the financial costs associated with the increase in prison populations, the social costs of having overly harsh criminal penalties, of having an industry that focuses on maximizing profit at the expense of human suffering, of not adequately preparing prisoners to re-enter society, are staggering and incalculable.  Florida, and every state that contracts with private prisons (along with the Federal government), would be well-served by reclaiming control of their prison systems from the greedy, manipulative hands of the private prison industry.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Great News from Arizona

Two quick links here (title and below) to some great news coming out of Arizona this morning.  The state rejected all 4 formal bids to build 5,000 private prison beds that followed a request for proposals earlier this year.  Citing the recent escapes from Kingman, the state decided to can the request entirely and now will not be seeking to add 5,000 private beds to their capacity.

I think this comes as especially good news to the citizens of Globe, Arizona, who seemed nearly unanimous in opposition to a private prison being built in their small town.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You be the Judge

In an attempt to be slightly less partial, I've just got a quick link to an article regarding the recent escapes in Kingman, AZ.  It features two positions, one taken by CCA spokesman (read: "professional blasphemer") Steve Owen; the other by Frank Smith of the Private Corrections Working Group.  Mr. Owen touts all the "great" reasons governments should privatize their prisons, but fails to tell the entire story behind many of his claims.  In particular, he says CCA never directly or indirectly lobbied Jan Brewer regarding the immigration law (except 3 of CCA's lobbyists have been connected to the office), that they don't lobby on any criminal law (because they funnel a bunch of money to ALEC to have them lobby on criminal laws), that most of their facilities are accredited (but they still get sued all the time and courts have held that ACA accreditation doesn't even guarantee they meet minimum Constitutional standards), and that their number-one priority is security (but most of their facilities are understaffed and they don't train their guards as much as government-run prisons).  But don't just take it from me; Frank Smith roundly crushes Steve Owen in the article, basing his argument, that Arizona should re-evaluate its relationships with private prison contractors, on things like facts and evidence.

OK so I guess I failed at the impartiality thing.  But go ahead and read both opinions for yourself, and you be the judge as to whether private prisons are a good idea.

(Apologies for being like 2 weeks late on this)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why I Hate Lamar Alexander Today

Lamar Alexander, former member of CCA's Board of Directors and a Senator from Tennessee, lamented over the Obama administration's failure to produce jobs in the private sector.  He claims the President is too focused on creating government jobs and not enough on growing the private sector.  News flash, Mr. Alexander; Obama is a Democrat, meaning he's not driven by an unequivocable desire to steer federal contracts to his pals in major corporations (a la every Republican administration in the past 50 years).  Further, THAT'S NOT HIS JOB, as you should well know, being a legislator yourself.  He is tasked with being Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, and leading the executive branch of government.  If anything, you should congratulate him on creating government jobs, because that indeed could be seen as one of his responsibilities.  Nowhere in the Constitution, or any other document I've ever seen, has there been mention of the President's responsibility to grow the economy or to help stimulate private-sector job growth.  Those who want a president who stimulates our economy expect far more out of the office than it was ever designed for, or capable of.  It is the job of neither the President nor any member of Congress to help private business succeed; in fact, any government intervention in the private sector theoretically runs counter to the traditional conservative ideology that the Republican party abandoned long ago.

Mr. Alexander has a suggestion for government employees, which might be one of the dumbest things I've heard from a Senator in, let's say, the past week; "Maybe we ought to require everyone who serves in government to join one board of directors of a private company and attend board meetings four times a year just so they know how it’s done.”  Actually, Mr. Alexander, knowing "how it's done," so to speak, at a private company, is no prerequisite for having a government job.  Just because you were able to amass a multi-million dollar fortune because of your capitalist buddies and a series of lucky turns doesn't mean that you are any better equipped to serve the people of this country than anyone else.  In fact, if anything, it makes you less likely to serve the interests of the common American, with whom you share practically nothing in common, and more likely to serve the interests of the corporate elite who helped place you in the position you currently occupy.

