Category: private prisons

Mississippi can’t kick the private prison habit

By Alan Bean

Geo Group, the private prison firm that lost three prison contracts in Mississippi earlier this year because of gross violations that turned facilities like the juvenile prison at Walnut Grove into hell holes, has been disciplined again.  This time, Geo is accused of failing to protect the safety of corrections workers at its prison near Lost Gap MS.

You would think that Mississippi officials might be getting the idea that private prisons aren’t such a good idea.  Not so.  Christopher Epps, Commissioner of the MS Dept. of Corrections, immediately announced that all the three private prisons previously run by Geo Corp would be turned over to the Management & Training Corporation of Centerville, Utah.

According to the Associated Press, Epps is hoping for a better result.

“The Mississippi Department of Corrections is looking forward to a great partnership with MTC,” Epps said in a statement Thursday. “There is a need for different types of prisons, including state and regional as well as private facilities in Mississippi. MTC will be held to the same high standards as set by MDOC and I feel extremely confident that MTC will do a great job.”

Epps told reporters he thought Mississippi would get better terms if the three prisons were sold as a package deal.  In other words, Mississippi is trying to do corrections on the cheap, and that’s the problem.  The only way private prisons can turn a profit is by cutting corners.  If they were really held to the same standards as state prisons they would have to hire as many corrections officers as MDOC and pay them comparable salaries.  The private prison industry would also have to invest in a safe working environment for their employees, something that Geo Corp clearly failed to do. (more…)

How Louisiana achieved the world’s highest incarceration rate

By Alan Bean

The New Orleans Times-Picayune spent a full year answering a simple question: why does the state of Louisiana lock up more of its citizens than any other jurisdiction on the face of the earth. 

There are a number of answers to this question, but the big engine driving mass incarceration in Louisiana is money.  Back in the 1980s, with jails and prisons overcrowded and nowhere to place the overflow, legislators decided to sweeten the pot for the parish sheriffs who rule the Louisiana hinterland.  As a result, dozens of small communities are addicted to the incarceration business.  Over half of the state’s inmates are currently locked up in Parish institutions or facilities run by private prisons like LaSalle Corrections.  Consider this quick quote:

A drop in the incarceration rate could spell doom for both LaSalle Corrections and the sheriffs. The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association lobbies extensively on its members’ behalf and funds campaigns through a related political action committee. Private prison companies have the resources to be major political donors themselves. With strategically placed contributions, they can influence legislation as well as potentially steer inmates to their own prisons.

When thousands of public and private jobs depend on full prisons, the prisons will be full and God help anyone foolish enough to stand in the way.

The result is that Louisiana inmates doing three or four years for check fraud and first-offense drug crime are given virtually no vocational training while inmates doing life at state facilities like Angola learn valuable skills they will never be able to invest in the free world.

The Times-Picayune is to be commended for producing the kind of investigative reporting we rarely see these days.  You will find one of the leading articles below, but a wealth of information awaits in the section of their website dedicated to this topic.

North Louisiana family is a major force in the state’s vast prison industry

JONESBORO — Clay McConnell is an unlikely scion for a prison empire. An ordained minister, his curly brown hair is fashionably rumpled, and he gets flustered when speaking in front of a video camera. His father, Billy, is the brains behind LaSalle Corrections, the one who expanded the family business from senior citizens to criminals. (more…)

The “unbelievable brutality” at Walnut Grove

Michael McIntosh

In 2010, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit against GEO Group when reports emerged of sexual abuse, improper medical care, extended prisoner isolation, and violence among inmates at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility located near Jackson, Mississippi.  Earlier this year, a settlement in the case required the state of Mississippi to remove all youth from the Walnut Grove facility. 

Unfortunately, the damage was already done.

One of the kids at the facility, Mike, suffered from severe brain damage from youth-on-youth violence incited by a prison guard.  Dozens of other kids at the facility were also severely injured.  Last fall, Friends of Justice had the opportunity to meet with Mike’s father, Michael McIntosh, during a trip to Mississippi.  He told us the tragic story of his son’s experience at Walnut Grove.  You can read more about Mike’s story in the article below.  MWN

The Unbelievable Brutality Unleashed on Kids in For-Profit Prisons

By Booth Gunter

Michael McIntosh couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had come to visit his son at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility near Jackson, Miss., only to be turned away. His son wasn’t there.

