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add further weight to ongoing concerns about the legitimacy of the private prison industry.

Prison privatization creates incentives to "grow" the prison population, pushing up long-term prison costs. Prison privatization decreases public accountability, while increasing opportunities for waste, fraud and corruption.

Judith Greene, "Prison Privatization: Recent Developments in the United States, May 12, 2000"

US Corrections, the third largest of the three kings of privatization, has a history of run-ins with federal & state regulators. A 1993 story by the Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY brought the company a lot of unwanted - but well-deserved - attention. Stating that "US Corrections has repeatedly profited financially from its misuse of inmate labor", it documented several cases where the private prison company abused its authority over inmates, forcing them into several hours of long - and unpaid - labor (prisons must - at least on paper - pay the minimum wage to inmates for work done, or "provide a fee keeping with the standard wage in the area for the same job", as one federal edict declares). They were forced to work on construction for a church and renovate three others that employees attended, as well as repaint & keep up a country club; renovate an employee's game room, and basically whatever else officials felt they could get away with - again, all free, of course.

What was just as puzzling was the state's Dept. of Corrections' reaction to the story; it admitted that some impropriety had occurred, but filed no charges. Reporters smelled a story, and a year later charges surfaced that the company's owner, J. Clifford Todd, was involved in a bribing scheme with members of the Kentucky Dept. of Corrections. Todd, for his part, pleaded guilty of mail fraud and helped where he could in an FBI investigation. He paid over $200,000 to a corrections official in the state to help keep the department looking the other way, and used a California business to launder the money. Also, the official would work to send inmates to Todd's company when he could, according to the Atlantic Monthly. At the end of the trial one of the kings of prison privatization found himself serving 15 months in a federal pen.

Wackenhut, second only to CCA in money and power, is easily the most politically influential. Its list of board members reads like a 'who's-who' of the covert operations world. The founder, George Wackenhut, was an FBI man who quit at the height of the old Cold War, after which he amassed the largest collection of files on 'un-American subversives' in the country for then-head of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover, keeping over 3 million such files, according to the Monthly; in fact, for years several have said that his principal business (Wackenhut Industries) is little more than a cover for CIA intelligence, a charge he hotly denies - which can only mean there might be some truth to it after all. He worked in the 70's in fields such as anti-terrorism and union-busting, then finally got into the prison business. Other 'top brass' include former heads of the FBI, the Marine Corps, as well as a former head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and a former Attorney General. George Wackenhut doesn't buy influence; he is influence.

And, of course, there's CCA. The Monthly tells of its start as well. It was begun in 1984 by Doctor R. Crants and Thomas Beasley, who naively said when they started out in the prison business that "You just sell [prisons] like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers". Their first 'prison' was a series of rented motel rooms, used - the Monthly says - because Crants & Beasley had accepted a number of Texas inmates for their first prison before it was even finished; wanting to 'look good' and impress the Texan legislators into thinking they knew what they were doing, they quietly took the prisoners to the motel and hoped to keep them there until enough of the prison was completed. Instead the prisoners pushed the old air-conditioners out of the motel walls and quickly escaped.

The Big Business

You can't really blame the private business world for being so hungry to get into the prison business. Remember, they already provide a ton of services to most prisons - medical services, drug detection, closed-circuit TV systems, vocational assessment, phone services, and a host of other goods & services. Many in the know still remember the ringing endorsement of the Wall Street Journal for the prison business, and would love to be a part of this new Cold War. And that's not all; in a fascinating recent report about privatization by Judith Greene for the International Conference on Penal Abolition entitled Prison Privatization: Recent Development in the United States, by 1997 the private prison-industrial complex enjoyed its first net returns of around a cool one billion dollars that year; and, since private prisons are paid by the state or feds for each prisoner they possess, they worked hard to ensure that that number went up - from 64,000 adults in about 140 private prisons in '97 to 85,000 a year later. To give perspective, the 1998 ABC News report I mentioned earlier said that net returns had jumped by '98 to $4 billion; it also quoted stock analysts as saying that the gross income for the prison-industrial complex was between $30-40 billion that year.

Therefore it hasn't been unusual to find at prison and jail conventions fliers and ads endorsing this new, seemingly bottomless source of revenue in recent years. "The local jail market is lucrative", read some such items at an American Jail Association convention a few years ago. "Tap into the $65 Billion local jails market . . .Jails are BIG BUSINESS!!"

If jails are 'big business' (and they surely are), the state & federal prison systems are the Holy Grail of the private prison world. The combined need of the states & the feds to do something - anything - about their overcrowding problem with the lust for lucre on the side of private business has created an explosion in the prison market; private prisons, if you recall, have been growing at four times the rate of their public competition. A person gets into the private prison business to make a killing . . .

In how many ways can private prisons make a killing by their simple existence? Readers of the Baton Rouge Advocate in Louisiana know; in Oct. '97 it reported that a case of old-fashioned money laundering had been happening in the state involving a private prison. It seems that two employees at the East Carroll Corrections System initiated a 'kickback' scheme involving the local police chief. The two were found guilty of mail fraud and money laundering after officials discovered that the two were taking huge 'overpayments' from the East Carroll Parish sheriff's office for lease payments to the facility, and returning a sizable portion of that sum ($340,000 according to court records) back to the sheriff personally for all his dedication to their private cause.

There was no word on whether the two - or the sheriff for that matter, who seemed caught in a nice little conflict-of-interest - would be spending sentences in a private facility.

And there seems to be no beating of the corporate-prison king - the fine state of Texas - for private-prison shenanigans. In 1997 The Justice Department began looking into charges of civil rights violations in a West Texas private prison (the problem of civil rights being a troubling one that seems to bubble up quite often in Texas); and Montana officials, who'd been shipping prisoners to the Texas lock-up to help solve their own overcrowding for the time being, found 29 separate violations the private prison had made during the audit they performed to check on the well-being of the shipped Montana inmates. However, the Texas state regulator who checked out the stories for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found no problems with the facility. That was that - until it was found that this same regulator had been working on the side as a well-paid consultant for the Bobby Ross Group, a private-prison corporation that just happened to run the very prison in West Texas that was under investigation. He resigned from his job at Bobby Ross, but only after Montana officials complained about his conflict-of-interest.

