Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘privatization

Florida Corrections Chief Abruptly Resigns After Disputes with Gov. Rick Scott

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From the day he took office, Gov. Rick Scott has set out to shake up Florida’s prison system — the nation’s third-largest after California and Texas — pushing for privatization of many facilities and bringing in outside talent, Edwin Buss, to run the Department of Corrections. Buss made a national reputation within the corrections field by cutting costs in Indiana’s prisons, and Florida won a hard-fought bidding war with Michigan to hire him away. When he got to Florida, Buss brought in 14 staffers from Indiana and announced a variety of reform proposals, including expanding reentry programs and updating some of the Sunshine State’s more antiquated facilities.

This week, Buss abruptly resigned. The Miami Herald reports:

A soft-spoken U.S. Army veteran, Buss seemed unprepared for the amount of scrutiny legislators, interest groups and media give to Florida’s prisons, which have a legacy of controversy and scandal. He also said he had more autonomy in his previous job as Indiana’s chief of prisons.

Buss, 45, ran afoul of Scott aides on two recent issues.

He did not let the Governor’s Office review a health care privatization contract worth up to $400 million before posting it on the agency website. The contract stipulated that health care vendors must be accredited by the American Correctional Association, whose director, James Gondles, is the husband of Betty Gondles, the consultant Buss hired to prepare the contract.

Under pressure from Scott’s office, Gondles ended her $180,000, 10-month consulting job Wednesday.

Buss also signed a deal with MSNBC to tape six episodes of its Lockup series in Santa Rosa Correctional Institution without letting Scott’s attorneys review it. When the Governor’s Office moved to cancel the contract, the prison system answered with an e-mail showing Scott’s aides knew of the TV deal in April, but by then the contract was signed.

Ironically, Scott’s lawyers approved the MSNBC contract hours before Buss resigned.

The Herald also notes that Buss’s job was recently made more difficult by the challenge of privatizing 30 South Florida prisons in six months, as mandated by the Legislature — a move that may cost the prison system $25 million in compensation to terminated employees for unused leave.

(h/t: The Crime Report)

Written by sara

August 26, 2011 at 7:36 am

Florida Legislature Shuts Down Prison Oversight Agency

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Over Gov. Rick Scott’s veto, the Florida Legislature recently defunded the Correctional Medical Authority, effectively abolishing a state agency created in 1986 in response to prison conditions litigation. The agency went around Florida evaluating whether its public and private prisons were providing constitutionally adequate health care. A spokesperson says the Legislature has “no obligation to restore funding following the veto of the Governor,” so for now the agency is shut down.

Democratic legislators are accusing the Legislature of inviting lawsuits:

“The shuttering of the Correctional Medical Authority was a grave mistake opening Florida and Florida taxpayers to the possibility of widespread financial and legal repercussions,” Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said Friday. …

“By allowing legislative interference to block its funding, the closure of the CMA potentially violates, at a minimum, the spirit of Justice Susan Black’s 1993 court order settling the Costello v. Wainright class action litigation,” Joyner and Pafford said in a joint statement. “Despite our efforts, and the governor’s veto of legislation eliminating the oversight group, the CMA was finished off behind the scenes, and outside the scrutiny of the media, the public, and other key stakeholders.

“To pre-empt any attempts to hold the state of Florida in contempt, or open the door to new litigation as a result of its closure, we urge Governor Scott to explore all possible options, including the issuance of an executive order sustaining the CMA’s operations pending the return of the Legislature.”

(The Florida agency’s annual budget was under $800,000, which might seem like a savings compared to the millions that California has spent on litigation over its prison health care system, but what do I know.)

String of Lawsuits Isn’t Scaring States Away from Corrections Corp. of America

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Bob Ortega of the Arizona Republic has been reporting an excellent series on the private prison business. This article is a must-read for summarizing the many connections between Arizona local and state officials and the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America. Definitely go read the article, and the “Price of Prisons” series it’s part of, in full. For the purposes of this blog, the highlight of the article is the litany of lawsuits that CCA is facing all over the country. Several stem from the Arizona CCA facilities where Hawaii ships a large number of its prisoners. One Hawaii inmate alleges he was forced to give oral sex to a guard at an Arizona CCA prison; 18 Hawaiian inmates say they were stripped, beaten, and threatened by guards in retaliation for a fight; two other Hawaii inmates were killed by other inmates and their families are alleging that prison security was inadequate. Elsewhere around the country, three female inmates claim they were sexually assaulted at a Kentucky CCA facility; after a series of sexual assault cases nationwide, both Kentucky and Hawaii have removed all their female prisoners from CCA institutions. The most notorious CCA lawsuit, though, is the Idaho “Gladiator School” suit, which alleges 13 instances in which CCA officers opened doors to let violent inmates attack other prisoners and did not intervene during the beatings.

