Thursday, June 30, 2011

American Prisons are Going Private

National Day of Solidarity

The Prison Industry Divestment Campaign is hosting a National Day of Solidarity tomorrow, July 1, 2011. The campaign is a call to stand in opposition to the anti-immigrant legislation that has passed in states like Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama.

If you are in any of these areas, please come out to show your support:
Atlanta, GA
Bay Area, CA
Denver, CO
Indianapolis, IN
Wichita, KS
Los Angeles, CA
Miami, FL
Elizabeth, NJ
New York, NY
Austin, TX
Tuscon, AZ
Bellingham, WA

For more information please contact Enlace at or 213-284-3802

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I Guess 3 Escapes and 2 Murders Don't Warrant Improving Security

A recent report by the Arizona Republic, which reviewed audits, correspondence, and interviews from the Department of Corrections reveals that many of the security lapses that led to the escape of 3 murderers from the MTC facility in Kingman last year have not been resolved. In fact, 14 prisons, a mixture of private and state-run ones, suffer from the security flaws that allowed these prisoners to escape and elude the law for weeks, while killing a vacationing elderly couple in the process.

Among the failures in security are "faulty alarm systems, holes under fences big enough to crawl through, and broken perimeter lights and cameras." The report also found a systemic ignorance of proper security protocols at nearly all the facilities studied.

The amount and extent of these security failures is just staggering, but they come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the industry and its all-consuming drive for profit. By cutting corners in these areas, the private companies that run these prisons put their staff, their prisoners, and the general public at great risk. They continuously fail to live up to contractual obligations because executives at these companies are greedy, despicable people who not only profit from incarcerating people, but do so in such an unscrupulous manner.

The first report to come out on this is linked in the title; another, appearing in the Tuscon Citizen, can be found here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Report on Detainee Abuses

According to a new report on immigration detention, in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) custody "medical requests are ignored, detainee grievances are scoffed at, and immigrants are held in violation of their due-process rights for inhumane amounts of time."

In analyzing nearly 500 grievances, the ACLU determined that few are given any sort of serious consideration by the government. These are grievances from primarily civilian detainees; meaning these folks committed no crime other than being in the country illegally. The Obama administration has claimed it is committed to improving conditions for these people, but no tangible improvements have been seen as of yet.

Our immigration detention system is a deplorable stain on our reputation. A large portion of the system is run by private companies, mainly the GEO Group (and CCA to a lesser extent), which Dick Cheney (who obviously had a strong hand in our immigration policy during his tenure) used to be invested in. But that should come as no surprise, since he was also invested in Halliburton and Blackwater, two other companies that earned millions during the Bush administration by destroying lives and livelihoods.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Huge Wrongful Death Verdict

The GEO Group has just been slapped with a $6.5 million verdict for the wrongful death of a prisoner in their facility in Lawton, Oklahoma. In 2005, Ronald Sites was strangled to death by his cellmate. During the course of the trial, attorneys for Sites' family demonstrated gross negligence on the part of the staff at the facility.

The killer had actually spent time in solitary confinement previously for threatening to kill his cellmate. He had previously stabbed another inmate and been found to be in possession of a weapon twice while incarcerated.

Sites was supposed to be in protective custody for crying out loud; a classification which should have prevented him from being housed with any other prisoners. Not only was he housed with multiple prisoners while in PC; he was housed with one that had a history of violence and had previously talked about killing his cellmate.

$6.5 million wasn't nearly enough. Two of the jurors were pushing for a penalty of $25 million to be imposed, but they were overruled during deliberations. I'm sure this isn't justice for Mr. Sites' family; hopefully it will at least serve as a wake-up call to the GEO Group to have them clean up their act.

But honestly, I doubt it will.

Staff Charged with Having Sex with Inmate

An MTC guard has just been charged with having sexual intercourse with a female prisoner he was supposed to be guarding. This is exactly what happens when you hire unqualified staff and don't train them properly.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

FBI Investigates Blatant Corruption in Florida

As I've reported on before, the GEO Group spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying the Florida legislature over the past few legislative sessions, culminating first in the state's giving them $110 million to build a prison, then turning over the correctional services of 18 counties to private control in the biggest prison privatization scheme I've ever seen. Thankfully, the FBI has launched an investigation into the rampant and blatant corruption that engulfed the Florida legislature surrounding these actions.

