Friday, April 27, 2012

More on Closure of Otter Creek

Just a quick link to follow up on the closure of the Otter Creek CF, a CCA prison in Kentucky that was at the center of numerous claims of sexual abuse and assault.  Kentucky cut funding to the institution a few weeks back, in part to save money, especially because the state is looking at ways to reduce its prison population, especially among low-level and nonviolent offenders.  CCA is going to look for a new government to dupe into a contract to re-fill the prison.

Mississippi Tosses GEO Group!

Mississippi, of all places, has had enough.  Not exactly known for its hospitable prison system, the state announced last Friday that it intends to terminate its contract with the GEO Group to operate 3 facilities, effective in July.  One of those facilities is Walnut Grove, which was recently the target of a lawsuit that brought sweeping change to the way Mississippi incarcerates its youth.  Plagued with violence, medical neglect, and persistent sexual abuse, the facility's conditions were so abysmal that the Department of Justice called it "some of the worst abuse" they had seen in any investigation of a prison or jail.  Children housed there used terms like "barbaric," "a war zone," and "the deepest depths of hell" to describe it.  The settlement in the lawsuit removed all juveniles from Walnut Grove and mandated that they never be held in solitary confinement.  Lest you feel bad for GEO getting slapped around so hard in the lawsuit, remember that they earned millions of dollars in profit by treating children like shit.

Now, the state will pursue a new company to take over operations of the prisons.  Apparently, it hasn't crossed the Governor's mind to just have the government run them.  Anyway, CCA probably has the inside track to take over the prisons, since they already contract with the state to operate two others and can probably offer the lowest bid, because they're the largest and operate the biggest economy of scale in the industry.  I imagine maybe the things like the murder and the multiple suicides in one of the prisons, along with GEO's request for $5 million more per year to operate the prison, caused the state to want to move in a new direction.  GEO, playing the perfect jilted lover, claims it's the one who initiated the split, because the facility had been "financially under-performing," which if true just proves how fickle and greedy their corporate mentality is.

Change is long overdue.  The federal judge who ruled in the lawsuit against Walnut Grove called it a "cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the [children] at substantial ongoing risk."  I have no faith in any private prison company to come in and operate these prisons much better - this is far from the first time the industry has dramatically failed to live up to its promises and the terms of its contracts.  Mississippi should think long and hard before inviting yet another for-profit company to operate these prisons. Keeping the door open for the private industry simply invites more abuse.  The state would be much better served by assuming responsibility for its prisoners.  In addition to the considerable improvement many prisoners would see in their living conditions, the state should not continue to funnel taxpayer dollars to an industry that profits by performing an inherently governmental function.  Especially when the state's own experience shows just how poorly that money is being spent.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

California County Concerned With Private MH Care

Quick link here to a story about a press conference that was held by a group of mental health advocates in Sata Barbara, CA to discuss a report about ways to reduce the amount of mentally ill people who go to jail and to ensure they receive adequate treatment while incarcerated.  Some of the people who spoke cited concerns with the treatment provided by Corizon, a for-profit medical and mental healthcare provider that serves the jail, and the lack of oversight to monitor the company.

Congresswoman Under Fire

Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), chairwoman of the DNC, has heartily imbibed the "economic stimulus" Kool-Aid, and has publicly supported CCA and ICE's plans to build an immigration detention center in Southwest Ranches, Florida.  Her constituents have been pretty strongly opposed to the project from the get-go, and the debate has devolved into a legal battle between the next town over, Pembroke Pines, and CCA.

But Debbie, along with another Representative from Florida, just keeps ignoring the folks she's supposed to represent.  Recently, she was petitioned by the Florida Immigrant Coalition and a smattering of other advocacy groups with a video demonstrating the local opposition.  A spokesperson for her office basically told them she wasn't re-considering her endorsement.

