Friday, December 16, 2011

Blatant Political Favoritism

As I discussed previously, the state of New Jersey has been looking to bring a private immigration detention center online for a few months now.  After the initial proposal was announced, it was discovered that the state has basically rigged the bidding process in favor of one single company that has strong relationships with many influential NJ politicians, including governor Christie.  The company, Education and Health Centers of America, is affiliated with a larger private prison company, CEC, which has a terrible track record both within the state and outside it.

So after the plan was protested by advocates because of the obvious favoritism showed to EHCA, the state re-issued its proposal.  And again, EHCA was the only company to bid on the proposed detention center.  And, lo and behold, they won.

Blatant Political Favoritism

Their Lobbyists Game the System

A lobbyist in Annapolis, Maryland, has just settled a case revolving around ethics charges due to unreported donations.  Bruce Bereano was found to have wined and dined state legislators without reporting the meals as campaign contributions.  Are you at all surprised that this stand-up guy represents CMS, one of the largest, for-profit prison medical companies in the country?

I'm not.

A Familiar Tune

Residents in Crete, Illinois, are finding themselves in a situation quite similar to the hubbub taking place in Southwest Ranches, Florida.  CCA has proposed an immigration detention center in town, which is especially troubling considering a report was just released that recommended closing such facilities due to numerous human rights violations.  Residents feel the facility is being forced on them; "Village residents have not been asked for their input on this issue," said a local resident. The board president couldn't even provide any details on the project, because CCA has not exactly been forthcoming with information regarding the proposed construction.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Florida's Politicians (But Not Its Residents) Love Private Prisons

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz represents Southwest Ranches, Florida, which has been at the epicenter of a debate over a proposed immigration detention facility.  Residents of the town have consistently demonstrated their opposition to the facility, which they feel was designed and planned without much public knowledge of the proceedings.  Basically, they think they have been fleeced by CCA, who hopes to build the facility on land it already owns, into having a detention center that they fear will lower property values and present a risk to public safety.

Unfortunately, they've got a pretty poor representative in Ms. Wasserman, who's basically taking a "lesser of available evils" approach.  She initially called a town hall meeting to allow residents to voice their opposition and learn more about the project.  After more than 250 people showed up to let CCA and the town council know they didn't want a private prison, Wasserman, who had called the meeting, decided she would support the project.  She now thinks it's a good idea and that the town should move forward, saying she thinks "it is going to be far better to have that ICE detention center there than to have any other facility that would have a much more negative impact on residents there."  Other than a lead paint producing puppy mill, I can't really imagine what would be worse for a community than a privately operated, for-profit human rights violations incubator.  But there's no chance she could have been partially swayed by the nearly $20 million CCA has spent lobbying the federal government over the past decade.  Right?

Unfortunately for the residents of Southwest Ranches, Wasserman isn't alone in ignoring her constituents interests and supporting a company with a long track record of failing to live up to its contracts.  The mayor of Southwest Ranches just basically told his constituents to pound sand, because the deal is done.  CCA owns the land, and has for a decade, so he says there's really nothing residents can do to stop the construction at this point.  If there's any saving grace in all of this, it might be found in Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart from Miami, who just sent a letter to ICE to demonstrate his opposition to the proposed detention center.  So there is at least one Congressperson from Florida who hasn't been bought off by the industry yet.  Also, Udonis Haslem, one of those Miami Heat players not named LeBron or Dwyane, has voiced his opposition to the center in a letter he sent to the Southwest Ranches Town Council.

However, Southwest Ranches is not the only front in the privatization battle happening in Florida.  As you may know, earlier this year the state was looking to privatize half of its prison system, and medical care for the entire system.  After details of the plan emerged that showed it was forced through as a last-minute amendment to the budget, the state was sued by the union representing the state's COs, which succeeded in blocking the privatization because the plan violated the state constitution.  In the process, the Director of the state DOC lost his job for opposing the plan, because Governor Scott could not abide a secretary of corrections who had an independent train of thought that challenged his worldview idolizing privatization at all costs.

The corruption surrounding this whole mess was so blatant that the FBI and a Federal Grand Jury are actually both investigating the whole deal, starting with the former speaker of the house (who is currently imprisoned), who forced through a last-minute budget amendment (seems to be the trend in Florida...) a few years back that resulted in the construction of the Blackwater Correctional Facility.  I guess the name "Abu Ghraib" had already been taken.  The FBI's investigation recently resulted in a search of the house of the Santa Rosa County Commissioner.  They're apparently interested in whether the GEO Group could have effectively purchased the man's vote with either licit or illicit campaign contributions.

And yet, amid all this; the blatant corruption; investigations by the FBI and a federal grand jury; Floridians protesting the construction of an immigration detention center, Governor Scott just keeps pushing his foolish plan to privatize the prison system.  His budget proposal for FY12 includes huge increases in the amount state employees would have to pay for health insurance, increased funding for education, and, yes, a renewal of the plan to privatize half the state's prison system.

WTF, Florida?

Advocates Call for Investigation of GEO Group Abuses

As the US Department of Justice continues to decline to investigate ongoing abuses of immigration detainees in private detention facilities, a new voice has joined the chorus of those calling for some accountability to be imposed on the system.  The Public Advocate for the City of New York has written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, urging him to investigate the ongoing abuse of immigration detainees.  He is joined by local and national politicians who want the DOJ to do something about the abuses immigrants face in detention.  As an NYC Council Member stated, "Detention centers that do not respect basic human rights have no place in New York City or anywhere else in the United States."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Private Prisons Must Comply with Public Records Laws

Well at least in Tennessee and Florida, they do.  In most jurisdictions, private prisons, as private companies, are not subject to public records or FOIA laws, which has presented a tremendous obstacle to members of the public who wish to exert some semblance of oversight on the system.  But in a recent ruling in Tennessee, it was held that CCA must comply with public records requests as must any agency performing an inherently governmental function.  This is a tremendous victory for advocates like myself, who recognize that the industry is in dire need of effective oversight and that it has skirted the bounds of accountability for decades by continually avoiding turning over records related to its operations.  CCA will almost undoubtedly appeal the decision, but for the time being, I want to savor this victory.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

ALEC's Influence in Arizona

As I've reported on extensively in the past, ALEC is a nefarious front group for conservative legislation that has been a major driving force behind our nation's crisis of mass incarceration.  So there's no way I could pass up highlighting a new report that has come out detailing how effective ALEC has been at getting corporate-sponsored legislation passed in the state of Arizona.

You'll probably remember that ALEC was where SB1070, Arizona's "Breathing While Brown" law, was born, before ALEC member Russell Pearce brought it home and introduced it to the state legislature.  The law was drafted with CCA at the table, and would have a direct impact on their bottom line as it resulted in increased incarceration of illegal immigrants, almost half of whom are detained in private facilities.  Arizona also happens to be home to many private facilities that currently house out-of-state prisoners and immigrants, and the state is seeking to add 5,000 additional private beds to its existing state-run facilities.

