Thursday, July 29, 2010

I'll Say It Again: CCA Has Pretty Low Standards

A CO at a CCA prison in Indiana was just arrested for criminal gang activity, fighting with police, and resisting arrest. All with her 16-year-old son. I'm sure she is perfectly qualified to be guarding prisoners.

Exploiting Desperate Communities

CCA just jacked up their rate on Chattanooga County, TN.  They are now charging the county $809,000 more than they did last year to run the county workhouse, which unfortunately is pretty typical of private prison companies. They often lowball the rate they'll house prisoners for when initially signing a contract, then jack up the rate every year after that, essentially holding small communities, who have no real viable option other than the private company to operate the facility, so they wind up paying them significantly more than they initially agreed to to house prisoners.  It's a bait-and-switch operation endemic of the industry.

Chuck Coughlin is a Walking Conflict of Interest

Despite CCA's and Governor Jan Brewer's repeated claims to the contrary, CCA has been wiedling its influence on the governor in subtle ways for quite some time, including when she was debating whether or not to sign the "breathing while brown" bill. Chuck Coughlin, who runs High Ground Consulting, which CCA has used for over a year to lobby for them in Arizona, also happens to be an advisor to, and campaign manager for, governor Brewer. By Coughlin's own admission, he advised the governor on the bill while he was receiving payment from CCA as their lobbyist. And so while CCA can claim that they technically didn't lobby on the bill, I'm willing to go out on a limb here and say that the man they hired to lobby for them might have just possibly helped nudge along one of the most controversial laws I've ever seen, one that stands to directly benefit CCA in a big way.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

An Ominous Prediction from the Past

A decade ago, Jerome Miller coined the term "Gulag State" to describe what he saw as an increasing trend towards privatization in corrections, and how the profit motive that underrides that push would continue to supercede any concerns for human rights or abuses within private prisons.  He feared that the drive for profit in corrections would lead to extremely strict sentencing laws that disproportionately affect the poor and minorities, creating a systematic method of social control cheaper to maintain and seemingly more benign than slavery.  The title link goes to a reposting of an old article that describes how the major private prison companies of today have come into such great success, despite an already-failed venture into the industry during the 19th century and the modern players' failure to operate facilities up to the same standards as government-run institutions.  But mostly it demonstrates how our political and economic system is geared towards profiting the already super-wealthy and empowered at the great expense of the large majority of society. 

So today, I hate all of you who have profited so dramatically from human pain and suffering, the founders and executives of not only the private prison companies that are destroying countless millions of lives, but the companies like American Express and GE who invest in them, the private contractors and vendors who exploit the tax dollars being pumped into this black hole, the private transport companies and weapons manufacturers that thrust our society perpetually deeper into a militaristic police state.  But most of all, I hate the politicians and their lobbying cronies who, in the face of dramatic evidence demonstrating unimaginable abuses and reports showing that the promised costs savings of privatization rarely if ever materialize, continue on with their political games and BS, extending old contracts and signing new ones with companies that, were they in any other industry, would have been so overwhelmed with complaints and lawsuits that they couldn't possibly survive, but because they happen to house prisoners have the luxury of an apathetic American public they carry on, so that they can continue to exploit the American people in more ways than they could ever possibly imagine.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Report Questions Contract Compliance, Financial Reporting of Private Prisons in Texas

A report by the State Auditor's Office in Texas uncovered a significant amount of issues in the state's ability to monitor its contracts with private prisons, due largely to inconsistencies in the contracts and what they require.  The Auditor found that all 7 of the private prison contracts it randomly reviewed had no set of financial reporting requirements, and many contracts did not inclued performance standards with which to measure compliance.  It also found that the agency charged with monitoring private prisons failed to clearly delegate its work, allowed some private substance abuse treatment centers to perform their own backgrounds checks independent of government oversight, and worst of all, failed to even justify WHY they would renew the states millions of dollars worth of contracts with private prison operators.  Basically, the private prison industry and the agency meant to monitor it in Texas are a huge mess of buearacracy that lacks any real means of measuring or enforcing compliance with contracts that cost taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars.

Monday, July 26, 2010


CCA is trying to take everything they can grab on their way out of the Hernando County, FL jail, without even waiting to determine whether or not they properly own it.  Using some talking points, their PR person denied any wrongdoing, but they're trying to take some major appliances and security implements out of the facility, including an industrial dishwasher, computers, cameras, and even the razor wire around the facility (click here for details on that).  And they only want to give the county until Wednesday to contest any decision to take something, despite the fact that the city council has asked them to hold off on removing the items until it can be determined who actually owns them.  Quit trying to steal from Hernando County, CCA.