The private-prison kids love to rub elbows with elected officials in any & every way they can; to quote a few instances from Prison News Service reports:

* CCA's big break into the waters of local politics occurred when the Nashville-based business began making a warm friend out of then-Governor Lamar Alexander. While CCA was making its move to bid on the operation of Tennessee's entire prison population back in '85, Honey Alexander (the Governor's wife, with a name only a southern woman could carry with a straight face) got into trouble for owning $5,000 of CCA stock. She made $100,000 once she "converted the stock to a blind trust in order to avoid an apparent conflict of interest".

* Thomas Beasley, Chairman Emeritus for CCA, co-founded the company with Doctor R. Crants in the mid-80's; many of you may remember him better as a former chairman of Tennessee's Republican Party.

* Another high-powered board member - Clayton McWhorter - once ran a failed Democratic campaign for Tennessee Gov. in '94.

* Crants and Beasley donated over $60,000 from '94-'96 to Tennessee politicians, including:

- $38,500 to Gov. Sunquist's re-election fund; - $22,450 to 46 state political candidates - $2,000 to Rep. Randy Rinks, House Democratic Caucus Chairman; - $1,350 to State Senator Jim Kyle, who happened to be Chairman of the Select Oversight Committee on Corrections.

To date CCA has at least seven professional lobbyists in Tennessee fighting to get its voice heard - and it's been fighting louder and harder ever since.

But if you really want to meet a group of people dead-set against prison privatization, you don't have to go to Prison News; look no farther than those currently working for state & federal corrections.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Chief Kathleen Hawk Sawyer felt the problem important enough to write a letter to staff members on this singular subject, to answer the "unfounded belief [some have] that they are going to lose their job as a result of privatization". She answers by quickly assuring them that she herself will not allow private industry to run anything above a minimum-security prison as long as she's Bureau Chief, citing reports that the "private sector has established an acceptable track record for the confinement of minimum-security and some low-security inmates (such as non-citizens serving short Federal sentences), but not for the incarceration of medium- or high-security inmates", and says bluntly that the BOP must find ways to "be cost-competitive with the private prison companies in order to argue against further Congressional mandates for privatization".

While perhaps not as direct, NC Corrections rep Danny Thompson is no fan of the rising tide called privatization, either. I asked him in a telephone interview about the most damning of the claims from those like Professor Charles Logan of the University of Connecticut or Dr. Charles Thomas from the University of Florida - privatization's two staunchest champions - that private prisons regularly maintain lower costs than their public counterparts.

"Well, the reports they site don't take the difference of pay to corrections officers into consideration", Thompson said. "They don't mention the fact that private facilities tend to use non-union workers with less training, so their prison costs are often less, but much of it is the result of paying a fair bit less in wages."

Since wages is cited by the Justice Department as the single highest cost of incarceration, this 'cheap labor' tactic by the private prison boys makes since - in a cold, mechanistic way. As Pat Cannan, Wackenhut rep says, "We don't pay a lot of overtime, and maintain a part-time work force". Stock options in the company are given rather than cash, if for no other reason than that it's usually cheaper for these businesses to do so; in 1996, annual earnings for unionized prison staff was about $33,330, while the non-union boys, even with the stock options the companies love to talk about, only made about $24,000 - or a whole third less in total income.

Several who work for private prisons have also talked about the lack of training or preparation companies like CCA often give to their guards. It can be tough; one old boy insisted that "You can't trust the people you work with . . . they're reading or talking on the phone instead of watching your back while you are searching the cells."

It also immediately shows the weakness of allowing private businesses into the public arena; since business is concerned so much with the profit margin, they will sometimes buy low where they should buy high - unless you get off in knowing that more and more prisons are being guarded by a less highly-skilled, lower paid and non-specialized workforce.

But could that answer why some private prisons seem to do so much better than most public prisons at keeping their cost down, with some in Texas (the privatized capital of the US, incidentally) pulling in over a whopping 10% return on investment per year?

"You also have to remember one very important thing", Thompson replied; "the private companies are often only allowed by law to handle minimum to medium-security prisons; so they usually can't handle the hardest offenders, the ones that could really cause problems - and they always raise costs. They don't have to handle anywhere near the level of incarceration we [in the state & federal departments] need in many of our prisons".

By "picking jackets" - guarding only the healthiest and most docile inmates - prison firms keep costs down and dividends high.

When a prisoner falls ill or proves troublesome, CCA simply ships him back to a state-run prison, where the bill is picked up by taxpayers instead of company shareholders. Unlike the state, private prisons enjoy the luxury of banishing anyone who threatens the bottom line.

The Nation, May 4, 1998

A bit of further reading shows that another very big reasonTexas' privatized prisons show those sterling numbers is a little-mentioned attachment to the agreements between the state of Texas and those running the private prisons down there - an attachment that is certainly missing from the glowing reports of people like Logan and Thomas. The fine print forces the private company to maintain their large profits every year; if they fall under that magic number of 10%, their contract is canceled, and the prison immediately reverts back to the state. But whenever a public facility is put under the same gun, the numbers indicate that they too can produce the desired results; so are those numbers in Texas the result of good ol' Capitalism coming to the rescue, or a level of efficiency that those in charge are suddenly forced by law to reach?

In other states, where there are often no such laws forcing the private prisons to produce, the results of privatization are hardly as dramatic, and tend to be so 'all over the boards' in terms of performance that one wonders if a slate of good numbers aren't the result of factors that any public facility in the same set of circumstances could duplicate just as easily. In North Carolina, a contract with CCA to handle three private prisons is hitting a few serious roadblocks. The agreement NC had with one prison has been thrown out; the prison is being taken over by the state. The reason? Poor performance. "They couldn't give the performance of efficiency they claimed they could, so we had no choice but to cancel their contract," Thompson replied.