So this report comes at a critical time for Arizona, as it evaluates whether or not it wants to proceed with a plan to contract away millions of taxpayer dollars to an industry that hasn't even been able to demonstrate savings in the state of Arizona.  ALEC has pushed for the privatization of prisons in the past, and it has given private prison companies direct access to state legislators who are considering the privatization bids.  Those same companies have also donated thousands of dollars to these politicians, all of which amounts to a tremendous amount of political influence for the industry in the state.  As The Executive Director of the People for the American Way stated, "There's no way ordinary citizens can match the level of access and influence that ALEC provides to these corporations."

For now, the state is holding back on awarding contracts until some time in January, after it was twice sued over the request for proposals because it has for years failed to conduct an efficiency audit of its existing private facilities.  Once that report is complete, the state should have (even more) data to demonstrate that private prisons don't actually save any money, which will hopefully compel state legislators to reject the industry's influence and make wiser decisions with the constituents' hard-earned money.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Straining Resources in a Small Town

After Ohio became the first state to sell a prison to a private company earlier this year, a few logistical details needed to be hammered out.  For instance, who would be responsible for dealing with major disturbances that could potentially happen at the prison?  Disturbances like riots, which seem to happen more frequently at privately-operated prisons?

When the state owned and operated the facility, the state's Highway Patrol would respond to such emergencies.  But now that the prison has been turned over to private hands, it appears as though the responsibility now falls on the local police department in Conneaut, Ohio.  The local government fears the strain this could put on the small town's resources if the police department ever needed to be called in to deal with an emergency at the prison.  So much so that they're heading to the state capitol to speak with Governor Kasich about it.

For all the great economic benefits that proponents of privatization discuss, they often fail to mention how the industry can act as a parasite on small communities.  They use tremendous amounts of resources, from water and electricity to sewer lines.  A prison can dissuade commerce and prospective homeowners.  There are numerous prisons sitting empty across the country right now, having been built on speculation but never filled; towns have defaulted on bond payments just to try to keep them open (See here for some coverage of the story in Hardin, Montana).  So to any government who contracts with a private company to operate a prison, I say: be careful, because you really do get what you pay for.

San Bernardino County Doesn't Want a Private Prison

As a result of the decision in Brown v. Plata this spring, California has been ordered to reduce its state prison population by approximately 40,000 prisoners because overcrowding was so severe that the state could not provide medical care to the population that was sufficient enough to not violate their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.  Governor Jerry Brown has decided to force these prisoners on county jails, and some of the private facilities that have held state prisoners are being shuttered in the process.

One of those is the Desert View CF, run by the GEO Group.  The prison is closing and the San Bernardino sheriff's office has already stated that it has no intention of signing a contract with the GEO Group, or any other private prison company for that matter, to operate it.  A spokeswoman for the department said, "It's not something the county is's too costly."

Monday, December 5, 2011

Australia: It Just Keeps Getting Uglier

A few more interesting pieces of news have come out of Australia recently, following riots and hunger strikes at an immigration detention facility and widespread criticism of the country's reliance on private incarceration.  It appears as though the government had been warned of major issues in its private detention centers at least 5 months before the riots this spring, which cost more than $8.5 million in damages.  The report indicates that the Immigration Department knew its private prison industry was "severely compromised," but apparently did nothing to rectify the situation before prisoners finally rioted over substandard living conditions.

Then, as if the situation wasn't bad enough, Serco (the private company that runs the facility) was using administrative staff at the Christmas Island facility as security guards during the riots.  To put it simply, as the frigging director of Serco himself said, "I can't think of a more serious breach of occupational health and safety."

Certainly, the government should have heeded the warnings it received about the private detention centers, because this crisis could have potentially been averted.  Hindsight is of course 20/20.  Hopefully though the government will use this as a learning experience, since it is considering giving Serco a new multi-billion dollar contract for services at a hospital (Serco already has a contract worth more than $4 billion to run the private detention centers).  Especially considering a psychiatrist who just reviewed healthcare at Serco's Scherger Detention Center concluded that "tragedy is very likely to occur" due to the prisoners' inability to get adequate treatment. One person even went so far as to claim that Serco is compromising mental health care services in the community because of how poorly it operates.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Failing on Promises of Economic Benefits

Central Falls, RI, like many other towns and cities across the country, is facing a difficult budgetary climate and could greatly benefit from some increased revenue.  You know, revenue like the $525,000 the town is supposed to receive annually from the private company that operates its prison.  Except the company hasn't been paying the town for years, and now Central Falls is pursuing bankruptcy protection because its risky investment with a private prison didn't quite pan out as it had hoped.

CCA Guard Gets Second Drug Charge

As I've mentioned previously, private prisons seem to have trouble recruiting and retaining high-quality staff.  It probably has something to do with the fact that they cut corners on screening, don't hire unionized COs, and pay like Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Anyhoo, a CCA guard from New Mexico has just received not his first, but his second charge of being in possession of an illegal substance.  After formerly being charged with marijuana possession, this young man stepped his game up and was just caught smoking heroin.

Privatization Pushback

Proposals to privatize health care and mental health care for prisoners have begun to meet resistance in both North Carolina and Pennsylvania.  Let's start with the NC situation, which really scares the crap out of me.

First is a quick read; a great little editorial discussing the drawbacks of privatization and how private vendors often fail to live up to the public's expectations.  According to the author, "the logic in privatizing the services falls short... Anticipated savings might be difficult to come by... state oversight would have to be not just maintained but intensified," and the lack of competing bids calls the wisdom of the plan into question.

The community has started to pay attention as well.  A town hall meeting was convened earlier this week at a church, where many residents expressed concerns about personal and public safety if the GEO Group starts providing mental healthcare for serious criminals.

Then there's Pennsylvania, where Governor Tom Corbett wants to privatize liquor sales and has tossed around the idea of privatizing healthcare for state prisoners.  Thankfully, that foolish plan has already met with opposition both from the general public, as nurses picketed in protest of the plan, and from local politicians.  State Senator David Argall contends that the plan presents a serious risk to public safety, as would any plan in which instruments designed to promote public safety are turned over to the lowest bidder among companies with long histories of abuse and negligence.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ACLU files new lawsuit against CCA

By Elaine Hirsch

A lawsuit recently filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU-TX) against the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) underscores the perils of the American prison-industrial complex, an aspect of corrections facility management studied by politicians, master’s degree candidates, and lawyers in the United States.

The class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of three female detainees whose identities were withheld to maintain anonymity. According to the ACLU-TX filing, the immigrant women were being transported from the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Williamson County to Austin, Texas, when they allegedly suffered sexual abuse while in the custody of ICE. One CCA employee and three ICE officials have been named in the lawsuit.

