Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ACLU files new lawsuit against CCA

By Elaine Hirsch

A lawsuit recently filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU-TX) against the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) underscores the perils of the American prison-industrial complex, an aspect of corrections facility management studied by politicians, master’s degree candidates, and lawyers in the United States.

The class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of three female detainees whose identities were withheld to maintain anonymity. According to the ACLU-TX filing, the immigrant women were being transported from the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Williamson County to Austin, Texas, when they allegedly suffered sexual abuse while in the custody of ICE. One CCA employee and three ICE officials have been named in the lawsuit.

This isn’t the first time that CCA has come under fire for prisoner abuse. The CCA has operated the T. Don Hutto Residential Center since 2006. The day-to-day operations of the detention center are conducted by a cadre of ICE employees and CCA guards. In August 2010, the ACLU reported that a CCA guard was charged with numerous counts of sexually abusing female inmates at the same ICE facility in Williamson County. The Graduate Employees and Students Organization at Yale University teamed up with the school’s employee union to force a divestment based on CCA’s long record of civil rights violations.

Days after the filing the latest lawsuit against the CCA, the ACLU released a scathing report criticizing the massive profits realized by private prison contractors such as CCA during recessionary times. “Banking on Bondage: PrivatePrisons and Mass Incarceration” is the name of the report that shows the two most prominent prison profiteers, CCA and the GEO Group, received a combined revenue of $3 billion and earned hundreds of millions in profits in 2010.

CCA’s sketchy record of managing American prisons comes at a time when the state of Arizona is preparing to award a lucrative contract to private jailers despite a report from the Auditor General that state-operated facilities would actually cost less to maintain.

The meteoric rise of the private prison population in the United States is certainly sobering: a 1664% increase over the last two decades. According to industry analysts, there are plenty of long-term growth opportunities for business entities such as CCA. Mark Whitburn, an attorney at the ACLU of Texas, believes that the complaints lodged by the three plaintiffs in the most recent lawsuit against the CCA are only “the tip of the iceberg.” 

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.  She is currently a writer for a master's degree program resource.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More Issues in Australia

Unfortunately, the US is not alone in its blind pursuit of privatization at all costs; Australia is one of a few other countries that also permits for private, for-profit companies to house its prisoners.  As in the US, these private prisons suffer from a litany of problems of mismanagement and cost-cutting.

The Australian Government recently deployed an advisory group to report on the state of mental health care for immigrant detainees in private prisons.  The chairwoman of the group reported that the private prison system in the country is dysfunctional, and incapable of meeting the mental health needs of the immigrants housed there.  In fact, the system is so bad that some employees carry knives to cut down prisoners who try to hang themselves, because it's apparently a rather common phenomenon.

However, unlike the US, Australia's government actually tries to hold these companies accountable for the lives they destroy.  Serco, which operates most of the country's private immigration detention system, has been fined $15 million for its failure to adequately care for the prisoners in its facilities.  This is a pretty significant fine for a company that earns more than $370 million per year in revenue to operate the facilities.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Private, For-Profit Mental Health Care?

Scary as it may sound, that's exactly what is being proposed in North Carolina.  A subsidiary of the GEO Group, GEOCare, is trying to take over mental health services for serious offenders for the entire state of North Carolina, which is also considering privatizing health care for its prisoners.  I'm sure nothing could possibly go wrong if a private company that earns money by keeping people incarcerated longer would be in control of providing rehabilitation services to violent offenders.

But in all seriousness, this is a pretty terrifying proposition to me.  GEO has enough trouble managing normal prison populations, let alone high-risk prisoners.  As the executive director of the NC State Employees Association said, "it just boggles [the] mind that folks think a for-profit private company with shareholders can perform a more efficient, better service at a cheaper rate than state employees."

