Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Am I Not Surprised?

Now that some time has passed since Sheriff Nugent of Hernando County, Florida, decided to take over operations of the jail from CCA, it seems appropriate to take a look at the transition process.

Unfortunately, it's looking to be a long and costly process. The jail needs millions of dollars worth of maintenance work to make up for "22 years of neglect" by CCA. The jail has serious problems with rat and roach infestations, as well as plumbing and sprinkler issues. In short, CCA declined to perform any real maintenance on the jail in their 22 years of operating it.

You get what you pay for.

Blatant Conflict of Interest

State Senator Joe Negron serves in Florida, which has a part-time legislature with a salary of about $30,000 per year. Which means that the state legislators often have other jobs to support themselves. Joe Negron happens to be an attorney, and a pretty well-established one at that, because one of his clients is the GEO Group. I'm sure there won't be any question as to his impartiality in deciding any matters related to prison privatization....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Mark Ciavarella was just convicted on more than 25 charges, including racketeering, for his involvement in a scheme to send juveniles to a youth detention center for kickbacks from the facility's builder. He is likely to receive a sentence of 12 or more years. While I'm glad to see some measure of justice, I'm not sure if this goes far enough. Ciavarella made more than $2 million by sending undeserving kids into prison, which it doesn't appear that he'll have to pay back.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Georgia, which already has the 4th-highest incarcerated population in the country, wants to further privatize its prison system. It's typical republican jargon, mainly focused on how the private sector can provide better services (they can't) for a cheaper price (again, they can't). In fact, the new governor said, "I think we should look at a lot of privatization."

I sometimes feel like for all the progress that's ever made in society, we often take 2 steps back before taking one forward. In this case, and seemingly all concerning private prisons, it seems like republicans are looking to take us backwards.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My (Least) Favorite Time of Year

That's right - earnings time! The time of year I'm reminded just how sick people can be, and how much money they can make in the process. First up this time is the GEO Group.

GEO posted a $23.5 million profit in the last quarter of 2010. That comes out to about $8 million in profit every month, or more than $11,000 per hour, or more than $185 EVERY EFFING MINUTE. That's right. GEO turned a profit of nearly $200 every single minute by simply failing to live up to contractual obligations and neglecting the needs of everyone in its "care." Our world is so effed.

Why I Hate Mark Ciavarella Today

Ciavarella, the judge who sent thousands of undeserving youth into prison for minor crimes in a scheme that netted him more than $2 million in kickbacks, just recently testified at his trial. In his testimony, he claims the payments were a "finder's fee" for helping steer business to the builder of the juvenile detention center (nevermind the fact that as a judge, he's not supposed to be accepting money other than his salary, period).

His testimony is a study in nuanced language and how legal experts try to manipulate the semantics of laws to get themselves out of hot water. It's basically a lot of hogwash, with Ciavarella trying to justify years of clearly unjustifiable acts.

But what really got me was a paraphrase from his testimony, where he remarked that he was simply "trying to do right by the county's troubled youth."

Eff you you asshole. You knew exactly what you were doing, and to try to hide behind some bogus claim that you did this in the interest of the youth is disingenuous at best. You are a prime example of the corruptibility inherent in profit-driven enterprise. You are a disgusting excuse for a human being. I hate you so much, Mark Ciavarella.

Logical Fallacies

I guess Ric Scott, the new Governor of Florida, isn't a frequent reader of WhyIHateCCA. Because if he was, he wouldn't make such baseless assertions about his push to privatize more of the state's prison system.

Governor Scott claims he is not motivated to push for privatization by the hundreds of thousands of dollars the GEO Group has donated to him personally and the Republican party. I tend to think that's a pretty blatant lie, but that's beside the point (at least the point of this post).

No, Scott says he is pushing to privatize the system for a few reasons, the most prominent of which is to save money. Well sorry Mr. Scott, but private prisons rarely if ever offer the cost-savings they promise, and have at times been found to be more expensive than government-run prisons.

He also claims his privatization push is motivated by a desire to "do a good job of taking care of our prison system, [watch] how we spend the money, [and make] sure that when people leave prison that they don't come back." But again, Mr. Scott, there is no evidence or logic to back up those lofty goals. Private prisons, to put it simply, suck in comparison to state-run facilites. In every single operational aspect. They are less safe, less secure, and pose more of a threat to both staff and prisoners. Private prisons are far less accountable and transparent to the public, including in terms of how money is spent. And finally, private prisons offer less programming than state-run facilities, and prisoners released from them have higher rates of recidivism.

