Friday, September 30, 2011

A Parent's Worst Nightmare

Continuing with WhyIHateCCA's guest author series, I present this first-hand account of a father's struggle to find his son, who was lost in the Mississippi system after suffering brain damage in a riot at the GEO-Group operated Walnut Grove Correctional Facility.  Walnut Grove is currently the target of a lawsuit by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center over deplorable conditions and abhorrent violence.

by Michael McIntosh

Good Afternoon, My name is Michael McIntosh.  I am the parent of a youth that was attacked, critically injured and then hidden in the system, to keep the incident quiet.

Imagine this…

On a normal visitation day, I was told by the Walnut Grove (WG) staff that my son, who had been there for 3 months, was no longer at the facility.  Walnut Grove is a private juvenile detention center operated by the GEO Group for the Mississippi Department of Corrections. When I reached out for more information of where my son was, they consistently denied knowledge of his whereabouts. How could a child placed in the custody of the MDOC disappear?  After not getting any assistance from WG staff, I was referred to the Warden, who refused to tell me about my son’s whereabouts. After 2 1/2 weeks of MDOC and WG passing the buck back and forth and playing games, I took matters in my own hands and started my own investigation. I realized that they did not care about the well being of my son, nor did they care about me knowing his status. I found out that my son was in the hospital, but no status information was given. I called MDOC and asked the medical department about my son’s status to which I received no response. A few days later, an MDOC chaplain called to help me with visitation to my son. After 5 1/2 weeks of searching, visitation was granted to me to see my son, but they had moved him to another facility. A new visitation order was granted for a two-hour visit, in which I was only able to spend a half hour with my son. The reason this happened is because I questioned the head nurse about the status of my son; because of her attitude, she called security and told them she felt threatened and needed assistance. Security came to assist her, but it was not the 24-hour security that was already in his room, but rather hospital security. The security officer told me I had to leave, that visitation was over. Keep in mind that this was more than a month after the incident. The next day I called the chaplain back, explained what happened and asked for another visitation with my son. On Friday of the following week the head doctor of MDOC called and I was told no further visitation will be granted and the visitation that I was granted was done as a favor to me.  I was forced to wait until my son was granted visitation rights by MDOC. My son was transferred to Parchman hospital where he received no medical treatment. After four to six weeks, he was released from the Parchman hospital, and he was transferred to a drug and alcohol facility at Parchman though he does not have a problem with either. He has yet to receive treatment that addresses his injuries even though many request have been made for treatment. He is an underage inmate at Parchman, put there and left there so that this incident would not be known. My son had been assaulted in a riot at the Walnut Grove YCF in which he received brain damage, but has still not received proper medical treatment for what he experienced.

Effing A

A judge in Florida has ruled the pending privatization on nearly 30 state prisons unconstitutional.  I'm sure a challenge from the Scott administration is forthcoming, but I want to savor this victory for at least a little while.

Click here for more detailed information about the ruling.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why I Hate Florida Today

Florida is currently in the midst of the biggest prison privatization push in history - the state is looking to privatize 29 correctional facilities, basically the entire bottom half of the state's prison system.  This comes after the GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, along with other private prison interests, spent record amounts in campaign contributions and lobbying in the last election cycle, so you wouldn't be alone in thinking this sounds a bit like a handout from Florida's Republican leadership to wealthy donors.

As this move to privatize has developed, a few groups in the community have started to fight back against the outsourcing of an inherently governmental function.   The union that represents Corrections Officers (The PBA) has filed a lawsuit, seeking to block the privatization, and the Teamsters union has filed an ethics complaint against Governor Scott because he accepted campaign contributions from the two largest private prison companies in the country, both of which are bidding on the proposed privatization.