Former Budget Chief and Speaker of the House Ray Sansom, who now sits in prison on corruption and fraud charges, is one of the primary targets of the investigation. While he was budget chief, GEO gave a presentation before the legislature on a proposal to expand their services within the state. A month later, Sansom visited the corporate home of the GEO Grop, suposedly on "personal business" (though this was the only trip he took there in 4 years as a representative). The month after that, he introduced a very last-minute provision into the budget bill to provide for $110 million to be appropriated to the GEO Group for the construction of what became the Blackwater Correctional Facility.

The prison was built on prison population projections that anticipated the state system would continue to grow; rather, it shrank. But the new budget chief, JD Alexander, tried to come to the rescue of the GEO Group, introducing his own last-minute budget amendment in the 2010 session to try to force the state to depopulate state prisons to send prisoners to the private one. Of course, he had received generous donations from the industry as had Ray Sansom. You just can't make this stuff up.

Anyhoo, as I said the FBI is currently investigating the circumstances that led the state to give a multiple hundred-million dollar handout to a company with a long track record of human rights abuses and contract noncompliance. And DBA press has just released hundreds of documents obtained through the investigation that chronicle some of this sordid history.

I'm just thankful that our FBI apparently has some shred of decency left.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

National Day of Action

On July 1st, the Prison Industry Divestment campaign is holding a national day of action in Georgia to call attention to the copycat of SB1070 in Arizona that's set to take effect. If you live in or near Georgia, I urge you to come out and support the campaign

Excellent Report

In a fantastic new report titled "Gaming the System," Paul Ashton at the Justice Policy Institute delves into the seedy world of private prisons and how they have manipulated political systems to ensure a steady flow of prisoners for decades. The natural result of these actions has been a dramatic increase in our incarcerated population that correlates with the advent of modern private prisons.

The report shows that "As revenues of private prison companies have grown over the past decade, the companies have had more resources with which to build political power, and they have used this power to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Scary Bill

Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX) recently introduced one of the scarier pieces of legislation I've seen in a while. The "Keep Our Communities Safe" Act would give the US government authority to indefinitely detain "dangerous" immigrants who cannot be removed from the country. It would give DHS authority to detain immigrants for things as minor as passing a bad check, and mandate that DHS prosecute immigrants for crimes predating 1988 (so crimes that occured a quarter of a century ago). It also prevent immigrants from filing habeas corpus claims to challenge their incarceration.

Basically, it would install a dictatorial detention system for immigrants that gives our government authority to indefinitely detain people. I guess he thinks this is OK because the target of the legislation is people who aren't citizens, but this sort of practice tears at the moral and ethical fiber of our criminal justice system. We already lead the entire world in incarcerating people, by a wide margin, and our immigration detention system has grown exponentially over the past decade as irrational fear of immigrants has been stirred up by conservatives. Our immigration detention system went from holding around 3,000 people per day before 9/11 to nearly 40,000 on any given day after it; and now a very large percentage of detained immigrants are in the "care" of private prisons.

It has already been estimated that this bill could cost us as much as $45 million more per year to incarcerate all the individuals who would fall prey to this harsh and rigorous prosecution. So much for fiscal conservativism. It amazes me how Republicans continue to funnel money to huge corporations that don't need it while complaining that the poor are such a drain on society. I tend to think it's the giant multi-national corporations incarcerating an ever-increasing number of people and perpetrating at least 3 wars against nations that showed no agression toward us that are drains on society. Maybe I'm crazy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Just Ridiculous

New Jersey contracts out its halfway house services to a private, for-profit company called Community Education Centers (CEC). They do this despite the fact that the state has a law explicitly stating that the only companies to whom these services can be contracted must be nonprofit.