“I said, ‘Well, where is he?’ They said, ‘We don’t know.’”

Thus began a search for his son Mike that lasted more than six weeks. Desperate for answers, he repeatedly called the prison and the Mississippi Department of Corrections. “I was running out of options. Nobody would give me an answer, from the warden all the way to the commissioner.”

Finally, a nurse at the prison gave him a clue: Check the area hospitals. (more…)

Mississippi Warden guilty of sex charges

By Alan Bean

Little Walnut Grove, MS is back in the news, and once again its private prisons are part of the story.  Recently, juvenile inmates were removed from the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility after charges that inmates had been sexually and physically abused by prison personnel were sustained by a formal inquiry. 

Now comes Grady Sims, the warden of the Walnut Grove Transitional Center, and the community’s former mayor.  Sims recently pled guilty to transporting a female inmate to a hotel in a nearby town, then threatening her with retribution if she spoke out.  Sims will be sentenced in federal court tomorrow.

Is there something sinister in the water in Walnut Grove, or are we dealing with yet another unintended consequences of the privatized prison phenomenon? 

Private prisons, by definition, easily flout the limited safeguards and ethical standards enforced by state and federal governments.  When responsibility for corrections is shifted to the private sector, an out-0f-sight-out-of-mind mentality takes hold. 

Grady Sims is both the embodiment and the victim of this mentality.

Private prison group ends contracts with Mississippi

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

Florida group to end Miss. prison contracts


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.” (more…)

Boycotts of ‘Stand Your Ground’ group

by Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

(Note: This article was updated on 4/10/12.)

In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing, groups are boycotting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is the well-funded conservative organization behind the controversial “stand your ground” gun laws.  Organizations like Color of Change have pressured groups to stop funding ALEC, and NPR reports that major U.S. companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have recently dropped their ALEC memberships:

“Two of America’s best-known companies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have dropped their memberships in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a low-profile conservative organization behind the national proliferation of “stand your ground” gun laws.

ALEC promotes business-friendly legislation in state capitols and drafts model bills for state legislatures to adopt. They range from little-noticed pro-business bills to more controversial measures, including voter-identification laws and stand your ground laws based on the Florida statute. About two-dozen states now have such laws.

Florida’s stand your ground law has been cited in the slaying of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Feb. 26.”

In addition to stand your ground and voter ID laws, ALEC supports a number of disturbing initiatives, including prison privatization, anti-labor union bills, and Arizona-style immigration policies.  Other major companies that fund ALEC include Walmart, Kraft Foods, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, UPS, and ExxonMobil.

Let’s continue to put pressure on these organizations to divest from ALEC.  Hopefully, they will follow in the footsteps of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Co.

UPDATE (4/10/12):

Several more groups, including Kraft Foods, Intuit (the maker of Turbo Tax), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and McDonalds, have decided to withdraw support for ALEC.

DOJ: Sexual misconduct at Walnut Grove youth facility among worst in nation

By Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

After reports emerged of physical and sexual abuse, inadequate medical care, and extended isolation of youth at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (WGYCF) in Mississippi, the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit against GEO Group, the private prison corporation that operates the facility.

Last month, a settlement reached in the WGYCF case required the state of Mississippi to remove all youth from WGYCF and move them to another facility.  On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released its report on the Walnut Grove investigation.  According to a DOJ press release:

“The United States conducted an in-depth investigation, including an on-site inspection of WGYCF, accompanied by expert consultants in the areas of corrections, medical care and mental health care.  Evidence reveals systematic, egregious and dangerous practices at WGYCF exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls.  The Justice Department found reasonable cause to believe that a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct exists in several areas, including:

  • Deliberate indifference to staff sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior with youth;
  • Use of excessive use of force by WGYCF staff on youth;
  • Inadequate protection of youth from youth-on-youth violence;
  • Deliberate indifference to youth at risk of self-injurious and suicidal behaviors; and
  • Deliberate indifference to the medical needs of youth.”