Here, as reported by Ortega, is CCA’s response:

Asked about the suits, CCA’s Owen said, “These are allegations that have not yet been proven in a court of law. These are not established facts, and we respond in court, so I’m not at liberty to respond.”

He said that in June, Hawaii awarded CCA a three-year, $136.5 million contract to continue housing that state’s inmates in Arizona.

“That was a competitive-bid process,” Owen said.

CCA was the only bidder.

“There isn’t a corrections system in the country that’s immune to lawsuits or incidents,” Owen said. “Those don’t necessarily tell the whole story. You have to look at our overall track record. . . . Do incidents occur? Yes. Are we responsive when things happen? Do our partners continue to trust and work with us? Yes.”

The article also notes the troubling lack of security at the Arizona private prisons where many California prisoners are transferred. I’ve heard from prisoners who’ve done time in private prisons that they did not feel safe there. Paid a low hourly wage, private prison guards have little incentive to risk physical harm by intervening in violent situations. In addition, Ortega’s article points out that CCA does not perform full background checks on guards or check whether they have relationships with inmates.

Jerry Brown’s Prison Population Reduction Plan May Not Satisfy Court Order

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A new report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office in Sacramento concludes that Gov. Jerry Brown’s “realignment” approach to reducing the prison rolls may not cut numbers enough to satisfy the Supreme Court’s order in Plata v. Schwarzenegger. The Sacramento Bee reports:

Facing a deadline two years from now to cut inmate populations by 34,000, the state plans to begin shifting inmates to county jails on Oct. 1.

But a report released Friday by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office suggests that corrections officials may not be able to meet the June 27, 2013, deadline but can make a case to the courts that more time is needed.

“Given the dramatic policy changes the Legislature already has approved, we believe the state has a strong case to make to the courts for a grant of more time to implement this complex realignment of responsibilities from the state to counties,” the report states.

The Los Angeles Times notes that the report recommends sending more inmates to out-of-state private prisons, contrary to Gov. Brown’s plan to cut back on privatization. Also check out the San Francisco Chronicle‘s coverage. You can download the full LAO report here.

Louisiana Sheriff Offers Jail Space to West Virginia, Which Can’t Accept the Offer

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Apparently, southern Louisiana parishes built too many jails in recent years and now have extra beds. One Louisiana sheriff, Mark Shumate of East Carroll Parish, offered to house inmates from West Virginia, which has been facing overcrowding problems. But West Virginia is constitutionally prohibited from accepting:

[I]nmates can’t be sent to out-of-state facilities because the West Virginia Constitution prohibits the state from transporting any person to another state or forcing them to leave for committing any offense. A constitutional amendment would be required before Shumate’s offer could be considered. Such an amendment would have to be approved by voters statewide.

I would be curious to know if anyone’s looked into how many states have constitutional or statutory provisions like West Virginia’s, and how they affect decisions to privatize and/or contract out to other jurisdictions.

Written by sara

July 25, 2011 at 9:30 am

Florida Law Enforcement Organization Sues to Block Privatization of 30 Prisons

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Here’s an interesting lawsuit: The Florida Police Benevolent Association has filed suit to enjoin Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to privatize 30 prisons across South Florida. Those prisons currently hold about 20% of the state prison population. The Florida Legislature mandated the switch in the 2011-12 state budget as a cost-cutting measure (it’s actually not clear that private prisons cost less, BTW), with the Corrections Department under orders to have vendors in place by the first of January 2012. The Miami Herald reports:

The PBA suit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, says the state has not conducted a cost study to determine whether privatization would save money.

It also says that the state failed to comply with a law requiring an agency to conduct a “business case” to justify any outsourcing in excess of $10 million.

Separate from its lawsuit, the correctional officers’ union has requested extensive public records from the prison system, including a list of every factor the state uses to determine the cost of running a prison.

Some context: First, according to a recent analysis by finance blogger Mike Konczal at Rortybomb, Florida is not currently a high user of private prisons relative to other states, with under 10% of its prisoners in private facilities. But Konczal hypothesizes that “once a state flips to using private contractors, they use them a lot” — so the Florida PBA is probably not wrong to worry that flipping 30 prisons could be the harbinger of more privatization to come.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

July 21, 2011 at 8:17 am

The Interplay of Prisoners’ Rights Litigation and Privatization in Texas

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Craig Malisow of the Houston Press offers an interesting historical perspective on Texas’s turn to private prisons:

In 1978, Judge William Wayne Justice of the Eastern District of Texas presided over a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of all Texas prisoners against the Texas Department of Corrections (as it was then known). Two years later, Justice ruled that TDC violated prisoners’ constitutional rights in six areas. The department and the prisoners entered a consent decree regarding the necessary improvements.