Mr. Alexander, not everything has to be privatized in this world.  Republicans like yourself have been behind plans to privatize everything from the military to social welfare programs, all in the (at best) misguided or (at worst) intentionally deceptive name of improving efficiency.  Just the idea that a company motivated by profit can produce higher quality products or services at a lower cost than a nonprofit government entity is in itself sort of ludicrous, but if you look at the privatization of services the government used to provide, you see an impeccable track record of corners being cut, services being diminished, and costs either remaining the same or increasing once the private sector takes control.  For example, look at the mess of a situation we have in the middle east with our military contractors, or the bloated private prison system in this country.  Privatization and stimulating the private sector is not the miraculous solution to every social problem, and this author would argue that it makes many of them far more dire.  But most importantly, it is not, has never been, and hopefully never will be, the job of the government to help the private sector.

OK I apologize for going off on a general anti-privatization tangent, but I figured since Mr. Alexander speaks from a position of having worked specifically on trying to get more government funding for an underperforming, abusive private prison company, that some of my 3 readers might be interested.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Insider Trading

Zachariah Zachariah (yes, that's his real name) is a cardiologist and big-time Republican fundraiser in Florida.  He's a big shot behind the scenes for the Florida GOP, having steered millions in campaign and PAC contributions to his conservative allies.  He also worked as a consultant for the GEO Group, where his son was employed, right before they acquired Correctional Services Corporation (CSC).  So you may be asking yourself, what's so bad about that?  Only the fact that he learned about the acquisition before it was announced publicly through his connection with George Zoley and his son, purchased nearly 100,000 shares of stock in GEO, then sold them for a huge profit after the acquisition was announced.  He is also accused of essentially obstructing justice by intentionally withholding information when he was questioned by the SEC about his insider trading activities.

I hate you, Zach Zachariah

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Friends in High Places

Joe Williams, the Secretary of Corrections in New Mexico, declined repeated opportunities to penalize private prison operators within his state for repeated contract violations.  Though he claims the violations weren't egregious enough to warrant a fine (I can't really imagine any instance in which the violation of a contract to house prisoners wouldn't warrant a fine, considering the severity of their responsibility), it turns out he actually used to work for the GEO Group.  I guess it must be nice to have friends like that.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Why I Like The US District Court in Oregon

A federal judge in the US District Court for the District of Oregon just slapped the BOP with a decision forcing them to provide better justification for why they refuse to disclose information on the contracts they have with private prison companies to house immigration detainees.  Essentially, the BOP kept refusing to provide information pursuant to FOIA requests on things like staffing, operations, and computer technology.  This is an epidemic within the private prison industry; they are the only entity in this country that performs an inherently governmental funciton with practically no public oversight of their operations because they aren't bound by FOIA or public records laws.  This lawsuit was aimed at trying to get access to this sort of information through the BOP, which is subject to FOIA requests.  While the BOP will most certainly appeal the ruling and continue to just summarily decide to withhold documents, as attorney Stephen Raher says, "Today’s ruling reiterates that the government cannot withhold information simply because private contractors would rather not be exposed to public scrutiny."

Here is the decision.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jan Brewer Retaliates Against CBS Affiliate for Investigating Her Ties to CCA

Things are getting pretty hairy down in Arizona.  Here's a great new report from Rachel Maddow detailing how Jan Brewer's campaign has retaliated against the CBS affiliate that has uncovered all her connections to CCA, including the new smear campaign against the network being employed by Brewer and her cronies at High Ground Consulting.  In includes an interview with the reporter who's been on the case, Morgan Loew, who says that Chuck Coughlin won't even respond to questions about how much he advised Brewer before she signed the bill.

Keeping Secrets

CCA has announced that they spent $240,000 lobbying the federal government in the last quarter (the last 3 months).  This is right on par with their typical lobbying expenditures, which have averaged out to about $250,000 every 3 months for the past few years. So aside from all the lobbying they do in state legislatures in places like Arizona, Texas, and California, they spend $1 million per year lobbying the federal government.  And what exactly are they trying to do with all that lobbying?  In particular, they have worked extensively to try to defeat legislation that would simply require any prison contracting with the federal government to be bound by public records laws. 

