In a really monumental settlement agreement, the state of Mississippi has been ordered to remove all its juvenile prisoners housed at the Walnut Grove YCF, a juvenile facility operated by the GEO Group (formerly by Cornell), and place them elsewhere. Following rampant sexual, physical, and verbal abuse, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of the children detained at the prison to try to relieve the nightmarish conditions they were housed in. In addition to removing the children from a prison that profits with every additional incarcerated soul, the settlement mandates that no children in the state can be housed in solitary/isolated confinement, a notoriously dangerous and harmful classification that typically involves 23-hour per day lockdown and extreme sensory and social deprivation.
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Hawaii contracts with CCA to house some of its prisoners on the mainland, because they don’t have room for them in prisons on the islands. But their relationship has been marked by problem after problem, from the sexual assaults of women in a prison in Kentucky (after they had been moved there following sexual assaults at ANOTHER CCA prison) and coverups to mistreatment of male prisoners in Arizona. In light of these issues, and a report of the state’s solicitor general that was highly critical of the private prisons housing Hawaiian prisoners the governor has pledged to bring all Hawaiian prisoners home, but has found the process for doing so more difficult than anticipated.
One of the most serious issues that has arisen is the deaths of two young men at the Saguaro prison in Arizona. After a class of prisoners sued the state and CCA over their mistreatment at the facility, the ACLU of HI has just filed a lawsuit against the state and CCA over the death of Bronson Nunuha, who was murdered at the prison. The 26-year-old’s death is being challenged as preventable; the ACLU of Hawaii claims the state and CCA were both negligent, leading to his wrongful death. Nunuha was even being held in segregated confinement, where he was separated from the general population, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent him from being murdered only months before he was set to be released; only 1 guard was responsible for overseeing about 50 prisoners. The lawsuit contends that CCA’s “unchecked hunger for profits” led the company to cut staffing to such unacceptably low levels as to allow for Nunuha’s murder.
Unfortunately for the state, which gives the company $10 million annually to allow its citizens to be murdered, their own officials have faced significant difficulties in trying to extract information from the facility. The aforementioned report of the Solicitor General noted major obstacles the agency encountered in trying to conduct an investigation of conditions Hawaiian prisoners were housed in. Maybe it’s because CCA doesn’t give a shit about the people it houses, and does everything possible to prevent governments from seeing just how poorly their tax dollars are being spent.
Florida, as you know if you’ve heard anything about private prisons in the past month, is in the midst of a huge, subversive campaign to force private prisons on its residents, despite widespread opposition. The state should take a look at the situation in Hernando County for an example of the things that can all go terribly wrong when a prison is privatized.
After operating the local jail there for 22 years, CCA was found to haveignored myriad maintenance issues totaling millions of dollars. The sheriff took over the facility after CCA bailed on the contract rather than repair the facility, which they had been operating since it opened. After taking over the facility, he saved local taxpayers more than a million dollars in operating costs in the first year, even after taking into account all the maintenance that needed to be done.
So after the government assumed responsibility for its jail and trimmed its expenses by more than a million dollars, there was still the issue of back-pay that the county had withheld from CCA to cover the maintenance they had consistently failed to perform. The dispute was over $1.8 million worth of payments; CCA sued the county to try to recoup the money they shouldn’t have gotten in the first place. Unfortunately for Hernando County, CCA’s well-paid attorneys did their job quite effectively, and CCA has been ordered to pay only $100,000 of the money owed to the county. In other words, 5%. And, even more unfortunately, this precludes the county from releasing an accounting of just how CCA could have let millions of dollars worth of maintenance needs go unchecked. But, according to the editorial board at the Tampa Bay Times, “ending the privatization of the jail will produce long-term dividends for the citizens of Hernando County.”
So before I go off on a tangent here, I apologize for the litany of links to come. But the situation in Florida has quickly spiraled out of control and, seeing as I’m already weeks late on reporting this, I wanted to try to put together as much info here as possible. Enjoy!
Florida’s politicians really just can’t take a hint. After they failed to force widespread privatization on the state’s prison system, against the wishes of the director of their DOC (but at the behest of companies that spent a million dollars lobbying the legislature), the asshats in the state legislature are back at it, this time with a vengeance. Even the fact that the GEO Group is under FBI investigation over a deal that brought a private prison to the state, and the state’s Circuit Court ruling the initial push unconstitutional, have failed to slow down the push to privatize.
The state Senate introduced a stand-alone bill that mirrors the one that previously failed. On January 18th, the law that would force nearly 4,000 government employees out of jobs (of course, this comes from the Republicans, the party of “job creators,” or so we’re told) passed a rules committee and went before the full Senate for consideration. A separate bill would even exempt the state from a requirement to perform a cost/benefit analysis of the proposed privatization until after a contract is signed. In a state where the two biggest private prison companies have been found to have cheated the state out of almost $13 million within the past 7 years. The state ought to perform a more thorough analysis of the potential risks and benefits of privatization before committing so many taxpayer dollars to such a risky venture. Because otherwise, this is just about as blatant a handout to corporate special interests as I could conceive, a gateway to giving millions of taxpayer dollars to companies that, if they weren’t subsidized by desperate governments, would utterly fail on the free market. Then again, Republicans don’t actually like free markets, they just like markets rigged in the favor of the wealthy, but that’s a different story altogether.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, the state seems to be assisting the industry that has failed to demonstrate any significant cost savings, ever, by removing the most costly prisoners from the facilities intended to be privatized. The industry is notorious for cherry-picking the cheapest inmates, but I can’t remember an instance in which a state preemptively took the most expensive prisoners for itself. This whole thing reeks so badly of corruption that a conservative-leaning newspaper in Florida has opined that the state’s legislators “seem to be drawn to secrecy and backroom deal-making at the expense of good government and public trust.” I’ll say. Read the rest of this entry →
Arizona sure loves it some privatization. Facing extreme budget shortfalls, the state attempted to sell off and then re-lease its state house in 2009 to earn some extra money, along with privatizing its entire prison system. But while that plan failed, the state’s thirst for privatization never waned. Though it already had multiple private prisons holding prisoners from other states and the federal government, a prominent republican in the state legislature introduced and helped pass SB1070, the now-infamous “Breathing While Brown” law. This law, as pointed out in an investigative report by NPR, was written by ALEC, a conservative legislation front group that has longed worked with the major players in the private prison industry and promoted privatization across the board. They’re also the ones behind attacks on global warming, voting rights, and unions, but that’s a different story.
