Bizarre revelations in Mississippi reveal the corrupting influence of private prisons

mccrory (1)
Cecil McCrory (right) leaves the courthouse with his attorney

By Alan Bean

A couple of years ago, I shared a curious story out of Mississippi.  After private prison companies like Geo Group and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) had repeatedly been at the center of abuse scandals in places like Walnut Grove, Mississippi, Corrections Commissioner, Christopher Epps, announced that the state was cutting its ties with Geo and CCA and . . . wait for it . . . signing on with an obscure private prison company out of Utah, the Management and Training Corporation.

Why, I asked at the time, was it so difficult for Commissioner Epps to realize that this wasn’t about a few bad applies–private prisons are the problem?  You can’t save money for the state unless you refuse to spend money on services that state run prisons are supposed to provide, like food, medical care, and staffing.  That is why, as Jerry Mitchell has demonstrated, many Mississippi prisons are essentially run by the inmates.

Christopher Epps
Christopher Epps

Well, now we know why Christopher Epps kept doing business with the private prison industry: over a seven-year period, he has received almost $1 million in illegal kickbacks.  Working with Rankin County businessman (and former legislator) Cecil McCrory, Epps approved a series of no-bid contracts with companies like the aforementioned Management and Training Corporation.  When Geo and CCA became too toxic to work with, Epps and McCrory reached out to MMT because, well, in conservative Mississippi, politicians were so easily convinced that the private sector does things better than state government.

But this isn’t a story about a couple of con-men; it is a story about the corrupting influence of private prisons.  Private prisons are all about producing massive salaries for a handful of people at the top; providing safe and humane corrections services has never been a primary concern.  In fact, if the only way to make the big money is to sacrifice safety and integrity, safety and integrity will be sacrificed.

It should come as no surprise, by the way, that Cecil McCrory, the businessman who worked with Commissioner Epps, also played a prominent role in protecting the egregious coroner Steven Hayne, the man who once performed the vast majority of autopsies in Mississippi.  Here’s Radley Balko’s single paragraph summary of Hayne’s modus operandi:

From the early 1990s until 2007, Hayne performed 80-90 percent of the autopsies in Mississippi. By his own testimony in depositions and criminal trials, that amounted to between 1,200 and 1,800 per year. (The National Association of Medical Examiners suggests that Hayne performed a maximum of 325 autopsies per year.) For much of this time, he shouldered this workload while also holding down one, sometimes two full-time jobs at a local hospital and a kidney research center.

In short, a tiny cabal of Mississippi psychopaths has been making out like bandits by doing substandard criminal justice and forensic work for fun and profit.

You can read more on the Epps-McCrory fiasco here.

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