This isn’t the first time that CCA has come under fire for prisoner abuse. The CCA has operated the T. Don Hutto Residential Center since 2006. The day-to-day operations of the detention center are conducted by a cadre of ICE employees and CCA guards. In August 2010, the ACLU reported that a CCA guard was charged with numerous counts of sexually abusing female inmates at the same ICE facility in Williamson County. The Graduate Employees and Students Organization at Yale University teamed up with the school’s employee union to force a divestment based on CCA’s long record of civil rights violations.

Days after the filing the latest lawsuit against the CCA, the ACLU released a scathing report criticizing the massive profits realized by private prison contractors such as CCA during recessionary times. “Banking on Bondage: PrivatePrisons and Mass Incarceration” is the name of the report that shows the two most prominent prison profiteers, CCA and the GEO Group, received a combined revenue of $3 billion and earned hundreds of millions in profits in 2010.

CCA’s sketchy record of managing American prisons comes at a time when the state of Arizona is preparing to award a lucrative contract to private jailers despite a report from the Auditor General that state-operated facilities would actually cost less to maintain.

The meteoric rise of the private prison population in the United States is certainly sobering: a 1664% increase over the last two decades. According to industry analysts, there are plenty of long-term growth opportunities for business entities such as CCA. Mark Whitburn, an attorney at the ACLU of Texas, believes that the complaints lodged by the three plaintiffs in the most recent lawsuit against the CCA are only “the tip of the iceberg.” 

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.  She is currently a writer for a master's degree program resource.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More Issues in Australia

Unfortunately, the US is not alone in its blind pursuit of privatization at all costs; Australia is one of a few other countries that also permits for private, for-profit companies to house its prisoners.  As in the US, these private prisons suffer from a litany of problems of mismanagement and cost-cutting.

The Australian Government recently deployed an advisory group to report on the state of mental health care for immigrant detainees in private prisons.  The chairwoman of the group reported that the private prison system in the country is dysfunctional, and incapable of meeting the mental health needs of the immigrants housed there.  In fact, the system is so bad that some employees carry knives to cut down prisoners who try to hang themselves, because it's apparently a rather common phenomenon.

However, unlike the US, Australia's government actually tries to hold these companies accountable for the lives they destroy.  Serco, which operates most of the country's private immigration detention system, has been fined $15 million for its failure to adequately care for the prisoners in its facilities.  This is a pretty significant fine for a company that earns more than $370 million per year in revenue to operate the facilities.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Private, For-Profit Mental Health Care?

Scary as it may sound, that's exactly what is being proposed in North Carolina.  A subsidiary of the GEO Group, GEOCare, is trying to take over mental health services for serious offenders for the entire state of North Carolina, which is also considering privatizing health care for its prisoners.  I'm sure nothing could possibly go wrong if a private company that earns money by keeping people incarcerated longer would be in control of providing rehabilitation services to violent offenders.

But in all seriousness, this is a pretty terrifying proposition to me.  GEO has enough trouble managing normal prison populations, let alone high-risk prisoners.  As the executive director of the NC State Employees Association said, "it just boggles [the] mind that folks think a for-profit private company with shareholders can perform a more efficient, better service at a cheaper rate than state employees."

Update on Lawsuit Challenging Privatization in Arizona

Arizona is currently seeking proposals from private prison companies to construct 5,000 new prison beds, even though an auditor for the state has found that private prisons cost more to operate than state-run facilities.  The state has also failed to conduct efficiency reviews of its existing private prisons for the past few decades, so information about their quality of services and contract performance is limited at best.

A group called the American Friends Service Committee has been steadily challenging the request for proposals, most recently by filing a lawsuit to try to force the state to hold off on awarding contracts until the state reviews existing facilities.  There is actually a state law requiring these reviews take place at least every 2 years.  The lawsuit was thrown out on a technicality.  But the AFSC continues to battle against the private prison industry, and they have just filed an appeal of the dismissal, asking the court to determine the substantive issue at hand rather than taking the easy way out of reviewing whether the state should embark on such a risky venture.

Monday, November 21, 2011

After the Revolving Door Stops Turning

A really interesting story came out of New Mexico last week that really speaks to the great benefit the industry enjoys in having former (and potentially future) employees working in government.  I have often complained of the political and contractual favoritism shown to the industry by former employees, but this one really struck me.

The new Secretary of Corrections has decided to finally start holding the GEO Group accountable for its terrible mismanagement of its facilities in the state, fining the company more than $1 million for failing to maintain  adequate staffing levels, which obviously presents a huge risk of violence.  This is the first time the state has really held any private prison company accountable for failing to meet contractual obligations.  The former Secretary, who had previously worked for the GEO Group, repeatedly declined to fine the industry for known failures to comply, saving the GEO Group nearly $20 million worth of fines in the process.  And it seems like the new Secretary is serious about holding GEO Group and CCA accountable for the millions of taxpayer dollars they get in contracts; he says he wants to review staffing levels at private prisons every single month.

And the fines could not have come at a more appropriate time.  Because a prisoner in a GEO Group facility in Clayton, New Mexico, was just beaten to within an inch of his life and is now on life support following the vicious assault.

PS - that former secretary of corrections, Joe Williams, who declined to fine the GEO Group nearly $20 million, landed himself a nice, cushy gig with, who else, the effing GEO Group.  He's the director of US operations, a position that I'm willing to bet pays a pretty decent salary.

CCA Go Away!

November 5th, 2011: 400 angry residents of Pembroke Pines gathered at the Southwest Regional Library to vocally oppose a plane to build a detention facility for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold immigrants who have been convicted of crimes while they are processed for deportation.  The main complaint was that the center would be too close to their homes and schools of nearby Pembroke Pines residents.  Southwest Ranches is a "town" that incorporated to avoid being annexed by Pembroke Pines and maintains a "rural" style featuring a large commitment to "green" areas used as horse trails and no residential construction allowed on any lot under an acre, of which there are few.  The detention center would garner Southwest Ranches about $1.5 million a year in taxes. THIS CONTENT IS (C) 2011 MICHAEL STRADER MARKO / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Southwest Ranches Update

Hola - sorry for the barrage of Florida private prison news, but there's still so much fun going on in Southwest Ranches/Pembroke Pines that I couldn't help myself.  I'm going to try to just give a brief, bullet-point digest of the news I want to highlight regarding the immigration detention center that no one but CCA seems to want.

  • First, the mayor of Pembroke Pines, the town which Southwest Ranches was carved out of a little more than a decade ago and which is on the hook to provide fire and other services to the prison, is miffed because he feels the plan was forced through without the consideration of his town's elected officials.
  • Pembroke Pines then threatened to end the contract to provide the services, given the public outcry over the facility.  So CCA, stand-up company that they are, threatened to sue the town to force it to provide fire and emergency services.  I guess clearing more than $13 million in profit per month doesn't prohibit them from trying to force governments to give them even more money.  Negotiations involving things like sewer, fire, and emergency services with these prisons always seem to get ugly.
  • Also, an interesting little piece on how CCA got the support of some national politicians from Florida for the project, but at the same time was concerned about bringing too much attention to it (maybe because they knew the public would not approve).
  • Finally, given all the commotion about the proposed detention center, it looks like Pembroke Pines will put off a vote on how they should proceed with the water/sewer services contract until next month.  It's probably good that they're taking time to figure out because, as the vice mayor said, "What is being proposed now is so wrong for our community."

