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Legislature chooses savings over rights in prison contract

The Wyoming Department of Corrections recently signed a contract with CoreCivic to house prisoners if the state penitentiary becomes uninhabitable; a future that seems all but certain with the consistent dilly dallying of the Wyoming Legislature and its inability to meet any of the state’s problems head on. A new contract will be entered into this year with CoreCivic, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. CoreCivic is the name Corrections Corporation of America has chosen in an apparent effort to reorganize and leave its shameful past behind.

In 2015 the average cost per day to house prisoners in Wyoming was $121. According to the Casper Star Tribune the contract with CoreCivic calls for a payment of between $55 and $75 dollars per prisoner per day. It doesn’t take much of a mathematician or much of a legislator to figure out how CoreCivic will continue to make billions from states like Wyoming who fail to make responsible and humane decisions.

Linda Burt

CoreCivic is the largest private prison company in the country and has made billions of dollars in the business of incarcerating American citizens in the cheapest and sometimes most dangerous way possible.

In August the Department of Justice announced that it will be phasing out the use of private prisons after a scathing report from the inspector general’s office. This report found substandard living conditions, inadequate medical care and high rates of violence at prisons run by private companies including 14 prisons run by CoreCivic. In the early 1980’s, CoreCivic was the first company in the country to run for-profit prisons and, according to a recent report by Grassroots Leadership, a group that advocates against private prisons, one of the founders of Core Civic stated that they sold incarceration just “like you were selling cars or real estate or hamburgers.”

Surrounded by controversy

From its inception the company has been surrounded by controversy and connected with violence, abuse, neglect and questionable cost-saving measures. A recent report by Mother Jones on the private prison industry is shocking in its findings. The starting salary for a correction officer at a CCA Louisiana facility is $9 per hour with no benefits. The statement from an HR staff person cited in the story was “all you need is to be breathing and have a driver’s license” to be hired.

Training is said to be less than adequate and the instructor tells the new trainees that if a prisoner spits on him and “if your personality is somebody spit on you is to knock the f**k out of him, you gonna knock the f**k out of him,”  “if an inmate hit me, I’m go’hit his ass right back. I don’t care if the camera’s rolling. If an inmate spit on me, he’s gonna have a very bad day.”

The instructor continues with “you don’t supposed to ever get into a one-on-one encounter with anybody. Period. Whether you can take him or not. Hell, if you got a problem with a midget, call me. I’ll help you. Me and you can whip the hell out of him.” If two inmates are fighting just tell them to “stop” because there is “nothing you can do” and you should just walk out and slam the door. The trainees are instructed not to break up fights because they are not paid enough to do that and if someone gets cut, “happy cutting.” These statements were made in a facility with a consistently high percentage of untreated mentally ill and developmentally disabled prisoners.

The units in the Winnfield, Louisiana Core Civic prison investigated by Mother Jones are severely understaffed with two officers in a mess hall of 800 and one officer for every 176 inmates. Guards allegedly regularly avoid 30 minute security checks in administrative segregation and sit at a table until their shift is over. In this prison there are more than 1,500 inmates, no full-time psychiatrist and only one full-time social worker. It is estimated that a third of the inmates have mental health problems and that about a quarter of the inmates have IQ’s under 70. There are few options for mental health care and the suicide watch cells are hard cells with nothing other than toilet paper, a blanket and a steel bunk. The food offered in these cells is a “meat sandwich, one peanut butter sandwich, six carrot sticks, six celery sticks and six apple slices” for every meal according to the Mother Jones report.

The Mother Jones report is an extensive view into a CoreCivic facility and should be required reading for every Wyoming legislator.

In 2013 Grassroots Leadership issued a report about CoreCivic’s celebration of its 30th anniversary in business. Entitled The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About 30 Years of Corrections Corporation of America the report outlined the corporations infamous history. 

According to Grassroots Leadership the report looks at many areas of concern: “As well as unearthing notable scandals and violations that have taken place over the company’s last three decades, this report charts several other key areas in which CoreCivic has left a dubious legacy. From controversial economic and political ties to operational cost-cutting and depressing labor practices, CoreCivic’s drastic efforts to maximize profits only serve to demonstrate the fundamental reasons why the for-profit prison industry is at odds with the goals of reducing incarceration rates and raising correctional standards.”

Grassroots selected a few of the more egregious issues in CoreCivic’s history to present its concerns about the use of private prisons for incarceration. CoreCivic purchased the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in 2011 and a year into its administration state audits found “staff mismanagement, widespread violence, delays in medical treatment, and unacceptable living conditions including a lack of access to toilet facilities with prisoners forced to defecate in plastic containers and bags.” The prison was often overcrowded and prisoners were forced to sleep on mattresses on the floors or were triple-bunked. Medical care was delayed and chronically ill prisoners were not treated with standard medical protocols.