So all the cost-savings you think your state might realize from further privatization, Mr. Scott, aren't really what they're cracked up to be. Every private prison in this country offers at best a substandard quality of service. By further privatizing the system, you would be making a terrible investment with your state's tax dollars, and you will wind up costing Floridians more in the long run, in terms of the financial responsibilty of dealing with people who don't get adequate rehabilitation services while in prison, and the social costs of having prisoners re-enter society when they're not prepared to be productive citizens. This is a short-sighted potential solution to a major problem, that will have ramifications for years, if not decades, to come.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

There's a First Time for Everything

I never thought I'd see the day when a Republican legislator takes $5,000 from the GEO Group, uses that money to conduct a public-opinion poll on a proposed private prison, then pushes to block that prison based on negative feedback from the poll. But that's exactly what Ron Angle, council chairman for Northampton County, PA, did.

For as pessimistic as I get about the influence of money in politics, especially in the private prison arena, this was an amazing story to see. Bravo, Mr. Angle, for not caving to corporate influence and protecting the interests of the people you serve. It's almost sad that I feel the need to congratulate a politician for merely doing the right thing, but regardless, I'm very glad he made the right decision.

They Violate The First Amendment

Six Hawaiian prisoners housed in two separate private prisons in Arizona are suing CCA because staff at the facilities have repeatedly denied them the freedom to practice their religion. Staff have "Consistently denied written requests to practice their religion, to establish a sacred place in the prison yard and to have access to a spiritual adviser and sacred items."

It's not like these guys are asking for any special treatment. In fact, they want to simply participate in a ritual that Hawaiian prisoners housed on the island are permitted to. There are no lawsuits, or even complaints, about religious freedom and expression being stifled in Hawaii. Just another reason the governor needs to continue to make good on his pledge to take all Hawaiian prisoners out of private facilities, and return them to the island.

Ponte Takes the Next Step

Former CCA Warden Joe Ponte has been endorsed by a legislative committee in Maine, part of his confirmation process after being nominated by new Governor Paul LePage. Now, all he needs to be appointed Maine's next secretary of Corrections is approval from the state Senate.

Thankfully though, he'll sell his shares of CCA if confirmed. So I'm sure he won't in any way encourage privatization of the state system....

UPDATE: It's official, the Maine Senate has confirmed former CCA warden Joe Ponte to be Maine's next Commissioner of Corrections. Effing awesome.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Damnit, Arizona!

I just don't get it sometimes. Following a multiple-prisoner escape from a private prison in Arizona last year that left an elderly couple dead and sparked a multi-state manhunt, 10 separate bills were introduced in the Arizona legislature that would increase oversight of these notoriously poorly-run facilities.

Not a single effing one of them even got a hearing. NOT EVEN A FUCKING HEARING. They were blocked by, of course, a Republican who thinks they were "unnecessary." How can elected representatives continue to turn a blind eye to the atrocities and failures of the private prison industry? And what makes this situation even worse is that the state is still requesting proposals for more private prison beds.

Since when is it sane to ignore a problem, wait until something major happens, then encourage more of the same?

I hate private prisons, and the stupid goddamn legislators who keep them in business.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Story that Just Keeps Getting Worse

The builder of the two private juvenile centers Judge Ciavarella was sending kids to without justification in Luzerne County, PA just testified that he didn't think the money he paid to Ciavarella was a kickback or bribe. No, according to Mr. Mericle, it was a "finder's fee" for Ciavarella steering him to a developer that got the project off the ground.

I'm not going to put much faith in Mr. Mericle's testimony, however, considering he lied to federal investigators and then a grand jury about the payments and his relationship with Ciavarella. He has had a long history with Ciavarella, which apparently has included him giving the judge $5,000 in cash every Christmas. Yeah, I'm certain that the guy who lied to a federal grand jury and gives out $5,000 in cash every year to his "friend" is a reputable and trustworthy witness.

When can we just throw this scumbag behind bars?

Mounting Opposition

Grassroots organizations in Arizona are beginning to make their presence felt in opposition to the state's RFP (Request for Proposals) for 5,000 new private prison beds. Arizona has had a long and tumultuous relationship with the industry, culminating in last year's multiple escape from a private prison in Kingman and the state's cancellation of its previous RFP in order to revise the oversight restrictions.

The American Friends' Service Committee is holding a press conference next Tuesday, February 15 at 11:00am to discuss the RFP and express their opposition. I strongly encourage all my Arizona readers to come out and show your support for AFSC.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Florida's New Governor Loves Private Prisons

Rick Scott, Florida's new governor, is a big fan of private prisons. Such a big fan in fact that he wants to cut hundreds of state jobs and ship more Florida prisoners to private prisons (likely the Blackwater Correctional Facility, which has been under scrutiny from the moment it was proposed in a last-minute budget amendment by Florida's former speaker of the house, who's currently facing charges of bribery and corruption).