The lawsuit by the PBA has limped its way through the court system.  After a lower court ordered ousted Corrections Secretary Edward Buss (ousted because he, as the EFFING SECRETARY OF CORRECTIONS, thought the plan was a horrible idea) to be deposed in the matter, a higher court affirmed the ruling, only to have Governor "I Love Privatization" Scott appeal.  Well, Scott lost, whining about how state officials are not to be deposed under Florida law (I guess he forgot the part where he forced Buss to resign because Buss disagreed with him). The PBA has had trouble getting information out of the Corrections Department through discovery, which is why Buss was called to testify in the first place.  It appears as though Buss, the aforementioned secretary of corrections, was never really consulted about the push to privatize nearly 30 prisons.  The state seems pretty scared to let Buss testify; the Scott administration has already appealed the ruling numerous times, and is considering challenging Buss' testimony in the Florida Supreme Court.  In fact, his lawyers at one point even let a little Freudian Slip pass, remarking that allowing Buss to testify might do "irreparable harm" to state government.

They're probably right.  Buss's testimony was released, and in it he gives details about his remarkable lack of insight and knowledge about the privatization scheme before it was forced upon him.  Buss testified that, during hearings with legislators near the beginning of his term, he was not informed of the privatization plan until after it had been introduced.  He also said that no one came to talk to him (do I need to insert his title again) about the privatization.  In maybe the most telling portion of his testimony, in response to a question as to whether or not he would have liked to have been contacted before the plan was introduced, Buss said, "It's a different state, and I just got here."  Sorry Mr. Buss, but you were definitely not in Kansas anymore.  Buss says the privatization plan was not part of the corrections budget he saw when he took the job, and that he had virtually no input when it was made part of the budget.  More details have emerged about the plan, including the fact that the original "business plan" for the awarding a contract to operate 29 prisons was only four pages long.  Four fucking measly pages.  I guess Florida's politicians all like to read as much as their heralded presidential candidate.

But even in the face of a lawsuit and an ethics complaint, the state's political leaders blindly push forward in their bullheaded plan to turn over government services to an inefficient and abusive industry.  And they're not above utilizing sly political maneuverings to get their way.  The president of the state Senate has reorganized a few legislative committees, including removing the only state senator who seems to have any sense, Mike Fasano, from the Government Oversight Committee.  This is a way of neutering the influence of Fasano, an outspoken critic of the privatization push and the $25 million the Administration failed to inform legislators that the state would be on the hook for.  So now the last defense Florida taxpayers had against this onslaught of privatization has no official power to challenge it.

Fuck you, Florida.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Profiting from Pain and Misery

Quick link today to a great, detailed expose regarding an immigration detention facility in Essex County, NJ, which is about to undergo some minor reforms aimed at increasing the humanity of ICE detention.  I won't go into all the  details, but the article does a great job of discussing how the industry has reaped tremendous profits from the suffering of folks who try to come to this country to make a better life for themselves.  As Amy Gottlieb of the American Friends' Service Committee said, "[The industry is] making money off the backs of immigrant suffering."

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Gladiator School" Lawsuit Settles

The lawsuit the ACLU had against CCA for its poor operation of the Idaho Correctional Center, commonly referred to as "Gladiator School" by its residents, has settled, after being combined with a separate suit that had been filed by a prisoner.  Violence levels at the facility were so severe that the ACLU had sought more than $150 million in damages, CCA's annual profit (yes, as in the amount of taxpayer dollars they saved as profit by cutting services and medical care).  Staff routinely ignored prisoners' requests to protect them from violence, and in many cases intentionally placed vulnerable prisoners in high-risk situations in which they knew they'd be assaulted.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, and CCA avoided admitting liability for the actions of its staff.  Because they pay good money to effective, if completely crooked, attorneys.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Are Political Leaders Finally Seeing the Light?

In West Virginia of all places?!  Steve Canterbury, the Administrator for the state's Supreme Court and former director of the regional jail authority, told lawmakers that privatizing prisons is a bad idea.  He discussed how the industry wields political influence through campaign contributions and lobbying to ensure a steady flow of prisoners and contracts.  He instead told the panel of lawmakers that they should invest in alternatives to incarceration, including drug courts, to begin to wean the state off its reliance on incarceration as the primary form of punishment.  West Virginia, like many other states, faces a crisis over its prison population, so lawmakers should take heed of these wise words and steer clear of for-profit prison entities that ensure their own survival by driving up rates of incarceration.