Private prisons are currently not bound by FOIA or public records laws nearly anywhere they operate (with the exception of Tennessee and Florida), despite the fact that they perform an inherently governmental function.  So they are able to escape the same sort of public oversight scrutiny that any other government entity must endure; they aren't required to report things like rates of escape or violence, staffing ratios, and other information critical to the safe and humane operation of a prison.  This is the core reason why statistics on things like escapes from private prisons are nearly impossible to come by (try finding stats on it if you don't believe me).  So all sorts of abuses and negligence go unchecked because private prisons don't even have to live up to the same standards as government-run prisons.

For as much as CCA likes to talk about how they don't lobby to increase criminal penalties (which is technically true; they just use the American Legislative Exchange Council as a front group, as do all other major corporations looking to circumvent scrutiny for screwing over the American public), they still lobby for the wrong reasons, to the detriment of the taxpayers who support them and the poor souls who have to live in their prisons.

Oh and for the icing on the cake, Charles Overby, the director of the Freedom Forum, which is "dedicated to free press," sits on CCA's Board of Directors, effectively directing the censorship of the information the public, and the press, has access to.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pay-to-Play Politics

Today's link goes to a great article detailing the hundreds of thousands of dollars CCA has invested in the California government via lobbying and campaign contributions.  By donating to incumbent candidates, parties, and PACs, and directly lobbying state legislators and the governor, CCA was able to increase their contract with the state nearly thirty-fold.  They started with a contract worth $23 million dollars, but are now paid nearly $700 million by California to house prisoners.  What's even worse is that were able to expand that contract without any semblance of a competitive bidding process.  And according to one Assemblyman, Hector De La Torre, the state has "no idea" whether taxpayers have even made a sound investment.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say they have not.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why Privatizing Prison is a Bad Idea

I would like to use the sub-headline of the wonderful article linked here to describe it, because I couldn't put it any better:

"Arizona puts more of its inmates into privately run prisons every year, even though the prisons may not be as secure as state-run facilities and may not save taxpayers money."

So you should go read this article about the mess in Arizona and why the state should reconsider its strong push to privatize everything (at one point last year the legislature had proposed privatizing 100% of its prisons and even selling the state house to a private company, then leasing it back).  Privatizing services is not always the best solution to a problem, and sometimes creates more of an issue that existed initially.

High Rate of Sexual Assaults, No Explanation

Prisoners being held in the CCA-run Davidson County Jail are sexually assaulted at rates higher than the national average.  CCA can't explain or figure out why, and their spokesman Steve Owens summarily dismisses the information, saying that it can't be compared to rates of sexual assault that have been determined in other facilities, without explaining why.  He just says people shouldn't compare the rates of rape at this prison to the rates found in the report of the Prison Rape Elimination Commission, never offering any justification for why this facility is different.  But the Davidson County Criminal Justice Center, which is run by the Sheriff's department, had lower-than-average rates of sexual assault.  So the question isn't whether the comparison between the rates of sexual assault at CCA facilities and the national average is valid, which it is, but rather; why is CCA incapable of operating this facility in a manner that doesn't subject its prisoners to an unnecessarily high risk of being sexually assaulted or raped?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Don't Let the Door Hit You....

Well maybe it could give you a little bump on the behind.  Wayne Calabrese, President and COO of the GEO Group, has announced he's going to retire at the end of this year.  I don't anticipate this will bring about any material change in the way they do business.

