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Happy Anniversary, CCA!

5:32 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

I apologize for falling silent for the past few months.  Life caught up with me.  Anyway, don’t think I’ve stopped hating on private prisons – far from it.  I just haven’t really had the time to write.

But I can’t let a day like today go by without some mention.  Today, CCA turns 30.  That means for three decades we as a nation (beginning with Tennessee (thanks a lot, Tennessee)) have been bullishly pursuing a failed experiment in which we turn over society’s most vulnerable members to private companies, who systematically fail to live up to their contractual standards, let alone any notion of human decency, in how they operate their facilities.  In the process, millions of lives have been impacted, with all but a very few exceptions (the corporate brass) being worse for the wear.

We’ve sold our morality to the lowest bidder, repeatedly, to the tune of BILLIONS of taxpayer (i.e. my and your) dollars every year.  Meanwhile, these companies earn hundreds of millions of dollars (again, our money) in profit annually. But even THAT wasn’t enough, because now CCA and the GEO Group are reincorporating as something called Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), which, in a nutshell, is a legal maneuver that will allow them to largely avoid paying taxes.

So CCA, GEO Group, MTC, and everyone else who takes my money to abuse and mistreat people, on the thirtieth anniversary of your despicable existence, here’s a heart-felt

Fuck You.

from me to you.

MTC Takes Over Where The GEO Group Left off

6:25 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

After the state of Mississippi announced it was not renewing its contract with the GEO Group (or that the GEO Group bailed on the state, depending on how you see it) following a litany of abuse and mismanagement issues at the prisons it ran for the state, the Department of Corrections needed to bring in another company to operate the private facilities formerly run by them.  Apparently, the state did not consider just hiring additional corrections staff and taking control of the prisons itself.

Into the picture now comes MTC, or Management and Training Corporation, the third-largest private prison operator in the U.S. MTC most recently made headlines as the company in charge of the Kingman prison in Arizona, from which 3 felons (2 convicted murderers) escaped, fled across the country, killed an elderly couple, and stirred up a multi-state manhunt.  Shortly thereafter, an audit found the facility had numerous security flaws that the prisoners exploited in their escape.  This was part of what prompted many advocates to call for a statewide audit of private prisons that found the facilities to cost more than government-operated prisons.  Then Republicans in the state legislature passed a bill to prohibit future audits. Of course.

So this is the company that Mississippi has apparently seen fit to give responsibility for prisoners in the former GEO Group facilities.  MTC will operate 3 prisons for the state; Walnut Grove, East Mississippi CF, and Marshall County CF, while CCA will continue to operate an additional 2 facilities (one of which just suffered a riot).  But many people, including this author, are skeptical that there will be any signifncant improvement at the prisons.  Hopefully, Mississippi will have learned from at least some of its mistakes with the GEO Group, such as not having an enforcement mechanism in the contract to ensure adequate staffing levels.

Meanwhile, it looks like the GEO Group is seeking to expand northward into Canada since its reputation has taken such a hit here, and MTC is focusing their sights on our continental brethren as well.  I just hope the Canadians learn from our mistakes.

GEO Group Fined More Than $100,000

8:35 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

OSHA has fined the GEO Group more than $100,000 for occupational hazards present in the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, one of the prisons it had operated for years before losing its contract with the state in the wake of some terrible abuses that took place in the juvenile detention center they also ran.  Some of the violations at EMCF included malfunctioning locks and staffing levels so low that guards had to conduct head counts of prisoners alone.

 

Mental Health in Prisons and the GEO Group

7:49 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

By Jenny Landreth

Rows of squalid bunk beds in a 1925 NC Prison Farm

Historic photo of North Carolina prison farm, 1925 (Photo: Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC).

The news that GEOCare, a private for-profit company, is hovering around the prisoner mental health honeypot in North Carolina is an extremely worrisome development. Mental health in prisons tends to fall at or near the very bottom of the list of priorities in prison management– and likewise in prison budgets– not least because a large percentage of the typical prison population suffer from mental health issue. This covers everything from anxiety and depression, to self-harm, insomnia, suicide attempts, psychosis, borderline personality disorder, uncontrollable anger and violent impulses associated with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and eating disorder. To be honest, if a prisoner is not suffering from some sort of despair related condition whilst incarcerated in the US prison system, they are doing remarkably well. Some prisoners are clearly more robust mentally than others, and it cannot be denied that these prisoners are likely to become the strongest of the population, sometimes to the point of bullying of vulnerable, mentally ill prisoners.