CEC made headlines (but I neglected to report on them) last year for the wrongful releases of at least 7 prisoners from a jail in Delaware County, PA. They, like all other private corrections providers, cut corners in every area of operations, especially staffing, which led to the wrongful releases and a host of other issues typical of the industry.

So the NJ state comptroller's office audited the company and its contract performance. You're going to be shocked at what they found. "The audit released Wednesday found the state failed to take appropriate action against state-funded halfway house providers following inmate escapes. The state also overpaid other providers and paid some providers that were not fully accredited."

I know. It blew my mind too. The state actually overpaid the company by more than half a million dollars in a few short years. Three of six halfway houses audited didn't even have on site secured facilities which they contractually obligated to have. The lack of these facilities led to the escapes which prompted the audit, but which were apparently not enough to warrant the state exercising its right to fine the company $30,000 per escape.

The Huge Revolving Door

The private prison industry, like many other private industries that have interests in politics (think oil, pharmaceuticals, energy companies, etc.), routinely sees "revolving-door" activity between its leaders and the political scene. What I mean by this is that leaders in the industry often get jobs in government where they can directly influence legislation and policy to the benefit of the industry they left, and vice-versa. They also routinely get gigs lobbying for major companies, and the three different positions (and the circulation between them) make for the "revolving door" effect, which blurs the lines of distinction between corporations and government.

The real danger of this situation is in the inevitable conflicts of interest that arise when people with connections in a certain industry find themselves in positions that wield power and influence over how that industry operates. It is not healthy for a society to be regulated based on the interests and desires of industry leaders looking to protect corporate interests, which almost invariably run counter to social and human interests.

So it's particularly troublesome that the former director of the largest prison system in the country, the federal Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin, was just hired by CCA as an executive VP. He retired from the BOP on May 7, and less than three weeks later was hired by CCA, a company that receives approximately 40% of its operating revenue from the federal government, including the BOP. Lappin is now one of two former BOP directors on CCA's payroll.

While going from government to the private sector isn't nearly as troubling as its opposite, it still raises questions about the influence CCA has on the BOP and its relationship with the leaders of our federal prison system. Having a private company with a long track record of human rights abuses and contract noncompliance be apparently close enough with the leaders of a government agency supposed to be in charge of overseeing its operations explains a lot about how CCA is able to get away with all the terrible things they do

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Private Prisons Suck in Australia Too

Five GEO Group guards in Australia were just fired over the scandal I reported on previously. Basically, they had been using surveillance cameras at the prison to watch female inmates undress and shower.

This is what happens when private corporations are given control over inherently governmental functions. The overriding profit motive led the GEO Group to hire unsatisfactory employees, at this facility and every other one they operate.

Monday, June 13, 2011

It's Only Going to Get Worse

A prisoner with a long history of mental illness and prior suicide attempts killed himself last week while under the guard of GEOCare, a subsidiary of the GEO Group. This would be the same company who just spent 3/4 of the million dollars spent on lobbying for the prison industry in just this past election cycle. Lobbying that resulted in the state's super pro-privatization Governor successfully shepherding his plan to privatize the correctional services of 18 counties through the legislature.

The GEO Group has long had a cozy relationship with the Floridian government, being based in Boca Raton and peddling their influence for years through campaign contributions and lobbying. They managed to convince the state to embark on one of the most ambitious prison privatization schemes in history, which they will likely stand to benefit the most from given their relationship and the ease with which they've been awarded contracts by the government in the past. And they will now get control over thousands of new prisoners, some of whom will undoubtedly have similar psychiatric situations to Mr. Bragman.

This is shaping up to be a disaster of monumental proportions. This is what Florida's taxpayers have just unwillingly signed up for.

Shortchanging Staff

Private prisons are often pitched to small rural areas desperate for economic development and jobs as a great way to create both. Unfortunately though, when contracts don't come through as expected, those claims rarely materialize. Raymondville, Texas found this out the hard way.

MTC runs an ICE detention center in town, which recently had to lay off 120 employees because it could not secure the contracts it had intended on getting, meaning they would have less prisoners than anticipated. As a now former employee said, “That’s a lot of people... It’s a small town, that’s a heavy blow.”

