Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘privatization

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 »

Hawaii Legislators Call for Audit of Arizona Private Prison Where Two Inmates Have Been Killed in Four Months

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After two inmate-on-inmate killings in the past four months — as discussed in this local news report — Hawaii legislators are calling for a state audit of the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., the private prison that Hawaii pays $60 million a year to house 2,000 male inmates. Saguaro is run by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison corporation (or, as CCA calls itself in a somewhat Orwellian turn of phrase, “America’s Leader in Partnership Corrections”). The article notes that Hawaii used to send its female prisoners to another CCA prison, Otter Creek in Kentucky, but brought them all back after allegations of rape and abuse (I’ve posted before about rape allegations at Otter Creek). Republican governor Linda Lingle has indicated that she may veto the audit bill. The ACLU Hawaii website has information on how you can share your views with Gov. Lingle.

Apart from the issues with privatization generally, I am curious as to what readers think about Hawaii’s practice of exiling its inmates across the Pacific. Arizona is about a six hour flight from Hawaii, to say nothing of Kentucky. Even assuming an inmate’s family has the money for plane tickets, that’s not an easy trip to fit in on a weekend. According to this local article, Saguaro was built especially for Hawaiian inmates, observes Hawaiian holidays, and employs a “Native Hawaiian Cultural Advisor.” I can’t imagine all of that is too much comfort for inmates’ family members, many of whom must be effectively barred from visiting their loved ones in prison by the 3,000+ mile distance between them. Prior to the Arizona contract, Hawaii was scattering inmates to Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, so consolidating everyone in Arizona was (supposedly) intended in part to make it easier for families to visit. But surely it’s still not that easy.

Here’s another wrinkle in all this. The first inmate who died was reportedly killed by two fellow inmates who have now been indicted for first-degree murder under Arizona law, and Arizona may seek the death penalty — although Hawaii doesn’t have the death penalty. This is just one of the many jurisdictional knots that arise when states outsource their inmates. To be clear, I don’t see any purely legal reason why Arizona shouldn’t seek the death penalty if authorized under Arizona law, but I thought it was an interesting issue to flag for readers who follow the death penalty.

At least one inmate (though the quote is anonymous) blames the violence at Saguaro on understaffing. In the same article, Honolulu prosecuting attorney Peter Carlisle apparently blames it on the fact that prisoners are inherently “unstable and dangerous,” which leads me to wonder if Carlisle thinks prisons have any responsibility to keep inmates safe. Tellingly, the article quotes a state estimate that Hawaii saves $43 million by outsourcing imprisonment to CCA. Considering the travel costs that must be involved, I would not be surprised if some of those savings are coming from leaner staffing, although maybe overhead is just exponentially lower in Arizona. Anyway, I suppose these are the sorts of things we might learn if the audit goes forward.

Mississippi to Close Its Notorious “Unit 32,” in Agreement with ACLU

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Mississippi inmates in an auto repair vocational program (courtesy MDOC)

As the inestimable V. O. Key, Jr., once wrote, “Northerners, provincials that they are, regard the South as one large Mississippi. Southerners, with their eye for distinction, place Mississippi in a class by itself.” (Though I live in California at the moment, I’m a Southerner by birth and upbringing, so I think I’m allowed to quote that.) For decades, Mississippi’s Parchman Farm penitentiary has been home to a prison wing “in a class by itself” — the infamous “Unit 32,” a place defined by incessant howling, recurrent violence, broken plumbing, and 120-degree heat (indoors). And who, you might ask, was housed in this unit? As the ACLU found:

Though characterized as being the “worst of the worst,” a significant percentage of Unit 32’s prisoners were held there only because they had HIV, were seriously mentally ill or needed protective custody. They were permanently locked down in solitary confinement with no possibility of earning their way to a less restrictive environment through good behavior.

In response to litigation pressure from the ACLU, the Magnolia State has now agreed to shutter this unit for good (or at least for now). Since the ACLU filed suit in 2002, the Mississippi Department of Corrections has reduced the population in Unit 32 from over 1,000 to just 150. As reported by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the remaining prisoners will now be transferred to other divisions of Parchman or, in the case of seriously mentally ill prisoners, to a private psychiatric facility in Meridian. Prison reform is not often a happy topic, but I think we can all celebrate the closure of Unit 32.

Key downloads:

Idaho: 30-Year-Old Federal Lawsuit over Prison Conditions May Be Nearing an End

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In the early 1980s, a federal judge found that “virtually every inmate” assigned to a particular unit of the Idaho state prison had been “brutally raped.” And that was on top of overcrowding, limited access to psychiatric and medical care, inadequate food, lack of warm clothing, and other unconstitutional conditions at the prison. A number of inmate lawsuits were consolidated into one, the so-called “Balla case,” which remains ongoing to this day. (The inmates were initially represented by one of their own, subsequently represented by the ACLU, and are currently represented by the Western regional law firm Stoel Rives.) Now, as the AP reports, U.S. district court judge Lynn Winmill will soon decide whether to discontinue the component of the lawsuit addressing violence and health care. Although overcrowding remains a problem, Judge Winmill suggests that it may be better addressed by new lawsuits.

The invaluable Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, a website of the University of Michigan law school, provides a summary of the litigation complete with copies of the filings. The clearinghouse notes that at least one result of the ongoing litigation has been to fuel privatization of Idaho’s prison complex:

In response to the decision, Idaho prison officials transferred more than 300 prisoners to a Corrections Corporation of America prison in Appleton, Minnesota, at a cost of $1.1 million. According to news reports, prison officials plan to ask the state legislature for $160 million to construct three new prisons, and for an additional $7.9 million to cover the cost of housing overflow prisoners both out-of-state and in county jail cells.

Vermont Supreme Court: Prisoners Transferred Out-of-State Have Same Rights as In-State Prisoners

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The Vermont Supreme Court recently ruled in a case that, although legally binding only for Vermont prisoners, may be of broader interest to the many states that transfer inmates to out-of-state facilities because their own prisons are overcrowded. Out-of-state prisons are typically run by private companies that may impose different rules, and may provide prisoners with fewer rights and privileges, than state-run facilities. So, the question that logically arises is whether it’s permissible to treat prisoners differently based solely upon the happenstance of where they’re housed, or whether out-of-state and in-state prisoners must be treated equally. This week’s Vermont Supreme Court ruling suggests the latter, in a ruling with two parts. First, the court holds that out-of-state prisoners are entitled to all the same statutory rights and privileges that in-state prisoners have under Vermont law. Second and potentially farther reaching, even for rights and privileges provided for by prison policy rather than statute, the court suggests that out-of-state prisoners may have a viable equal protection challenge under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Here are the facts: Vermont’s prisons have two rules in place to facilitate inmate communication with family and friends outside. First, when making phone calls, inmates have a statutory right to choose between making collect calls or paying with debit calling cards. Second, although this rule is not statutory, prison policy is to provide all inmates with up to seven free postage stamps per week. It so happens that, through a contract with the private Corrections Corporation of America, Vermont houses about 600 prisoners in a private Kentucky facility where inmates can only make collect calls (which are more expensive and which don’t always work with cell phones) and receive no free stamps. But, the Vermont Supreme Court recently held, all Vermont prisoners, regardless of where they’re incarcerated, have to be afforded their state statutory right to calling cards. As for the postage stamps, the court remanded back to the trial court to flesh out the record on whether there’s a constitutional equal protection violation. That component of the ruling may be of broader interest since it’s arguably a closer question, and rests not on Vermont law but on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: Read the rest of this entry »

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