Ask CCA To Report on Sexual Assault

I just want to drop a quick link here and encourage everyone to go sign a petition on asking CCA to report on its efforts to reduce sexual abuse within its facilities.  Sexual abuse in prisons is a serious problem in both government and private facilities, so a CCA shareholder introduced a resolution asking the company to provide regular reports on the efforts it is taking to combat sexual assault and protect the prisoners it houses.  CCA initially objected to the resolution, but that objection was rejected by the SEC, so it now will move to a vote by all shareholders of the company.   Please go sign this petition.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Louisiana on the Brink of a Terrible Decision?

Louisiana, the state with the highest rate of incarceration in the country, is considering selling its Avoyelles Correctional Center to a private company in a vain effort to save money.  This was immediately panned as a terrible idea by many in central Louisiana (where the prison is located), including the union that represents COs (AFSCME) and a local mayor who is concerned about public safety issues if the privatization moves forward.  State legislators also voiced concerns about the privatization effort, after witnessing problems at current private prisons within the state; one went so far as to beg the legislature, "Don't do this to the victims of crime all over Louisiana."  A former legislator also lamented the prospect of forcing state employees to take jobs with less pay and benefits, but the bill passed the appropriations committee by a narrow vote.

The first incarnation of the bill to privatize the prison would have set the contract length at 30 years; thankfully, the bill's sponsor had an epiphany of (some) common sense, and introduced an amendment that would prevent the prison from being sold (but not turning over its operation) and limit the contract to ten years.  A second amendment would also prevent a private company from charging a minimum occupancy rate, which could seriously undermine any company's desire to undertake responsibility for the facility.  Which would be a wonderful development.

Even with these new restrictions, privatizing Avoyelles would be a very risky decision; the mayor of Alexandria, Louisiana claims that privatization would present "significant issues" and put Alexandria "on the long-term road to being in a worse place than where [it] started."  The mayor went on to discuss how privatization has failed to save Louisiana and other states money in the past, and was joined by a former corrections official in warning about the potential impact on public safety.  The Southern Poverty Law Center concurred, saying that the long-term costs will far outweigh any short-term benefits achieved through privatization.  A managing attorney at the firm describes how private prison companies often lowball per diem rates at the beginning of a contract, then demand higher rates for prisoners once a government has committed to sending prisoners there.  Basically, the companies get governments by the cojones - once the prisoners are in a private facility, the logistical headache of relocating hundreds of convicts allows the companies to charge more.

It appears as though all this opposition might finally be getting through to legislators; even after the sale of the prison was removed from the bill, the legislation appears to be in danger of failing.  Apparently, politicians in Louisiana are beginning to realize that endangering public safety for corporate profits might not be the most politically palatable course of action.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pressure Mounting Against Crete Detention Center

Another quick link here to a great story from the Huffington Post that captures much of the debate surrounding the proposed ICE/CCA facility in Crete, IL.  The proposal has met with strong opposition from many locals, despite ICE's and CCA's best efforts to sell it as economic stimulus.

Gambling the Future on Immigration Detention

Another quickie here - I just wanted to drop a link to this excellent article from The Nation, which discusses the Irwin County Detention Center, an immigration detention center in Georgia.  The story is an excellent discussion of the broken immigration detention system in this country and how over-reliance on incarceration as economic stimulus is a foolhardy venture.

From Bad to Worse

Quick link here to a story about how Florida is moving ahead with plans to privatize healthcare for all its prisoners. After republicans tried unsuccessfully, three times, to privatize half the state's prison system, they were determined to at least give a bit of a taxpayer-funded handout to private companies.  The state has received proposals from two companies, which would amount to a total of $359 million in fees for healthcare services.  The state currently pays about $400 million for healthcare for its prisoners, which isn't exactly what you'd get at Beth Israel, and it's looking to make it even harder for its prisoners to receive adequate medical treatment.  Somehow, this passed as proviso language in the budget, basically the same maneuver that sent the wholesale prison privatization offtrack.

Judge: Throw Out GEO Group's Contract

The GEO Group owns BI, Inc., an electronic monitoring company, because apparently incarcerating immigrants wasn't bringing in quite enough revenue.  The GEO Group is based in Florida, where an administrative law judge reviewing the contract the state just signed with BI, Inc. has recommended that the state cancel the contract it recently awarded and turn over monitoring services to BI's competitor, ProTech.  Basically, the judge found that there was an unfair bidding process, in which BI did not provide all the information initially sought in the request for proposals (but they got the contract anyway).  I imagine the $800,000 GEO contributed to Florida politicians in the last election cycle might have helped them win.

