Conflict of interest brewing as Ohio confronts prison overcrowding

Ohio’s prison system is facing a severe overcrowding crisis. With facilities hovering around 130% capacity, prison chief Gary Mohr considered declaring an overcrowding emergency for the first time in the state’s history. This would have granted early release to prisoners nearing the end of their sentences, but those plans were inexplicably scuttled less than a month ago.

It was unclear what the alternative strategy would be until Governor John Kasich released his budget proposal last week.

Kasich’s proposal calls for increasing the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) budget from $1.62 billion to $1.72 billion by 2017. It also doubles the budget for prisoner addiction services and commits $58 million to pursuing sentencing alternatives for low-level, nonviolent offenders over the next two years.

But without plans or programs in motion to immediately reduce the number of people behind bars in Ohio, the ODRC’s new money will likely be channeled into increasing staff levels and, potentially, signing new contracts with private prison companies to reduce the burden on state facilities. Continue reading

Two prisons by Billy V, on Flickr

Emergency early release taken off table as Ohio considers options for prison overcrowding

As prisoners, advocates and journalists warned of deteriorating conditions in Ohio’s prisons over the past year, the inmate population slowly crept back up to around 30% over capacity.

During that time, prisoners in the buckeye state were fed spoiled, inedible meals by the food contractor Aramark, sometimes tainted with maggots. They also suffered abuse and abysmal conditions at private prisons operated by Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), bad enough to inspire a 14-hour peaceful protest. Have the events of this past year finally generated enough misery and public scrutiny to pressure Ohio officials to act?

Without the funding to add more beds to the prison system, Ohio Prison Director Gary Mohr was initially considering reducing the inmate population through ’emergency early release.’ According to the law, Mohr could declare an overcrowding emergency, recommending some nonviolent prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentences for early release. This declaration must be approved by Ohio’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), which includes members of the state legislature and oversees prisons in the state. If the CIIC disagrees with or ignores the declaration, it is sent to the Governor for a final decision.

Mohr had asked the state assembly to make some ‘changes‘ to the early release law, but declined to specify exactly what those changes would entail. The law is just shy of 20 years old and has never been used before. And it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be used any time soon, either: the Coshocton Tribune reports that Mohr is now saying early release is “not going to happen.”

It’s not hard to understand why that may be. Continue reading

CCA Go Away by Florida Immigrant Coalition on Flickr

Bureau of Prisons and CCA Remain Silent on Evaluation After Canceling Youngstown Prison Contract

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has finally told officials at Corrections Corp. of America why they cancelled their contract at the private prison in Youngstown, Ohio. According to Youngstown Mayor John McNally, “CCA has learned that a Florida based company scored higher on a list of criteria and was awarded the next contract.”

CCA and the BOP have not disclosed any details on the evaluation upon which that decision was reportedly made, angering people on both sides of the issue.

The ‘Florida based company’ Mayor McNally is referring to would be GEO Group, CCA’s main competitor and another legendary purveyor of violence and abuse at various private prisons around the country. And Mayor McNally really should have said ‘contracts,‘ because GEO Group actually inked two contracts with the BOP to take most of the prisoners leaving NEOCC — one of which entails re-opening a prison that had been vacant since 2010.

CCA is not lying when it says it won’t share the evaluation out of “competitive reasons and a ‘long-standing relationship’ with the government.” Those competitive reasons are that if the public finds out about the abysmal conditions CCA harbored at NEOCC for so many years on the taxpayer’s dime, they open themselves up to a backlash that could put an end to their ‘long-standing [and very lucrative] relationship’ with the government, and rightfully so.

But this kind of behavior is to be expected from a multi-billion dollar corporation like CCA. Their massive profits depend on an absence of transparency, even if it means alienating employees and supporters, who are, by the way, quite angry at the moment. The Vindicator, which has been a vociferous advocate for CCA over the past few months, reacted by writing in an OpEd, “We believe that most of the people of this region have no qualms about supporting the private prison operator, but they aren’t prepared to do so blindly.”

Of course, what is far more disconcerting is the federal government’s apparent decision to favor its contracts and relationships with private prison companies over transparency and its duty to serve the public. I can see absolutely no reason why the BOP would not make this information public, other than to cover-up their complicity in allowing federal prisoners to be incarcerated in conditions so horrific they cannot be known.

If prison privatization really is the great “cost-saving” and “efficiency” solution that free market capitalists love to tell us about, why not release the evaluation and let the public — the free market — decide whether such contracts and corporations are worth our money? What do the BOP and CCA have to hide?

"Private Prison Industry, USA by War on Error1, on Flickr

Federal Government Drops CCA Contract in Ohio, But Remains Committed to Private Prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has decided not to renew Correction Corporation of America’s (CCA) contract to hold around 1,400 low-level federal inmates at the North East Ohio Correctional Center (NEOCC) in Youngstown.