Con Games: CCA's Exploitation of its Workers

Just take a look at how some CCA employees feel about the company screwing them over while executives live in ridiculous luxury.  or

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Story That Just Won't Go Away

I don't want to re-hash everything I've written about the absurd privatization push / corporate handout happening in Florida.  You can find plenty of material on it by just looking back.  I want to take a minute though to try to update the situation, again, as well as possible.  So I won't go into a long rant about anything here, I'll just give you some quick bullet points.  And just FYI, none of this even deals with the brewing situation in Southwest Ranches, where CCA is forcing an immigration detention center down the throat of a very angry populace.

  • Florida is also trying to privatize healthcare for its entire prison system (in addition to privatizing half the prisons).  The bidding process has drawn a lot of scrutiny and generated many questions, so much so that the state had to push back the date for the bids to be submitted. It will probably go through though, unfortunately.  In a related story, North Carolina is foolishly looking to do the same thing.
  • The executive director of the union representing COs in the state wrote an excellent opinion piece urging the state Senate to find some other way to save money, considering the questions surrounding the claim that the venture will save $22 million.
  • The editorial board of the Palm Beach Post came out with an excellent piece questioning Gov. Scott's motives in pushing the privatization, given the $1 million donated by the industry leading up to the last election and questions regarding the proposed cost savings.
  • A great piece from the Miami Herald discussing how special interests are dominating the discussion of privatization, and how the state needs to focus on alternatives to incarceration since they already have an enormous prison population.
  • Also, the state should really consider the company it's about the get in bed with, as a GEO Group guard appears to have been extremely negligent in permitting a prisoner to commit suicide.
  • Finally, I couldn't help but link to this absurd example of poor journalism, as the editorial board at the Daytona Beach News-Journal claims privatization offers "Major Savings."  The argument is based on practically nothing but the long-ago dismissed notion that if private prisons fail to offer savings, they won't get contracts (they actually just lobby harder and still get them).  The real icing on the cake comes when the author(s) admit that the state previously lost tens of millions of dollars in a privatization venture, but make no mention of how a similar problem could be avoided this time around.  Really, this is one of the absolute dumbest things I've ever seen an editorial board write.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Who Benefits from Private Prisons?

Finally getting around to linking up an NPR story I previously just tweeted.  Following on the heels of some recent reports of the political influence and financial motivations of the private prison industry from the likes of the ACLU and Justice Policy Institute, among others, NPR looked into the beneficiaries of private prisons.

Their findings may shock you:

  • Private prison companies take in billions in revenue from taxpayer dollars
  • Private prison companies don't share cost-savings with those taxpayers, so the amount they save by cutting on staff, security, etc. becomes profit (read: "corporate welfare") for the companies
  • Claims of economic benefits by the industry are dubious at best
  • Prisoners face higher risks of assaults and violence inside private prisons.

OK I lied.  None of this is shocking in the least.

Occupy a Private Prison!

Fantastic new video from the Immigrants for Sale Campaign called "Occupy a Private Prison."  It's an advocacy piece to call for the shutting down of the Stewart Immigration Detention Facility in Lumpkin, GA.  The video discusses how the private prison industry exploits immigration detainees to enhance its bottom line; for example, prisoners lucky enough to have jobs earn about $1 per day, but CCA charges up to $5 per minute for a phone call.

Update (11-22-11): a crowd of 270 turned out to voice their opposition to the detention center, and two people were arrested.

NH Looking to Privatize

The state of New Hampshire, that freedom-lovin' land of no income tax and fiercely independent libertarians, has just dipped its toe into the prison privatization pool.  The state currently does not house any prisoners in private facilities, but has just submitted a request for proposals from private companies to construct 3 prisons.  I guess Governor Lynch needs to check my blog more often.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Poor Oversight

One of my constant gripes about the private prison industry is the lack of oversight and transparency.  Briefly, private prisons in all but 2 states are not required to comply with public records / Freedom of Information laws, as they are private entities.  Many have argued that, because the industry performs an inherently governmental function, that it should be subject to the same sort of transparency that the government must abide by.  Which is certainly a reasonable argument.

The natural consequence of the opacity of the industry is a weak oversight structure.  If the public cannot review information about the way a private prison operates, then that public is ill-equipped to challenge issues that arise within the prison.  Which brings me to this quick link from The American Independent.  The title pretty accurately sums up the main point; "Expanding Private Prison Industry Benefits From Weak Oversight Structure."  It's a really well-written and detailed article that lays out the problem in better terms than I can.  Enjoy!

UK's Dubious Privatization Experience

Though I rarely touch on international private prison news, two recent stories from our friends across the pond caught my attention recently.  The first is an article from The Guardian discussing the proposed privatization of nine prisons in England, which the author concludes would work out very well for any corporation that wins the contract but not so well for prisoners who end up housed in a private facility.  Research cited by the author has shown that private prisons present a much higher risk to the safety of prisoners, staff, and the general public.  Private prisons in the UK has seen some of the same problems as the industry experiences here in the US; "green" staff, with little training and a high rate of turnover, which results in higher levels of violence and decreased security.  Likewise, the industry falls victim to the profit motive, as private prison operators continually cut costs at the expense of prisoner rehabilitation and care.

England is facing a crisis of incarceration similar to, but on a much smaller scale than our own, driven by things like mandatory minimum sentences and 3-strikes laws, which has prompted lawmakers to seek ways to cut the prison population or at least make it more manageable.  Unfortunately, they seem to be taking a page out of our manual in dealing with the crisis, focusing more on increasing capacity by outsourcing services to private companies than on smart and efficient legislative and policy initiatives designed to reduce the prison population.

The second is an article that uncovers an "eye-watering scandal;" namely, that the competitive bidding process currently underway to operate 5 facilities is rigged in favor of the private companies.  Stipulations were introduced by the government late into the process that rendered bids from public entities non-competitive, and the private industry has basically been handed a cakewalk of a bidding process.  It's a clear handout to the industry, and as the assistant secretary general of the probation union said, "Prison Privatisation is no longer based on efficiency, it's now ideological."

Occupy CCA Protests in Nashville

Monday, November 14, 2011

Private Prisons See Gold in Immigration Cases

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

CCA Can't Offer Substantial Savings

I'll keep it brief here with the most shocking news I've seen from the weekend.  CCA and the state of Mississippi have just ended a contract because CCA could not offer the state the cost-savings it sought in order to have a privately-operated prison.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

CCA Forcing Prison on Floridians

I admit I have been rather lax in reporting on the brewing situation in Southwest Ranches, Florida.  Briefly, CCA has proposed building an ICE detention center in the town, but has met with some pretty stiff resistance from the locals, who justifiably don't want a prison in their town.  After learning of the public's opposition, CCA successfully petitioned the town council to keep mum about the prison's construction.  That's right; officials elected to represent the people of Southwest Ranches were persuaded by CCA to tow the company line and represent the company's interests over that of their constituents.  So we're off to a great start here...

