Prison News


More than 200 Vermont inmates in a Kentucky prison have been on lockdown since Jan. 15 after a series of assaults and fights broke out, a Department of Corrections official told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon.

The 205 Vermont prisoners are in the close-custody wing of Lee Adjustment Center, a Beattyville, Ky., prison that houses 460 Vermont prisoners, Richard Byrne, out-of-state unit supervisor for the Department of Corrections, told the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions. Read more here.

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When For-Profit Prisons Become the Crime

According to Idaho state law, defendants found guilty of the crime of false imprisonment can be punished by as much as a year in prison, or a fine of up to $5,000, or both. One company found guilty of breaking the law whilst imprisoning people, however, has been getting paid $29 million a year for its services.

Over the course of the past decade, private prison-operator Corrections Corporation of America (CXW) — one of several for-profit prison operators that have been grabbing headlines in America lately — has been accused of mismanaging the 2,080-bed Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise.  Continue reading here.

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Idaho to Take Over Privately-run State Prison

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s governor says the corrections department will take over operation of the largest privately-run prison in the state after more than a decade of mismanagement and other problems at the facility.

Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America has contracted with the state to run the prison since it was built in 1997. Taxpayers currently pay CCA $29 million per year to operate the 2080-bed prison south of Boise.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter made the announcement Friday at a preview of the upcoming legislative session.

For years, Otter has been a champion of privatizing certain sectors of government, including prisons.

In 2008, he floated legislation to change state laws to allow private companies to build and operate prisons in Idaho and import out-of-state inmates. In 2008, he suggested privatizing the 500-bed state-run Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino.

The CCA prison has been the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity and contract fraud by CCA.

CCA acknowledged last year that falsified staffing reports were given to the state showing thousands of hours were staffed by CCA workers when the positions were actually vacant. And the Idaho State Police is investigating the operation of the facility for possible criminal activity.

A federal judge also has held CCA in contempt of court for failing to abide by the terms of a settlement agreement reached with inmates in a lawsuit claiming high rates of violence and chronic understaffing at the prison.

Meanwhile, Idaho prison officials, led by IDOC Director Brent Reinke, have lobbied to allow the agency to put together its own proposal and cost analysis for running the prison. Each time, however, Reinke and his staff have been rebuffed by the state Board of Correction.

Recently, Board Chairwoman Robin Sandy said she opposed the idea because she didn’t want to grow state government.

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California Paying Big Price for Prison Privatization

California is now CCA’s second-biggest customer, providing $214 million to the company last year, according to HuffPost’s analysis of the company’s finances. The state is surpassed only by the federal government, which paid CCA $752 million last year, a figure that accounts for contracts with three agencies — the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The state of Georgia, the company’s third-largest client, paid $99 million last year.

As CCA’s presence in California has grown, the company has significantly boosted its spending on political campaigns and lobbying in the state, a HuffPost analysis of campaign finance data found. It spent nearly $290,000 on California campaigns during the 2011-12 election cycle, up more than eightfold from the 2005-06 cycle.

As California becomes increasingly dependent on for-profit prison corporations, the news just broke that one in every four GPS devices used to track serious criminals released in Los Angeles County has proved to be faulty, according to a probation department audit — allowing violent felons to roam undetected for days or, in some cases, weeks.

The problems included batteries that wouldn’t hold a charge and defective electronics that generated excessive false alarms. One felon, county officials said, had to have his GPS monitor replaced 11 times over a year; for five days during the 45-day audit period, his whereabouts were unknown. You can read more here.

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CCA leaving Idaho under disgrace

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Private prison giant Corrections Corp. of America will leave Idaho after more than a decade marked by scandal and lawsuits surrounding its operation of the state’s largest prison.

The Nashville, Tenn.-based company will not bid on the next contract to run the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise, CCA Vice President Brad Regens said in a letter Wednesday to the Department of Corrections.

The decision came as Idaho State Police, aided by a forensic auditing firm, is investigating allegations of possible contract fraud and falsified staffing reports involving CCA.

A federal judge also has held CCA in contempt of court for failing to abide by the terms of a settlement agreement reached with inmates in a lawsuit claiming high rates of violence and chronic understaffing at the prison.

CCA spokesman Steven Owen said the company is taking appropriate steps to remedy staffing problems at the prison and is committed to reimbursing taxpayers for any unverified hours.

CCA’s contract with Idaho ends on June 30, 2014.

“We have delivered exceptional value to Idaho’s taxpayers through cost savings, and we’ve also provided outstanding rehabilitation programming to the inmates entrusted in our care,” Regens wrote in the letter.

It’s not clear, however, whether Idaho’s $29 million contract with CCA represented an actual cost savings. An investigation by The Associated Press in 2012 showed it would likely cost the Idaho Department of Corrections the same amount of money or less to have state employees run the facility.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke has asked the state Board of Correction at least twice if his department should examine whether it would be cheaper for the state to run the prison, but both times he was rebuffed.