Update on Lawsuit Challenging Privatization in Arizona

Arizona is currently seeking proposals from private prison companies to construct 5,000 new prison beds, even though an auditor for the state has found that private prisons cost more to operate than state-run facilities.  The state has also failed to conduct efficiency reviews of its existing private prisons for the past few decades, so information about their quality of services and contract performance is limited at best.

A group called the American Friends Service Committee has been steadily challenging the request for proposals, most recently by filing a lawsuit to try to force the state to hold off on awarding contracts until the state reviews existing facilities.  There is actually a state law requiring these reviews take place at least every 2 years.  The lawsuit was thrown out on a technicality.  But the AFSC continues to battle against the private prison industry, and they have just filed an appeal of the dismissal, asking the court to determine the substantive issue at hand rather than taking the easy way out of reviewing whether the state should embark on such a risky venture.

Monday, November 21, 2011

After the Revolving Door Stops Turning

A really interesting story came out of New Mexico last week that really speaks to the great benefit the industry enjoys in having former (and potentially future) employees working in government.  I have often complained of the political and contractual favoritism shown to the industry by former employees, but this one really struck me.

The new Secretary of Corrections has decided to finally start holding the GEO Group accountable for its terrible mismanagement of its facilities in the state, fining the company more than $1 million for failing to maintain  adequate staffing levels, which obviously presents a huge risk of violence.  This is the first time the state has really held any private prison company accountable for failing to meet contractual obligations.  The former Secretary, who had previously worked for the GEO Group, repeatedly declined to fine the industry for known failures to comply, saving the GEO Group nearly $20 million worth of fines in the process.  And it seems like the new Secretary is serious about holding GEO Group and CCA accountable for the millions of taxpayer dollars they get in contracts; he says he wants to review staffing levels at private prisons every single month.

And the fines could not have come at a more appropriate time.  Because a prisoner in a GEO Group facility in Clayton, New Mexico, was just beaten to within an inch of his life and is now on life support following the vicious assault.

PS - that former secretary of corrections, Joe Williams, who declined to fine the GEO Group nearly $20 million, landed himself a nice, cushy gig with, who else, the effing GEO Group.  He's the director of US operations, a position that I'm willing to bet pays a pretty decent salary.

CCA Go Away!

November 5th, 2011: 400 angry residents of Pembroke Pines gathered at the Southwest Regional Library to vocally oppose a plane to build a detention facility for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold immigrants who have been convicted of crimes while they are processed for deportation.  The main complaint was that the center would be too close to their homes and schools of nearby Pembroke Pines residents.  Southwest Ranches is a "town" that incorporated to avoid being annexed by Pembroke Pines and maintains a "rural" style featuring a large commitment to "green" areas used as horse trails and no residential construction allowed on any lot under an acre, of which there are few.  The detention center would garner Southwest Ranches about $1.5 million a year in taxes. THIS CONTENT IS (C) 2011 MICHAEL STRADER MARKO / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Southwest Ranches Update

Hola - sorry for the barrage of Florida private prison news, but there's still so much fun going on in Southwest Ranches/Pembroke Pines that I couldn't help myself.  I'm going to try to just give a brief, bullet-point digest of the news I want to highlight regarding the immigration detention center that no one but CCA seems to want.

  • First, the mayor of Pembroke Pines, the town which Southwest Ranches was carved out of a little more than a decade ago and which is on the hook to provide fire and other services to the prison, is miffed because he feels the plan was forced through without the consideration of his town's elected officials.
  • Pembroke Pines then threatened to end the contract to provide the services, given the public outcry over the facility.  So CCA, stand-up company that they are, threatened to sue the town to force it to provide fire and emergency services.  I guess clearing more than $13 million in profit per month doesn't prohibit them from trying to force governments to give them even more money.  Negotiations involving things like sewer, fire, and emergency services with these prisons always seem to get ugly.
  • Also, an interesting little piece on how CCA got the support of some national politicians from Florida for the project, but at the same time was concerned about bringing too much attention to it (maybe because they knew the public would not approve).
  • Finally, given all the commotion about the proposed detention center, it looks like Pembroke Pines will put off a vote on how they should proceed with the water/sewer services contract until next month.  It's probably good that they're taking time to figure out because, as the vice mayor said, "What is being proposed now is so wrong for our community."