Anyway, after that debacle, CCA employed yet another questionable tactic as it started using robocalls to try to drum up support in the community.  In fact, they misrepresented the facility and touted the job creation benefits as they harassed Southwest Ranches residents with these calls.  So they're clearly the paragon of corporate responsibility.

Then there was a town council hearing last Saturday, at which no CCA representative was scheduled to be present.  I guess they didn't feel it was necessary to respond to the legitimate concerns of the people who don't want yet another private, for-profit immigration detention facility in their town.  Hundreds of local residents showed up at the meeting, complaining that the project had been rammed through despite numerous objections.  The meeting was so popular that more than 100 people opposed to the project couldn't even get in.  It got so contentious that the mayor of Pembroke Pines, the next town over, criticized Southwest Ranches officials for ignoring the concerns of their own constituents.

So, to recap.  Southwest Ranches residents don't want another private immigration detention facility.  The officials of the next town over are publicly criticizing the leadership of Southwest Ranches for ignoring constituents.  But the project keeps moving steadily along, as CCA has used questionable tactics to force this prison on these poor folks.  Thankfully though, yet another obstacle has arisen; immigration advocates are now calling for CCA to conduct an environmental impact study, which is supposed to happen before they construct the prison, per federal law.  I don't think this will be much more than another minor speedbump in CCA's determined march to build this prison, but at least it's something.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Don't Let the Door Hit You...

Russel Pearce, the slimy Republican state senator from Arizona who got the private prison industry's "Breathing While Brown" law passed in his state, just lost a recall election.  To another candidate who opposes the immigration crackdown and who has vowed to reject any gifts from special interest groups (like ALEC and CCA)

Analysis of SCOTUS Case

Just wanted to give you a quick link to a great analysis by the NY Times Editorial board of the Minneci v. Pollard case, which the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on last week.  The case involves abuse at a private prison operated by the GEO Group that was so severe it allegedly violated the prisoner's 8th Amendment right.

At issue was whether or not employees of a private prison company can be held personally liable for such violations.  The court had previously held that employees of the federal BOP can be held responsible.  Attorneys for the employees of the GEO Group argued that their clients are not technically federal government employees and thus should not be held responsible for violating people's rights.  As the Editorial argues, "The court should reject this argument. If not, it will allow the government to contract away prisoners’ constitutional rights — and contract away its own responsibility to protect individuals imprisoned under the law."

(Update 11/10/11) Another great article just came out on the case in the American Prospect, called "Cruel and Unusual Idiocy: Can the government get around the Constitution by outsourcing its functions to private contractors?"  The title speaks for itself.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Inside a Private Prison

Quick link here to the first in a new series by the ACLU called "Prison Voices."  This episode features Alex Friedman of Prison Legal News, who spent years incarcerated in a CCA prison in Tennessee

Revolving Door Paying Off

As I reported on previously, the GEO Group has exercised the revolving door between the private prison industry and politics rather well, as their former lobbyist and consultant, Stacia Hylton, was elected to head the US Marshal's Service, one of the federal agencies that contracts with the GEO Group.  Clearly, some people were disturbed by the idea that someone who earned literally hundreds of thousands of dollars working for a company with a long track record of human rights abuses and poor contract performance would be placed into a position with significant oversight over the management and awarding of contracts to that very company.

It turns out those people (myself included) may have been onto something.  Because Ms. Hylton has refused to investigate numerous claims by immigration detention advocates that detainees in a GEO Group prison in New York have been subject to ongoing abuse.  It must be nice for the GEO Group to have friends in such high places, but that really sucks for the immigrants being abused by this private, for-profit social leech of a corporation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

They Just Don't Get It

Governor Ric Scott and many republicans in Florida's legislature have been trying to force the privatization of 29 prisons on the state's DOC.  This earlier resulted in the forced resignation of the DOC's director, who was adamantly opposed to the privatization (though he himself had been a champion of privatization before coming to Florida), and a lawsuit by the union representing Florida's COs to block the proposal.  The union, the PBA, won in its initial lawsuit and Scott's camp originally said it did not intend to appeal the judge's decision that the legislature had acted unconstitutionally when it inserted the privatization language into a last-minute budget proviso.

But, being the stand-up guy he is, Governor Scott's office decided to appeal the ruling at the very last minute.  Then, as if appealing a decision that your blatant corporate handout was unconstitutional wasn't ballsy enough, Scott's office re-opened the bidding process for the privatization because they were apparently so confident in their chances to win on appeal.  Thankfully, the PBA stepped in again, requesting that the court stop the bidding process because of the "panic" experienced by state COs who have no idea whether or not they'll have a job within the next few months.  In fact, corrections officials had promised not to re-open the bidding process.  They should have stuck by their promise, because now the state has been ordered to "Cease and Desist" from all activities related to the proposal and privatization.

Get it through your head, Florida Republicans.  Your thinly-veiled handout to the industry that spent more than a million dollars lobbying you last election is unconstitutional and corrupt.  The plan should have never even made it this far.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Third-Quarter 2011 Earnings

Once again, we have the chance to evaluate our national priorities as we take a look at the earnings statements for the third quarter of 2011 for the two largest private prison companies in the country, CCA and the GEO Group.  Both companies have recently taken hits in the stock market, but still raked in tens of millions of dollars in profit, on hundreds of millions in revenue, over the past three months.

The GEO Group earned $26.1 million in profit over the past three months on nearly $407 million in revenue from government contracts.  That comes out to about $290,000 in profit every single day, all made on taxpayer dollars.

Meanwhile, CCA actually saw a dip in its profit, taking in about $2 million less in the third quarter of 2011 than they did in 2010.  But the drop-off wasn't significant; they still earned $39.24 million in profit over the past three months.  That's about $460,000 every day.

Combined these two companies, housing maybe 10% of the prisoners in this country, earned $726,000 in profit every day for the past three months.  That's $30,250 per hour, $504.17 per minute, and $8.40 every single second.  Again, taxpayer dollars.

If this isn't corporate welfare, I don't know what is.  And to think that they turn most of this money around into lobbying for laws that lock up an ever-growing number of US citizens and immigrants...

This is Why I Hate CCA.  And the GEO Group.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2 More Deaths in Private Prisons

An ICE detainee at the Eloy detention center in Arizona passed away on Sunday, after having complained of shortness of breath and being transported to a hospital.  Pablo Gracida-Conte had been in CCA custody prior to his death.

