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

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NEOCC

Peaceful Inmate Protest Highlights Dysfunction and Disservice of CCA’s Ohio Private Immigrant Prison

There is rightful anger at Correction Corp. of America’s failures in response to a 14-hour, 250-inmate protest at their for-profit Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Ohio. But any critique that does not discuss the actual protest and its context is missing the point.

Inmates appear to have reached a breaking point in their tolerance for poor living conditions at NEOCC, and given CCA’s alarming track record at the facility, we should be paying close attention:

CCA first operated a for-profit prison in Ohio when it opened NEOCC in 1997. In its first 14 months of operation, the facility experienced 13 stabbings, two murders, and six escapes. The city of Youngstown eventually filed a lawsuit against CCA on behalf of the prisoners. Even after those tragedies, CCA still operates the prison today.

These inmates knew they would be risking severe punishment and retaliation for their decision to disobey orders to return to their cells. They knew this action could provoke violence from militarized guards, or a possible stint in solitary. They knew they could lose access to their families and communities through a punitive reduction in visiting hours and phone calls.

Still, in light of these potential consequences, between 250 and 400 of them decided it was still worth doing for 14 whole hours. Even as guards began preparing chemical munitions and setting up command posts to confront a peaceful demonstration, the prisoners refused to back down.

CCA should have been completely transparent about the protest from the beginning, but instead attempted to keep the situation under wraps. After all, it doesn’t make CCA look good for there to be allegations of mistreatment and mismanagement, nor when inmates are disobeying commands in order to protest about them. Continue reading

MI Governor Snyder

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Shuts Press and Public Out of Aramark Prison Food Controversy

In both Michigan and Ohio, Aramark stands accused of unsanitary food service conditions and meal shortages. Ohio announced it is developing plans to invite health inspectors into its prison kitchens to evaluate “cleanliness and food safety, just like restaurants” — a much-needed buffer of oversight for the prison food supply in that state.

But Michigan is moving in the totally opposite direction. The Detroit Free Press reports that Governor Snyder is taking oversight of Aramark’s contract away from the Department of Corrections and bringing it into his office, which is exempt from Michigan’s public disclosure laws. The unions are right to fear that this move will inevitably “shield problems with the contract from public scrutiny.” Continue reading

Marion Adjustment Center

CCA Settles Overtime Lawsuit in Kentucky; Pays $260,000 to Shift Supervisors

Before we begin, let me say I love Prison Legal News. They have excellent news reporting AND tireless, intelligent activism that undermines the secrecy surrounding the prison industrial complex.

You can imagine my delight when I came across this report that PLN got a US District judge to unseal a $260,000 settlement between CCA and a group of shift supervisors in Kentucky who were denied overtime, arguing it was in the public interest.

The details are as follows:

Corrections Corporation of America, based in Nashville, Tennessee, paid the money in November to end a lawsuit brought by 25 employees of the now-shuttered Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary’s, Kentucky. The former employees took $129,000 of the settlement. Plaintiff’s attorneys received $131,000.

The group claimed in a 2012 lawsuit that CCA denied them overtime after forcing them to work extra hours. CCA has denied the allegations.

Of the 25 people receiving payouts from the settlement, two got $10,300 checks, one got $10,800 and the rest amounts ranging from $1,200 to $9,100. As part of the settlement, CCA denied any wrongdoing.

The report also goes on to say that “Kentucky officials estimated the state saved $1.5 million to $2.5 million per year by not renewing the contract,” which is a powerful strike against the oft-repeated argument that prison privatization saves states money.

What’s most important here is we have evidence of a legal challenge against CCA that substantiates other reports of understaffing/overworking at private facilities. Forcing fewer staff to work longer hours without paying them overtime is one of the ways for-profit prisons cut costs and maximize profits, but the consequences are often high levels violence, inadequate food and health services, and squalid living conditions for inmates.

We also now have another instance on the record where a US District judge has agreed to unseal a private prison’s settlement in the public interest, which should help other journalists and advocates do the same.

While these issues may continue to plague staff and inmates, the unsealing of this settlement constitutes a significant chip in the armor of secrecy that surrounds private prisons.

MuckRock’s “Private Prison Project” and the Need for Transparency

MuckRock announces "Private Prison Project." Here's why it's so badly needed.

MuckRock announces “Private Prison Project.” Here’s why it’s so badly needed.

Last week, Muckrock.com announced it was launching the Private Prison Project: a long-term investigation of the use of for-profit prison companies to accommodate America’s exploding incarceration rate.

According to the website, which helps the public through the process of filing records requests to government agencies, the first step of the Private Prison Project will be to focus on the procurement and execution of private prison contracts:

We’re beginning our inquiry by requesting the contracts that every state has with private correctional prisons and the required corresponding contract monitoring reports. New Mexico has successfully issued fines due to breaches of contract, and it’s likely many others can do the same. We’re after the marketing materials these companies provided and the bids they placed; a questionable study done by Temple University, in part founded by the private prison corporations the study supports, argues that competition between these corporations is a good thing, but monopolies and single bid contracts are not uncommon.

Public disclosure is not just a powerful tool for reform, it’s an essential democratic right that applies to private prison contractors as much as it does the government that hired them to take over some of their work. Incarceration is inherently the duty of government, and just as we expect transparency in government, we should expect transparency from contractors that use taxpayer money to provide identical functions to that government.

If MuckRock is successful, public disclosure would remove the shroud of secrecy that allows private prisons to avoid public scrutiny and resist reform.

Continue reading