A few weeks back, the Obama Administration finally got around to releasing new regulations governing sexual abuse in correctional facilities, as mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003. PREA initially only applied to DOJ facilities and agencies, but the Administration has expanded its scope to include immigrants in detention here in the US (mostly under the jurisdiction of ICE). This is particularly relevant for the private prison industry, which houses about half of the immigration detainees in the US, though it remains to be seen how effective these new regulations will actually be in stopping sexual abuse. ICE will have to draft rules and regulations to govern its facilities, but given all the problems ICE has had in ensuring the private prison companies it contracts with provide humane treatment to its detainees, I’m not overly optimistic that the oversight of efforts to stop prison rape will be any more stringent than for a host of other issues. Especially considering the fact that CCA just recently finished battling a shareholder who wanted the company to report on its efforts to curb sexual assault in its facilities.
I just want to drop a quick link here and encourage everyone to go sign a petition on Change.org 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.
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.
Entrance to T. Don Hutto Facility (Photo: Courtesy Texasprisonbidness.org
CCA Being Sued Over Sexual Assault of Immigrants
The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CCA on behalf of three women who were sexually abused at the T. Don Hutto Immigration Detention Center. The facility was previously the target of a lawsuit that CCA lost over squalid conditions and negligent medical care; after the lawsuit, the facility was transitioned to a female-only prison. Before, it had housed entire families of immigrants, including children who were forced to dress in prison scrubs and provided with the barest minimum of education and programming. Converting the facility to female-only has not stopped the problem however, and this is not even the first instance of sexual abuse of immigrants AT THIS PRISON.
To allow CCA to continue to operate this, and other, facilities is a reprehensible moral failure. We as a nation have an obligation to our fellow human beings, these immigrants, many of whom come to this country seeking asylum from their homelands, to treat them respectfully and humanely. Despite all the rampant anti-immigrant settlement sweeping the nation, many of the 400,000+ people who pass through ICE custody each year are only guilty of status violations, not a major criminal offense. Private prison companies are quite efficient at avoiding effective oversight (which is about the only thing they’re efficient at), a situation which has permitted companies like CCA to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from taxpayer dollars while systematically abusing and neglecting the human beings in their care.
Then, on Friday, Senator Dick Durbin (IL) addressed the sexual abuse of detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Recently revealed documents detail extensive sexual harassment and abuse of (primarily female) immigrant detainees. The immigration detention system is already notoriously devoid of oversight, so the revelation of pervasive sexual abuse should certainly raise alarm. A large and growing percentage of detained immigrants are in private prisons (more than half of them), and the government has a responsibility to protect them from sexual assault, especially since the majority have not committed any serious criminal offense. Dick Durbin says he expects “Zero tolerance” on the issue, and I hope he pursues that until it is achieved.
Forgive me for making light of the situation in the title, but two CCA officers are currently facing charges of rape in separate incidents.
In Florida, a guard is on trial for allegedly raping a fellow employee who was suffering an asthma attack. Meanwhile, over in New Mexico, a trial against a corrections officer who has admitted to raping 4 women under his watch at the Camino Nuevo Women’s CF in 2007 has been delayed as CCA tries to buy more time to mount a defense.
Once again, these shining examples of private prison professionalism give us a glimpse into what happens when profit is a higher priority than providing quality service
Private prisons often appear so attractive to lawmakers because they claim they are able to save bundles of money compared to government-run prisons. While this isn’t exactly the truth, these companies still routinely cut corners in almost every aspect of their operations in order to maximize profits, because, after all, that’s what they really care about. Since staff expenses (salary, benefits, training) comprise the largest portion of any facility’s budget, private prisons often pay dramatically less to their staff in the name of profit.
The problem with this approach lies in the fact that private prisons, because they offer less in salary and benefits, aren’t able to attract as high-quality candidates as government-run prisons. Just recently, when Hernando County Florida took over operation of its jail from CCA, the sheriff hired only about 1/3 of the private company’s employees to work for his department (and remarked at the time that he couldn’t believe a lot of CCA’s employees weren’t incarcerated themselves). Anecdotally, it’s rather well-known that many guards at private prisons have some unsavory histories, and guards who screw up at one prison or another (government-run or not) can usually find work at a different private prison, where the companies rarely perform background checks that are as extensive as the government would. Combine all this with the industry’s aversion to providing adequate and consistent training to their guards (because, again, that would hurt the bottom line), and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
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