Con Games: CCA's Exploitation of its Workers

Just take a look at how some CCA employees feel about the company screwing them over while executives live in ridiculous luxury.  or

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Story That Just Won't Go Away

I don't want to re-hash everything I've written about the absurd privatization push / corporate handout happening in Florida.  You can find plenty of material on it by just looking back.  I want to take a minute though to try to update the situation, again, as well as possible.  So I won't go into a long rant about anything here, I'll just give you some quick bullet points.  And just FYI, none of this even deals with the brewing situation in Southwest Ranches, where CCA is forcing an immigration detention center down the throat of a very angry populace.

  • Florida is also trying to privatize healthcare for its entire prison system (in addition to privatizing half the prisons).  The bidding process has drawn a lot of scrutiny and generated many questions, so much so that the state had to push back the date for the bids to be submitted. It will probably go through though, unfortunately.  In a related story, North Carolina is foolishly looking to do the same thing.
  • The executive director of the union representing COs in the state wrote an excellent opinion piece urging the state Senate to find some other way to save money, considering the questions surrounding the claim that the venture will save $22 million.
  • The editorial board of the Palm Beach Post came out with an excellent piece questioning Gov. Scott's motives in pushing the privatization, given the $1 million donated by the industry leading up to the last election and questions regarding the proposed cost savings.
  • A great piece from the Miami Herald discussing how special interests are dominating the discussion of privatization, and how the state needs to focus on alternatives to incarceration since they already have an enormous prison population.
  • Also, the state should really consider the company it's about the get in bed with, as a GEO Group guard appears to have been extremely negligent in permitting a prisoner to commit suicide.
  • Finally, I couldn't help but link to this absurd example of poor journalism, as the editorial board at the Daytona Beach News-Journal claims privatization offers "Major Savings."  The argument is based on practically nothing but the long-ago dismissed notion that if private prisons fail to offer savings, they won't get contracts (they actually just lobby harder and still get them).  The real icing on the cake comes when the author(s) admit that the state previously lost tens of millions of dollars in a privatization venture, but make no mention of how a similar problem could be avoided this time around.  Really, this is one of the absolute dumbest things I've ever seen an editorial board write.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Who Benefits from Private Prisons?

Finally getting around to linking up an NPR story I previously just tweeted.  Following on the heels of some recent reports of the political influence and financial motivations of the private prison industry from the likes of the ACLU and Justice Policy Institute, among others, NPR looked into the beneficiaries of private prisons.

Their findings may shock you:

  • Private prison companies take in billions in revenue from taxpayer dollars
  • Private prison companies don't share cost-savings with those taxpayers, so the amount they save by cutting on staff, security, etc. becomes profit (read: "corporate welfare") for the companies
  • Claims of economic benefits by the industry are dubious at best
  • Prisoners face higher risks of assaults and violence inside private prisons.

OK I lied.  None of this is shocking in the least.

Occupy a Private Prison!

Fantastic new video from the Immigrants for Sale Campaign called "Occupy a Private Prison."  It's an advocacy piece to call for the shutting down of the Stewart Immigration Detention Facility in Lumpkin, GA.  The video discusses how the private prison industry exploits immigration detainees to enhance its bottom line; for example, prisoners lucky enough to have jobs earn about $1 per day, but CCA charges up to $5 per minute for a phone call.

Update (11-22-11): a crowd of 270 turned out to voice their opposition to the detention center, and two people were arrested.

