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.
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.
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…
The case is important because of the implications it has for private contractors working with the government. Currently, they are protected by a form of qualified immunity, basically meaning they can’t be sued for actions performed in the course of their duty. However, since private prison guards aren’t officially government agents, the Court seeks to determine whether they should be protected by this immunity. If the Court holds that they should be protected, it would have to hold essentially that private prisons perform an inherently governmental function (a question which they have never really focused on), which could impact standards for contracts and performance for the industry.
There was a riot yesterday afternoon in the CCA-run North Folk Correctional Center in Sayre, Oklahoma. Though no staff were injured and no hostages taken, at least 20 prisoners were injured in the disturbance, including one who was stabbed. Of course, the prison couldn’t handle the riot itself, and 6 units from the state police had to assist (how’s that for privatized public services?)
That is the description of the situation which Antoney Jones found himself in almost immediately after arriving at the Idaho Correctional Center. Jones, a black gay man, was intentionally placed by guards into a housing unit where he would be assaulted by other prisoners. “Prisoners throughout the pod lined the rails and began yelling, ‘Kill the nigger,’ ‘Get the fag’ and ‘Kill the rat.’”
Mr. Jones’ story is one of more than a dozen similar ones found in the complaint of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Idaho against CCA for their operation of ICC, a prison so notorious for its violence that it’s been dubbed “gladiator school” by those housed there. The violence is so pervasive particularly because the prison is private; by routinely hiring unqualified staff and reducing staffing levels to the barest of minimums, the prison is literally a breeding ground for violent activity. In the assault that prompted the lawsuit (and an FBI investigation), a prisoner was brutally beaten for so long that his assailant had time to stop and rest in the midst of the attack, while guards simply watched from a control tower. That sort of unprofessional conduct is heart-wrenchingly unacceptable.
And in other effed-up privatization of correctional services in Idaho news, the state has fined a private medical care provider, CMS, “nearly $400,000 by state officials for failing to meet some of the most basic health care requirements outlined by the state.” And this is in a state that permitted CCA to operate the ICC for years without fining them, which means the medical “care” CMS was providing must have been appallingly insufficient.
The Republican governor of Alabama just signed another version of SB1070 into law in his state. This bill unfortunately goes even further than SB1070 and its copycat in Georgia; it requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally (read: “anyone with a skin tone darker than white”).
The new Sheriff of Hernando County, Florida, is continuing in the ways of his predecessor. After Sheriff Nugent uncovered widespread neglect of maintenance at his county jail, which had been run for 22 years by CCA, he took over operations and estimated he could save more than $200,000 per year by operating it as part of the department (which should have been operating it all along).
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