Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pay to Play

Two interesting pieces here regarding the influence the private prison industry wield in its political affiliations and activities.  Most of the reason the industry has been so successful in securing contracts despite decades of failing to perform is the cozy relationship it has cultivated with state and federal officials who control the disbursement of public funds and criminal justice sentencing.  They cultivate these relationships through donating to individual politicians and various campaigns they embark upon, but also through hiring professional lobbyists to promote their will while the legislature is in session.

Lobbyists often have great access to politicians, and in many cases either come directly from government or head there after leaving the lobbying business. By utilizing lobbyists to advocate for their interests, the private prison industry is able to simultaneously amplify their voice within the legislature, and to some extent prevent the public from knowing just exactly who and what is influencing political decisions.

In Arizona, for example, I have reported extensively on the ties between Governor Brewer's office and a huge lobbying firm that works for CCA, Highground Consulting.  Highground's manager, Chuck Coughlin, is the governor's chief of staff, and one of its principal lobbyists used to work for CCA (and his wife still does).  To make the situation worse, the chair of the state's appropriations committee (that would be the committee that controls public funds), John Kavanagh, looks to be quite close with the GEO Group, the country's second-biggest private prison company.  Public Policy Partners, an Arizona lobbying firm that GEO employs, donated at least 6 times to Kavanagh in the last election.

Is it any wonder this is the same state that passed an immigration bill that's essentially a handout to private prison companies, or that they're looking to privatize an additional 5,000 prison beds?

Meanwhile, over in Tennessee, state Republican representatives are coming under fire for participating in a fundraiser while the legislature was in session, that featured some of the biggest industries with a financial stake in Tennessee's politics (fundraisers during the legislative session are supposed to be illegal).  Among the businesses represented was CCA, which is headquartered in Nashville.  They were so willing to help raise funds for state Republicans because the new Republican governor recently used the budget as an excuse to reverse a decision to close a CCA prison.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Situation Worsening in Australia

The riots and hunger strikes I reported on last week were only part of the ongoing struggle asylum seekers in Australia have been engaged in for months, if not years, challenging their confinement in private, for-profit detention centers.

The hunger strike at Northern Immigration Detention Center continues, as prisoners have now climbed onto the roof of the facility to stage their protest.  More prisoners have joined the strike since it began, with 20 prisoners now staked out on the roof, starving themselves.

Meanwhile, juveniles from Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran being housed at the Broadmeadows detention center have acted out in desperation, not having access to case managers for months on end.  They have sewn their lips together in protest, and posted the pictures on facebook to try to draw attention to their struggle.

Death for Profit

A great video detailing how CCA and other private prison companies profit off human misery and suffering.  Pretty damning stuff; in the article that accompanies the video, a former CCA quality assurance manager (I'm sure the title's irony is intentional) says the following of CCA's operations:

"malpractice is common at the facility due to ongoing cuts to basic services. From contaminated drinking water, to chemical agents being used to quell detainee complaints, Holcomb says CCA has gone to great lengths to cover up its insufficient care and mistreatment of detainees."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Strong Launch for the Divestment Campaign

The Prison Industry Divestment Campaign, which launched earlier this year, has already gotten off to a strong start.  Following multiple protests in May, Pershing Square Capital divested itself of millions of shares of private prison stock, to the tune of nearly $200 million.  More protests followed in July, taking aim at Wells Fargo offices across the country. Wells Fargo holds nearly $100 million in private prison stock, mostly in the GEO Group.  Activists were able to secure 2 meetings with Wells Fargo regional vice presidents to discuss the company's stock holdings in an industry that purposefully tries to incarcerate an ever-increasing number of people to drive up profits.  Unfortunately, one of those meetings has since been cancelled, but the regional VP in Denver is still scheduled to meet with activists next month.  Here's wishing the best to the brave folks who have stood up to the private prison industry and called for corporate accountability.

Friday, July 22, 2011

S**t's Going Down in Australia

Australia has experienced all sorts of problems with its private prisons in the past, similar to the US's experience.  But this week has brought a new slew of issues to the forefront.  Private prisons in Australia are used primarily to house immigration detainees.

At the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Center, prisoners have been rioting and burning the facility for at least 3 days.  Frustrated with the government dragging its feet on whether or not to grant asylum, the immigrants have been fighting with the prison and police for days.  Over at the North Point Correctional Centre, prisoners have begun burning various parts of the facility.  As one of the Christmas Island asylum seekers said, "They have been here a long time and got rejected without reason...They can't stay in detention like animals waiting, waiting with no justice."  The situation is so bad that guards with just 2 weeks of training have been called in, and many asylum seekers are being placed in solitary confinement, which opens up a whole new can of worms that for the sake of brevity I'll only mention that once.