Australian Private Prison "Ready to Explode"

Just a quick link here to update the situation at a private immigration detention center in Australia, which I've reported on a bit previously.  Tensions have been running high at this Serco prison for some time; riots, mass protests, and hunger strikes have plagued the facility in recent months.  But a new article has come out discussing how the prison is nearing its breaking point, with prisoners "ready to explode" over conditions and delays in processing their cases.

Challenging Privatization in Arizona

                Arizona is one of a few states looking to further privatize its prison system despite the industry’s consistently poor performance, after intensive lobbying campaigns convinced the legislature it was a good idea to continue to throw money into this black hole.  The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the state’s plans to privatize its prison system until it completes a cost/benefit analysis to demonstrate that private prisons can save money, as is mandated by the state constitution.  All available evidence seems to point to the contrary.
                The plan is also being challenged on the grounds that the state has failed to perform bi-annual audits of private prisons to compare the efficiency of their services to the government sector.  The state says they are working on a study, to be completed around January 2012, but still plans on just awarding contracts for up to 5,000 additional private prison beds in the meantime.
                Unfortunately a judge denied the motion, because AFSC could not prove that their interests would be harmed by the privatization.  Judge Anderson has basically permitted for the DOC to respond to the lawsuit, rather than filing an injunction to prevent the privatization, which is the proper legal avenue to take.  But as Caroline Issacs of AFSC said, “Certainly, the taxpayers are harmed by wasting $650 million.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lawmakers Call for Investigation of CCA Facility

Legislators in Montana have called for an investigation of the Crossroads Correctional Center, a private prison in Shelby, operated by CCA.  They have heard allegations of numerous failures of CCA to live up to its contractual obligations, including:

holding prisoners beyond their parole dates to continue to receive payments for them
limiting prisoners to 2 rolls of toilet paper and telling them to "use their hands" if they run out
forcing prisoners to sleep in the gym, in defiance of ACA standards
charging the state for vacant staff positions
failing to provide psychiatric services and accommodations for some disabled prisoners

Rarely do we get to see all these failures to provide adequate and humane care together in one facility.

How 9/11 Helped the Private Prison Industry

Just a quick link here to a great article detailing how the events of September 11 helped boost and sustain the private prison industry. (Hint: it's the immigration detention boom)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Mighty Political Influence of Private Prisons

I'm not going to go off on a tangent here; I just want to share with you a link to a fantastic article by Bob Ortega of the Arizona Republic.  Mr. Ortega details the tremendous amounts of influence and leverage the private prison industry has cultivated in both state and federal legislatures over the past few decades through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door between the industry and government.  The amount of money donated to politicians is staggering, and greatly helps to explain the continued success of the industry in securing contracts despite performing less efficiently than its government counterparts.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Privatized Prisons...Criminal in a Democracy

Their Guards Molest Women

Private prisons often appear so attractive to lawmakers because they claim they are able to save bundles of money compared to government-run prisons.  While this isn't exactly the truth, these companies still routinely cut corners in almost every aspect of their operations in order to maximize profits, because, after all, that's what they really care about.  Since staff expenses (salary, benefits, training) comprise the largest portion of any facility's budget, private prisons often pay dramatically less to their staff in the name of profit.

The problem with this approach lies in the fact that private prisons, because they offer less in salary and benefits, aren't able to attract as high-quality candidates as government-run prisons.  Just recently, when Hernando County Florida took over operation of its jail from CCA, the sheriff hired only about 1/3 of the private company's employees to work for his department (and remarked at the time that he couldn't believe a lot of CCA's employees weren't incarcerated themselves).  Anecdotally, it's rather well-known that many guards at private prisons have some unsavory histories, and guards who screw up at one prison or another (government-run or not) can usually find work at a different private prison, where the companies rarely perform background checks that are as extensive as the government would.  Combine all this with the industry's aversion to providing adequate and consistent training to their guards (because, again, that would hurt the bottom line), and you've got a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, this disaster revealed itself to women who immigrated to the US but found themselves locked up in the Hutto Correctional Center, part of ICE's network in Texas, which is operated by CCA.  A guard at the facility just pleaded guilty to sexually molesting immigrants as he transported them to and from the facility.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Transparency Issues

How's this for a joke?  A man walks into a prison and asks to see records of its operations.  Standard stuff like expenses, staffing levels, and the visitors' log.  He cites a statute that allows for public review of the records of government agencies, similar to Freedom of Information / Public Records laws in states across the country and the federal government.  Only, this prison is a private one, run by a private, for-profit company, performing an inherently governmental function (as had been previously determined by the state's Supreme Court), and officials at the prison tell this man he can't have access to the very documents that he has a clearly-established right to see.