The Wrong Priorities

Following up on the escapes from the MTC facility in Kingman, Arizona, Dave Safier wonders why the state is seemingly so keen on privatizing its prisons.  Arizona already holds nearly 20% of its prisoners in private facilities, and just last year they put out a request for proposals to privatize the entire state correctional system.  Aside from the already known political connections (mostly CCA's) within Governor Brewer's office, it turns out Russell Pearce, the legislator who introduced SB1070, received the maximum allowed contributions to his PAC from private prison companies and accepted "substantial donations from their lobbyists."  He believes, as does Why I Hate CCA, that the profit motive inherent to the industry is the cause of its inability to humanely and adequately operate a facility.  But what is most unfortunate is that Governor Brewer and many other Republican legislators in the state have yet to question their affinity for this grotesque industry.  Mr. Safier believes that "Money and influence, it seems, trump prison security and Arizona's safety with our most powerful Republican politicians."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sorry, Oklahoma

CCA has announced its intention to seek federal prisoners to be housed in the 3 facilities they operate in Oklahoma, which would displace more than 2,000 Oklahoma inmates, meaning the OK Dept of Corrections would need to magically come up with 2,000 beds to accomodate them.  CCA is trying to fill these beds despite the fact that they have open beds in other facilities, because they can get a higher rate from the federal government than the state of Oklahoma is paying them.  This doesn't come as much of a surprise to the director of Oklahoma's Department of Corrections, Justin Jones, who said "Their product is the incarceration of criminals and it's a for-profit business." Very true. Well at least taxpayers aren't the only ones screwed over by the private prison industry.  You get what you pay for.

Friday, August 20, 2010

MTC Can't Run a Prison Properly

The escape of 3 murderers from the MTC prison in Kingman, Arizona, was facilitated by MTC's inability to properly secure, staff, and operate a prison.  Among the issues that contributed:

Floodlights were burned out.

Officers had inadequate firearms training and weapons were not well inventoried.

75 percent of the inmates did not wear proper identification.

Apparently the facility had a highly-malfunctioning alarm system that had gone off 89 times during the course of the day the prisoners escaped. So the staff had begun to largely ignore it, sometimes taking more than an hour to check on it

The control panel that showed the status of the perimeter fence was riddled with burned-out bulbs so it couldn't be properly monitored.

One of the guard posts supposed to be maintained near the perimeter fence was vacant for most of the day.  So no one saw the prisoners walk out of a dormitory door that had been propped open (though it was supposed to be locked) with a rock and climb over a chain-link fence that didn't have barbed wire on it.

Thankfully this has woken up at least someone with some power in Arizona who now questions the ability of MTC to operate a facility; DOC director Chuck Ryan.  After stating he lacked confidence in MTC's ability to secure the facility, he removed a lot of medium- and higher-security inmates from the facility, and says he wants MTC to prove to him that the state of Arizona shouldn't cancel its contract with the company.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why Government Oversight is Necessary

The most recent audits of the Kingman prison in Arizona, the one operated by MTC that 3 murderers escaped from, found no significant issues with staffing or security that would have affected the escape.  They scored a 99.5% on the audit from this year, in fact.  One of the few problems it did find was that the prison didn't stock enough gas guns to quell a riot.  But these audits clearly weren't sufficient to detect a faulty alarm system (alarm systems aren't an integral part of security?) or the poor operational practices that led to the prison being understaffed.  I guess that all would fit within the 0.5% they missed.

Why I Hate John Ferguson Today

John Ferguson, the CEO of CCA, recently handed over some of his personal stock in the company so it could be distributed among employees, more than 150,000 shares.  Sure that sounds like a nice gesture, but the stock he gave up has a strike price way above the current value of the stock on the open market.  Its strike value is $26 per share, which the company hasn't traded at in about 2 years.  Basically what that means is the stock he gave out to employees is less valuable than CCA stock would be if they just bought it on their own, so he essentially dumped his bad shares on his employees.  This is the same CEO who exercised more than $11 million in stock options over the past year and still controls another $13 million worth of company stock.  Classy move there, Fergie.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

No Oversight, No Savings, No Accountability

Just a quick link here to an awesome Fortune Magazine article on private prisons, discussing how, aside from the fact that private prisons haven't been proven to save money in operations, they can wind up costing states far more than anticipated in the long run due to the plethora of problems that seem inherent to their operations.  Most noticeably, they hire non-union guards at lower rates and tend to not abide by government regulations on construction or training, so they have facilities of poorer quality than public prisons and guards who are less qualified.  Further, the lack of educational and vocational programming at private prisons tends to increase the rates of recidivism of those leaving, which levies a heavy toll on society as prisoners held in private prisons are more likely to engage in criminal activity after they're released.