Inspired by their brethren at Christmas Island, mainland asylum seekers have begun to protest the conditions of their confinement as well, launching a hunger strike at the Cape York AFB.  The facility is operating at almost 200 percent capacity, as immigrants in Australia, like in the US, remain incarcerated in a sort of legal limbo.  The plight of these prisoners has caught the attention of the Human Rights Alliance, who is calling on the UN to step in and require UN monitors to be placed at some of the private prisons to monitor conditions.  Because "Human courtesies, peoples' rights and their very dignity were disregarded. Asylum Seekers distressed were screaming not only for themselves however out of care for each other. Some distressed guards were appalled at the sheer inhumanity by the actions of the AFP (Australian Police Force) and other guards."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Challenging Florida's Privatization Plan

The Police Benevolent Association, a union that represents police and COs in Florida, just filed a lawsuit challenging Governor Ric Scott's and JD Alexander's proposal to privatize the corrections services of 18 counties in the state.  Scott and Alexander claim, incorrectly, that the privatization plan would offer significant cost-savings for the state.  Numerous studies have shown that this is not likely to be the case.

Thankfully, the PBA has stood up to Scott, a conservative wet dream who's also trying to defund and cripple unions as part of a large push to privatize all that is public.  The proposal was thrown into the budget amendment at the last minute, which should come as no surprise since this seems to be routine for Floridian politics.  As the PBA says, the "legislature's insertion of a massive privatization plan into the budget during the waning hours of the legislative session, on behalf of the most unpopular governor, was improper and illegal."

Friday, July 15, 2011

At Least We're Not the Only Ones

Who blindly and stupidly continue to look to privatize the correctional system with an industry that's a proven failure.  The UK is in the process of privatizing 9 more of their prisons, despite the fact that the industry suffers from all the same problems abroad as it does here in the US.  If the sale goes through as proposed, private prisons will comprise 15% of the "market" in England, a greater percentage than here in the US (probably about 10-12%)

Bad Investment

Quick link here to a great editorial that's run on the Private Corrections Institute and Tucson Citizen.  It's called "Arizona Doesn't Need, Can't Afford More Private Prison," and the title pretty much speaks for itself.  It's a shame that the state continues to seek private companies to operate an additional 5,000 prison beds despite the industry's long track record of failure.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Straight From the Horse's Mouth

Ohio is currently in the process of trying to sell 5 state prisons to private operators to raise money during the recession.  As I reported on before, the deal isn't nearly as beneficial for the state and its taxpayers as it was initially said to be.  So any hopes Ohio's taxpayers have of saving money on corrections through privatization should be tempered, especially because private prisons have often been found to not even save any significant amount of money in operations, compared to government-run prisons.

So private prisons don't save money.  Private prisons also consistently have higher rates of escapes, assaults, and violence at their facilities, and they cut corners in every area of operations.  So really the state of Ohio should listen to CCA spokesman Steve Owen, who says "If we don't operate safe, secure facilities, and we don't provide the cost savings that are expected, there's no reason for government to continue to partner with our industry."  I couldn't have said it better myself.

I think Ohio should heed his words, especially in light of the state's turbulent history with private prisons.  In addition to one of the biggest lawsuits to slam the industry during the 90's, the result of a riot at a Youngstown prison operated by CCA, the state has had numerous escapes and murders at other private prisons.  And in a rather blatant handout to the industry, the state of Ohio is even going to pay to help train the guards at the private prisons.  On the one hand, this is good because guards at private prisons rarely if ever receive as much training as they need, but this is something that should really be paid for by the companies who buy the prisons and want to assume responsibility for operating them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Overworking Staff

Just a quick one here.  I saw this comment on a thread on, in reply to a question about whether or not it's normal to have no breaks on a full shift while working in a prison:

"At Idaho Correctional Center, run by CCA, we work 12-16 hour shifts and are not allotted breaks of any sort." (emphasis added). 

And yes, that would be the same Idaho Correctional Center which is currently the target of a multiple-hundred-million dollar lawsuit because the violence there is so pervasive it's called "Gladiator School" by those unlucky enough to find themselves housed there.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Burying the Money

This is almost too easy.  The GEO Group, a huge, multi-billion dollar corporation, also has a political action committee so that they can essentially donate twice in every political campaign they want to be a part of (it's called GEOPAC).  But apparently, all those billions of dollars couldn't buy them lawyers that could understand the difference between state and federal laws.

GEO also set up an in-state PAC in Florida for this last election cycle (you know, the one in which they donated $800,000+ to Florida politicians, who then decided to privatize the prisons in 18 effing counties).  The in-state PAC is not allowed to donate as much money as a federal PAC, but that didn't stop the GEO Group from using it to funnel campaign contributions only permissible for federal PACs to make.  The company claims it didn't know there was a difference.  Bullshit.