Close Relationships

Just an interesting little tidbit I noticed in a story about how CCA stands to profit from Arizona's racial profiling law: Governor Jan Brewer's administration has some close ties to CCA and its lobbyists.  Ms. Brewer's deputy chief of staff, Paul Senseman is a former CCA lobbyist (and Paul's wife is currently a lobbyist for them), and her campaign manager/advisor, Chuck Coughlin, is the director of a public affairs firm that lobbies for CCA.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why I Hate CCA Loves Ron Rodriguez

Ron Rodriguez of Laredo, Texas, was just named the Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Public Justice Foundation.  This award comes in recognition of his work to win a $47.5 million verdict against Wackenhut (GEO's old name) for condoning the beating death of Mr. Gregorio de la Rosa in 2001.  Bravo, Mr. Rodriguez

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

An Overzealous Immigration Detention System

The private prison industry has long been a beneficiary of our country's increased emphasis on immigration detention under Bush/Cheney.  Nearly 98% of prisons constructed for the federal government over the past decade have been private; it makes sense because we needed a place to put the extra 30,000 immigrants we now incarcerate under the strict new measures his administration enforced (a 1,000 PERCENT increase over what was held under Clinton).  What makes all that even more revolting is the fact that Cheney owns a lot of stock in the Vanguard group, which has a lot of its investments tied up in the GEO group.  But back to my point; our country is ridiculously overzealous when it comes to incarcerating immigrants, most of whom haven't committed any crime other than being in this country illegally.  The title link goes to a horrifying story of the ordeal a US citizen was put through at the hands of gung-ho ICE agents.  If our government maybe wasn't quite so concerned with locking up ever-increasing numbers of immigrants all so Cheney can make a few extra bucks on his way out, this wouldn't happen to our own citizens.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Otter Creek: How NOT to Run a Prison

Otter Creek Correctional Facility is one of 3 CCA-owned prisons in Kentucky, and has been plagued with all sorts of problems for years, despite the fact that the Kentucky government has an agency specifically dedicated to overseeing private prisons.  Among the myriad issues the prisoners at the facility face are: rampant sexual harassment that resulted in all the female prisoners being removed, a "failure of oversight by the state," double the rate of staff vacancies at state-run prisons, and guards who are paid up to 50% less than at other prisons.  And even though private prisons don't take high-risk, violent, or very ill prisoners, they cost the state as much proportionally as the population they house.  As the author says, "Given that the most expensive inmates - those who are high-risk, sick, or on Death Row - are in state run prisons, [CCA] can't brag about their efficiencies"

Monday, July 19, 2010

How Could Anyone Possibly Think This is OK?

Next up in Why I Hate CCA's international series is a story from the UK that details the recent uncovering of a physical restraint manual that chronicles the techniques guards at a private prison are supposed to employ to restrain juvenile offenders.  Following a mulit-year campaign to make the documents public after the deaths of a 14-year-old and 15-year-old in private detention centers, the manual was just released.  Some of the techniques detailed in the manual involve the risk of skull fractures, blindness due to ruptured retinas, and medical emergencies brought on by near-asphyxiation.  Guards are instructed to utilize force such as "an inverted knuckle into the (child's) sternum and drive inward and upward," "alternate elbow strikes to the young person's ribs until a release is achieved," and "drive straight fingers into the young person's face, and then quickly drive the straightened fingers of the same hand downwards into the young person's groin area."

Which are all completely appropriate ways to restrain children.

CCA Has Pretty Low Standards

A third of the guards who used to work at Hernando County Jail when it was operated by CCA were immediately disqualified from Sheriff Richard Nugent's hiring process.  The Sheriff has recently taken over operations of the facility, and thankfully is looking for better-qualified officers to staff it with.  I've written before about this jail and CCA's shadily baking out of its contract after a bunch of serious maintenance issues were uncovered; but given the level of professional excellence of the people who worked there, I can't say I'm that surprised by the fact that it fell into such disrepair.  The most recently-rejected candidates were disqualified for things such as acting as an intermediary in drug deals, and admitting to taking "a variety of substances in the past, ranging from marijuana and cocaine to mushrooms and a veterinary anesthetic."  Now I know people make some dumb choices in life and I'm willing to chalk up a lot of drug use to that, but a veterinary anesthetic?

I am completely in favor of Sheriff Nugent taking over operations of the jail, especially when he says things like ""If they're going to wear my badge and work for me ... the corrections staff will handle inmates and the public professionally."  But one thing I find troublesome is that he says he will have the exact same number of guards watching the prisoners as were there before, and claims that this will put no one at risk.  What the Sheriff may not realize is that CCA chronically understaffs their facilities, so I hope he analyzes his need for COs based on the inmate population and security concerns, rather than just copying what CCA does.  Given their track record, including their failure to even adequately maintain this jail, I think the Sheriff would be wise to steer clear of just aping CCA's incompetence.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An Awesome Article You Should Go Read

So I know I'm a few days late on getting this up, and for that, I apologize.  I've been looking over this article, written by Alex Friedmann of Private Corrections Institute (go to their site; there's a link on the left) for a few days, trying to figure out how I could best summarize all his fantastic knowledge of the financial manipulation CCA engages in with the American Correctional Association to get many of its facilities accredited (I wrote pretty recently about a few of their prisons that had been accredited).  Then I realized I couldn't possibly describe what he says in any meaningful way, so I'm not going to try.  I will just implore you to take 5 minutes and read his analysis of why getting ACA accreditation at a prison isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dubious Hiring Decisions

Private prisons typically don't hire unionized correctional officers (mainly because they cost more than non-unionized ones).  They also tend to fail to conduct thorough background checks on the people they do hire.  CCA in particular has hired convicted felons to work in their facilities.  While I'm not in favor of discriminating against felons generally in the job market, I can understand not hiring them to work in a correctional setting.  Among the crimes some CCA employees were convicted of are battery, receiving stolen goods, and lewd and lascivious battery of a child.  But CCA went a step further; they hired someone who had been charged with the manslaughter of a 14-year-old boy to work in a juvenile boot camp.  And apparently that's not an isolated incident; Sheriff McKeithen of Panama City, Florida, found that CCA hired "many people with 'felony backgrounds.'"