Employee practices also under fire

Cost cutting employment practices are another area of concern within CoreCivic. Low salaries, few employee benefits, insufficient staff training, and understaffed facilities are routinely reported. In 2012, a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of prisoners at the Idaho Correctional Center alleged that CoreCivic failed to hire an adequate number of security guards and as a result the staff failed to protect inmates from assault by other inmates. In a settlement agreement, CoreCivic agreed to the staffing requirements in its contract with the Idaho Department of Corrections; months after signing the agreement the state issued a press release stating the investigative reports had shown that CoreCivic staff had falsified staffing records to show the agreement was being met. In later court decisions, the district court found that there was “serious doubt” whether CoreCivic had ever substantially complied with the agreement.

CoreCivic is a for-profit company that’s in the business of making money, as well as housing inmates. (Google Finance/Yahoo Finance/MSN Money)

Lawsuits in other states have been filed for failure to pay prevailing wage and the requirement that employees work without pay; a class-action lawsuit in Kansas claiming that some employees were forced to work without pay was settled in 2009 for approximately $7 million dollars. It is alleged that new hires often have little or no corrections experience and are reportedly given inadequate training. CoreCivic has also settled lawsuits for not hiring women that had equal or better qualifications than men, and for sexual harassment. In a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission it was alleged that female staff at the Crowley County Correctional Facility in Colorado were not only sexually harassed but were raped and were disciplined for complaining of sexual harassment. One women, after complaining she had been harassed by a male co-worker, was assigned to an isolated section of the facility with the same co-worker who then raped her. CoreCivic paid $1.3 million to settle this case in 2009. According to the Grassroots Leadership report, Core Civic has a chronically high staff turnover rate. In general, private prisons have an average turnover rate of 53 percent while public prisons have a staff turnover rate of 15 percent.

According to the Grassroots Leadership report staff misconduct is prevalent and well documented in CoreCivic’s facilities with allegations of violence, sexual abuse, incompetence and mistreatment being regular complaints.  Officers have been found stealing prisoners’ money, selling drugs to prisoners and taking bribes. CoreCivic staff officers have been fired for urinating and placing fecal matter in prisoners’ drinks and food and for sexually abusing female prisoners.

The Grassroots Leadership reports that lack of expertise and training have resulted in numerous escapes and mistaken releases and CoreCivic’s security policies have received heavy criticism. Improper staffing and officer assistance was involved in some of the escapes. Poor conditions, understaffing, and inadequate response have led to riots at CoreCivic’s facilities. A riot in 2004 At Crowley County Correctional Facility resulted in a $600,000 settlement for prisoners who allegedly suffered retribution and abuse. After the riot, prisoners were assaulted by staff, forced to lie in sewage, left outside all night in handcuffs and forced to relieve themselves in their clothes as they were gassed and harassed by staff. Even prisoners who had not participated in the riot were punished. According to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, Wyoming inmates were housed in this private prison at the time of the riots.

Grassroots Leadership goes on to report that lack of adequate medical care has been a continuing problem for CoreCivic. In 1988 a complaint was filed over the death of a 23 year old from pregnancy complications. CoreCivic settled this lawsuit with the family for $100,000. Other lawsuits followed. For example, a death resulted from failure to provide prescribed medication; the inmate ran out of medication, repeatedly asked for a new prescription, and died a day before he was to be released. This case was settled by CoreCivic in 2004 for an undisclosed amount.

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Numerous prisoners have suffered under Core Civic’s profit-making schemes and the Grassroots Leaders report lists numerous incidents. In 2003, Estelle Richardson died in a CoreCivic facility in Nashville, Tennessee.  According to the autopsy, Richardson had four broken ribs, a cracked skull, and internal organ injuries consistent with her head and body being slammed on a hard surface. CoreCivic settled this case for about $2 million dollars.

In the CoreCivic Hutto facility built in 1997 as a for-profit medium security prison in Taylor, Texas, immigrant families from Central America, Africa, Iraq, and Eastern Europe were housed when it was changed from a prison to a detention center for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the report, the detainee families, including children, were dressed in prison scrubs, housed in cells, and forced to adhere to strict prison schedules. CoreCivic employee Donald Charles Dunn was found guilty of sexually abusing at least 8 female immigrant detainees while transporting them from the facility. These stories and many others tell the tale of who Corrections Corporation of America was and who CoreCivic very likely will be.

Linda Burt was the executive director of the Wyoming American Civil Liberties Union for 15 years. She has been a lobbyist and state political candidate.

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One Response to Legislature chooses savings over rights in prison contract

  1. Fred Smith June 12, 2017 at 8:31 am #

    Ms. Burt apparently likes mother jones. which if you read often it is obvious has a agenda which Ms. Burt does as a the former leader of the ACLU in Wyoming. Use facts and not intentionally biased material and you will see that about 95% of this article is based on biased “grassroots” leadership with a ax to grind. The contract signed is only to find alternative housing in the event of a Major failure at WSP that makes it unable for inmates to be housed at the facility. There are few alternatives when housing is needed in a failure of that type. Citizens should stop having biased reporters tell them what the reporter thinks they want to hear and look for them selves. Seek the truth. Linda Burt isn’t it.

    Cheyenne, Wyoming

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