This year NC is also seriously considering canceling the entire $19.8-million, five-year private prison contract it's made with CCA, according to the Wilmington paper The Morning Star; the prisons have only been operating for two years. Like a bad marriage, the relationship between NC & CCA has been seriously eroding recently; North Carolina has stopped payment of fees to the company approaching a million dollars for 'contract non-compliance'.

Not that everyone on the privatizing side is taking remarks like these lying down; "If monopolies tend to be inefficient, then government monopolies tend to be extremely inefficient-and sloppy, too," replies Charles Thomas, that University of Florida criminologist I mentioned earlier; he's probably the most influential - and fiercest - major defender of prison privatization today. "I never had one prisoner come up to me and complain [that] they are in a private facility. The core concern is 'am I being treated reasonably?' "

Well, I can't verify how tight Thomas really is with the prisoners who fill his favorite cells, but he can prove one thing: the fed & state governments are experts in sloppiness and inefficiency - they should be, if one is to judge them by the many mistakes found in the private prison industry that public corrections people are forever asked to clean up. For example, there is a method of keeping expense overruns from eating into the private prisons' funds and pushing them onto the government that is so often used it has even been given a name: shaving. A private facility will push for a cap on medical expenses per inmate before the final contract is signed, for instance; if certain inmates become so sick their medical bills go beyond the cap, they are simply shipped over to the public prisons - shaved - so people like Charles Thomas can then laughingly say that private prisons keep down costs the public ones can't.

One other thing he doesn't talk about is this little ditty; employees of for-profit prisons are considered by a 1997 Supreme Court ruling to be private employees, which means they, unlike public employees, are not personally immune to prisoner lawsuits. This begs the question: if something horribly wrong happens at a private prison, who should be blamed - The guard? The private company? The government, for letting that company handle the job in the first place? Or perhaps all three?

But that's not all, folks. If a prisoner escapes, or goes on some spree & starts a riot, the private prisons actually want the public boys to pay almost the full expense - and suffer most of the danger - incurred when things go sour.

No wonder people like Sawyer and Thompson aren't too keen on privatization. We must be honest and admit that at least some of their distrust in the idea may come from the fact that they both belong to the public system, which would obviously suffer if the private ones become quite a bit bigger - but a person would have to be very cold indeed not to believe that these little problems rub those in the public prison sphere the wrong way.

As far as any real hope of cost savings, once the public & private facilities are judged under the same or similar circumstances, the General Accounting Office (GAO) has said that they "could not conclude from their studies that privatization of correctional facilities will save money".

Are there any problems with the individual private facilities themselves? Well, in Tennessee a group of guards working for CCA who wished not to be identified told reporters that they were encouraged to write up inmates for the most minor infractions and place them in segregation, which takes away points they've established for good behavior. It also adds a full 30 days to their sentences, which can help make about $1,000 for the prison in pure profit, according to an ACU fact sheet.

And that's hardly the worst of it. As the years have gone by, the underpayment of staff, the stress of an already very hard job on those who are often not properly trained, the constant cutting of corners to provide a profit, and - in some cases - even mixing minimum and medium-security prisoners with ones that may well belong in a 'SuperMax' (an extra-tough lockdown for the toughest criminals) have begun to create what seems to be an ever-increasing ugly situation.

Strange Bedfellows

* George W. was willing to say whatever he had to to win the Texas gubernatorial race, and if it meant saying that Ann Richards, a Democrat who had already brought the Texas privatization rush to new heights, cut parole for violents, supported the death penalty, and beefed up prison construction at an alarming rate was 'soft on crime', then so be it. So in '94, the Justice Commission recalls, Bush made a very effective commercial; in grainy, harsh black & white, a man attacks a woman with a gun pointed firmly at her head (the man was, in reality, the sound man for the commercial; the woman, the makeup artist). Cut to next scene: a white sheet is pulled over the dead woman's face, a clear victim of a liberal political hand gone soft.

"Exit poles revealed that Richards lost the election partly because of the Bush ads on crime", the Commission reported.

And, compared to Bush, maybe she is liberal - again, when compared to 'Dubya', that is. This 'compassionate conservative' has sentenced more people to death and sent more people to prison to serve long, unmitigated terms for breaking laws - laws that he himself would surely have gone to jail for if he hadn't had a father who was Vice-president under Ronald Reagan - than any politician today.

Which is why it must have been doubly embarrassing for the young Bush when two inmates broke out of a minimum-security prison by hopping the fence at the Houston Processing Center, usually a prison for immigrants used by the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS), under Bush's watch as Texas Governor. But, along with all of the privatizing both Richards and Bush had been doing, the INS place was also privatized.

A private prison, being newer and not yet crowded beyond capacity, can take some of those extra prisoners other states have been shuffling around and make a tight profit for themselves. Those in charge (CCA), wanting desperately to make every cent of that money they could, thought they'd try a little something different and threw in dangerous, high-level prisoners - Oregon sex offenders - with simple immigrants looking for a better life, simply because that's where the most space was (private prisons can charge more for keeping a prisoner if the prison they're housed in is uncrowded). Over 200 of these hardcore offenders were at the little facility.

The Texas boys were fuming - they had no idea violent, high-level inmates were being kept there, they said the moment the story broke. The two were later caught, but there was no law on the books in Texas - as in many places - actually making it illegal to leave a private facility - it was literally no different than quitting a job, the court found. Still, CCA expected the state to pay for all costs incurred in finding and re-capturing the two. Four weeks later a riot blew up at the privatized Frio Detention Center that got so horrible the Texas state boys had to be sent in to clean up the mess.

Even 'Dubya' knew this was enough; this year it's renegotiated its contract with CCA, with the new, harder initiatives forcing CCA to close its doors in a few facilities because it says it just can't do business that way.

* At a South Carolina juvenile prison in '98, eight boys are claiming that employees assaulted them when they were hogtied like pigs, using pepper spray on them and playing with the boys' crotches.