So, the state basically gave a handout to private prison operators, who would undoubtedly benefit from stronger enforcement of federal immigration laws and increased detention. This came after the industry donated heavily in the 2010 election cycle, to candidates, political parties, and ballot initiatives favored by republicans. Then, even after 3 prisoners escaped from a private prison found to have numerous security deficiencies and went on a murderous rampage, state officials still pushed for more private prisons. They re-initiated a request for proposals from private companies to construct 5,000 prison beds.
Thankfully, people began to take notice. An advocacy organization filed alawsuit trying to block the RFP, which was dismissed on a technicality. But the substantive issue in the lawsuit wasn’t resolved; namely, that the state, by law, is required to conduct performance audits of its existing private facilities every two years, including cost-comparisons with public institutions. So the state began its audit late last year to compare public and private prisons, and the request for proposals was put on hold until the state could evaluate whether or not it would save money by turning to for-profit incarceration. Read the rest of this entry →
But apparently the judge doesn’t want the people of Idaho to have any real oversight of the private prison that’s taking millions of taxpayer dollars every year to provide such substandard treatment, because he refused to unseal the settlement. His basic reasoning was that he feared releasing the documents could discourage a company like CCA from seeking settlements in the future. Which would be GREAT, because then they could actually have to take some responsibility for the thousands of instances of abuse and negligence that have taken place in the prisons they’re paid billions of dollars to operate.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz represents Southwest Ranches, Florida, which has been at the epicenter of a debate over a proposed immigration detention facility. Residents of the town have consistently demonstrated their opposition to the facility, which they feel was designed and planned without much public knowledge of the proceedings. Basically, they think they have been fleeced by CCA, who hopes to build the facility on land it already owns, into having a detention center that they fear will lower property values and present a risk to public safety.
Unfortunately, they’ve got a pretty poor representative in Ms. Wasserman, who’s basically taking a “lesser of available evils” approach. She initially called a town hall meeting to allow residents to voice their opposition and learn more about the project. After more than 250 people showed up to let CCA and the town council know they didn’t want a private prison, Wasserman, who had called the meeting, decided she would support the project. She now thinks it’s a good idea and that the town should move forward, saying she thinks “it is going to be far better to have that ICE detention center there than to have any other facility that would have a much more negative impact on residents there.” Other than a lead paint producing puppy mill, I can’t really imagine what would be worse for a community than a privately operated, for-profit human rights violations incubator. But there’s no chance she could have been partially swayed by the nearly $20 million CCA has spent lobbying the federal government over the past decade. Right?
Unfortunately for the residents of Southwest Ranches, Wasserman isn’t alone in ignoring her constituents interests and supporting a company with a long track record of failing to live up to its contracts. The mayor of Southwest Ranches just basically told his constituents to pound sand, because the deal is done. CCA owns the land, and has for a decade, so he says there’s really nothing residents can do to stop the construction at this point. If there’s any saving grace in all of this, it might be found in Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart from Miami, who just sent a letter to ICE to demonstrate his opposition to the proposed detention center. So there is at least one Congressperson from Florida who hasn’t been bought off by the industry yet. Read the rest of this entry →
You’ll probably remember that ALEC was where SB1070, Arizona’s “Breathing While Brown” law, was born, before ALEC member Russell Pearce brought it home and introduced it to the state legislature. The law was drafted with CCA at the table, and would have a direct impact on their bottom line as it resulted in increased incarceration of illegal immigrants, almost half of whom are detained in private facilities. Arizona also happens to be home to many private facilities that currently house out-of-state prisoners and immigrants, and the state is seeking to add 5,000 additional private beds to its existing state-run facilities.
So this report comes at a critical time for Arizona, as it evaluates whether or not it wants to proceed with a plan to contract away millions of taxpayer dollars to an industry that hasn’t even been able to demonstrate savings in the state of Arizona. ALEC has pushed for the privatization of prisons in the past, and it has given private prison companies direct access to state legislators who are considering the privatization bids. Those same companies have also donated thousands of dollars to these politicians, all of which amounts to a tremendous amount of political influence for the industry in the state. As The Executive Director of the People for the American Way stated, “There’s no way ordinary citizens can match the level of access and influence that ALEC provides to these corporations.”
For now, the state is holding back on awarding contracts until some time in January, after it was twice sued over the request for proposals because it has for years failed to conduct an efficiency audit of its existing private facilities. Once that report is complete, the state should have (even more) data to demonstrate that private prisons don’t actually save any money, which will hopefully compel state legislators to reject the industry’s influence and make wiser decisions with the constituents’ hard-earned money.
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.
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.