NH Looking to Privatize

The state of New Hampshire, that freedom-lovin' land of no income tax and fiercely independent libertarians, has just dipped its toe into the prison privatization pool.  The state currently does not house any prisoners in private facilities, but has just submitted a request for proposals from private companies to construct 3 prisons.  I guess Governor Lynch needs to check my blog more often.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Poor Oversight

One of my constant gripes about the private prison industry is the lack of oversight and transparency.  Briefly, private prisons in all but 2 states are not required to comply with public records / Freedom of Information laws, as they are private entities.  Many have argued that, because the industry performs an inherently governmental function, that it should be subject to the same sort of transparency that the government must abide by.  Which is certainly a reasonable argument.

The natural consequence of the opacity of the industry is a weak oversight structure.  If the public cannot review information about the way a private prison operates, then that public is ill-equipped to challenge issues that arise within the prison.  Which brings me to this quick link from The American Independent.  The title pretty accurately sums up the main point; "Expanding Private Prison Industry Benefits From Weak Oversight Structure."  It's a really well-written and detailed article that lays out the problem in better terms than I can.  Enjoy!

UK's Dubious Privatization Experience

Though I rarely touch on international private prison news, two recent stories from our friends across the pond caught my attention recently.  The first is an article from The Guardian discussing the proposed privatization of nine prisons in England, which the author concludes would work out very well for any corporation that wins the contract but not so well for prisoners who end up housed in a private facility.  Research cited by the author has shown that private prisons present a much higher risk to the safety of prisoners, staff, and the general public.  Private prisons in the UK has seen some of the same problems as the industry experiences here in the US; "green" staff, with little training and a high rate of turnover, which results in higher levels of violence and decreased security.  Likewise, the industry falls victim to the profit motive, as private prison operators continually cut costs at the expense of prisoner rehabilitation and care.

England is facing a crisis of incarceration similar to, but on a much smaller scale than our own, driven by things like mandatory minimum sentences and 3-strikes laws, which has prompted lawmakers to seek ways to cut the prison population or at least make it more manageable.  Unfortunately, they seem to be taking a page out of our manual in dealing with the crisis, focusing more on increasing capacity by outsourcing services to private companies than on smart and efficient legislative and policy initiatives designed to reduce the prison population.

The second is an article that uncovers an "eye-watering scandal;" namely, that the competitive bidding process currently underway to operate 5 facilities is rigged in favor of the private companies.  Stipulations were introduced by the government late into the process that rendered bids from public entities non-competitive, and the private industry has basically been handed a cakewalk of a bidding process.  It's a clear handout to the industry, and as the assistant secretary general of the probation union said, "Prison Privatisation is no longer based on efficiency, it's now ideological."

Occupy CCA Protests in Nashville

Monday, November 14, 2011

Private Prisons See Gold in Immigration Cases

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CCA Can't Offer Substantial Savings

I'll keep it brief here with the most shocking news I've seen from the weekend.  CCA and the state of Mississippi have just ended a contract because CCA could not offer the state the cost-savings it sought in order to have a privately-operated prison.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

CCA Forcing Prison on Floridians

I admit I have been rather lax in reporting on the brewing situation in Southwest Ranches, Florida.  Briefly, CCA has proposed building an ICE detention center in the town, but has met with some pretty stiff resistance from the locals, who justifiably don't want a prison in their town.  After learning of the public's opposition, CCA successfully petitioned the town council to keep mum about the prison's construction.  That's right; officials elected to represent the people of Southwest Ranches were persuaded by CCA to tow the company line and represent the company's interests over that of their constituents.  So we're off to a great start here...

Anyway, after that debacle, CCA employed yet another questionable tactic as it started using robocalls to try to drum up support in the community.  In fact, they misrepresented the facility and touted the job creation benefits as they harassed Southwest Ranches residents with these calls.  So they're clearly the paragon of corporate responsibility.