The perpetrators? Employees for CCA. "CCA's conduct in authorizing and condoning the practices . . . is extreme and outrageous and exceeds all possible bounds of decency in a civilized society," attorney Gaston Fairey wrote in the lawsuits.

It may have happened there before; another boy filed a case in February.

Five of the eight boys that were attacked were sent home; two were sent to state mental hospitals after the attack; the last is still in prison.

In response, Gov. Beasley ended all association with CCA. In response CCA insists it be paid for services rendered, for payments totaling $12 million. As for training, "CCA provided one week of training for officers who worked at the Farrow Road prison. Correctional officers employed by the Juvenile Justice Department must complete a five-week basic training class. They are supposed to use force as a last resort", the Columbia paper The State said.

So by 1998 we were getting the same essential ingredients in several prisons that lead to the wild riots of the prisons in the early 20th century; rampant prison overcrowding, an increasingly corrupted, increasingly low-paid workforce, and prisoners who are sometimes treated like slaves at best, and animals at worst. Oh, and a public that is more interested in crushing them than it is in even trying to rehabilitate them. But it would never happen again.

Would it?

Hell on Earth

The small town of Youngstown, Ohio saw it as a blessing. Once a blue-collar powerhouse of sorts, the town saw its best employers - the steel mills that had been the backbone of this community - leave to send 30,000 people out of work and scrambling to find something that paid as well. But, as is often the case with northern towns in the US, that kind of thing was tough to come by. Several people left for greener pastures; others worked an extra job, or a spouse worked as well to bring in the same money one worker had made before at the steel mills. It was beginning to look bleak.

That's when CCA rolled into town, promising new jobs, $47 million worth of construction contracts, and a piece of the prison-industrial pie. The city, in its understandable rush to be a real mover & shaker again, waived many laws on the books for the mighty private-prison powerhouse to further whet its desire to build there. They sold the company 100 acres of prime land for exactly $1, waived all real-estate taxes for three years, and ensured that all utility hook-ups would be free of charge. They only asked that all 1,500 beds in the Northeast Correctional Center be for the medium-security prisoners the town was told would always be at the facility.

But even as the ink dried on that deal, CCA was preparing to sign another with DC officials which would allow them to bus in hundreds of hardcore inmates from its facility in Lorton, Virginia - a place ABC News referred to in its report on Youngstown as "home of the nation's most wretched prison".

The moment the town found that they'd been "switched", anger turned to fear as those in the town began to ask themselves just what they'd gotten themselves into . . .

ABC News said that the list of those setting up residence at the prison included "an estimated 600 convicted murderers along with hundreds who had been violent towards other inmates before", and many others experts later said should well have been classified as maximum-security prisoners - exactly the people the town told CCA it did not want.

New Mayor George McKelvey was amazed that the company would do such a thing to mar the relationship his predecessor had made with CCA. "At no time did they say they were going to be shipping inmates from other states. This community was really caught by surprise", McKelvey said.

"Ohio stopped an out-of-state landfill a while ago because people don't want it in their communities, the dumping of undesirables from other states. This is a case of dumping, too," he told ABC News. "I don't know how receptive the community would have been if we knew they were going to bring in Washington, D.C.'s worst criminals."

As for the guards themselves, more than 2 out of every 3 were complete novices when it came to dealing with criminals of any stripe, much less ones as dangerous as those fun-lovin' boys from Lorton. Only a handful were retired cops looking for some good money by working at the facility.

Not that prisons are always a solid guarantee that the immediate community surrounding prisons will be well off; The Justice Commission sites reports stating that a "quarter of all California towns hosting a state prison have a median family income below the federal poverty line"; though, to be fair, California is second only to Texas in the total number of prisoners it beds, so their budget is strained more than most. Because of that, the prisons out there sometimes suck badly needed funds from education and social services. ACU News further reports that the same thing sometimes goes on when a private facility eventually becomes as crowded, since the state & community hosting the prison often pay the private prison on a per prisoner basis, though rates are usually cut a bit when the prison becomes that crowded, again to be fair.

Still, "Anyone there could get a job . . . all you do is pass this test and get a manual. Four weeks of training and a manual that no one reads anyway", one guard privately told ABC News during an interview.

As for the ones the prison was meant to house - median-security Ohioprisoners - they were clearly scared shitless about sharing the same space with the Lorton cons.

Bryson Chisley was more scared than most. He knew full well one of the Lorton inmates, two-time murderer Alphonso White, had it in for him. He wrote painful letters to his wife India filled with fear at his situation, and told her he was putting all his hope on being paroled that coming Spring.

Not that India Chisley was the kind to step aside while her man sweats it out in prison. She worked as hard as anyone could to make his situation known to the CCA officials, saying over and over again, "He fears for his safety and his life", and begged them to give her husband protective custody; but her letters and phone calls were never returned.

Mayor McKelvey, for his part, was beginning to hear rumbles in the community, and voiced his personal opinion that, because of the "switch" CCA had used against the town, he was starting to mistrust CCA prison officials. The result? The mayor and legislature passed laws ensuring that the continued shipping of maximum-security Lorton inmates would cease. Well and good, but it did nothing about the ones already there.

Meanwhile, those new guards at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center were getting more worried as time went on, some going so far as to tell others privately that the Lorton inmates were now running the show, not the guards.

"This place is a powder keg", said Cincinnati, Ohio attorney Alphonse Gerharstein, who was handling a lawsuit by inmates and their families insisting that the prison's inexperienced and overrun guards weren't keeping the medium-security inmates safe, with several claiming they had been attacked by Lorton inmates on several occasions while guards did nothing. "They have chosen to mix medium andmaximum-security inmates with demonstrated histories of violent behavior while serving time. It is a very unsafe place and totally preventable."

Their best chance at safety, it seemed, was a request Gerharstein had filed on behalf of several inmates at the prison to have the Lorton, Virginia cons moved to maximum-security facilities. US District Judge Sam Bell saw no problem at the time, and denied the request.

And that's when the powder keg exploded.

