In the wake of the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional facility scandal, the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced that GEO Group — one of the largest private prison corporations in the U.S. — will no longer operate three correctional facilities in the state. By July 20, the corporation will no longer manage the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional, East Mississippi Correctional, or the Marshall County Correctional facilities.
In 2010, reports emerged of sexual abuse, improper medical care, extended prisoner isolation, and violence among inmates at the Walnut Grove facility. These reports sparked a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The lawsuit resulted in the removal of youth from the Walnut Grove facility. According to the Associated Press, MDOC also had concerns about incidents that occurred at the other GEO Group facilities in the state.
This could be an opportunity for MDOC to re-think its practice of contracting with private prison corporations. Unfortunately, it may be a lost opportunity. It seems that Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps is still interested in privatization. Epps told the Associated Press that MDOC is “reaching out to those private operators” in their search for new groups to manage the three facilities. See the article below for more details. -MWN
BY JACK ELLIOTT JR.
JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Department of Corrections says GEO Group Inc., one of the country’s largest private prison operators, will no longer manage three facilities in Mississippi.
On Thursday, the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company said it was backing out of a contract to manage the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near the Lost Gap community by July 19. Company officials told The Associated Press on Friday that it had nothing else to say.
Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps told the AP on Friday that the department felt it might get a better price if all three prisons were presented as a package to other corrections management companies.
Epps said he would expect GEO Group to end its ties to the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Walnut Grove and Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs by July 20.
“We feel this may be a golden opportunity to provide a better price for the taxpayers of the state and at the same time maybe do a better job in the operation of the facilities,” Epps said. “That’s what I would like to see.”
Epps said there was some concern at MDOC about incidents at all three prisons.
The Walnut Grove facility is presently under a federal court order to remove juvenile inmates amid allegations of physical and sexual abuse. That court order came in a settlement of a lawsuit filed against Walnut Grove in 2010. GEO Group has repeatedly declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Epps has said his plan is to send the 17-and-younger inmates to Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County by Oct. 1. He said there are about 1,000 vacant beds at that prison now, so there is no need for a new building.
Walnut Grove also houses adults. They would remain there under a settlement that ended a 2010 lawsuit.
Epps said Friday that local authority boards deal with management contracts at EMCF and Walnut Grove with MDOC help. He said MDOC works directly with vendors at Marshall County.
“There are a lot of these management companies out there. We’re reaching out to those private operators to see what the best proposal is we might get,” he said.
In its announcement, GEO chairman/CEO George C. Zoley said EMCF was “financially underperforming.” GEO Group vice president Pablo E. Paez said Friday the company would have no other comment.
In July 2010, GEO announced it had renewed its contract and would manage the prison through March 15, 2015. GEO said it expected the contract to generate about $21.7 million in annual revenue. The company has managed the prison since 1999.
Owned by Walnut Grove Development Authority and operated by GEO Group, Walnut Grove has a 1,500-bed capacity, currently housing minimum, medium, close and maximum custody male youthful offenders. It opened in 2001.
Managed and operated by GEO Group, Marshall County has a 1,000-bed capacity, housing medium custody male offenders. It opened in 1996.
The three are among five privately run prisons in Mississippi.
The other two – in Tutwiler and Woodville – are operated by Corrections Corporation of America headquartered in Nashville, Tenn.
A sixth privately-run prison, the Delta Correction Facility, which was managed by Corrections Corporation, closed in January.