Tough Lives

Bullying of those with mental health issues is as common outside of prison walls as it is on the inside. Many criminals have suffered lives of appalling neglect, which has stunted their ability to feel anything approaching a normal response to others. When you think of these prisoners, think also of the little three year old child they once were, being abused, ignored, going hungry, being battered and shouted at. Any child being brought up in this sort of impoverished manner, often with parents who are poor and criminalised, will be seriously scarred by the experience, and will be developmentally and socially underdeveloped. Abused children often go on to be bullies themselves, in response to their own feelings of powerlessness. It’s not an excuse for such behaviour, but it goes a long way to explaining it. Beginning life with a poor home background is a huge disadvantage, and often the young teenagers who end up behind bars never had a chance at a better future. The thought of mental health services taking over the care of damaged and vulnerable prisoners – the bullies as well as the bullied, beggars belief. In the words of Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, “It just boggles my 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.” Quite so.

Forensic Psychiatry

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Florida’s Love Affair With Private Prisons

7:56 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

A tiny jail window.

Historic jail in Florida. Photo by Marsanne Petty.

Many lawmakers in Florida, home of the GEO Group, are enamored with the idea of prison privatization.  Legislators, mostly Republican, have thrice attempted (and failed) to privatize half the state’s prison system within the past two years. The former speaker of the house, serving time in prison, is still being investigated by the FBI in part for his role in bringing a private prison to the state and attempting to force the closure of multiple state facilities to populate it. He’s also the target of a federal grand jury investigation for his dealings with the GEO Group.

In the towns of Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines, residents have been waging war against CCA and ICE, who want to build a huge immigration detention center there. Upset over the risks of bringing a private prison to town, residents have already faced legal harassment after they have failed to capture the attention or sympathy of their representative, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. The parties are engaged in a struggle over resources, as CCA is attempting to strong-arm the small towns into providing water and sewer services to the prison. Pembroke Pines has already had to shell out more than $120,000 in legal fees to battle a detention center that the federal government seems to be forcing on them.

The most recent battle in Florida has arisen over the state’s plans to privatize health care for all its prisoners, which I guess was the fall-back option if wholesale privatization failed. The plan is being challenged by the Nurses’ Association, which filed a lawsuit similar to the one that successfully defeated the wholesale privatization; basically saying the state Legislature didn’t have the authority to order such a sweeping change to such a huge portion of the state budget without passing a stand-alone bill. It’s estimated that as many as 2,800 jobs and $300 million of the budget could be impacted by the switch, which is also opposed by the union that represents COs.

It seems simple to explain part of this love affair, the GEO Group and CCA have contributed huge sums of money to Florida legislators, with most of that going to Republicans. During the last election cycle, the industry donated nearly $1 million to campaigns, with more than 80% of that coming from the GEO Group. GEO has already given more than $100,000 to Governor Scott for the upcoming election.

But just looking at the campaign contributions fails to reveal the whole story. Governor Scott’s closest advisor and de facto gatekeeper, Steve McNamara, is a man with so much political influence he’s been called the state’s “Shadow Governor.”  He also happens to be close personal friends with Jim Eaton, head lobbyist for the GEO Group, which might help explain why Scott decided to can the head of the Department of Corrections for challenging the privatization scheme. After news came out that McNamara had been using his influence to advance himself and his friends politically and financially, he was forced to resign. Jim Eaton, by the way, also happens to be the head lobbyist for Wexford, one of the companies in the running for the state healthcare contract.  So McNamara’s influence is likely to last well beyond his tenure as “Shadow Governor.”

Shareholders Challenging the Private Prison Industry

11:45 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

A civil commitment center run by The GEO Group in DeSoto County, Florida

First published on WhyIHateCCA

In an interesting bit of grassroots advocacy, a few shareholders of the country’s two largest private prison companies have worked to bring more accountability to the industry, which is exempt from public records laws in nearly every jurisdiction despite the fact that it performs inherently governmental functions.

The GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, FL, had its annual shareholders’ meeting in Palm Beach a few weeks back.  Some demonstrators protested outside, but the true challenge for the company would come from inside that very meeting.  The Dominican Sisters of Hope and Mercy Investment Services, both of which own a small amount of stock in the company, introduced a resolution that would have required the company to improve its policies to address human rights abuses within its facilities and submit to third-party audits.  A resolution by the Capuchin Order of Priests would have required the company to publicly disclose all the money it spends lobbying and which issues that money is meant to influence.

Meanwhile, CCA has been fighting off a resolution by an activist and shareholder that would require it to report on efforts to reduce sexual abuse within its facilities.  The resolution would bring some much-needed accountability to an industry that has proven quite effective at skirting it.  CCA has been aggressively fighting the resolution with the SEC from its inception, I assume because they’d rather spend their money lobbying Congress and state legislatures than trying to protect the prisoners under their watch.