Three days after the denial, inmate Derrick Davis was brutally stabbed 15 times by homemade knives called 'shanks', with guards finding him still shackled at the wrists and feet, ABC News said.

CCA officials said there was no reason to worry; its record was a safe one, with no employee ever dying at the hands of an inmate. As for the inmates, the rep speaking for the company to ABC News quickly mentioned that fights between inmates in CCA prisons had resulted in about "a half-dozen" deaths, but that was over an entire 20-year period, she said.

Three weeks after that brutal episode, Bryson Chisley - that same man who was so frightened of being killed in prison because of a grudge a former Lorton inmate had against him - was killed after being stabbed in a long-term segregation area, a place where inmates are supposed to be escorted by two guards; but cutbacks at the facility by CCA forced the segregation area to be understaffed.

And that's not all; ABC News also reported that one of those who murdered Chisley was also involved in the killing of Derrick Davis, the man who was stabbed three weeks before, but was not locked down and separated from the rest by the inexperienced guards, said Jonathan Smith, executive director of Prisoner Legal Services Project, a DC-based organization fighting for the rights of those behind bars. Smith joined Gerharstein in the suit to get the Lorton boys out of the medium-security lockup.

"What's so tragic about this" Smith said to reporters, "is that to get to these murders, there had to have been a huge number of security failures . . . "These inmates should not have been housed together. No one should have been able to get out of their handcuffs. And no one should have had a knife . . . It was a series of gross security deficiencies."

ABC News called it "Hell on Earth", when describing what had happened in that prison; in one year, at least 13 prisoners had been stabbed and perhaps as many as 20, and that's not counting, of course, those two who were murdered within weeks of one another (CCA would not verify to reporters stabbing reports above the 13 inmates mentioned).

By comparison, in Ohio's entire prison system the previous year (1997), there were only 22 stabbings involving homemade prison weapons and two murders, and that's for a full 29 corrections facilities throughout the state.

After Chisley's death, Judge Bell decided the case needed a second look, and ordered all prisoners reviewed for violent behavior. Reports at the time suggested that as many as 300 of them would immediately be sent to maximum-security prisons. Judge Bell also slapped CCA with a 90-day order to remove all inmates so classified to other facilities.

The state legislature, like all political entities in wishing to do something long after the crisis is over, passed laws ensuring that the for-profit prisons themselves would now pick up the tab for their own messes in Ohio and limited the Youngstown facility solely to medium-security inmates, said the ABC News report. The prison went thru weeks of lockdown as the inmates were re-classified. They remained in their cells for 23 hours a day as CCA guards looked for the shank used to kill Chisley; it was never found.

Litigation stemming from the problems [in Youngstown, Ohio] resulted in a landmark settlement involving both monetary damages and a total restructuring of the prison's policies and practices in regard to staffing, classification, medical care, and monitoring of prison conditions.

Judith Greene, Prison Privatization: Recent Developments in the United States, May 12, 2000

CCA, for its part, said that things should be better at the prison after the second killing. "This institution should still be considered in its startup phase", CCA reps said. "Our experience has shown that it takes an institution 12 to 18 months to go through the kinds of growing pains that are here."

But while the baby prison teethes on the lives of its medium-security prisoners, guards - new ones - are worried about the situation. "There will be more violence . . . I'm just afraid it will be an officer this time", one new guard said.

Weeks after that remark to ABC News, four inmates severely beat a guard, knocking out his front teeth.

The End

Texas - Back in '94 Wackenhut was awarded a contract by Texas for a juvenile justice facility in Coke County for delinquent girls. Rushing to receive its first inmates as quickly as possible, Wackenhut opened the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Bronte before it was even fully staffed. Not one educational program was yet in place, and most employees - as in so many private facilities - had no background experience prior to their being hired by Wackenhut, and even less in dealing with troubled young girls.

We can all see what's coming, can't we? In a class action lawsuit filed in Dallas, the girls alleged that several of the young inmates there were "degraded, humiliated, assaulted, harassed, and emotionally abused," and that the prison provided very little in medical care, job training, or counseling.

The result? "Two Wackenhut employees pled guilty to criminal charges of sexual assault, and Wackenhut decided to settle the lawsuit. One of the girls who had been raped committed suicide the day the settlement was announced. The Texas Youth Commission responded by removing the female inmates, but modified the contract to house delinquent boys, and increased the number of beds in the facility.", a local paper reported.

New Jersey - An Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detention center used to house illegal aliens in Elizabeth, NJ that was run by Esmor Correctional Services (since renamed Correctional Services Corporation) went thru a riot in 1995 that involved 300 prisoners. Several reports stated that conditions at the facility caused the breakout in violence. "Twenty illegal immigrants were injured in the melee when the detainees, shouting accusations of mistreatment, took over a building, demolished its interior, and held two guards hostage for five hours before police broke through their barricades", said reports.

An investigation by the INS concluded Esmor officials had little or no control over guards, who were almost to a person "improperly trained"; others should have been fully investigated before being hired, the report concluded. The report further stated that "poorly trained and abusive guards preyed on immigrants . . . The detainees were forced to walk while saying, 'America is number one,' as guards punched and kicked them". Other abuses included "grabbing and pulling an inmate by his penis with pliers, and dragging inmates by their beards and pushing their heads into toilets". Rather than try to quell the riot when it began, the poorly-trained guards instead adopted an 'every person for himself' mentality." The INS ended its contract with Esmor.

"Esmore was awarded the contract for $54 million, a full $20 million less than the next highest bid. Once awarded the contract, the company hired correctional staff with little or no experience, served a substandard diet to the inmates, and shackled detainees in leg irons when they met their lawyers . . . The uprising injured 20 detainees and caused damage in excess of $100,000 . . . According to staff at the facility, in order to keep costs in line with the low bid, the company cut corners and created the conditions for the riot. [. . .] Carl Frick, who served as the facility's first warden, said Esmor officials had instructed him to lie to INS officials about conditions at the facility . . . "Money, money money, that's all that was important to them. It was ridiculous [said Frick]."