But what's even worse is that MTC for years had not been paying these employees their required wages. They were being paid $8-9 an hour (basically minimum wage, to supervise criminals) for nearly 5 years, during which time they were supposed to have been paid at least $14.50 per hour. MTC has not paid these back wages and is delaying as long as possible in doing so, also refusing to pay other wages due and 401Ks.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Grassroots Opposition

The title link goes to an article detailing the work of a grassroots campaign in Globe, Arizona, to prevent the construction of yet another private prison in one of the most private prison-heavy states in the country. The plan was pitched in secret to town officials, with the assumption of community support even though many folks had no idea of the proposal. Once the folks in town caught wind, widespread opposition grew quickly into a petition drive, in which they collected nearly 3,000 signatures (and later 400 more through a postcard drive). That's nearly half the population of the town expressing their direct opposition to the prison.

I also want to call attention to a public form that took place in the town of Milo, Maine yesterday regarding a proposal to bring a CCA facility to town. After Governor Paul LePage, who used to be an official in Milo, received tens of thousands of dollars of support from CCA during his campaign, he hired a former CCA warden as his director of the DOC and has been pushing to bring a private prison to Milo. This would be the same jerk governor who removed a mural depicting labor struggles from the Department of Labor. So yeah, a real friend of your average Maine citizen. But Frank Smith, a longtime anti-private prison advocate, was able to describe the situation most clearly: “Bring someone in from Corrections Corporation of America and they’ll tell you anything you want to hear,” he said. “You’re condemning yourselves to terminal economic disaster [if a private prison comes to Milo].”

A Terrible Combination in Florida

Quick link here to an article by Bill Cotterell, analyzing the influence of the $1 million spent on lobbying prison issues in Florida in the past election cycle combined with the government's efforts to neuter its only effective means of oversight of private prisons. This would almost be laughable if it weren't so terrifying; it's the logical iteration of conservative ideology at its worst. Candidates take millions of dollars in campaign contributions from powerful corporations and lobbyists to turn a blind eye to both the human suffering inflicted by these companies and their consistent failure to even live up to contractual standards. They then work to dismantle regulatory agencies that could serve as the only buffer for society against the excesses of these corporations and provide a check on their inefficient wasting of taxpayer money.

This is the conservative model for America. Handing over the operation of government functions to inefficient and dangerous private companies, then preventing the government from enforcing any means of oversight or accountability. The vaunted "free market" is bullshit. Conservatives are only interested in keeping the government from stopping them from screwing us all over with our own money.

"It was a mini riot, and yet no guards intervened."

That is the description of the situation which Antoney Jones found himself in almost immediately after arriving at the Idaho Correctional Center. Jones, a black gay man, was intentionally placed by guards into a housing unit where he would be assaulted by other prisoners. "Prisoners throughout the pod lined the rails and began yelling, 'Kill the nigger,' 'Get the fag' and 'Kill the rat.'"

Mr. Jones' story is one of more than a dozen similar ones found in the complaint of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Idaho against CCA for their operation of ICC, a prison so notorious for its violence that it's been dubbed "gladiator school" by those housed there. The violence is so pervasive particularly because the prison is private; by routinely hiring unqualified staff and reducing staffing levels to the barest of minimums, the prison is literally a breeding ground for violent activity. In the assault that prompted the lawsuit (and an FBI investigation), a prisoner was brutally beaten for so long that his assailant had time to stop and rest in the midst of the attack, while guards simply watched from a control tower. That sort of unprofessional conduct is heart-wrenchingly unacceptable.

And in other effed-up privatization of correctional services in Idaho news, the state has fined a private medical care provider, CMS, "nearly $400,000 by state officials for failing to meet some of the most basic health care requirements outlined by the state." And this is in a state that permitted CCA to operate the ICC for years without fining them, which means the medical "care" CMS was providing must have been appallingly insufficient.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Republicans Hate Brown People

The Republican governor of Alabama just signed another version of SB1070 into law in his state. This bill unfortunately goes even further than SB1070 and its copycat in Georgia; it requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally (read: "anyone with a skin tone darker than white").