There is one piece of the article I find very interesting; he proposes mandating a 7% cost savings from private prisons (which happens to already be a law in Florida). I don't think any private prisons are able to save that much money and still provide effective services. In fact, numerous reports have been released documenting private prisons' inability to offer significant cost savings, including IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA. I will be interested to see if A) private prisons in Florida are actually able to deliver these savings, and B) if they fail to do so, what the repercussion(s) will be from a governor and state legislature that are seemingly very friendly to the industry.

Speaking of the governor's cozy relationship with the industry, he attended a Super Bowl party at the house of a major Florida lobbyist who represents the GEO Group. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that may not have been the most appropriate place for the governor to have spent his Super Sunday.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

An Insider's Perspective

Today's link goes to a great article by a man incarcerated in a private prison in California. He titles his piece "The Out-Of-State Transfer Scam," and goes on to describe how private prison companies are manipulating California's overcrowded prison system by moving prisoners to facilities in states where it is cheaper to operate. It's a really great piece that offers some perspective on how prisoners feel like commodities when they're transferred to facilities hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from their friends and families.

I know I sit on here and bitch a lot about the shady business practices and failures to adhere to contracts that are seemingly endemic to the industry. But I feel I don't often properly portray the human impact and suffering caused by these companies whose sole focus is profitability. Boston Woodward really brings it home for me.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Greasing the Wheels

An interesting piece out of Politico details the funraising prowess of Haley Barbour, the governor of Tennessee and chairman of the Republican Governors' Association. Barbour's fundraising and political influence are so prolific that his name is being floated as an early candidate for the 2012 presidential race. Which might serve the GEO Group well, considering they donated $13,000 to his PAC in just 2009, about 10 times larger than the average donation.

A Reminder of Why I Do This

Today marks the beginning of the trial of Mark Ciavarella, a judge in Luzerne County PA who faces 39 charges stemming from his receiving kickbacks from a private prison company to send juveniles to their facility, whether they deserved to be incarcerated or not. In a scheme that took place over years, Ciavarella sent thousands of juveniles into a private prison, receiving more than $2 million in kickbacks for doing so.

The article has a great and detailed history of the case, including Ciavarella's mind-blowing conviction that he "did nothing illegal," and that he therefore shouldn't be in trouble.

I hate you, Mark Ciavarella. You're a disgusting excuse for a human being and its is reprehensible that you had such authority to ruin the lives of so many children. I hope they throw the book at you and put your despicable ass in prison.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I'm Calling BS

A company that used to have a contract with Florida to provide monitoring services for its parolees just lost its bid to re-up on its contract. They were underbid by BI, Inc., a company that the GEO Group purchased about a month ago. BI undercut the company's proposal by nearly 50% per monitoring device, which could be reflect the fact that BI's system has major operational problems that resulted in an 11-hour blackout just a few months ago in a different jurisdiction.

Regardless, the whole contract procurement process reeks of corruption and Pro Tech, the company that was underbid by BI, has filed a complaint. BI released a statement saying "This was an open and proper procurement process. … We are confident in our proposal and our ability to provide quality GPS tracking services at a competitive price."

I'm calling BS on this. BI got this contract because of the GEO Group's long and deep-rooted relationship with Florida politics. The GEO Group is based in Boca Raton, and has not only sent industry leaders to government positions; it also donates heavily to state legislators. Their influence was quite obvious in last year's last-second attempt to force the state to populate a GEO prison that was built on speculative information in the first place. This is simply another exmample of the types of political favors the private prison industry enjoys as a result of its powerful lobbying work.

To make it very clear: the GEO Group contributed $25,000 to the governor's campaign last year. Pro Tech has only contributed a little over $7,000 to all Floridian legislators and candidates since 2002. That right there is the deciding factor in who won, and who lost, this contract.

UPDATE: Turns out this isn't the only shady business practice employed by a GEO subsidiary. BI, Inc. is being sued for patent infringement by another private monitoring company whose technology they stole. I'm thinking more and more that GEO's acquisition of BI makes perfect sense

Dubious Decisions

John Kasich, Ohio's new governor, has come under scrutiny because he has failed to appoint to a single cabinet position someone who isn't white. Aside from that rather blatant racism, he has also made some questionable hiring decisions in other areas. Namely, his new Secretary of Corrections used to be a CCA employee.

Well it also turns out that Kasich has other ties to the private prison industry, in the form of some of his closest advisors. The man Kasich calls his "closest friend" runs a lobbying firm that represents CCA. Two other men who are partners in a separate lobbying firm that represents the GEO Group served as high-level strategists in Kasich's campaign.

All of which makes Kasich's recent pledge that there "nobody will get a special deal" all the more dubious. I hope he at least tries to live up to that promise, though I have little faith he actually will. This type of revolving-door politics is one of the biggest contributors to our current prison industrial complex. I fear the repurcussions of having industry lobbyists serve as high-level advisors and strategists to people in positions of power, because these types of relationships almost inevitably screw over average citizens.