The changes were slow to come, a problem exacerbated by the rapidly increasing number of inmates. “By the mid-1980s, Judge Justice had become so impatient with the pace at which the state was changing its prison system that he demanded that the state pay a daily fine in excess of $800,000 if it did not improve its efforts to comply with the mandates of the decision,” according to the Abt report.

Freaked out by the potential financial hemorrhage, lawmakers in 1987 passed the first bit of legislation that would allow the TDC — rechristened the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 1989 — the ability to contract with private vendors for the housing of prisoners, parolees and juvenile offenders.

To follow all things Texas criminal justice, bookmark Grits for Breakfast, and if you’re interested in private prisons specifically, do the same with Texas Prison Bid’ness. I don’t write as much about Texas in this space as I do about other big states — partly because I happen to live in California, but mainly because Texas prison/jail issues are covered so much more knowledgeably and comprehensively over at Grits.

Written by sara

January 11, 2011 at 11:33 am

Lawsuit Alleges “Barbaric Conditions” at Mississippi’s Privately-run Youth Prison

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The private prison company GEO Group will face a lawsuit over conditions at Mississippi’s Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU, and Mississippi lawyer Robert McDuff representing the plaintiffs. Walnut Grove was already under investigation by the federal Department of Justice. The Clarion-Ledger reports:

Some prison staff exploit youth by selling drugs inside the facility and engaging in sexual relationships with youth in their care, the suit alleges. Many youth have suffered physical injuries, some permanent as a result of dangerously deficient security policies. …

In 2007, Dennis Earl Holmes died after a lawsuit claimed he was denied adequate medical care. He suffered from treatable diabetes, according to a lawsuit his family filed on Oct. 29 in federal court. …

Michael McIntosh of Hazlehurst alleges that because of the abuse his 21-year-old son suffered in the Walnut Grove prison, “he will live with permanent brain damage for the rest of his life.”

More information, including the full complaint, available here from SPLC.

Ninth Circuit: Nevada’s Women-only Prison Guard Policy Violated Title VII

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After a Nevada inmate was impregnated by a male prison guard in a private Corrections Corporation of America facility, the state canceled its CCA contract and implemented a new hiring policy for its women’s prisons. Under the policy — which is no longer in place — all supervisory (or “lieutenant”) positions would be filled by women and the line prison guard staff would be 70% women. In a Title VII challenge to that policy filed by several male prison guards, the Ninth Circuit has reversed a district court grant of summary judgment for the state. The panel reasoned that sex is not a bona fide occupational qualification for a supervisory position in a women’s prison, rejecting the state’s implications that men are more likely to tolerate sexual abuse, that male supervisors are more likely to sexually abuse inmates, and that female guards are “less susceptible to manipulation by inmates” (PDF p. 9688). Judge Marsha Berzon, writing for the panel, criticized these arguments as stereotypical: “Disturbingly, in suggesting that all men are inherently apt to sexually abuse, or condone sexual abuse of, female inmates, NDOC relies on entirely specious gender stereotypes that have no place in a workplace governed by Title VII” (PDF p. 9695).

Written by sara

July 12, 2010 at 11:17 am

What We Talk About When We Talk About Private Prisons

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As I noted in an earlier post, the Hawaii Legislature and Governor Linda Lingle are mired in battle over whether the state should send auditors to the private prison in Arizona where Hawaii sends most of its inmates. In this op-ed, Kat Brady tallies at least five inmate deaths at the Saguaro prison in the past two years and accuses the Corrections Corporation of America of falsifying internal audit reports to downplay troubling incidents. Like any good corporate spokesperson, CCA operations VP Ron Thompson took to the op-ed page to defend his employer against such claims. From the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

For more than a decade, CCA has partnered with Hawaii to relieve prison overcrowding. In doing so, CCA has provided cost-effective prison space and services that include meaningful rehabilitation programs to help inmates stay out of prison once released. … To ensure that we are accountable, Hawaii’s contract with CCA sets requirements for services and performance. One requirement is accreditation by the American Correctional Association – the nation’s highest standard of professional correctional services. This means that in addition to oversight from Hawaii officials – who have full access to our prisons – we are also audited and inspected by an independent team of professional experts.

Now, I’m sure there are holes to be poked in Thompson’s argument, but I’m less interested in vilifying CCA, and more interested in interrogating the rhetorical limits of the current debate on private prisons. The argument between these two op-eds takes place in fairly practical, dollars-and-cents terms. Read the rest of this entry »

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