Land of the free my ass.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Keeping it Light Today

Just a funny segment that encapsulates my fears of government privatization

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


A prisoner in Kentucky found a new source of protein in his soup last week; a dead mouse. Now I know prison food isn't supposed to be good, but I'm pretty sure it shouldn't be so bad that it kills rodents. This is just the latest in a series of troubling concerns that resulted in riots regarding the food preparation and delivery "services" provided by Aramark. Aramark is paid $12 million by the state annually to feed some Kentucky prisoners, but apparently even that's not enough money for them to be able to serve food free of dead rodents (and their governor can't figure out why they should audit them). Either that, or they're just cutting corners left and right for the sake of maximizing profits at the direct expense of human suffering, but no, a corporation couldn't do that. Right?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Saving Money by NOT Privatizing

The new Sheriff of Hernando County, Florida, is continuing in the ways of his predecessor. After Sheriff Nugent uncovered widespread neglect of maintenance at his county jail, which had been run for 22 years by CCA, he took over operations and estimated he could save more than $200,000 per year by operating it as part of the department (which should have been operating it all along).

New Sheriff Al Neinhuis went a step further. He is actually saving the county more than a million and a half dollars just this year, compared to what CCA would have charged to operate the facility. And he'll do it better.

Copycat Bill

HB87, a bill very similar to SB1070 in Arizona, just passed the Georgia House of Representatives. This was developed by ALEC, and not surprisingly, its biggest supporters have all received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a company that not only helped write it, but stands to benefit from it financially as well: CCA.

Private Prison System Profiteering

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Seeking New Opportunities

GEO just submitted an unsolicited proposal to the state of Virginia to take over thier sex-offender monitoring center. Under the proposal, the state could privatize hundreds of beds for sexually violent criminals, who can be held indefinitely.

This opens a whole new scary front in privatization. If the state does indeed decide to privatize these services (and my gut tells me a flood of cash from GEO and its subsidiary, GEOCare might find its way to Virginia's legislator's pockets in the near future), the ramifications are terrifying.

GEO makes more money the longer it incarcerates people. It currently has no motivation to rehabilitate offenders of any type, and the distinct lack of programming and vocational instruction available in private prisons is testimony to the fact that they don't want to improve public safety or people's lives; they just want to maximize profit at literally any cost, including the welfare of society at large. But to turn over the keys to literally indefinite detention of sex offenders would be the equivalent of the state handing GEO a blank check. GEO would undoubtedly seek to maximize the stays of all its residents, because they don't earn money for helping them stay out of prison.

I think this is an effing horrible proposal.

More International News

Private prisons internationally seem very similar to ones here. The GEO Group has arguably the largest international operation, and a company called Serco operates a few as well. But nowhere else in the world has such extensive privatization as we do here in the US. Regardless, they still certainly have their issues.

For one, they don't staff their facilities nearly to the same levels as government-run ones. This leads to increased levels of violence, increased incidences of escape, and a more dangerous situation for guards and prisoners alike.

They also hire a lower quality of staff than government-run prisons. Like staff who secretly watch female prisoners undress.

But most similar of all is the complete lack of transparency and oversight of private prisons abroad. As is the case here, private prisons aren't subject to open records/sunshine/freedom of information laws that government agencies must abide by. Because they're private corporations, they claim nearly all aspects of their operations are trade secrets, and thus decline to disclose information on things like staffing ratios, incidents of violence, etc.

The Australian Senate recently found that, despite paying Serco $1 billion to operate a private immigration detention center, "The Department of Immigration and Citizenship collects scant data on breaches and has limited knowledge and oversight of staff training levels." Great.

WTF, Hawaii?

Governor Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii promised to return all prisoners housed in mainland private prisons home a few months ago. Unfortunately, however, that hasn't stopped the state government from finalizing a contract to house 2,000 Hawaiian prisoners in private prisons on the mainland, where they have been subject to all sorts of abuse and violence. This is an unfortunate turn of events for Hawaiian prisoners and their families.