The DOJ found that sexual misconduct at WGYCF was “among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation.” (more…)

States decline offer from private prison corporation

by Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

Earlier this year, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) sent letters to 48 states offering to buy their public prisons.

According to CCA’s letter, allowing the corporation to purchase and operate corrections facilities would help states “manage challenging corrections budgets” and generate millions in savings.  That may sound like a good idea to some states, but here’s the catch: States would have to sign a 20-year contract with CCA and keep correctional facilities at a 90% occupancy rate or higher.

Last month, I pointed out several serious concerns with CCA’s proposition. In addition, a report by the ACLU of Ohio revealed false advertising in CCA’s letter:

“Much of CCA’s letter was devoted to touting its recent purchase of Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, Ohio. In 2012, the Lake Erie facility became the first publicly owned prison in the nation sold to a private prison company. While this is certainly a dubious distinction, CCA took some liberties with the facts.

Most notably was CCA’s assertion that it would save states money, which has been refuted repeatedly. While CCA claims it will save Ohioans $3 million per year, a recent report analyzing the state’s contract shows that taxpayers will actually lose money over the next 20 years. Of course, this is not earth-shattering news, as other fiscal analyses in Ohio and Arizona have produced similar results.”

Thankfully, several states have already declined CCA’s offer. Although the states refused to say why, California, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee all rejected the proposition. According to Greg Bluestein with the Associated Press, this may be “a sign that privatizing prisons might not be as popular as it once was.”

Let’s hope that Bluestein is right and that more states will reject CCA’s offer.

Victory for Walnut Grove

According to a federal consent decree, the state of Mississippi will no longer house juveniles at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. The juvenile facility, located in Walnut Grove, MS, is run by GEO Group, the second largest private prison corporation in the U.S.

In November 201o, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit against GEO Group when reports emerged of sexual abuse, improper medical care, extended prisoner isolation, and violence among inmates at Walnut Grove. According to the ACLU press release, youth at the facility were “forced to live in barbaric and unconstitutional conditions and [were] subjected to excessive uses of force by prison staff.”

The consent decree requires the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) to remove all youth under the age of 17 from the privately-run Walnut Grove facility and house them in a publicly-operated facility instead. The state is required to provide rehabilitative services for the youth and implement measures to protect them from sexual and physical abuse. Under this decree, the state of Mississippi is also prohibited from placing any youth in solitary confinement. MWN

Ground-Breaking Federal Consent Decree Will Prohibit Solitary Confinement of Youth Convicted as Adults, and Bar Their Incarceration in Violence-Ridden, For-Profit Prison Run by GEO Group


Children under the supervision of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) will no longer be housed in a privately run prison or subjected to brutal solitary confinement under the terms of a groundbreaking settlement of a federal class action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The lawsuit charged that conditions at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, which houses youth convicted as adults, are unconstitutional. The facility is operated by GEO Group Inc., the nation’s second largest private prison corporation.

“This represents a sea change in the way the MDOC will treat children in its custody,” said Sheila Bedi, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “As a result of this litigation, Mississippi’s children will no longer languish in an abusive, privately operated prison that profits each time a young man is tried as an adult and ends up behind bars.” (more…)

Why we shouldn’t sell our prisons to for-profit corporations

by Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

States around the country are facing massive budget shortfalls. So it comes as no surprise that the largest private prison company in the U.S., Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), is capitalizing on these budget crises through what it is calling the “corrections investment initiative.”

As reported in the Huffington Post, CCA recently sent letters to 48 states offering to purchase public prisons as a way for states to generate income in these tough financial times. The letter indicates that “CCA is earmarking $250 million for purchasing and managing government-owned corrections facilities.”

If a state decides to sell a facility to the corporation, it would enter into a 20-year contract with CCA and would be required to ensure the facility maintains a 90% occupancy rate throughout the duration of the contract.

There are several serious concerns with this proposition. (more…)