The Real War on Crime, Criminal Justice Commission

Tennessee - "Although CCA employees were committing drug and weapons violations at the facility in Hardeman County, Tennessee in 1995, the manager of the facility refused to report the crack cocaine use and weapons smuggling to the local sheriff. According to a recent story in The Nashville Banner, "when they're [CCA] saying, `We're not going to tell,' ... they are more interested in the commercial side than they are in public safety." CCA officials said they weren't aware of any arrangements in which they had to file reports."

ACU News

- According to ACU News, The annual state report of expenditures for 1996-97 stated that Florida paid out $45-$47 a day to private prisons for each inmate kept in its cells, while someone held in a public prison that year cost about two dollars less per day. Because for-profit prisons enjoy such advantages as caps on health care, officials said it was hard to make an honest comparison; once the costs were adjusted, private prisons in the Florida area were found to cost five to six dollars more than their public counterparts.

North Carolina - the US Corrections Corporation, in attempt to slash costs, hired only 68 guards to watch over 520 inmates; the state would use about 140 guards in such a case, according to ACU News.

Virginia - In October 1997, the head of private prisons for the Virginia Department of Corrections Russell Boraas released a statement saying that some private prisons in Texas have made up for the low reimbursement rates Texas gives them "by leaving positions vacant a little longer than they should."

New York - A Wall Street analysis of CCA's projectedprofit margin released in October 1997 said that the firm's earnings were losing steam because of costs associated with its "high employee turnover at new facilities."

Idaho - "In September 1997, five Idaho inmates, including two murderers and a rapist, escaped from a detention center operated by Louisiana Correctional Services Inc. Two months earlier, 100 Idaho inmates rioted there, causing $35,000 in damage. The escapes and riot prompted an Idaho Department of Corrections audit which revealed substandard conditions, inadequate staff training, and extensive use of pepper spray by the guards. The audit also reported that the warden of the facility was only on duty two days a week."

ACU News

- Capital Correctional Resources Inc. (CCRI), fell under the gun in 1997 because of a widely publicized videotape showing guards at their Brazoria County Jail shocking prisoners with stun guns, making them crawl on their bellies, and allowing guard dogs to bite them. CCRI responded by saying that the whole thing was a misunderstanding; the videotape was simply a training device. The tape came out only a year after CCRI refused time and again to provide information to independent investigators looking into other various reports of abuse at the beleaguered prison. However, most people didn't buy CCRI's answer about the 'training device'; that and the other charges of abuse have prompted the FBI, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the United Nations 149th Subcommission on Human Rights to each launch investigations into the matter.

Colorado - Reports in local papers of physical abuse and forced sex with young prisoners by guards convinced Colorado to revoke the license of a for-profit prison. A 13-year-old from Utah committed suicide in early 1998 at the High Plains Youth Center in Bush, 75 miles northeast of Denver, claiming to be the victim of abuse. The state investigation, begun in February, discovered "gross mismanagement" by the Rebound Corporation. Head of the Department of Human Services Barbara McDonnell stated that the "staff was unqualified and insufficient for the number of inmates".

Colorado - The ACLU is suing CCA on behalf of a female prisoner who was sexually assaulted by an all-male group of officers working for a CCA-owned extradition company during her drive from Texas to Colorado, according to an ACLU News report.

The report said that, despite similar problems plaguing the agency in the past and a company policy that forbade the extradition of a female inmate without at least one female guard present, the extradition company TransCor assigned the all-male crew anyway.

The 43-year-old mother of four who claims to be the victim has been married for 19 years. According to the ACLU report, the whole thing went down, complete with threats if she told about the incidents, during her five-day extradition to Colorado in March 1998. But the threats were apparently unnecessary; after she arrived at the Colorado facility, those at Fremont County Jail recognized something was terribly wrong and had her reviewed by a therapist, who "determined that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a common consequence of sexual assaults", the report noted.

During the Colorado trip, she spent the days shackled in the van and spent the nights in several county jails along the route; but the fun-lovin' guards refused to let her use the toilet during rest stops because the guards wanted to get her alone; these upstanding men "insisted on watching". "One day she was forced to wait over thirteen hours until they stopped for the night at a county jail" the report said.

New York - On April 20, 1998, CCA announced corporate restructuring plans so wonderfully bizarre that, according to the Atlantic Monthly, several of those on Wall Street began to worry for the company's financial health. No one really knew what was up, but it was clear something was wrong. CCA's stock price - which had been one of the highest of any in the nation, according to most analysts - began a free-fall, losing 25% of its value in just a few short days. A month later at the annual CCA shareholders meeting, Crants called those on Wall Street leaving the for-profit prison ship "wild beasts" who were "stampeding out of fear, and blamed the stock's plunge on a single broker who had sold 640,000 shares", the Monthly stated.

What Crants didn't tell CCA's faithful shareholders was that he himself had "quickly sold 200,000 shares of CCA stock just weeks before the announcement that sent its value tumbling. By selling his stock on March 2nd, Crants had avoided a loss of more than $2.5 million". When asked to explain his actions, Crants refused to comment. "The timing and the size of that stock transaction are likely to be of interest to the attorneys who have filed more than half a dozen lawsuits on behalf of CCA shareholders", the Monthly concluded.

Texas - "[Since the Houston sex offender escape], there has been a rash of escapes, riots and other prisoner uprisings, rape and even murder in privately run jails and detention centers across Texas."

The Houston Chronicle

New Mexico - Inmate homicides are rare events. In 1997 there were 79 in the entire US while the average daily prison population was 1.2 million. That's a rate of one homicide for every 15,000 inmates. While the inmate homicide rate in New Mexico was far higher that year (one in about 1,650), the recent inmate homicide rate in Wackenhut's NM prisons (four deaths in nine months) is off the charts at one for every 400 inmates - and that's not counting the murder of a guard.