Then there was a town council hearing last Saturday, at which no CCA representative was scheduled to be present.  I guess they didn't feel it was necessary to respond to the legitimate concerns of the people who don't want yet another private, for-profit immigration detention facility in their town.  Hundreds of local residents showed up at the meeting, complaining that the project had been rammed through despite numerous objections.  The meeting was so popular that more than 100 people opposed to the project couldn't even get in.  It got so contentious that the mayor of Pembroke Pines, the next town over, criticized Southwest Ranches officials for ignoring the concerns of their own constituents.

So, to recap.  Southwest Ranches residents don't want another private immigration detention facility.  The officials of the next town over are publicly criticizing the leadership of Southwest Ranches for ignoring constituents.  But the project keeps moving steadily along, as CCA has used questionable tactics to force this prison on these poor folks.  Thankfully though, yet another obstacle has arisen; immigration advocates are now calling for CCA to conduct an environmental impact study, which is supposed to happen before they construct the prison, per federal law.  I don't think this will be much more than another minor speedbump in CCA's determined march to build this prison, but at least it's something.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Don't Let the Door Hit You...

Russel Pearce, the slimy Republican state senator from Arizona who got the private prison industry's "Breathing While Brown" law passed in his state, just lost a recall election.  To another candidate who opposes the immigration crackdown and who has vowed to reject any gifts from special interest groups (like ALEC and CCA)

Analysis of SCOTUS Case

Just wanted to give you a quick link to a great analysis by the NY Times Editorial board of the Minneci v. Pollard case, which the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on last week.  The case involves abuse at a private prison operated by the GEO Group that was so severe it allegedly violated the prisoner's 8th Amendment right.

At issue was whether or not employees of a private prison company can be held personally liable for such violations.  The court had previously held that employees of the federal BOP can be held responsible.  Attorneys for the employees of the GEO Group argued that their clients are not technically federal government employees and thus should not be held responsible for violating people's rights.  As the Editorial argues, "The court should reject this argument. If not, it will allow the government to contract away prisoners’ constitutional rights — and contract away its own responsibility to protect individuals imprisoned under the law."

(Update 11/10/11) Another great article just came out on the case in the American Prospect, called "Cruel and Unusual Idiocy: Can the government get around the Constitution by outsourcing its functions to private contractors?"  The title speaks for itself.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Inside a Private Prison

Quick link here to the first in a new series by the ACLU called "Prison Voices."  This episode features Alex Friedman of Prison Legal News, who spent years incarcerated in a CCA prison in Tennessee

Revolving Door Paying Off

As I reported on previously, the GEO Group has exercised the revolving door between the private prison industry and politics rather well, as their former lobbyist and consultant, Stacia Hylton, was elected to head the US Marshal's Service, one of the federal agencies that contracts with the GEO Group.  Clearly, some people were disturbed by the idea that someone who earned literally hundreds of thousands of dollars working for a company with a long track record of human rights abuses and poor contract performance would be placed into a position with significant oversight over the management and awarding of contracts to that very company.

It turns out those people (myself included) may have been onto something.  Because Ms. Hylton has refused to investigate numerous claims by immigration detention advocates that detainees in a GEO Group prison in New York have been subject to ongoing abuse.  It must be nice for the GEO Group to have friends in such high places, but that really sucks for the immigrants being abused by this private, for-profit social leech of a corporation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

They Just Don't Get It

Governor Ric Scott and many republicans in Florida's legislature have been trying to force the privatization of 29 prisons on the state's DOC.  This earlier resulted in the forced resignation of the DOC's director, who was adamantly opposed to the privatization (though he himself had been a champion of privatization before coming to Florida), and a lawsuit by the union representing Florida's COs to block the proposal.  The union, the PBA, won in its initial lawsuit and Scott's camp originally said it did not intend to appeal the judge's decision that the legislature had acted unconstitutionally when it inserted the privatization language into a last-minute budget proviso.