And in Mississippi, a prisoner at the GEO-Group operated Eastern MS Correctional Facility took his own life a few days ago.  The 27-year-old's death comes amid numerous reports of serious violations of human rights coming out of the facility.

Fantastic New Report

I just want to call your attention to a new report that has just been released by the ACLU that covers a broad range of issues presented by the private prison industry and this country's addiction to incarceration.  In Banking on Bondage, David Shapiro of the ACLU National Prison Project details some of the most pressing concerns about private prisons, including the explosive growth of the industry over the past 3 decades, debunking the myth that private prisons save money, and the questionable tactics employed by the industry to drum up business and ensure a steady flow of prisoners.  Really, stop whatever it is you're doing, and go read this report.  It's a great introduction to this despicable industry for novices, and a wealth of evidence of the industry's failures for those who already know about the horrors of prison privatization.

They're Run By Super Classy People

Sometimes this stuff is just too easy.  Grady Sims, the former warden of a halfway house run by the GEO Group in Walnut Grove, MS, has been charged with sexually assaulting a prisoner under his watch, then attempting to cover up the incident.  This should not be confused with the juvenile prison in Walnut Grove, also run by the GEO Group, which is the target of a wide-ranging lawsuit by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center alleging, among other things, rampant violence and neglect of serious medical and mental health care needs.

But he didn't stop there.  Mr. Sims, who was also the mayor of this small town for decades, used the town's taxpayers' money to perform maintenance on the private prison.  In fact, he used over $30,000 worth of their money to perform labor on the facility.  Because apparently the GEO Group, which already takes in literally billions of dollars every year in taxpayer money as revenue, tens if not hundreds of millions of which ends up as profit, couldn't perform that labor themselves.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Challenging Constitutional Violations in Private Prisons

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a case tomorrow morning regarding the liability of employees of private prisons in instances where a prisoners' rights have been violated.  The case, Minneci v. Pollard, calls into question whether or not employees of private companies who contract with the government can be held personally responsible for violating constitutional rights in the line of duty.  The case revolves around a prisoner who broke both his elbows while working in a prison, then was repeatedly forced to perform awkward and painful movements by prison staff, violating his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment (the 8th Amendment to the Constitution).  The prisoner wants to sue the employees of the GEO Group, which operates the prison, for monetary damages for violating his right.

That first link goes to an analysis of the case from the SCOTUS Blog, which is pretty thorough and dense but a good read if you can get through it.  Here's a more succinct summary from the Wall Street Journal.

Arguments are scheduled for 11:00am.  The Court is not expected to release a decision on the case until sometime next year.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Even Obama's Getting in on the Act

Obama has just hired a former GEO Group lobbyist to his re-election campaign.  This probably bodes very well  for the GEO Group, which makes a ton of revenue off immigration detention, which has actually increased on Obama's watch, even compared to when W. was in office.

CCA's Revolving Door Continues to Turn

CCA's influence in Idaho just got a boost, thanks to the departure of the Governor's long-time aide to a lobbying firm.  After working for four years as the top aide to Governor Otter, Jason Kreizenbeck is leaving the administration to take a job with one of the largest lobbying firms in the state, led by former Senator Skip Smyser.  Smyser's firm represents, among other clients, CCA, whose failure to adequately operate the Idaho Correctional Center resulted in a huge lawsuit against the company for violence so pervasive it was called "Gladiator School" by the prisoners housed there.

They Over-Use Solitary Confinement

An Alaskan prisoner just won a case against CCA after he had been forced to spend 20 days in solitary confinement and been denied his due process rights while incarcerated in Arizona.  The court found that the prison essentially prevented the prisoner from exercising his right to face his accuser for a serious disciplinary infraction.  It held that the punishment was so severe - solitary confinement typically involves 23-hour-a-day lockdown with little to no human contact - that the prison had to allow the prisoner to challenge his placement.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

They Deny Treatment to HIV+ Prisoners

A man incarcerated in Georgia, has lost 61 pounds since April because the prisons he has been in have continuously denied him treatment for his HIV.  He has spent time in the GEO-Group operated D. Ray James CF, and currently resides in a private prison operated by a company called Croft Medical Enterprises.  So even the smaller companies are adept at skimping on medical care to maximize profits.

You've Got to be Kidding Me

Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.  CCA owns land in Southwest Ranches, FL, where it intends to build an immigration detention center, despite intense opposition from the local residents.  Well this particular area of Florida has a tax exemption for agricultural (i.e. not correctional) purposes, whereby if you have cows on your property you pay significantly lower taxes.  Well, leave it to CCA to exploit this loophole - they have utilized it to pay a tax bill that's only 5% of what they should have.  The county should have collected $60,000 in taxes last year, but CCA paid only $3,000.  And what's even worse is that no goddamn cows have been seen on the property in months.  Many local residents pay more in taxes than CCA does.

But heartless shill Steve Owen, a company spokesman, just claimed that the cows had been rotated to another property, and the company isn't doing anything wrong.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ending Privatization, Saving Money

In Kentucky, a group of prison experts has started advocating against the continued privatization of prisons and jails in their state.  In short, they have found that private prisons can cost as much as $10 more per prisoner, per day than county jails, so the group recommends eliminating private prison contracts to save the state and counties money.  They estimate that as much as $8 million in savings could be achieved by just not sending prisoners to private prisons.  Prisoners could then be transferred to county jails, which would bring more revenue to Kentucky's counties and stop the funneling of taxpayer dollars to private corporations that are gouging the government on prices.  It's really a win-win.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Private Medical Care in Prisons

Just a quick link here to a great article detailing the rise of for-profit medical care providers in prisons.  As states (and particularly Departments of Corrections) continue to look for ways to cut budgets in the name of austerity, this is a troubling trend that seems unlikely to quickly fade.  The article also describes some of the common problems with for-profit providers of medical care; namely, that they care more about profits than providing care, and that there is no effective oversight of the system.  So it looks like they fall victim to the same problems as the for-profit prison operators.

CCA Being Sued Over Sexual Assault of Immigrants

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CCA on behalf of three women who were sexually abused at the T. Don Hutto Immigration Detention Center.  The facility was previously the target of a lawsuit that CCA lost over squalid conditions and negligent medical care; after the lawsuit, the facility was transitioned to a female-only prison.  Before, it had housed entire families of immigrants, including children who were forced to dress in prison scrubs and provided with the barest minimum of education and programming.  Converting the facility to female-only has not stopped the problem however, and this is not even the first instance of sexual abuse of immigrants AT THIS PRISON.

To allow CCA to continue to operate this, and other, facilities is a reprehensible moral failure.  We as a nation have an obligation to our fellow human beings, these immigrants, many of whom come to this country seeking asylum from their homelands, to treat them respectfully and humanely.  Despite all the rampant anti-immigrant settlement sweeping the nation, many of the 400,000+ people who pass through ICE custody each year are only guilty of status violations, not a major criminal offense.  Private prison companies are quite efficient at avoiding effective oversight (which is about the only thing they're efficient at), a situation which has permitted companies like CCA to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from taxpayer dollars while systematically abusing and neglecting the human beings in their care.