Judith Greene, Prison Privatization: Recent Developments in the United States, May 12, 2000

Two prisons Wackenhut operates out in the American badlandsof NM seem to keep exploding into violence. There were as many as five deaths in these prisons in less than a year. The Lea County Correctional Facility at Hobbs was opened by Wackenhut in May of '98; within three months the place was churning with violence, according to reports.

In August a guard at Hobbs allegedly beat and kicked an inmate who was held down with handcuffs and leg irons. One report of the facility held a damning charge, stating that "the beating had been ordered by the associate warden, who then attempted to cover-up the incident". To be fair to Wackenhut, they did try to stop this problem; the associate warden for security was fired, two lieutenants were forced to resign, and three guards were given reprimands. Not long after this, however, the monitor who filed the report was hired by Wackenhut to work as a deputy warden at a facility they were planning to open at Santa Rosa. No more came of the report.

In April of '99 hundreds of prisoners started a two-hour riot at Hobbs that became so intense it required the assistance of more than 100 law enforcement and prison officers from all regions of the state to finally get the facility back under control. This time thirteen guards and a prisoner were injured. Judith Greene, in her report Prison Privatization: Recent Developments in the United States, states that fifteen guards, scared by what had happened, resigned after this event. She also says that "a member of a Wackenhut emergency response team flown in from Texas was arrested and charged with beating shackled prisoners at the Hobbs facility days after riot had been quelled. Two other members of the team were administratively disciplined."

Robert Ortega, Jose Montoya, and Richard Garcia were stabbed to death within months of each other at Hobbs. Wackenhut (the company in charge of the Hobbs prison) was not providing a sufficient number of work and education programs; work assignments were for the most part "on paper only." Prisoners were not being classified in a timely manner, and were not scheduled for parole hearings as required by state standards.

Judith Greene, Prison Privatization: Recent Developments in the United States, May 12, 2000

Washington, DC - In a move that some are referring to as "a financial bailout", the Federal Bureau of Prisons has given two huge three-year contracts to CCA totaling $760 million to house 3,500 federal inmates in California and New Mexico prisons.

Those calling it a bailout might be right; the once high-flying CCA has posted a yearly loss of more than $195 million in its third quarter report this year. It owes its parent company Prison Realty $25 million for delinquent rent dating back to Dec. 31, 1999, and Prison Realty itself is currently in default of a $40 million loan, reports reveal.

CCA will be paid $530 million to run the proposed prison in California City, CA; and $230 million for the one planned in Cibola, NM.

New York - A story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stated that several top Wall Street analysts are now seeing the situation at Prison Realty (CCA's parent company) as being "increasingly bleak." The shareholders now feel at risk; Prison Realty has all the signs of heading for bankruptcy. The paper quoted reps for Prison Realty who said the company was, "urging shareholders to approve a massive restructuring deal that would infuse $350 million into a new company that would merge CCA, Prison Realty and other entities." It also reported that the battered company is spending a large amount of time these days in court fighting shareholder lawsuits. On Aug. 29 of this year, Prison Realty's stock, listed as PZN on the New York Stock Exchange, was quietly trading at a measly $2.06, down from its previous 52-week high of $14.18.

Tennessee - Founder Doctor R. Crants has been fired as Chief Executive Officer of Prison Realty Trust by the Board of Directors and replaced by John Ferguson, who, in keeping with CCA's desire to remain well-connected, happens to be former Tennessee finance commissioner under Gov. Don Sunquist (no stranger to CCA dollars himself). Ferguson resigned on June 30 to accept the job with Prison Realty.

Reports were unanimous in citing the "increasing problems" at the company's private facilities and his strange dealings with the company's stocks in '98 that, together, worked to send the market price of Prison Realty stock tumbling

New Mexico - State officials are demanding assurances from Wackenhut that reforms in their operations are solid before they agree to any more contracts with the company, according to reports. An independent study conducted by a five-member panel was highly critical of the high level of violence found in the private prisons Wackenhut runs in Hobbs and Santa Rosa. NM and Wackenhut are currently renegotiating their contracts. The private prison company makes $25 million yearly in the running of the two prisons.

Florida - Ken Kopczynski felt it was the right thing to do.

Kopczynski, research assistant for the Florida Police Benevolent Association, told authorities that Dr. Charles Thomas - the lion of privatization and University of Florida professor of criminology, as well as head of the university's Private Corrections Project Directorship - had himself been investing heavily in the very business he claimed to praise for purely academic reasons.

This personal involvement Thomas has with the privatization world goes back a long way. In a National Times interview three years ago, Thomas admitted he had invested in "substantially all" of the for-profit prison companies, but refused to give any hard names or numbers. Then on April 25, 1997, the Wall Street Journal reported that Thomas had been named as a board member of Prison Realty Trust; his official salary totals up to about $12,000, with options to buy 5,000 extra shares. Due to Crants' dealings, CCA merged with Prison Realty Trust on January 1, 1999.

But Prison Realty documents filed with the SEC state that, "Charles W. Thomas, a member of the Prison Realty Board and a director of New Prison Realty, has performed and will continue to perform, certain consulting services in connection with the merger for a fee of $3 million."

Several ethics complaints were filed against Dr. Thomas, citing that, "There is probable cause to believe that Dr. Thomas violated (ethical standards) by having a contractual relationship with private corrections companies or companies related to the private corrections industry, which conflict with his duty to objectively evaluate the corrections industry through his research with the university," Kathy Chinoy, chairperson of the Florida Commission on Ethics, said in a statement.

A report by Prison Legal News states that on April 16 of last year, Thomas agreed to settle the ethics complaints against him and offered $2,000 in restitution; he also resigned as director of the Private Corrections Project, but wished to retain his professorship with the university as well as his board position with Prison Realty Trust, and refused to admit any ethics violations. But last year on June 3, Prison Legal News reported that the Florida Commission on Ethics soundly rejected Thomas' settlement offer and was considering tougher punishment - up to $30,000 in fines and the loss of his university job as professor. In order to avoid further problems, Thomas recently paid a $20,000 settlement with the Florida Commission on Ethics this fall and has quietly resigned as professor of the university.