Friday, April 20, 2012

G4s Sucks

Don't take it from me.  A spate of recent articles basically sums up how G4S, the world's largest private security firm, might be the worst of the private prison companies in the world.  They don't operate any facilities in the US that I'm aware of, which is a good thing.  Take a look for yourself:

John Grayson, Mobilising Outrage: Campaigning With Asylum Seekers Against Security Industry Giant G4S,

Clare Sambrook, Who Should Investigate Murder - The Police, or a Private Security Company?,

Clare Sambrook, Corporate Power Stamps its Brand on British Policing,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

CCA To Close Otter Creek

The Otter Creek Correctional Facility in Kentucky, run by CCA, has been marred by a litany of management and human rights issues throughout much of its history.  The worst of these issues would probably be the rampant sexual abuse suffered by female prisoners, which was in part what prompted the governor of Hawaii to work to remove all Hawaiian prisoners from private facilities on the continent.  CCA tried to cover up the sexual harassment and abuse, and the prison consistently suffered from a lack of oversight.  Thankfully, Kentucky declined to renew its contract with CCA and the company is, at least temporarily, closing the hellhole.  At least until it can find another government to victimize contract with.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Hampshire Continues March Towards Privatization

New Hampshire has been debating whether or not to start housing some its prisoners in private facilities over the past few months.  First came a proposal to send 600 prisoners to out-of-state private prisons.  Then, the state submitted a request for proposals to construct a private facility; four companies submitted bids to get the contract.

Now, those companies have also bid on construction of a hybrid facility, which would hold both men and women and be at least 1,700 beds.  The state is looking for a company to operate the facility for the next two decades, apparently taking a cue from CCA's recent proposal to 48 governors.

And most recently, the state is considering a proposal that would subject its entire prison population to private control.  This comes despite the fact that the state's prison population is actually declining - it could have something to do with the tens of thousands of dollars the industry has spent on lobbyists to push privatization.  Maybe.

GEO's Deep Pockets in Florida

After spending 80% of the 1 million dollars the private prison industry poured into Florida's 2010 election cycle, the GEO Group watched with dismay as the biggest prison privatization effort in human history was narrowly defeated in the state legislature.  Republicans tried (again) to sneak the privatization effort into the budget as a last-minute amendment, an action that the state Supreme Court had chastised them for in the past, but that also failed to pass.

So after the legislature defeated the privatization push three times, the GEO Group appears to have not gotten the message.  A PAC that supports quasi-criminal governor Ric Scott has already raised nearly $500,000 for the coming election, with nearly a quarter of that coming from the GEO Group.  I imagine this is just the beginning of what will be a tidal wave of political spending by the company in its home state.  Which will probably be shortly followed by yet another proposal to privatize half the state's prison system.

Sad End to a Sad Story

Just wanted to give a quick update to a story that's fallen a bit by the wayside; the still vacant private prison in Hardin, Montana.  After being constructed on speculation by Corplan Corrections, the facility sat vacant for years after Corplan failed to help the town secure a contract to fill it.  Various proposals came up for the facility, including using it for a reality TV show, but it remained empty for years, eventually costing Hardin nearly $10,000 per month in utilities just to keep it from falling apart.  A career con man tried to purchase the facility through a company known as the American Private Police Force, but that deal fell through as well.  The director of the group that purchased the facility lost his job after it defaulted on its bond payments.

Now it turns out the facility will likely be returned to the bondholders who financed it.  Basically, this would allow for the city to get the facility and its maintenance off its hands (and budget, for that matter), and the bondholders would be able to pursue contracts to fill it.  But given the track record of failure, I think that's not likely to happen.