The Idaho Board of Correction had the option to extend CCA’s contract for two more years but decided in June against it. Instead, the state will issue a formal request for proposals later this year.

At the time, the board didn’t rule out the possibility that it would select CCA to run the prison under a new contract.

Regens, however, said the company does not intend to submit a proposal.

“We will focus our efforts during the remainder of the contract term on ensuring the facility continues to operate in a safe and secure manner,” he said in the Wednesday letter. “We will work closely with the department to ensure a smooth and orderly transition.”

CCA has acknowledged that its employees filed staffing reports with the state that incorrectly showed it had the contractually required number of guards on duty during several months in 2012.

Owen, the company’s spokesman, said the unverified hours were only a fraction of total staffing requirements at the prison. The company has maintained that the understaffing did not result in an increase of violence or any security problems at the prison.

“We are working day in and day out in the facility to make sure what happened never happens again,” Owen said in an email to The Associated Press. “If a post cannot be filled there is a process to document what steps were taken to fill it and, if it couldn’t be filled, what was done to address the impact of the vacancy.”

CCA officials didn’t rule out a possible return to Idaho. The letter said CCA “looks forward to the opportunity to serve the department in the future.”

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CCA purchases facility for $13 million with the intention of closing it

The Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia has been sold at auction after the facility’s owner, Municipal Corrections LLC, was forced into bankruptcy court by bondholders. CCA was the buyer and presumably made the purchase to eliminate the possibility of competition. Read more about this here.

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Legacy of Private Prisons in Kentucky

This month, as the Department of Corrections cuts ties with the largest prison company in the country and moves all remaining inmates to publicly run institutions, Kentucky’s 28-year venture with for-profit prisons is ending with a mixed legacy.  Read all about it here.

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NM Murder Trial Update – Private Prison Jail Break Ends in Murder of Two Innocent Travelers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It was summer and there was no air conditioning in their cramped car. The escaped Arizona convicts had already driven more than 1,000 miles through three states. They were desperate to find another ride.

Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., had just stopped to make lunch. They were on their way to the mountains of Colorado, where they had spent each of the last 11 summers.

That’s when their paths collided with the convicts and their accomplice at a rest stop on Interstate 40 in eastern New Mexico. Within an hour, the Haases were dead.

It could have been anyone.

In fact, it almost was, according to testimony last week in the capital murder trial of John McCluskey. The first truck and trailer the trio spotted moved on before they could circle back. They ran into the Haases during a bathroom break.

“All I could do was picture my mom and dad,” Tracy Province testified last week. “That’s what they did when they retired, was travel around in an RV. And I realized that could have happened to them just as easily as it happened to Mr. and Mrs. Haas.”

That was Aug. 2, 2010, three days after McCluskey and Province escaped from a privately-run, medium-security prison near Kingman, Ariz., with the help of McCluskey’s cousin and wife, Casslyn Welch.

McCluskey is on trial for the carjacking and slayings of the Haases. Province, who pleaded guilty last year to numerous charges related to the crime rampage, spent three days testifying for the prosecution.

Province detailed the events for jurors, saying he and McCluskey forced the Haases, at gunpoint, to drive west along I-40 and exit onto a lonely two-lane road. McCluskey told the retirees he wasn’t going to hurt them as long as they cooperated, and that the trio only wanted the couple’s truck, cash and guns.

The plan was to leave them and their trailer in the New Mexico desert, but not too far for them to walk for help, Province said.

As Province and Welch were outside the trailer, shots rang out. Province said he rushed back to the trailer door and smelled gun smoke. The Haases were dead. He said McCluskey told him he didn’t want any witnesses.

After moving the truck and trailer to a more remote location, the trailer was unhitched and burned, with the Haases’ bodies inside.

In two weeks, prosecutors have put numerous investigators and other experts on the stand and have introduced dozens of pieces of evidence, from photographs to surveillance video. On Thursday, they played for the jury a video that panned across what was left of the burned-out trailer.

New Mexico State Police Sgt. David O’Leary testified the only things immediately identifiable among the rubble were a skull and other brittle bone fragments.

“I mean if you touched them with your hand they would definitely, they would fall apart,” O’Leary said.

Investigators sifted through the ashes and found teeth, eyeglasses, bullet casings and Linda Haas’ wedding ring.

Seeing video of the scene for the first time left the Haas family members in tears.

Vivian Haas, the 83-year-old mother of Gary Haas, has been seated in the front row each day, watching McCluskey and the parade of witnesses. She said it might have taken courage for Province to come forward, but she wants to hear from McCluskey.

“I don’t see how McCluskey can just sit there. He should stand up and apologize. He should say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,'” she said. “But you know, it’s really too late now.”

It will be another three weeks before prosecutors rest their case, and the defense begins calling its own witnesses. The trial, which resumes Tuesday, is expected to last up to four months.

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Gov. Jerry Brown intends to place 2,300 of them in a private prison outside California City

Crime can be good for business.

