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.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The More Things Change...

On the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration's pledge to reform the immigration detention system, little has changed for the nearly 400,000 immigrants detained here every day. And despite charging hundreds of millions of dollars per year to incarcerate these immigrants, the private prisons that house them still inflict needless suffering by depriving immigrants of medical and mental health care. There are more detentions and deportations under Obama than there were under Bush; all he has done is extend Bush's policies towards immigrants, yet the conservative right is all riled up about him not deporting more people.

The system is overcrowded and run largely by private corporations that are far more concerned with their bottom line than providing things like medical care or a humane living environment. Oversight of these contractors is poor at best; a sexual assault occurred in one of these facilities while they had government agents on duty. It is foolish for America to continue giving taxpayer money to these companies, to continue on this track of incarcerating ever more immigrants, ever more people. As the prison market has grown increasingly privatized the corporations who profit most directly from it have become more effective at circumventing oversight, maximizing profit by denying needed services, and molding political relationships that ensure they retain business despite the fact that they do nothing right or moral or even efficient.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Earnings Time

It's Why I Hate CCA's favorite time of the year (well one of four at least).  It's quarterly earnings report time, where we find out how much the private prison companies raped the American taxpayers for in the past couple months.  I just love hearing about the absurd amounts of profit to be made in the private incarceration business.

CCA posted a 12.3% increase in earning in the second quarter of 2010, making a whopping $36.6 million in profit on revenue of nearly $420 million, all for providing sub-standard detention "services."

Cornell thankfully is down compared to the same quarter of 2009, earning only $16.5 million in profit (compared to $19.6 million in 09), on a little over $103 million in revenue.

I haven't seen GEO's report yet but I'll try to get it posted when I do

CCA Guards Admit the Staff is Poorly Trained

The title link goes to the personal account of a CCA employee who details a lot of the problems that seem to be inherent to their hiring and staffing processes.  CCA fails to conduct adequate background checks on their employees (which often results in them hiring ex-felons), they don't test incoming guards for their capacity to handle such a high-stress job, and they don't train their guards nearly as much as governments do.  This resulted in poorly-prepared COs that smuggled in contraband, compromising the security of the facility, had inappropriate sexual relations with prisoners, and bragged about having spent time in prison for aiding human smugglers.  As the author himself says, "I worked with officers who had no business being officers because of physical limitations or an extreme lack of intelligence. Such facilities [private prisons] are not safe, neither for officers or staff."

But this is no isolated incident; I have spoken with guards who worked for all different private prison companies, in different states, and all the stories sound very similar to this one.  Check out the comments section on this article for a private prison guard named Pedro who discusses why he thinks privatization of prisons is "horrible for the overall well-being of the criminal justice system."

What a Stupid Waste of Money

US Customs and Border Protection stops illegal immigrants from trying to leave the country, yes leave it. Instead of just allowing them to cross the border to Mexico, they are ordered to stop and arrest them, then force them through formal deportation proceedings. Which not only has long-term consequences for the immigrants due to the repercussions of being arrested, it's a huge waste of money and resources.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Murderers Escaped From a Private Prison? No Reason to Worry

3 convicted murderers escaped from a medium-security prison privately managed by MTC, Management and Training Corporation, which is based in Utah.  But that won't deter Rep. John Kavanaugh (R) from his enthusiastic support of private prisons because well, they save money (except they don't), and that's the end-all, be-all in his opinion.  In fact, he wants to further expand the privatization of his state's prisons (AZ currently has a request for proposal for 5,000 private prison beds) and the services provided therein, despite the fact that it took officials at the prison more than an hour to notify the government of the escape.

But of course Mr. Kavanaugh, conservative that he is, doesn't question his opinions on whether the private prison industry can provide effective services (they can't.), rather he questions why these prisoners wound up in a medium-security facility.  As a government employee, heck as an even half-educated citizen of your state, you should realize that medium-security facilities can house these types of prisoners because an inmate's classification is determined by a lot of factors, not just his/her sentence.  But this distracts his audience from the real point (which seems to happen a lot in politics and mainstream media): that the private market isn't always the best solution to a problem, especially not private prisons.  Sometimes the profit motive is exploited for personal gain at the expense of those who invest in an industry, like the Arizona taxpayers who invest their money in private prisons.

UPDATE: It turns out MTC also failed to notify the mother and wife of two of the victims of one of these guys for 19 hours after the escape.  She was supposed to be notified right away but nearly an entire day passed before a family member saw it on the news in another state and reported it to her. And it has also been revealed that the men escaped by having one of their girlfriends walk up to the prison fence and toss wire cutters over to them.  Great job securing that prison there, MTC.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What's All the Commotion?

Immigration prosecutions under President Obama are at the same levels they were under the Bush administration.  Both ICE and CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) have been prosecuting thousands of immigration violations, so I cannot understand why Governor Rick Perry of Texas, like so many conservatives (politicians, pundits, whoever), is so hell-bent on criticizing the Obama administration for not enforcing our country's immigration laws.  All these prosecutions are clogging up court systems throughout the country, but most notably in the southwest; in fact, more than half of ALL federal prosecutions are immigration-related; nearly 95% of the cases public defenders in Texas are dealing with concern civil immigration violations (as opposed to criminal cases), with them handling up to 180 cases every day.  This obviously incapacitates the public defender from mounting any sort of substantial defense for his clients, which completely undermines the mission of the office.

What bothers me most of all is that the conservative rhetoric surrounding immigration doesn't seem to be at all concerned with facts or statistics so much as emotional appeals, especially to people in immigrant-heavy areas.  Senator John Cornyn blasted Obama's record on prosecuting immigrants, while he actually oversaw more than 21,000 MORE removals in his first year in office for criminal activity than in 2008.  Cornyn however complains about the drop in non-criminal removals, which of course fires up the right and gets his voting base agitated against Obama and the Democrats.  But frankly non-criminal aliens should be of far less concern to the government than criminal ones, but as I said, conservative discourse tends to ignore important and relevant figures to blow partially-relevant issues way out of proportion.  When you have people like Lou Dobbs, now Glenn Beck and other fauxnews blowhards spouting off about how our borders aren't secure and immigrants are stealing all our jobs in the face of evidence that shows this administration is even more harsh on immigration than its predecesor, and in light of the fact that the number of immigrants dropped by its largest margin in the past 3 decades over the past year, the discussion tends to move away from the rational to the irrationality you see in today's media (here is the LA times article that mentions the drop in immigrants, along with some other very interesting numbers regarding immigration and its prosecution).  By ramping up the anti-immigrant rhetoric, conservative pundits have been able to practically paint immigrants as an alien occuping force that needs some sort of militaristic response, and we wind up with absurd, overtly-racist laws like Arizona's SB1070, which was passed despite the fact that Arizona ranked first and second, respectively, in ICE and CBP prosecutions (meanwhile all the discussion from conservatives in favor of the bill was about how the Obama administration doesn't prosecute enough immigration violators in their state). 

All we have done by increasing the amount of immigrants we lock up and prosecute is increase the amount of money spent on ineffective programs.  We spend billions every year to incarcerate and prosecute people for civil violations, spending literally hundreds of dollars per prisoner per day to keep them locked up.  Our country needs to realize that the immigration detention system we currently have is designed for nothing more than to enhance the wealth and power of the private prison industry giants, many of whom are supported, directly or indirectly, by our government, both democrat and republican alike.  And with all the money that CCA, GEO, and every other private prison contractor spends to ensure it will continue to get new contracts, despite repeated abuses of human rights, its no wonder they are able to continue to fleece American taxpayers into allowing them to exploit our broken system for their own financial gain.