This is the story of Joel Chandler, who requested information from the Moore Haven CF in Florida.  Florida is one of two states that requires private prison operators to comply with public records laws (called the "sunshine law" in the state), because it has determined they perform an inherently governmental function.  In any of the other 48 states, Mr. Chandler would have no legal recourse because private prisons are rarely if ever forced to turn over records to the public - their only reporting duties are to the state they contract with.  But thankfully Mr. Chandler has filed a lawsuit against CCA for this violation of the law and his rights.

This is one topic I don't cover often enough on here, but oversight of prisons, especially privately operated, for-profit facilities, is crucial to ensuring public safety and contract compliance.  The industry is notorious for skirting regulations and effective oversight, so it particularly troubles me that in a state that has expressly told private prison operators they must abide by such regulations, CCA still sees fit to so brazenly ignore the law.

Private Prison Staff Drive Immigrants to Suicide

I wish that were an embellishment.  Just a quick link here to a story from Australia, where a guard working for the private prison company Serco apparently refused repeated requests to negotiate with a suicidal immigrant in his facility, then intimidated the man so relentlessly he jumped to his death. "Those who were dealing with him lacked the training, expertise, and ability to recognise what was playing out in front of them," said a psychiatrist who reviewed the situation.  It looks like Australia got exactly what it paid for when it decided to bring in a private, for-profit company to house its immigrants.  

Big Move for CCA in Ohio

Ohio's governor, John Kasich, has been looking to privatize more of his state's prison system from practically the day he took office.  He and the privateers secured a victory on that front last week, when the state sold one of its prisons to CCA.  MTC also made out, securing contracts to run 2 other Ohio facilities.  This plan has been roundly denounced by critics as little more than handout to wealthy and politically-connected firms at taxpayer expense, which is exactly what it is.

This story isn't as bad as is could have been though; the state was originally planning on selling up to 5 prisons to close a budget gap, but plans changed somewhere along the line.  I believe that the lawsuit filed by ProgressOhio challenging the proposal likely had some influence on the Governor's decision to reign in his desire to privatize so much of the system, so quickly.  Considering CCA's influence in the state house (Kasich's former chief of staff runs a lobbying firm employed by CCA and the DOC Director spent 5 years as their consultant), it's a good sign that the contract mandates 5% cost-savings.  On the one hand, I fear the ramifications of a company trying to adhere to such a policy (such as cutting corners, which the industry is notorious for), but at the same time this gives the state an enforcement mechanism to ensure these companies live up to their promises.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sheriff Saves $1 Million Over CCA

Sheriff Michael Page of Hernando County, Florida, is the latest in a line of Sheriffs to inherit the headache that is the county jail.  After being operated by CCA for 22 years, the facility had fallen into exceptional disrepair, after CCA had neglected to perform millions of dollars worth of required maintenance.  The county took over the facility a little more than a year ago and started the long process of upgrading the security, staff, and conditions of the jail.

Initial projections by then-Sheriff Richard Nugent hypothesized that the county could save up to $200,000 compared to what CCA would have charged.  It turns out that de-privatizing the jail has actually saved Hernando County taxpayers more than $1,000,000 this year.  Maybe Ric Scott and JD Alexander ought to reconsider their bullheaded push to privatize half the state's prison system.

Why I Hate Rick Perry

The Governor of Texas / GOP Candidate for President has received nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions from private prison interests.  He then waged a campaign to privatize the healthcare of his state's prisons.  Thankfully, his plan was thwarted in the legislature by Jerry Madden, who never saw evidence that privatizing healthcare would lead to any cost-savings.