But what bothers me most of all is that the Florida GEOPAC, ostensibly used to spread influence to Floridian politicians, donated to candidates all across the country.  They donated to people in places like Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas.  All places which, coincidentally enough, have a lot of private prisons.

People worried last election cycle about foreign investors donating to American politicians and corrupting them.  I fear we have an even more treacherous movement afoot here in the US, where prison companies are now using such unscrupulous tactics to try to hide the money they use to influence politicians into trying to lock us all up.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Death in Mississippi, a Lawsuit in Texas

Rolling 2 stories into one here.  First up is a story from Mississippi, where Derek Criddle, a 26-year-old young man in a CCA facility, was stabbed to death during a fight.  Six other prisoners were injured in the scuffle, and two remained hospitalized as of Thursday.

Meanwhile in Texas, the family of a prisoner who died after "the [Brooks County] prison disregarded his very, very serious medical condition" is suing LCS Correctional Services for the wrongful death of Mario Garcia.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Staffing Issues in Pennsylvania

Private prisons, when they do save money, are often able to do so primarily through reductions in staff costs (staffing being the most expensive component of a prison's operation).  This comes in the forms of reduced pay, reduced benefits, less training, and lower staffing levels (staff-inmate ratios).  Taken together, these cuts present a dangerous situation for prisoners and staff alike, as criminals are guarded by too few people, many of whom are underqualified to be in their positions.  Turnover is exceptionally high among private prison staff, so many guards are really ill-prepared to handle the responsibility of managing prisoners.

Pennsylvania's experimentation with private prisons is suffering from exactly these sorts of problems.  At a privately-run youth detention facility, underqualified staff and low staffing levels have contributed to numerous altercations between staff and prisoners.  "When I walk into certain places, I still see staff that are too young ... that act like teenagers, that get in between the gossip and the drama... I understand it's a difficult job, but I think you need to have a certain type of heart," said an employee of the facility. 

 At another private youth facility run by the GEO Group, turnover for the month of May was greater than 20%; "The chronic issue of insufficient staffing had risen to a near emergency level, making it impossible for staff to provide consistent supervision, much less, meaningful programming to clients."

When you turn to private companies to provide an inherently governmental service, you should expect outcomes like this.  Unfortunately, many children have had to suffer because of the decisions of overzealous conservative lawmakers who push to privatize every service the government provides.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Revolving Door (Turn, Turn, Turn)

Two interesting bits of news today on the perpetual revolving door that is the private prison industry. The title link goes to a piece from Tennessee, where a lobbyist and former CCA employee, Leslie Hafner, was just selected to be the Governor's new director of legislation. This is a good position for a former CCA employee to be in, what with CCA having their headquarters in Nashville and all.

Then there's this story from Montana, where CCA has siphoned off a state prison warden to come to the Crossroads Correctional Facility in Shelby. And in one of the richer bits of irony I've seen in a while, Mr. Mahoney (the new CCA employee) had this to say of a riot that occurred on his watch at the state prison in '91: "When you don’t have the proper numbers, you end up running the staff you do have extra hard,” he said. “That’s never a good idea in a correctional environment."

Well Mr. Mahoney, get ready to run your new staff "extra hard."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Already Changing Their Tune

Well that didn't take long at all. Ohio, with its anti-union, pro-corporate governor John Kasich, is planning on selling 5 state prisons to private companies who won't perform to the same standards as the state or save money. But the administration was convinced they offered some sort of cost-savings (despite a plethora of research to the contrary), and initially said the state would earn $200 million from the sale of the prisons. But it turns out they now only expect to earn about $50 million, 1/4 of what the originally thought they'd get.

And if that wasn't enough, there's this story from today discussing how special interests are ramping up their lobbying efforts in the state, hoping to woo the conservative governor. It should come as no surprise that Kasich's close personal friend for decades, and former chief of staff for 20 years, formed a lobbying company after Kasich won the election. A lobbying company that represents, among others, CCA, the company from which Kasich's new director of the DOC came, and who will be bidding to purchase the state prisons.

Welcome to privatized utopia.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Economic Facism: Private Prisons Lobbying For More Prisoners

Press on the Day of Solidarity

It looks like the Prison Industry Divestment Campaign had a very successful day of rallying and protests yesterday in 13 cities across the country. Thank you to everyone who came out to voice your opposition to the prison-industrial complex and how it profits by incarcerating and dehumanizing immigrants and US citizens.

Title link goes to some coverage from Texas; coverage from the events in Tucson, Arizona can be found here.

UPDATE Here's more coverage from the protests in Florida and Tennessee