This is Why I Hate CCA.

Monday, October 24, 2011

They Violate US Treaties

The widespread abuse that routinely takes place at the Pinal County Detention Center, an immigration detention center, violates US treaties on human rights and torture.  That's right; corporations are permitted to systematically abuse immigrants for profit right here on American soil.  These prisoners often suffer rape, are refused medical care, and are subject to extended periods of isolated confinement, all of which violate international law, not to mention any sense of common decency.

Finally Starting to See the Light?

In two separate instances, national politicians have begun to question some of the primary issues surrounding private prisons; namely, security and transparency.  Last week, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, rising star of the Democratic Party, began questioning the secrecy surrounding the planned ICE immigration detention center in Southwest Ranches.  This would be the same facility CCA has successfully persuaded the local town council to keep mum about.  Though she initially supported the proposal, the lack of clarity on the contract negotiations has caused her some alarm, and she has made it known that she expects local communities to have a say in the final word on the facility's construction.

Then, on Friday, Senator Dick Durbin (IL) addressed the sexual abuse of detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.  Recently revealed documents detail extensive sexual harassment and abuse of (primarily female) immigrant detainees.  The immigration detention system is already notoriously devoid of oversight, so the revelation of pervasive sexual abuse should certainly raise alarm.  A large and growing percentage of detained immigrants are in private prisons (more than half of them), and the government has a responsibility to protect them from sexual assault, especially since the majority have not committed any serious criminal offense.  Dick Durbin says he expects "Zero tolerance" on the issue, and I hope he pursues that until it is achieved.

CCA Silencing Dissent

A sort of bizarre and depressing story out of Florida this morning, particularly Southwest Ranches, where local residents are adamantly opposed to the construction of a new immigration detention facility.  Florida is one of only 2 states that requires private prison operators to comply with public records laws (called "Sunshine laws" in Florida), whereby government agencies must disclose records to the public upon request.  Public records laws are essential to a functioning democracy because they permit the public to review government operations.

So despite the fact that private prison operators perform an inherently governmental service, and the fact that Florida's courts have mandated that private prison operators comply with public records laws, CCA doesn't seem to have gotten the message.  At a town council meeting last month, one resident of Southwest Ranches was informed that the town council was prohibited from talking about the proposed immigration detention center.  Why?  Because CCA asked them not to talk.  That's right - a corporation planning on building a private prison that many local residents are opposed to succeeded in silencing the local government and preventing it from discussing the proposal with citizens.  This is a blatant slap in the face of representative democracy and a shining example of how devoted governments can be to serving the interests of corporations.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What CCA's Q2 Earnings Mean

Another piece from a guest author, Elaine Hirsch:

(Elaine Hirsch is a kind of jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and video games.  This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for an online doctorate blog.)

A few weeks ago, Mike covered the $42.4 million in profits that CCA announced as part of its Q2 earnings report.  It doesn't take an online doctorate to figure out that profit equals revenues minus costs, and whitout any significant spike int he supply for prison needs, this article will look at how CCA reaped profits by cutting costs in the recent months.

According to the company's earnings call, headed by CEO Damon Hininger and CFO Todd Mullenfer, one of their main focuses has been on cutting costs in operations.  Citing a company-wide initiative in 2009 aimed at driving greater efficiencies, Hininger admitted that CCA gave merit increases to employees last month, causing a dent in their bottom line.  It seems counter-intuitive that a CEO would apologize for pay raises (especially merit-based ones!), because such raises are essentially investments into employees.  Given that statement, it seems as if CCA values its employees as little as the prisoners they manage, a terrible way to run a company.

Later into the conference call, Mullenger announced that a cost-cutting measure employed by CCA was to reduce average employee benefits and legal expenses.  According to Mullenger, operating expenses per man-day declined 1.4% compared to a year ago.  Apparently, CCA's CFO agrees that reducing investments in their employees in an overall positive for the company.

Mike has covered the immense profits that CCA continues to rake in in his previous posts.  Although it's quite shocking to see a company view employee benefits as a negative, in this case, it's not to suprising.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

GEO Group Still Greasing the Wheels

After contributing astronomical amounts of money to mostly Republicans in the last election cycle (right before the state decided to embark on the biggest prison privatization scheme in human history, coincidentally enough), the GEO Group apparently decided that wasn't enough.  Because they have continued to donate huge sums to Republicans in Florida; $100,000 over the past three months, as the state continues to try to figure out how to hand out taxpayer dollars to shady corporations.

Tennessee Private Prisons Have Higher Incident Rates

(Republished with permission of Private Corrections Institute)

Incident Rates at CCA-run Prisons Higher than at Public Prisons in Tennessee
Private Corrections Institute
October 18, 2011
For Immediate Release

Nashville, TN – According to an analysis of incidents involving assaults and disturbances at publicly-operated and privately-managed prisons in Tennessee from January 2009 to June 2011, incident rates were consistently higher at the state’s three private prisons.

Data obtained from the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) recorded incidents in 11 categories related to assaults on inmates, assaults on employees and institutional disturbances. Data was reported for the state’s 11 prisons operated by the TDOC, as well as three facilities that house state prisoners run by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

The three CCA prisons (South Central Correctional Facility, Hardeman County Correctional Facility and Whiteville Correctional Facility) held between 25 and 27 percent of the state’s prison population between January 2009 and June 2011 – slightly over 5,000 inmates.

While the average number of incidents per month per facility was 17.29 at the state-run prisons in 2009, the average number per month was 31.56 at each CCA facility. In 2010, the average number of incidents per month at each state prison was 19.58, and the average number was 31.69 at each CCA prison. During the first six months of 2011, the average number of incidents per month at state facilities was 20.38, while the average number per month at the CCA prisons was 29.56.

In terms of rates per 1,000 prisoner population, the privately-operated prisons had notably higher incident rates. For 2009, the average rate of incidents at the 11 state-run prisons was 13.92 per 1,000 population, while the average rate at the three CCA facilities was 18.68 – 34% higher than at TDOC prisons. The 2010 average rate of incidents at TDOC facilities was 14.51 per 1,000 population and the average rate at the CCA prisons was 18.68 – 28.7% higher than at the state-operated facilities. During the first six months of 2011, the average rate of incidents at TDOC prisons was 15.0 per 1,000 population while the average rate at the CCA facilities was 17.44 – 16.2% higher than at the TDOC prisons.

According to the TDOC’s website, the 11 state-operated prison complexes all are rated either close or maximum security (not including minimum-security annexes), while two of the three CCA prisons are rated medium (a lower security designation) and one is rated close. Thus, even though more higher-security prisoners – close and maximum – were housed in state prisons, the CCA facilities still had higher average numbers of incidents per facility per month and higher average incident rates over the time period examined. In fact, during the 30-month period from January 2009 through June 2011, the average rate of incidents at TDOC prisons exceeded the rate at the privately-operated facilities only twice – in December 2009 and March 2011.