On top of the fact that private prisons often wind up costing the towns or states they contract with more than government-run institutions, they rarely are subject to the same sorts of oversight found in government-run prisons.  So while they perform an inherently governmental function, the private prison industry is capable of circumventing the oversight applied to every other government entity.  As the Attorney General of Arizona said, "They don't have to show proof of financial responsibility, they don't have to comply with Arizona prison construction standards, they don't have to report disruptions. . .and both the training and staffing is up to the private operator."  Great!

But this article, and a lot of the recent firestorm in Arizona, really arose over the question of accountability; namely, whose responsibility is it that 3 murderers escaped from a private prison.  Well MTC, the company that operates the prison, has effectively claimed it's not responsible, and politicians in Arizona are all pointing fingers at one another and the DOC over the fact that these murderers were housed in a medium security facility to begin with.  But all that does is ignore the most pressing concern; that private prisons are accountable to their stake/stockholders, and no one else, not the citizens, taxpayers, or even politicans who blindly or unwittingly support them.  The bottom line is that private prison companies can afford to let an inmate or two escape from their prisons, so long as the escapes don't happen frequently enough to threaten the contracts they continue to secure through their political influence.  To quote the AZ Attorney General again, "A private company has an acceptable level of loss. In the case of violent offenders, I don't believe the public does or should tolerate any incidence of failure."  I couldn't agree more.

Private Prisons hire unqualified staff

The title link goes to a story about how the warden of the Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana, run by CCA, has been ordered to repay an inmate $1,700 for jewelry that was stolen from him.  This is a pretty rare decision by the court, which held that the prisoners' parents' wedding rings had been taken arbitrarily from him.  When the poor guy asked about the rings, which obviously meant a lot to him, the warden told him “F__k the Court, I ain’t giving you sh_t.” So it doesn't surprise me that "the judge's order means absolutely nothing to him."

In other private-prison-staff-being-unprofessional news, two GEO Group guards have been charged with trying to smuggle drugs and cell phones into the Graceville Correctional Facility.

And finally, following up on Sheriff Nugent's takeover of the Hernando County Jail after CCA bailed out of their contract, only 35 of the people who worked as COs while CCA ran the jail were hired by the Sheriff.  So out of nearly 200 CCA guards, only about 35 met the requirements and qualifications necessary to work in corrections for the government.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rachel Maddow Exposes the Corruption in Arizona

CCA Fired a Soldier for Serving in the Military

CCA just lost a lawsuit filed by a former employee who was fired after he was deployed to Iraq as a combat adviser.  Apparently CCA doesn't support our troops, even when our troops are their employees.  And in another case a soldier's pay as a CO was dropped nearly 50% after he returned from duty.  Maybe G.I. Jobs should reconsider designating CCA as a "military-friendly" employer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why I Hate Wayne Calabrese Today

Wayne Calabrese, President and CEO of the GEO Group, just sold his $2.5 million, 5-bedroom, 5-bathroom, 6,100+ square foot house.  I hate that Wayne Calabrese was able to become so wealthy in large part by incarcerating people.