UPDATE: It's now official: the jail, valued at $26 million, has been returned to the bondholders.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Taking ALEC to Task

ALEC, one of the banes of my existence, has been in the news a lot recently, as people are starting to realize that they're behind every conservative conspiracy to screw over some segment of the population.  As I've reported on before, the industry has helped to write and push laws that have dramatically increased our country's prison population and funneled taxpayer dollars to private prison companies.  The group is also behind a lot of the anti-reproductive rights legislation sweeping the country, the anti-union measures that passed in places like Wisconsin, Maine, and Ohio, voter suppression measures like anti-fraud legislation (which was a solution in search of a problem), and the "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida that's one of the focuses of the Trayvon Martin case.  So basically, ALEC is the manifestation (and source) of the anti-democratic forces directing conservative ideology.

So I was happy to see that a journalist of such a high caliber as Paul Krugman took them to task for promoting privatization efforts that threaten to dismantle many democratic institutions. He focused only a small part of his article on the group's work with the private prison industry, and mentioned how SB1070 came out of an ALEC conference.  But CCA's intimidation PR machine came out in full force, demanding an apology from Krugman for implying that CCA lobbied on behalf of SB1070.  CCA, as a company, did not lobby or donate on that bill.  But multiple members of its executive board did, something CCA's shill Steve Owen seems to always coincidentally forgetThe company is clearly trying to intimidate Krugman and others who would potentially disparage the good name and reputation of the industry, and prevent negative press.

Folks, this is only a small taste of what a truly free market would be capable of.  As groups like ALEC erode the foundation of civility and equity on which our country has thrived, by promoting privatization of public assets and destroying the democratic party's voting base, we, the common people, lose.  Thankfully there are still reporters with some cojones who tackle these important issues, but they seem to be getting fewer and farther between.  ALEC is an absolute menace to the 99% of people who don't stand to benefit from an even greater concentration of political power and wealth.

MI Republicans Still Pushing Privatization

Another quickie here; Republicans in Michigan continue to push for private prisons as they seek ways to reduce the state budget, despite the fact that private prisons don't actually save money.  But don't take it from me - a researcher at the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy (based in Ann Arbor), agrees.  "I don't know of any successful prison privatizations... as you move more into the private sector, it becomes more costly." (emphasis added)  Let's be honest here folks; privatization doesn't save money, not in the prison context, or really any other context for that matter.  It's nothing more than a method to steer public funds to private corporations who lobby government officials.  In fact, Michigan has already lived through one failed privatization attempt; the Baldwin facility was closed after the government found it cost more to operate than about 90% of its facilities.

Labor Struggles Continue in Australia

Just a quick update here on the potential strike by GEO Group employees in Australia; the workers are now threatening "industrial action," meaning they're going to stop working.  The guards are asking for better pay and higher staffing levels (the prison experienced a riot in January that was exacerbated by a lack of staff), requests the GEO Group considers "totally unrealistic."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Transport Company Facing Wrongful Death Suit

Transcor, a private, for-profit prisoner transport company, may have to pay punitive damages to the family of a prisoner who died of heat stroke while being transported.  On a 95 degree day, Joseph Curtis was being driven in the back of a van with a broken air conditioner.  He passed out in the van and was ignored by the guards driving the vehicle, even after other prisoners told them he was in distress - he died a short while later.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

March to Protest an Immigration Detention Center

Much like the fight going on in Southwest Ranches/Pembroke Pines, FL, residents in Crete, IL are fighting back against ICE and CCA, who want to build an immigration detention center in their town.  So two weeks ago, activists embarked on a 3-day march to demonstrate their opposition to the planned facility.  About 30 people started the march to the construction site; when they hit their destination, 75 people were marching and even more residents of Crete came out to show support for the demonstrators.  So I just want to give a shout out to everyone who participated.  Hopefully the Illinois House will pass legislation it is considering that could prevent CCA from building the facility.

Punishment and Profits: Immigration Detention

An excellent video from Al-Jazeera's series, Fault Lines.

Some Closure

The two judges who unjustifiably sent thousands of children to juvenile detention plead guilty a few weeks ago.  As Mark Ciavarella said, "I have disgraced my judgeship...I have only myself to blame."  This scandal was beyond disgraceful, and a clear example of why incarceration should never be a for-profit venture.