As the deadline for renewal approached, the for-profit prison contractor launched an aggressive PR and letter-writing campaign focused on “the value of CCA” in the community and the jobs that Youngstown could lose without the contract. Prisoners and advocates sought to instead  raise awareness about the facility’s ugly history of violence and mismanagement under CCA, and in August, 240 inmates staged a 14-hour peaceful protest against poor conditions, high commissary prices and abuse and mistreatment by prison guards.

In the end, the BOP decided to let their contract expire on May 31st of this year. CCA spokespeople told reporters they were not briefed on the government’s reasoning. They are seeking meetings with federal officials and are planning to mount an appeal in the coming days.

What is clear, however, is that the BOP has not lost confidence in for-profit incarceration. Most if not all of its prisoners at NEOCC will be transferred to two separate private facilities operated by GEO Group: the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Phillipsburg, PA (which, like NEOCC, holds immigrant prisoners) and the Great Plains Correctional Facility in Hinton, Oklahoma (which was vacant and is now being reactivated thanks, at least in-part, to this contract).

CCA will continue to hold some 580 prisoners for the US Marshals Service at NEOCC.

The federal government appears to be warming up to the idea of improving prison conditions, but it does not appear ready to give up on the private prison experiment. This would require a confrontation with the for-profit incarceration industry that they’ve now helped become deeply rooted in communities across the country. Continue reading

Prison News Round-up for Oct. 28, 2014

There are far too many stories out there that I want to write about, but I just don’t have the time to fully cover them. So occasionally I’ll be posting a collection of important stories from around the country with some thoughts and notes where appropriate.

This week:

1. Vermont Lawmakers Quiz the State’s Private Prison Company
2. Lawsuit accuses Aurora private prison of paying immigrants $1 a day
3. Meet the controversial private prison corporation, Geo Care, that may run Terrell State Hospital
4. Prison panel suggests broader menu, more recreation for inmates at Ohio facility
5. Pope Francis blasts life sentences as ‘hidden death penalty’
6. 19-year-old dies naked on cell floor of gangrene; lawsuits target deaths in Madison County jail
7. Senators ‘Deeply Concerned’ by Plans to Detain More Immigrant Women and Children
8. Virginia prison system faces $45 million shortfall in inmate health care
9. 10-Year-Old Murder Defendant Shows Failure of U.S. Juvenile Justice System

Here’s my take on these stories… Continue reading

via Grassroots Leadership: Locked Up & Shipped Away

Vermont Inmates Protest Out-of-State Incarceration at Arizona Private Prison

Twenty-eight prisoners from Vermont are being held out-of-state at the for-profit Florence Correctional Center in Arizona. At around noon on August 22nd, 13 of those 28 inmates began protesting.

The prisoners ‘coordinated resistance’ and refused to return to their cells because they were frustrated by their increased isolation and the restrictions imposed on them by Corrections Corp. of America. While details of what transpired are unclear, prisoners allegedly “[smashed] televisions, microwaves and other equipment.”

CCA’s guards responded with force and a “chemical agent.” All 13 inmates were tossed into solitary confinement as punishment, where they’ve been for the past month. There is no indication as to when CCA will let them out. Continue reading

Arizona Attorney General Debate

CCA is on Both Sides of the Arizona Attorney General Race

I knew Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) had a strong presence in Arizona, but until last night’s Attorney General debate, I didn’t know the extent to which it was involved in this year’s election:

The candidates also sparred over [Republican Mark] Brnovich’s lobbying on behalf of private prisons. [Democrat Felicia] Rotellini cited his efforts to kill legislation that would ban companies from bringing violent criminals into Arizona from other states.

“Mr. Brnovich can’t get around the fact that his judgment was such that for a profit, for his own economic profit, he thought it was better to kill a piece of legislation that would (block) killers, rapists, into the state of Arizona,” she said.

Brnovich defended private prisons, saying they free up state prison construction money for other uses.

“I have spent most of my career putting people in prison, and yes I’ve worked for the Corrections Corporation of American to keep people there,” he said. This isn’t a partisan issue. Both Democratic and Republican governors have used private prisons in order to incarcerate individuals.”

He attacked Rotellini for taking contributions from Dennis DeConcini, who was on Corrections Corporations’ board until May.

“She’s comfortable taking money from the private prisons but now she wants to criticize Arizona for using them,” he said.

“That’s making a big assumption, that simply because I get a contribution from somebody that means I’m somehow going to be beholden to them,” Rotellini said while noting that she has thousands of contributors.

You can watch the debate from Arizona’s PBS affiliate. Continue reading