Unfortunately, all three of these proposals were defeated in the respective meetings.  But there is reason for optimism – they all managed a sizable margin of support.  The resolution before the GEO Group concerning human rights abuses garnered nearly 30% of the vote.  The resolution introduced by the CCA shareholder was likewise rejected, but did garner more than 14 million votes out of a possible 86 million, nearly 20% of the vote.  With such support, I am optimistic these resolutions will be introduced again in the future, which would continue to pressure the industry into more accountability for its actions and transgressions.

Is the Private Prison Industry Losing a Lifeline?

8:07 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

First published on WhyIHateCCA

California, the state with the highest prison population, has also historically been one of the most privatization-friendly states, despite the influence of the powerful corrections officers lobby.  The state has given hundreds of millions of dollars per year to the industry to house some of its prisoners in a vain attempt to reduce the burden of its overcrowded prison system, rewarding the industry’s investment in campaign contributions and lobbying.  But the industry’s hold on the nation’s most desperate prison system seems to be slipping in the wake of the Brown v. Plata decision from the Supreme Court.

A guard tower by a prison fence in California.

California Guard Tower. Photo by Rennett Stowe.

That decision basically held that the state needed to remove about 40-45,000 prisoners from its state system just to ease overcrowding to the point where it could provide medical care that would not be so insufficient as to violate the prisoners’ right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.  At the height of the overcrowding, it was estimated that one prisoner died every week from a preventable cause, because the state simply didn’t have the resources or manpower to treat all the people it decided to lock up (coincidentally enough, its prison population exploded due largely to sentencing initiatives like 3-Strikes and Truth in Sentencing laws, which were passed by the industry through its work in ALEC during the 90′s.  But that’s a topic for a whole different post).  The governor’s plan to fix the overcrowding is to send thousands of state prisoners to county jails; basically, he’s shifting responsibility for the state’s overzealous criminalization of nonviolent activities onto counties, many of which are poorly equipped to handle an influx of new prisoners.

In addition to shifting prisoners to county facilities, the Secretary of Corrections announced a few months ago that the state was looking at ways to reduce its reliance on private prisons and stop shipping prisoners to private facilities in other states. It looks like the state has actually started to work towards this goal; a few weeks ago, it announced a plan to halt $4 billion in new prison construction and return nearly 10,000 state prisoners from private facilities in other states.  This plan would save the state almost $400 million per year that it spends on private prisons, and reduce the prison system’s impact on the state budget by nearly 4%; in a state with a budget near $137 billion, that’s an awful lot of money.

Leasing Through the Back Door: The Private Financing of “Public” Prisons

10:48 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Previously published on Nation of Change.  Reprinted with permission from the author

By Christopher Petrella

Photo by John S. Quarterman

Nearly 130,000 bodies are currently caged in for-profit or privately managed “correctional” facilities in the United States, a figure that accounts for 16.4% of federal and 6.8% of state populations.

Since 2000, moreover, the number of extant for-profit and privately contracted penal institutions has skyrocketed by approximately 120% during a time in which the population of “public” federal and state facilities has grown four times as slowly. And although federal and state expenditures on prisons have mushroomed by 72% over the last decade and now cost taxpayers $74 billion per annum, the two largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation), have together “earned” over $2.9 billion in profits since 2000.

While in recent years much public attention has rightly been devoted to illuminating the “industrial” operations associated with the proliferation of private prison facilities—from the tumesced pocketbooks of private prison operators to the profits generated by telecommunications companies by way of no-bid phone contracts—surprisingly scant attention has been paid to the private financiers of “public” prison projects who earn a profit each time a prison is built. And unlike those who collect revenue on prison operations, firms that purchase bonds for prison construction needn’t have a personal stake in the eventual utility or solvency of any given facility. Their coffers will grow whether or not prison beds are occupied.

But a two-decade long declension in public support for prison expansion has thwarted traditional options for financing new prison construction and has resulted (as it usually does) in new opportunities for cadres of investment bankers, building contractors, and consultants to realize indulgent returns-on-investment with abidingly anti-democratic financing schemes. I call it “leasing through the back-door.”

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Mississippi Tosses Private Prison Company, The GEO Group

6:53 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Previously published on WhyIHateCCA

Cell in Alcatraz. Photo by Miss Millions.

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.

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Arizona’s Political Leaders are Crazy for Private Prisons

1:08 pm in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Arizona’s Political Leaders Are Crazy for Private Prisons

Arizona

(Photo By tolomea via flickr)

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.