The "War on Drugs" - the real cause of prison privatization - has become something of a monster, so let's look at it as best we can first before making any final decisions.

Its initial idea - that the illegal drug trade is usually a horrid, dangerous business that can not only ruin lives but, as a business in which raw muscle yields the highest profits, often attracts the worst among us who will fight, hurt, & kill whom they have to in order to make their profits - and that the worst of these should be removed from society for their violent misdeeds - is an idea that's frankly hard to contend. The hard truth is, many of them are the worst among us, and have hurt or killed God knows who or what to make that little extra; honestly tough laws to put them behind bars makes sense, provided their rights to be seen as innocent until proven guilty, their right to a trial by a jury of their peers, their right to an attorney, and their right to change while in prison - their right to attempt to be rehabilitated - isn't put in jeopardy, the idea behind the laws make a good deal of sense. It's the fact that these laws have been 'switched' far too often on those who don't deserve the punishment they receive that makes the laws unacceptable.

But we must be honest - we must admit that violent crime is often a different beast then it's made out to be. Firstly, the Dept. of Justice stats show that nine out of every ten acts of violent crime occurs between people who know one another; that alcohol - a legal drug - is easily the one drug that influences the greatest number of violent crimes, and is almost three times as responsible for violent behavior than all illegal drugs combined; that almost 40% of violent crime is the direct result of alcohol use; that the majority of violence is that of a man hitting, assaulting, or killing his wife, girlfriend or children; that a greater percentage of whites commit violent crimes than blacks; that the rate of violent crime rose to some of its worst numbers thru the 80's and early 90's even as we were building more and more prisons.

This demand to 'lock the bastards up and throw away the key' & the overcrowding it has produced resulted in the privatization of prisons, a mixing of private interest with public policy that perhaps came close to ending almost as poorly as it had at the very start of the 20th Century.

That explosion of prisons then - along with the Depression and WWII right after it - changed America's thoughts about prisons for awhile. For several years to the latter quarter of the 20th Century, we thought less of prisons as punishment and more as rehabilitation . . .

Jesus, are these the ramblings of a weak-kneed, bleeding-heart liberal? Well, just consider this; of all the prisons in America, it is the McKean Federal Correctional Institute which correctional officials of all stripes often call "the best in the nation". According to the Atlantic Monthly, The American Correctional Society has given the McKean Prison one of its highest possible ratings. Princeton University criminologist John DiIulio asserts, "McKean is probably the best-managed prison in the country. And that has everything to do with a warden named Dennis Luther."

Luther's ideas have produced results, not the untested theories usually found in 'get tough' programs. The price of incarceration per inmate at the facility stands at about $15,400 a year; compare that with the $22,000 a year in most federal prisons. "Ah", you're thinking, "we've heard that before". What's the rate of violence at this place?

That's the thing - the incident record in the 11 years McKean has been open is practically a blank slate: not a single escape, homicide, or sexual assault on either other inmates or staff. No suicides. None. Nada. Nothing.

It's not paradise on earth; the Monthly reports that "in six years there have been three serious assaults on staff members and six recorded assaults on inmates; [however], state prisons of comparable size often see that many assaults in a single week".

How does the small thin man with "wide, curious eyes" who runs the place perform this feat? Before he decided on a career in corrections, Luther thought seriously of becoming a minister, he says. But after he'd started his new career, he says he "soon came to believe that American prisons were unnecessarily brutal places, more likely to teach hatred and violence than remorse", says the Monthly. On becoming warden, this man made a pact with himself; he would keep on his desk a set of principles, or 'commandments', if you will, that he says has guided him well. Twenty-five in all, a few of them are:

1.) Inmates are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment.

2.) Correctional workers have a responsibility to ensure that inmates are returned to the community no more angry or hostile than when they were committed.

3.) Inmates are entitled to a safe and humane environment while in prison.

4.) You must believe in man's capacity to change his behavior.

5.) Normalize the environment to the extent possible by providing programs, amenities, and services. The denial of such must be related to maintaining order and security rather than punishment.

6.) Most inmates will respond favorably to a clean and aesthetically pleasing physical environment and will not vandalize or destroy it.

"And surely there is in all children . . . a stubbornness, and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride, which must, in the first place, be broken and beaten down; that so the foundation of their education being laid in humility and tractableness, other virtues may, in their time, be built thereon."

Pastor John Robinson, reverend for the Pilgrim colony, early 17th Century

It is practically in our genes to believe we should "break and beat down" those of us who fuck up so poorly that we end up in prison, and that it's somehow a good thing; the only problem is that, as the problems with the 'war on drugs' and those who tried putting almost anyone in charge at private prisons have proved, it rarely works in the real world. What we need is action that works, not stances. Those of us on both sides of the prison fence - as well as those watching that fence - deserve better. We found out the terrible implications of mixing private desire for profit with public needs once before; it seems we almost learned it again. Or perhaps we were merely lucky.

Those who forget the past are condemned to relive it.

George Santayana

* A special thanks to publisher Kenneth Wilson, who unleashedme on to this story a few months ago and sent me helpful emails now and again; and Kenny Thompson of the NC Department of Corrections, for letting me take up quite a bit of his time as I fumbled through my questions, and whose answers aided me far more in this story than it may appear here.


Cliff Montgomery is a reasonably young man (about 28 or thereabouts) who - due to being born in a small upstate Maryland town called Cumberland, about a hard hour's drive from DC - took a very early interest in politics and political issues. Finding very few of his 2nd grade peers interested in his already tired Nixon and Kissinger jokes (they were funny to him, at any rate), Mr. Montgomery had to wait a while to be accepted by those around him. He has been, in turn, a writer and computer engineer for a small computer firm in Charlotte, NC (which he despised), a writer - briefly - for the NC chapter of the Sierra Club (which, being the only man employed with several attractive young ladies between the ages of 15-22, he rather enjoyed), a musician and a freelance writer. He now lives just outside of Charlotte, NC, and is foolish enough to believe he can make "real money" writing, and now experienced enough to know otherwise.


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