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).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CCA's Tremendous Influence

Just a quick link here to an article from a few weeks ago (apologies for the delay) detailing CCA's (and to a lesser extent, the GEO Group's) incredible political influence, and how that influence has ensured for them a steady flow of prisoners, including across state lines.  It discusses specifically how targeted political action in California helped to double the state's contribution to the company's revenue as its prison population exploded, and how difficult it can be to accurately determine the influence the industry truly has.

(Sort of) Breaking News - Riot in Oklahoma

There was a riot yesterday afternoon in the CCA-run North Folk Correctional Center in Sayre, Oklahoma.  Though no staff were injured and no hostages taken, at least 20 prisoners were injured in the disturbance, including one who was stabbed.  Of course, the prison couldn't handle the riot itself, and 6 units from the state police had to assist (how's that for privatized public services?)

Here's a bit more on the situation.

UPDATE: At least 46 prisoners were injured in the riot, with at least 16 having to be transported to a hospital to treat their injuries.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

They Rapin' Errbody Up in Here

To borrow a line from Antoine Dodson.  Forgive me for making light of the situation in the title, but two CCA officers are currently facing charges of rape in separate incidents.

In Florida, a guard is on trial for allegedly raping a fellow employee who was suffering an asthma attack.  Meanwhile, over in New Mexico, a trial against a corrections officer who has admitted to raping 4 women under his watch at the Camino Nuevo Women's CF in 2007 has been delayed as CCA tries to buy more time to mount a defense.

Once again, these shining examples of private prison professionalism give us a glimpse into what happens when profit is a higher priority than providing quality service.

Friday, October 7, 2011

2 + 2 = 4

What do you get when you cross an explosion in the incarceration rate of immigrants with the proliferation of private, for-profit prisons to house them?  Why, you get a FUCKING 90% increase in the arrest of guards in federal prisons over the last decade, and a 200% increase in investigations of misconduct.  And mind you, private prisons still only house about 17% of federal prisoners.  So their guards must really be terrible.

If anyone ever tries to convince you that an employee of a private prison company (or employee of any private company performing an inherently governmental function for that matter) operates to the same standards as his government counterpart, you can call that person an idiot.

More Coverage on Florida's Mess

An editorial from the Tampa Bay Times on how the decision is a message to Governor Scott's administration that they're "not above the law."

An article by Bill Cotterell discussing how the privatization plan was pushed by Diana Arduin, former aide to Governor Scott and a consultant hired by the state Senate to look at budget items.  Arduin has long been a proponent of private prisons (including having worked as a trustee of GEO Group's real estate firm), so it's kind of odd that the Senate would look to someone who promotes an industry that has repeatedly proven itself to be costly and inefficient to look at its budget.  But hey, that's Florida for ya.

And last but not least, an excellent article from the Florida Independent about the political influence that was, and still is, wielded by private prison corporations due to their lavish campaign and lobby spending.

CCA Guard Charged With Selling Drugs

A female guard at a CCA prison in Tennessee has been charged with smuggling nearly 3/4 of an ounce of marijuana into the facility, in order to sell it to prisoners.  This is what happens when you underpay and under-train your staff for the sake of profit.

I Just Don't Understand...

I won't go into a rant on this article, at least not this early in the morning.  So I'll let the author give you some insight into the insanity that is Michigan's corrections policy:

"Gov. Rick Snyder has talked a lot about new ideas and reinventing government... But on one of Michigan's biggest quandaries - the state's bloated prison budget - the administration is embracing the failed policies of the past."

The state plans to bring in private contractors to operate some prisons and eliminate 2,000 government jobs, as well as privatize the medical and mental health care systems for prisoners. This comes even though the state acknowledges that the prison run by the GEO Group is one of its most expensive and inefficient.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Good Luck, AP

Honestly - I'm not being sarcastic here.  The AP has requested the settlement in the recent case the ACLU and Marlin Riggs won against CCA in Idaho be unsealed.  The case alleged violence at the facility was so pervasive that it was called "Gladiator School," and that the prison intentionally denied medical care to assaulted prisoners in order to cover up the extent of the violence.  The AP says the case raises profound questions of public concern, which I certainly agree with.  So, I wish you the best of luck in getting that settlement unsealed; I'd love to see what it says, and how much CCA had to pay.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Coming on the heels of the news that a court in Florida ruled the largest prison privatization scheme in history unconstitutional, stock for both CCA and the GEO Group lost value.