Fallout from Florida's Budget Manipulations

The Blackwater Correctional Facility, built as a last-minute budget amendment by disgraced former Speaker of the Florida House, Ray Sansom, is at the center of a debate over inmate work programs in Florida.  The Florida DOC was conned into spending $24 million to bring this facility online, which was built on speculation and now isn't even needed.  More recent projections of the future prison population in the state came in much lower than those relied upon by Mr. Sansom when he pushed the facility for the GEO Group, who had donated a lot of money to his campaign, and now it turns out Florida doesn't even need the 2,200 beds in the prison.  So Florida now has spent millions of dollars to bring this prison online, and to help balance the DOC budget they cut 71 of 180 prison work squads (so nearly half of them).  While a couple of people recognize the short-term consequences of having less of a return on the investment that correctional dollars is (because there won't be as much inmate labor), the long-term consequences will likely be severe.  Keeping inmates busy is one of the best methods of helping to maintain order within the prison system (as they say, idle hands are the devil's plaything), and teaching prisoners the value of work is one of the most effective means of reducing recidivism.  I think the prisoners and the taxpayers of Florida got a raw deal on this prison due to some rather questionable legislative activity by a couple of well-placed friends of the GEO Group.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Private Prison Industry Helped Push SB1070

Despite repeatedly claiming they took no action regarding SB1070, Arizona's controversial immigration law, CCA actually had a significant role in developing and promoting the bill through its work with ALEC, The American Legislative Exchange Council.  ALEC is a nonprofit group that creates and distributes conservative model legislation on behalf of corporations who don't want to sully their reputations by being associated with much of the clearly anti-social legislation that comes out of ALEC.  It's an effective front group for conservative ideology, with estimates that as many as 1 out of every 3 state legislators belong to ALEC (they don't exactly publicize a list of members; trust me, I've looked).  ALEC serves as a clearinghouse for conservative legislation by literally handing model pieces to these legislators, who then work to have them passed in jurisdictions around the country.  ALEC was behind California's three-strikes laws and much of the "truth in sentencing" laws (laws that require prisoners serve all or most of their sentence, effectively abolishing parole in a lot of areas) across the country, both of which were guided by CCA, which sat on the chair of ALEC's Public Safety board while these laws were debated and eventually passed (because they had contributed so much money to them - it's essentially a pay-to-play organization).

So, you may be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with Arizona's immigration law?  Well it turns out that a draft version of the bill was sent to ALEC for revision before it was introduced in the Arizona legislature.  That means ALEC, and by extension CCA, had direct influence on the law before it was passed, even though CCA has categorically denied it had any role in crafting the law or helping to get it passed.  Further, a week after the bill's introduction, CCA hired a consulting firm owned by Jan Brewer's campaign manager to represent it in the Arizona legislature.  So CCA stands to benefit financially, and significantly so, by a law it helped draft through a non-profit agency front group; with the average stay of immigration detainees now at 443 days (mostly for civil, not criminal violations), private prison companies like CCA will earn more than $62,000 per immigrant that gets arrested and detained.

CCA is extremely effective at using their money to garner political influence, through direct lobbying, campaign contributions, or their work with ALEC.  After CCA spent $3.5 million to lobby on immigration and homeland security issues in 2005, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) began in 2006 to detain all immigration violators until their trial date, despite no evidence demonstrating that is a more effective way to ensure they show up for proceedings (and it's certainly a more expensive option than home monitoring).  The truth in sentencing and 3-strikes laws they helped draft forced our prison system to its current obscene population, which has benefited private prisons primarily because of their ability to build and bring new facilities online quickly.  As our prison population skyrocketed from these overly-harsh sentences, the number of private prisons grew by 500% between 1995-2003, and the large majority of prison construction for the federal system has been private ever since.

So at this point it seems pretty clear that CCA influenced the legislation that became Arizona's "Breathing While Brown Law," even though they continue to deny any involvement.  As with other large corrupt industries however, the ties go even deeper than just their work in this one front group (ALEC).  In a fantastic piece of investigative journalism, Beau Hodai of In These Times magazine uncovered a treasure trove of political relationships and influence in Arizona that really helps to clarify the picture of how CCA is connected to Governor Brewer's office through multiple sources and various industry front groups.  The private prison industry and its political connections form one large revolving door of influence, which has been very effective at keeping CCA profitable in Arizona, at the great expense of Arizona taxpayers.