But, being the stand-up guy he is, Governor Scott's office decided to appeal the ruling at the very last minute.  Then, as if appealing a decision that your blatant corporate handout was unconstitutional wasn't ballsy enough, Scott's office re-opened the bidding process for the privatization because they were apparently so confident in their chances to win on appeal.  Thankfully, the PBA stepped in again, requesting that the court stop the bidding process because of the "panic" experienced by state COs who have no idea whether or not they'll have a job within the next few months.  In fact, corrections officials had promised not to re-open the bidding process.  They should have stuck by their promise, because now the state has been ordered to "Cease and Desist" from all activities related to the proposal and privatization.

Get it through your head, Florida Republicans.  Your thinly-veiled handout to the industry that spent more than a million dollars lobbying you last election is unconstitutional and corrupt.  The plan should have never even made it this far.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Third-Quarter 2011 Earnings

Once again, we have the chance to evaluate our national priorities as we take a look at the earnings statements for the third quarter of 2011 for the two largest private prison companies in the country, CCA and the GEO Group.  Both companies have recently taken hits in the stock market, but still raked in tens of millions of dollars in profit, on hundreds of millions in revenue, over the past three months.

The GEO Group earned $26.1 million in profit over the past three months on nearly $407 million in revenue from government contracts.  That comes out to about $290,000 in profit every single day, all made on taxpayer dollars.

Meanwhile, CCA actually saw a dip in its profit, taking in about $2 million less in the third quarter of 2011 than they did in 2010.  But the drop-off wasn't significant; they still earned $39.24 million in profit over the past three months.  That's about $460,000 every day.

Combined these two companies, housing maybe 10% of the prisoners in this country, earned $726,000 in profit every day for the past three months.  That's $30,250 per hour, $504.17 per minute, and $8.40 every single second.  Again, taxpayer dollars.

If this isn't corporate welfare, I don't know what is.  And to think that they turn most of this money around into lobbying for laws that lock up an ever-growing number of US citizens and immigrants...

This is Why I Hate CCA.  And the GEO Group.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2 More Deaths in Private Prisons

An ICE detainee at the Eloy detention center in Arizona passed away on Sunday, after having complained of shortness of breath and being transported to a hospital.  Pablo Gracida-Conte had been in CCA custody prior to his death.

And in Mississippi, a prisoner at the GEO-Group operated Eastern MS Correctional Facility took his own life a few days ago.  The 27-year-old's death comes amid numerous reports of serious violations of human rights coming out of the facility.

Fantastic New Report

I just want to call your attention to a new report that has just been released by the ACLU that covers a broad range of issues presented by the private prison industry and this country's addiction to incarceration.  In Banking on Bondage, David Shapiro of the ACLU National Prison Project details some of the most pressing concerns about private prisons, including the explosive growth of the industry over the past 3 decades, debunking the myth that private prisons save money, and the questionable tactics employed by the industry to drum up business and ensure a steady flow of prisoners.  Really, stop whatever it is you're doing, and go read this report.  It's a great introduction to this despicable industry for novices, and a wealth of evidence of the industry's failures for those who already know about the horrors of prison privatization.

They're Run By Super Classy People

Sometimes this stuff is just too easy.  Grady Sims, the former warden of a halfway house run by the GEO Group in Walnut Grove, MS, has been charged with sexually assaulting a prisoner under his watch, then attempting to cover up the incident.  This should not be confused with the juvenile prison in Walnut Grove, also run by the GEO Group, which is the target of a wide-ranging lawsuit by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center alleging, among other things, rampant violence and neglect of serious medical and mental health care needs.

But he didn't stop there.  Mr. Sims, who was also the mayor of this small town for decades, used the town's taxpayers' money to perform maintenance on the private prison.  In fact, he used over $30,000 worth of their money to perform labor on the facility.  Because apparently the GEO Group, which already takes in literally billions of dollars every year in taxpayer money as revenue, tens if not hundreds of millions of which ends up as profit, couldn't perform that labor themselves.