CCA Utilizing Social Media To Enhance its Image

CCA has recently turned to social media, particularly facebook, to try to boost its image.  CCA posts a bunch of fluff pieces about their company, and even regularly gives out prizes for trivia games, all in an effort to get people to forget about how they mooch taxpayer dollars and earn billions of dollars by locking people up.

"One More in a Long Line of Mistakes"

I just want to drop a quick link here to an excellent analysis of the push to privatize prisons in Ohio by its governor, John Kasich, who hired a former CCA employee as the head of his department of corrections.  The title of the article is pretty self-explanatory: "Kasich's Latest Move on Private Prison One More in a Long Line of Mistakes."  Kasich has been pushing privatization from the moment he stepped into office, but he may not have thought through all the ramifications of privatizing, and his taxpayers appear to have gotten the raw end of the deal.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Arizona's Political Leaders Are Crazy for Private Prisons

I've been remiss in updating everyone on the situation in Arizona, the state that loves private prisons, even though it's likely paying more for them than what the government could operate facilities for.  After a few reports came out detailing how the state was paying through the nose for private prisons, its legislature continued to bullishly forge ahead with a request for proposals to construct an additional 2,000 private prison beds.  This came despite evidence that private prisons in the state cost more and are more dangerous; the American Friends Service Committee filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent the state from entering into a new contract for these beds.  But it was thrown out on a technicality; the judge basically said that citizens of Arizona have no standing to ask the Department of Corrections to follow the law.

So the AFSC and the NAACP joined together in filing a formal protest asking the court put a stop to the request for proposals, which came alongside a piece of legislation designed to prevent the state from conducting cost comparisons in the future.  The Department of Corrections swiftly dismissed the request, again on a technicality basically amounting to "we don't want to listen to socially conscious organizations working in the best interest of Arizona citizens."  The state seems to be quite insistent on these new private prison beds, possibly because its politicians have long had cozy relationships with the industry.  From SB1070, which came out of ALEC, to the governor's staff consisting of CCA lobbyists, Arizona politicians and the private prison industry are well acquainted.  In fact, Dennis Deconcini, a former senator from the state, sits on CCA's board.  And it appears as though the state's Chamber of Commerce is rife with conflicts of interest related to the industry; CCA, the GEO Group, and PHS are all represented on the board of the Chamber, either directly or through lobbying firms.

So it seems like Arizona's political leaders are really just oblivious to common sense and the advice of groups who have thoroughly studied the problems inherent to the private prison industry.  I want to believe that, rather than the alternative, which would be that they just don't care about how terrible and inefficient the industry is, because they want to give handouts to their political allies. As Sasha Abramsky at The Nation writes, "One might think that, faced with evidence that the state isn't getting enough bang for its buck, Arizona legislators would rethink their commitment to putting ever mroe prisoners into private facilities.  Instead, in a move Orwellian even by the gutter standards of Arizona politics, they've simply tried to bar the state from collecting the evidence."

With all the news about the state attempting to further privatize its prison system, it might have been easy to overlook the state's decision to bring in a private, for-profit medical care provider, Wexford, to manage healthcare for the entire system.  Which is just another clusterfuck waiting to happen.  The company will charge more than the state paid last year to provide healthcare this year, and estimates it will reap of profit of more than $5 million in the process.  I'm sure none of that will come from denying treatment or neglecting prisoners.

Playing Games With the Open Market

CCA's stocked jumped dramatically last week on the news that the company is investigating morphing into a real estate investment trust.  This move would permit CCA to avoid paying substantial corporate taxes, as REITs are exempt as long as they pay out at least 90% of the taxable income in the form of dividends.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Some of the Worst Abuse Ever Seen

Following on the announcement of the removal of all juvenile prisoners in Mississippi from private prisons, the Department of Justice has just released a report of its findings in investigating the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, which is run by the GEO Group.  Walnut Grove was the target of the lawsuit that resulted in the prohibition on sending juveniles to private prisons, and it turns out the state was more than justified in ordering such a removal.  Juveniles incarcerated at the facility were subjected to ongoing sexual misconduct and other forms of abuse; the abuse was "among the worst that [the DOJ has] seen in any facility anywhere in the nation."