Monday, July 12, 2010

What the Hell Are We Paying For?

In a recent report of the top earners in southern Florida, it was revealed that 3 of the GEO Group's top executives were among the highest-paid people in the state. Between President George Zoley, VP Wayne Calabrese, and John O'Rourke, GEO's brass earned nearly $13 million in just the last year. Zoley made more than $7 million himself. Unfortunately, it turns out that crime does pay, at least when you're on the incarceration-for-profit side. But what really bothers me is that private prisons always want to talk about how they save money, how they're a good investment for taxpayers. That's just ludicrous; how can it be a good investment for taxpayers to just hand $13 million to three men (who don't need it anyway) to commit abhorrent moral abuses, while countless millions of our own citizens can't find work, decent education, or adequate food?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Decent Decision in Tennessee

The Court of Criminal Appeals in Tennesse recently handed down a decision that holds that CCA employees are state actors (meaning the same as government employees), because they perform an inherently governmental function. This makes Tennessee, home of CCA, the only state to require that private prisons comply with public records laws and to recognize that their employees perform an inherently governmental function. In my opinion, this amounts to about the most comprehensive legal determination that the operation of a prison is a governmental responsibility. So Tennesse, I ask you to stop farming out your responsibilty to an irresponsible private corporation.

In my favorite quote from the opinion, they held, "as did the court of appeals, that the performance of this constitutionally mandated duty [operating a prison] cannot be 'considered anything less than a governmental function.'"

Stay Classy, CCA

CCA has admitted that their guards watched as a prisoner at the Idaho Correctional Facility was brutally beaten, and did nothing to intervene. They just waited for some special response team to show up. Nice.

UPDATE: A more extensive analysis of the assault was just released (click here). Though not much new information has been revealed, except for the fact that the assault was taking place for so long Mr. Elabed's attacker stopped to get a drink of water, then resumed beating him, what really struck me from this update was CCA's defense. Among other things, they're trying to claim that Mr. Elabed was partially responsible for his injuries (clearly; I mean when a white supremacist attacks a muslim prisoner minutes after he was removed from protective custody, it's the victim's fault he got so injured. He should have moved his face away from that angry white supremacist's foot), that Mr. Elabed put himself at risk (I suppose by nature of being Pakistani, which is obviously a choice he made), and that they weren't "callously indifferent" to the situation (so I guess watching someone get beaten nearly to death in a prolonged assault while standing idly by and doing nothing doesn't amount to callous indifference).

If I wasn't trying to keep this mostly G-rated, I'd have a couple of four-letter words for you jerks in the CCA legal department. But since I am, suffice it to say that I really, really, hate you CCA. Really.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Even I Didn't Know It Was THIS Bad

The Louisville, KY Courier-Journal is running a fabulous 5-piece expose on the deplorable Otter Creek Correctional Facility, one of CCA's facilities. Among the myriad issues identified are: a significant lack of oversight on programming and medical care, repeated sexual assaults that weren't properly investigated by the state, CCA intentionally leaving critical staff positions unfilled to maximize profits, medical care so abhorrent that multiple staff members quit their jobs, and the state of Kentucky failing to even enforce the contract it has with CCA to operate the facility. As I've said countless times before, oversight of private prisons is sparse at best; only some states have specific government positions or agencies dedicated to overseeing contracts, and they tend to demonstrate either blatant favoritism or crude ignorance towards private prisons companies' repeated failures to live up to their responsibilities. What makes the Otter Creek situation even worse is that the state knew of many of these deficiencies, at least in staffing levels (because a lot of the other major issues were neglected over years of reporting by the state monitors), and just chose not to fine CCA for their inability to staff the facility properly, with no real explanation.

For more in-depth coverage of the breakdown in monitoring, and Kentucky's failure to fine CCA for the issues it was aware of, click here (same as title link);

For analysis of how private prisons don't actually save any money, focusing on Kentucky (including the wonderfully revealing quote of the DOC Spokeswoman who says ""private prisons are not less expensive than all of our institutions."), click here;

For analysis of the complete lack of any recognizable form of "health care" at the prison, click here;

And finally, for a nice, detailed, history of this awful prison, click here.

That about does it. I strongly encourage you all to take the time and read through as much of this story as possible, because it's one of the better singular examples of practically all the major conditions issues that present themselves in the private prison industry.