Economic Side-Effects of Privatization

A bill is currently pending before the Kentucky Legislature that would send 4,000 KY prisoners to private facilities, removing them from county jails. Not only does this move have the potential to bankrupt multiple jails, thereby costing hundreds of jobs; it gets better. It turns out that CCA, who would get the prisoners, charges nearly $15 per prisoner, per day MORE than the county jails house them for. So Kentucky is about to be charged more for a lower quality of service, while screwing residents out of jobs.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Communication Breakdown

A small piece from this article sort of blew my mind when I read it. ICE has contracted with the GEO Group to open a new detention center (no surprise there) in Texas. Now, the GEO Group has had a long and sordid history, especially in Texas, particularly at the Reeves DC and the Hutto DC. Multiple lawsuits have been filed (and most won or settled) over GEO's failure to provide medical care and their systematic denial of constitutional rights. Thankfully, opposition has already started to spring up in Texas from a couple of grassroots organizations who don't want to see yet another abusive GEO facility in their state.

So even though the GEO Group has been in operation for decades, and contracting with the feds for nearly that long while being repeatedly sued for various failures to protect or safeguard people, the ICE PR person for the southern region is clueless.

"Nina Pruneda, an ICE Public Affairs officer for South and Central Texas, said she has not heard of any opposition to the new detention center in Karnes County, and she said she is unaware of any lawsuits against GEO."

I'm sorry, but Ms. Pruneda is either completely ignorant or blatantly unqualified to do her job. It's absurd that a goddamn ICE spokesperson doesn't even know that the company ICE is about to sign yet another contract with is a monumental clusterfugazy of epic proportions. I guess maybe this ignornace is what allows for ICE to continually enter into contracts with a company that fails to adhere to them, time and time again.

This is just another drop in the huge bucket that is immigration detention, a booming industry in this country. But the complete lack of any substantive knowledge about the GEO Group's history is unacceptable. This is being billed as a "detention center," as practically every immigration facility has been, but it's going to be a prison, and a shitty one at that. Don't be fooled by semantics - the GEO Group is in the business of denying care and protection to immigrants. Period.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cutting Off the Nose to Spite the Face

Governor Rick Scott of Florida has promised to find $1 billion worth of savings in his state's corrections budget over the next seven years. Florida has the third-highest prison population in the country, attributable to many of the same maladies that plague other systems; too-strict sentencing laws, lack of judicial discretion, and, maybe most importantly, failure to prepare prisoners to return to society as healthy, productive citizens. So what does the governor hope to do? Privatize more prisons and healthcare services to save the money.

I guess the fact that prisoners coming from private prisons have higher rates of recidivism and recieve less programming wasn't really important to him. But I can't blame him; it's typical conservative ideology to want to privatize everything, even if privatizing is neither the efficient nor effective solution. In reality, it's all about steering contracts to companies that have established strong relationships with conservative politicians, not helping prisoners or saving money. Due to the overriding profit motive inherent in privatization, prisoners and the services they receive will suffer, and Floridians will in the long run, too.

Behind-the-Scenes Work

Tom Ingram is a very well-connected and influential lobbyist and PR person in Tenessee politics, with connections all the way to Washington, DC. He was the campaign manager for the governor and both Senators in their most recent elections, helping to usher in a republican-dominated government in Tennessee. That should bode very well for CCA, which already enjoys a close relationship with the government in its home state, as they also happen to be a client of Mr. Ingram's lobbying firm.

The Definition of Insanity?

Arizona has had a lot of troubles with the private prisons it contracts with over the past few decades; the Kingman escapes last July were only the most recent in a long history of troubles (including those at Saguaro). Additionally, recent reports have found that privatization may not even save any money for the state, which is really the only selling point the privateers have going for them. Thankfully, the state rescinded a request for proposals for 5,000 new private prison beds following the Kingman escapes. Unfortunately however, the state has re-issued that request for private prison companies to pitch them on new beds.

I simply don't understand why the state continues to fail to learn from its past mistakes. Governor Brewer is a strong supporter of private prisons, possibly because some of her most trusted staffers currently are employed by, or used to work for, CCA. The new RFP has new protocols for companies pitching the new bed, but it's still a call to increase capacity among companies who haven't earned the trust they have. I guess the influence CCA bought in Arizona has truly paid off; the state seems incapable of breaking its addiction to private prisons, despite all the evidence demonstrating how terrible privatization is.

In fact, the Kingman prison still hasn't even responded properly to government pressure to improve its operations. A few state officials are unhappy with progress at the prison, with the House minority leader remarking that "they're still pretty far away from meeting their obligation... obviously their response has been inadequate." Basically, MTC has failed to properly secure and maintain the facility, even with the heightened scrutiny from the escapes. But I'm sure the company that wins the contract from this new proposal won't suffer from any of the same sorts of deficiencies that led to the escapes...