“This research confirms what other studies over the years have found – that privately-operated prisons have higher rates of assaults and other violent incidents than their public counterparts,” said Alex Friedmann, president of the Private Corrections Institute (PCI), who conducted the Tennessee research. “For example, according to an Associated Press report earlier this month, a CCA facility in Idaho had more assaults than all other Idaho state prisons combined, based on 2010 data,” Friedmann stated. CCA settled a class-action lawsuit involving the Idaho Correctional Center in September 2011, agreeing to make changes to reduce the high levels of violence at that facility.

“CCA will likely complain about the messenger, as the Private Corrections Institute is opposed to prison privatization,” said Friedmann, a former prisoner who served time at a CCA-operated prison in the 1990s. “But the message, which is based on data reported by the state’s Department of Correction for both public and private facilities, is very clear: privately-operated prisons in Tennessee have higher average numbers and rates of assaults and disturbances than public prisons, even though TDOC facilities house more prisoners with higher security levels. This indicates a serious problem with private prison management and also signifies a problem with the state’s oversight of the CCA-operated facilities.”

A copy of the statistical analysis is attached and the source data obtained from the TDOC is available upon request. While the higher rate of incidents at private prisons has been decreasing (from 34.2% higher in 2009 to 16.2% higher in June 2011), this seems to have more to do with a rise in incidents at state prisons rather than significantly fewer incidents at CCA facilities.

PCI’s Tennessee research mirrors other studies that have shown private prisons have higher rates of violence than their publicly-operated counterparts. According to a 2001 Bureau of Justice Assistance report, for example, private prisons had 65.8% more inmate assaults and 48.7% more assaults on staff than public prisons per 1,000 prisoner population. Further, a Tennessee study conducted by the Select Oversight Committee on Corrections in 1995 found that the CCA-operated South Central Correctional Facility “reported significantly more injuries to prisoners and staff,” with 214 injuries reported over a 15-month period compared with 21 and 51 injuries reported at two comparable state prisons.
The Private Corrections Institute (PCI) is a non-profit citizen watchdog organization that works to educate the public about the significant dangers and pitfalls associated with the privatization of correctional services. PCI maintains an online collection of news reports and other resources related to the private prison industry, and holds the position that for-profit prisons have no place in a free and democratic society.

For further information, please contact:
Alex Friedmann, President                 Ken Kopczynski, Ex. Director
Private Corrections Institute              Private Corrections Institute
(615) 495-6568                                           (850) 980-0887

Privatization = Government Waste

Proponents of privatizing government services (i.e. "conservatives") love to talk about supposed improvements in efficiency and delivery of services the private sector offers compared to the government.  In reality, attempts to privatize government services, including everything from military service to social security, are nothing more than government welfare for wealthy corporate donors and empowered individuals.  Politicians give contracts to companies and individuals who contribute to their campaigns and causes, not to companies who will perform the services in good faith.  The private prison industry is a shining example of this phenomenon.

Which brings me to this article.  I'll let the author speak for herself: "Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have continued to use troubled detention facilities despite documenting flagrant violations of their own detention standards, including poor medical care and mistreatment of detainees."

ICE's own records indicate a litany of areas in which private prison operators have failed to live up to contractual obligations and failed to operate safe, humane facilities.  Yet they continue to get contracts, due in large part to the millions of dollars the industry spends in lobbying and campaign contributions every year.

Prisons and Profit

             A teaser from the CNBC documentary on private prisons that debuted last night.  It airs again on Friday at 8pm Eastern.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Update on Oklahoma Riot

Thankfully, it does not appear as though anyone was killed in the riot at the CCA prison in Sayre, Oklahoma earlier this week.  However, 46 people were injured, and many needed to be transported off-site for medical attention at a hospital.  3 men are still listed in critical condition.

The prison suffered "extensive damage" in the riot among prisoners who had been shipped in from California, which has nearly 10,000 prisoners serving their sentences in states other than California.  8 prisoners remain in the hospital (including the aforementioned 3 in critical condition), and the prison is on an indefinite lockdown for the foreseeable future.

Of Course

Quick link here to an article describing how privatizing prisons isn't all it's cracked up to be.  After Ohio became the first state to sell a prison to a private company a few weeks back, it looks like the decision is already having some unintended repercussions.  The city of Conneaut recently discovered that its police department, not state troopers, would be responsible for dealing with disturbances at the facility that require outside intervention.  This means an additional 2,000 people, all of them prisoners, will suddenly come under the watch of the police department, which does have not nearly enough resources to handle that influx.  The city is already estimating that it might go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt as a result.

Federal Grand Jury Investigation of GEO Group

All the commotion earlier this year over the failed attempt to privatize 29 correctional facilities in the state of Florida sort of overshadowed the seedy history of prison privatization in the state.  You may recall from before that the FBI had launched an investigation into the circumstances that led a few powerful budget committee members to try to force through last-minute amendments to force the privatization of the Blackwater Correctional Facility, a GEO Group prison.  Kind of the same way they tried to force through the 29-facility privatization plan in a last-minute budget amendment (a deal that a court ruled was illegal according to state law).

Now the probe has developed further, with a federal grand jury reviewing evidence of corruption on the part of former Speaker of the Florida House, Ray Sansom and his dealing with the GEO Group leading up to the construction of the prison.  This whole situation is a hot mess that will hopefully reveal the rampant corruption in the state's politics and encourage future Florida politicians to resist efforts to privatize their prison system.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

More Coverage of "Gladiator School"

Just wanted to alert you all to two new articles detailing the catastrophe that was/is the Idaho Correctional Center, informally called the "Gladiator School" by prisoners housed there due to its extreme levels of violence. The ACLU recently settled a lawsuit with CCA for an undisclosed sum.

The first article details how the prison remains the most violent prison in the state of Idaho, even after the lawsuit.

The second continues to discuss the violence and then tries to figure out what lessons can be learned from the experience.  My two cents: don't privatize prisons.  I know, you're shocked.

Supreme Court to Hear Private Prison Case

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on a case involving the GEO Group which could have broad implications for both employees and residents of private prisons.  In Minneci v. Pollard, the Court will hear arguments over whether or not prisoners held in private prisons should be permitted to sue corrections officers in those facilities for violations of their Constitutional rights.

The case is important because of the implications it has for private contractors working with the government.  Currently, they are protected by a form of qualified immunity, basically meaning they can't be sued for actions performed in the course of their duty.  However, since private prison guards aren't officially government agents, the Court seeks to determine whether they should be protected by this immunity.  If the Court holds that they should be protected, it would have to hold essentially that private prisons perform an inherently governmental function (a question which they have never really focused on), which could impact standards for contracts and performance for the industry.

Oral arguments are set for November 1st, 2011, morning session (11am-noon).