After spending his first two and half years in office reducing prison spending, Gov. Jerry Brown announced his plan last week to comply with a federal court order that he limit prison crowding by increasing prison capacity by 8,000 inmates, at a cost of $315 million this year, $400 million next year, and more in years to come.

Rather than house the inmates in state-owned prisons, Brown intends to place 2,300 of them in a private prison outside California City, a threadbare Mojave Desert town 66 miles southeast of Bakersfield.

The prison’s owner is Corrections Corp. of America, a publicly traded company based in Nashville. The nation’s largest prison company, Corrections Corp. already houses 8,900 California prisoners in out-of-state prisons. California accounted for 12 percent of the company’s revenue last year, or $214.8 million, an amount that will increase if the California City deal wins final approval.

Brown hopes to lease the lockup facility and staff it with state workers, including about 2,000 California Correctional Peace Officers Association members. That explains why CCPOA president Mike Jimenez stood with other law enforcement representatives at the Capitol press conference as Brown announced the plan.

From where Corrections Corp. sits, the deal has been a long time coming. The company built the joint near California City for $100 million on spec. I visited the concrete and steel field of dreams in 1999 and found that the prison had almost all the amenities one would expect: impenetrable walls, unbreakable glass, unbendable bars and high-tech sensors embedded in the ground to guard against escape. The only thing missing was prisoners.

David Myers, a former warden from Texas, was the Corrections Corp. executive responsible for selling the prison’s virtues back then. He pointed to California’s ever-increasing prison crowding and the lawsuits over worsening prison conditions.

“It is spiraling down. Am I the only one who can see it?” he asked at the time.

State politicians did not come knocking and Corrections Corp. had to settle for federal prisoners. Even now, the facility is less than half-full.

The reason for politicians’ reticence was understandable, if not wholly noble. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has made politicians’ stand on private prisons a litmus test, helping candidates who oppose for-profit prisons and whacking any who supported their use.

The union’s stated reason was that law enforcement should be a government function. I agree. But CCPOA also had an interest in making the fight a priority. Private prison operators don’t have contracts with the union that represents state prison officers.

Over the years, the union emphasized its stand with the currency of the realm, campaign money. In March 2002, the union gave Gov. Gray Davis what for the time was his largest single campaign contribution, $251,000.

Shortly before the donation, Davis handed out various goodies, signing a contract boosting officers’ pay, increasing pensions, and canceling contracts with five corporate prisons housing low-security inmates in California.

“As many of our members are aware, the whole concept of privatization has been a thorn in our side,” a CCPOA lobbyist told union members at the time. “That move is appreciated. It does follow through with promises made by Gov. Davis in past years on this subject matter.”

CCPOA’s political influence has waned somewhat in recent years, but the union remains a potent force and spent roughly $2 million to help elect Brown in 2010.

Corrections Corp. is a player, too, though not in CCPOA’s league. The company has given $654,000 to California politicians since 2010, including $50,000 to Brown’s initiative campaign to raise taxes last year.

Corrections Corp.’s pitch is that it saves states money by building the prisons, handling the maintenance and relieving government of having to pay workers’ pension and health care costs.
Certainly, California will save money by not having to build a 2,300-bed prison. But the Brown administration offered no indication that the California City prison will save the state a dime. By using state employees to staff the prison, there could be little if any cost savings on operations.

After the governor’s press conference, Jimenez told me that there would need to be capital improvements at the California City prison before his officers would start working there.

“There’s no electrified fence,” Jimenez said.

The installation of the lethal fence would cost $5 million to $10 million, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The department also may construct gun towers, at $500,000 each, give or take.

Along with CCPOA and other police groups, Speaker John A. Pérez, Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff all have embraced the governor’s idea. The missing link was Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

“It is money down a rat hole,” Steinberg said, echoing what Brown himself had said earlier this year.

Steinberg, predicting the Senate would not approve Brown’s plan as proposed, called for more money for job training, drug treatment and mental health care for inmates and parolees to combat recidivism. Without such spending, Steinberg said, California prisons will become overcrowded again, leading to more litigation, and he may be right.

In California City, Mayor Patrick Bohannon has other concerns. Corrections Corp. pays the town 50 cents per inmate per day, though there are fewer than 1,000 inmates now.

“The more inmates, the better it is for us,” he said. He worries the state might end that payment. If the state eventually buys the prison, he noted, the city also could lose the property tax payments that Corrections Corp. now makes.

“We have to work out the best we can,” Bohannon said.

However the fight ends up, Brown made clear one reality last week: Inmates are a commodity and prisons are a business. They provide jobs for prison workers, and income for lawyers who sue over conditions in which prisoners are housed.

Prisons also can provide a return on shareholders’ investment. In 1999, when Corrections Corp. opened the California City prison, its stock hovered at $10 a share. Now it sits at around $34, up slightly by week’s end. Business ticked up last week.

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What Happens When Profit Motives Taint the Mission of State Prisons

One reader responds to the Idaho Correction Board’s decision to end its contract with CCA. Read the complete article here.

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