This is truly one of the most gut-wrenching tales of the horrors of privatization that I've ever seen.  The report indicates that the profit motive inherent in the private prison industry led the GEO Group to ignore the suffering of children under its care; the company earned more than $100 million from the facility's operation.  Staff were frequently involved in gang activity, and children suffered from excessive use of force regularly.  The children were sexually assaulted, guards smuggled drugs into the facility, numerous extremely violent riots occurred, and the kids were routinely subjected to long periods of isolated confinement, denied medical care and access to educational programming.  It was so bad that the judge who just ruled on the settlement remarked that "The sum of these actions and inactions ... paints a picture of horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world."  The inaction the judge refers to is not only the fault of the GEO Group; the state of Mississippi was remiss in repeatedly failing to enforce and monitor the contract it has with the company to ensure its own citizens, children of all people, would not suffer through such horrendous experiences.

It looks like long-needed change has finally come to the children housed at Walnut Grove and their families, all of whom were victimized by the prison-industrial complex, and more specifically, by the profit motive inherent to the private prison industry.  Judge Reeves, who approved the settlement, claims he will avidly enforce the agreement to ensure that no other children fall prey to the GEO Group.

GEO Group Workers Threaten Strike in Australia

GEO Group employees working at a private prison in Australia are threatening to strike for better pay and working conditions.  So, private prisons treat their employees like crap all across the globe, not just here in the states.

Incarceration, Inc.

CCA Leaning on Colorado for More Money

CCA is attempting what might be considered extortion of Colorado, asking the state to give it tens of millions more dollars to continue to operate its two Colorado facilities.  As the state's prison population has declined, CCA's population has too, resulting in the company losing money.  So they've told the state they'll need a subsidy to keep both prisons open, essentially backing the state into a corner, because it doesn't have the capacity to all of a sudden take on the prisoners in CCA facilities.  The state is already considering putting some of the millions of dollars it has saved by closing its supermax prison towards the difference, but it doesn't seem likely that that $4 million or more would be enough to satisfy CCA.  The company is threatening to either close its facilities or start shedding scores of jobs, which has officials in the two affected counties pretty nervous about the economic ramifications

Yet another example of how privatizing prisons (and other essential government functions) can come back to bite governments.

Monday, April 2, 2012

NH Testing the Private Prison Waters

Quick link here to an article discussing how New Hampshire might become the latest state to start sending prisoners to private facilities, as it has requested proposals from companies to construct 1,500 beds to help manage its population.  CCA, MTC, and the GEO Group have all submitted bids, which are for the moment confidential.  The state has not confirmed that it will indeed move forward with plans to bring a private prison online, but this isn't exactly a positive development.

Battle in Florida Rages On

Just a quick update here on the ongoing battle in Southwest Ranches / Pembroke Pines, FL, where residents are working to opposed a planned ICE detention center.  As more and more residents voiced their opposition to the plan, Pembroke Pines' council announced it was cancelling a contract that would have provided utility services to the site, which they hoped would effectively kill the measure.  But the corporate behemoth that is CCA decided to sue the town to try to force it to provide utilities.  Not intimidated by CCA's lawsuit, the town has counter-sued the company, asking a judge to halt construction until a court can determine whether the town will be required to provide utilities.  Unfortunately, SWR's council is still pushing hard for the prison, believing the lies CCA has been pushing about the economic benefits of bringing a prison to town, along with CCA and ICE.  So it looks like this battle is far from over.

One Person is All it Takes

Mississippi's legislature was considering legislation that would have permitted the state to house death row prisoners in a CCA facility, which would have made it the first state to permit private companies to house capital prisoners.  Thankfully though, the measure now looks like it will be defeated, as it has been held up by the House Corrections Committee Chairman, who intends to kill the bill.


A judge in Wisconsin has just halted a plan to use private security guards as bailiffs in court rooms.  A sheriff had already issued a contract in excess of $1 million to Wackenhut to staff courtrooms after budget cuts reduced his staff.  Thankfully though, the judge understands that privatizing law enforcement is a pretty terrible idea.