Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘privatization

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 »

In Federal Lawsuit, (Yet Another) Woman Alleges She Was Raped by Employee at Kentucky Private Prison

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A former inmate at Kentucky’s Otter Creek Correctional Center, a private prison run (like most private prisons) by the Corrections Corporation of America, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging she was raped repeatedly by a CCA employee who threatened to block her parole if she did not comply with his demands. This inmate is apparently one of many who alleges she was raped by Otter Creek employees. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports:

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an e-mail Thursday that the employee was terminated last March. …

At least six workers at Otter Creek have been charged with sex-related crimes involving inmates at the facility.

Gov. Steve Beshear announced last month that the state will move more than 400 women prisoners out of Otter Creek given the allegations of sexual misconduct by male workers there.

The women prisoners will be transferred to the state-run Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia this summer, and the nearly 700 male inmates now there will be moved to Otter Creek, which has more than 650 beds, and other prisons in the state.

Note that private prisons are considered “state actors” to the extent that they can be sued for constitutional violations — but unlike state employees, private prison guards don’t enjoy qualified immunity, per the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399 (1997).

Written by sara

February 27, 2010 at 8:15 am

Dan Rather on Private Prisons

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Though I doubt anyone will catch this post in time, I just noticed that tonight’s episode of “Dan Rather Reports” on HDNet focuses on the private prison industry. The episode will re-air at 8 PM PST/11 PM EST, and then be available for purchase via the website or iTunes. Not having seen the show, I can’t vouch for its quality, of course, but thought I’d let readers know about it. From the HDNet press release:

The focus of Rather’s investigation is the case of a 32-year-old illegal immigrant named Jesus Galindo, who died in December 2008 of an epileptic seizure while in solitary confinement at the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas. Reeves is a low-security facility run by the private prison giant The GEO Group. Galindo was a federal inmate whose death sparked a series of riots with prisoners demanding better medical care. The case and riots drew the interest of human rights advocates. Was the death of Jesus Galindo due to a lack of medical attention? Why had inmates at a detention center receiving millions of federal dollars every year complained of medical neglect?  And will the full story of what’s happening at this prison, and others like it, ever be known?

The answer, according to David Shapiro, an attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project, is no, unless federal law is changed. He says that’s because private prisons are immune from one of the most powerful tools for the American public to learn what is being done in its name. “They’re not subject to the Freedom of Information Act like other federal prisons,” Shapiro said. “And the Freedom of Information Act is an information lifeline that lets us know what’s going on behind the prison walls.”

Private Prison Company’s Contracts in California Have Soared

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The Capitol Weekly has this report on the Corrections Corporation of America, the leading private prison company in the U.S., whose contracts in California alone have soared from $23 million to $700 million, just since 2006.

Even in a state accustomed to high-dollar contracts, the 31-fold increase over three years is dramatic.

During the same period, the company’s campaign donations rose exponentially, from $36,750 in 2006, of which $25,000 went to the state Republican Party, to $233,500 in 2007-08 and nearly $139,000 in 2009.  The donations have gone to Democrats, Republicans and ballot measures. The company’s largest single contribution, $100,000, went to an unsuccessful budget-reform package pushed last year by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

The lack of competitive bidding has raised concerns about in the Democrat-controlled Legislature about prison-system procurement.

CCA operates five out-of-state facilities for the Golden State — holding about 8,000 California inmates (to increase to about 10,000 under the latest contract) — in Arizona, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. CCA, and some state officials, argue that the company has helped alleviate California prison system’s severe overcrowding problem.

Written by sara

January 28, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Improving Health Care in Delaware Prisons

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The Delaware News Journal recently reported about ongoing litigation over health care conditions in that state’s prisons. Edward G. Williams, an inmate in the maximum security Vaughn Correctional Center, filed a federal lawsuit in 2007 claiming that he has been denied adequate treatment for his health problems, which include “a bulge the size of a canteloupe” in his abdomen. District Judge Joseph F. Farnan is overseeing the lawsuit.

Delaware contracts with St. Louis-based Correctional Medical Services — to the tune of almost $40 million a year — to provide health care services in its prisons (you can download a redacted version of the contract at the Delaware DOC website). As the News Journal reports, Delaware’s prison health care system is already under federal oversight as a result of earlier litigation:

Williams’ claim comes as the Delaware Department of Correction is being credited by the U.S. Justice Department with showing significant progress under a three-year mandate to improve prison health care for its more than 6,900 inmates. When the agreement was extended last month for another two years, the federal government said the department met 214 of its 217 original health care mandates.

Though there are still problems, Corrections Commissioner Carl C. Danberg said prison health care is far better than it was three years ago when a series by The News Journal revealed high inmate death rates, especially from AIDS and suicides.

Written by sara

January 23, 2010 at 5:56 pm

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