by Kevin W. Bliss
The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has expanded the use of private contractors in the state’s prison system. With an annual budget of about $2.4 billion, the FDOC is increasingly shifting the burden of those costs to prisoners and their families through privatization.
Revenue from canteen (commissary) sales alone increased $4 million after the FDOC switched to a new vendor, Trinity Services Group. Net revenue payable to the state has reached $35 million a year due to the monopoly nature of the FDOC’s canteen services. Trinity has one of the largest revenue-generating contracts in the state’s prison system.
Critics have claimed on several occasions that the FDOC was guilty of price-gouging. Jackie Azis, a staff attorney for the ACLU, said, “That’s not surprising at all to hear, and that’s something I’ve heard throughout my career.”
For example, a case of 54 Tampax at Walmart costs $5.86, while the same number of Tampax at the Lowell CI women’s prison costs $21.71. At the same Walmart, 12 ramen soups cost $1.94. In FDOC canteens, at $.65 per ramen soup packet, 12 would cost $7.80.
Even within the prison system there ...
by Matt Clarke
On December 5, 2018, an Oregon federal court entered a $10 million judgment against Washington County and Corizon Health, Inc. in a lawsuit over the death of a detainee who was detoxing from heroin.
As she was being booked into the Washington County jail in Hillsboro ...
by Matt Clarke
In February 2019, Texas Prisoner Transportation Services (TPTS) informed its customers that it would cease operations that same month. CEO Ryan Whitten blamed the closure on new insurance rates that meant the company “simply can’t continue to operate.” The announcement came just days after a high-profile escape from a TPTS transport van prompted a manhunt for a double homicide suspect who remained at large for nine hours before being recaptured.
Also in February 2019, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch joined U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker in a letter demanding information from Joel Brasfield, the president of Nashville, Tennessee-based Prisoner Transportation Services, LLC (PTS), the nation’s largest private prisoner transport firm. Booker and Deutch had previously called for investigations into the transport industry, which is largely unregulated.
A July 2016 analysis by The Marshall Project found that private prisoner transportation companies were involved in over 50 crashes, 60 escapes and 19 deaths since 2000. The nonprofit news organization also noted in early 2019 that the status of an inquiry into the industry, announced in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice, remains unclear.
The prisoner who escaped from the TPTS van ...
by Matt Clarke
Private prison companies are known for their cynical motives. They lobby and give money to politicians to expand the for-profit prison industry, and have provisions in their contracts that guarantee minimum occupancy levels at many of their facilities – typically ranging from 90 to 100 percent. Such practices are understandable when you consider these companies operate detention centers for the purpose of generating corporate profit.
But CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), recently drove the cynicism meter to new levels. It announced it had created a nonprofit foundation, allegedly to reduce recidivism, then funded it Trump-style by lending the use of its name but having others do the actual funding.
The company’s chief development officer, Tony Grande, announced the creation of a 501(c)(3) group, the CoreCivic Foundation, on January 10, 2019. The firm held a charity golf tournament that raised $531,000 in October 2018; it has held similar events for the past 27 years to raise money for charitable causes. According to CoreCivic, its new foundation will “support former prisoners, victims of crime and abuse, and underserved youth.” It specifically named Men of Valor as an organization that will receive funding ...
by Steve Horn
Bernard Carter was incarcerated at the privately-operated North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan when he alleged a prison nurse coerced him into sexually uncomfortable situations.
In a federal lawsuit, Carter v. GEO Group, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Mich.), Case No. 1:16-cv-00667-RHB-PJG, Carter laid out the facts in his October 2016 hand-written complaint. He wrote that nurse Teresa L. Belohlavy performed numerous sexually coercive acts upon him, to which he had objected. Reporting the incidents up the chain of command through the grievance process, the GEO Group-owned prison’s administration was apathetic. Exhausting his other options, Carter filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
“In about Aug. 2015, [Belohlavy] would make sexual commands to me that made me feel uncomfortable,” Carter stated. “I told her I didn’t want her to speak to me like that and she said she wasn’t going to stop. She would tell me how she could see my penis through my shorts, that she wanted to give me oral sex....”
Carter claimed that things escalated from verbal comments to the physical.
“Then it got to where she would be touching me in ...
by Derek Gilna
GEO Group, the Florida-based private prison behemoth, and Tennessee corporation CoreCivic, are the targets of several lawsuits alleging that “voluntary” work programs at their facilities violate state minimum-wage laws, as well as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and other labor protection statutes. These lawsuits alleged that many of those detained in these facilities are undocumented immigrants.
Washington State alleged that GEO violated its minimum wage statute, which requires pay of at least $11 an hour, and sought recovery of wages owed to people confined by the company on civil charges. Colorado and California also sued GEO for requiring prisoners to work maintenance jobs for $1 a day, whereas the company receives $160 a month for each prisoner it confines.
Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, the parent company of Prison Legal News said, “This is a testament to their own greed. Instead of hiring somebody at minimum wage to do these maintenance tasks and housekeeping jobs, they would rather enslave these prisoners.”
David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, agrees, saying that although the 13th Amendment permits extracting labor at little or no pay from the criminally ...
by David Reutter
Pension funds for teachers are abandoning their investments in private prisons. The divestures follow an appeal by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation’s second-largest teacher’s union, for public pension funds to liquidate their holdings in for-profit prison companies and other firms involved in immigrant detention.
The AFT specifically named General Dynamics, GEO Group and CoreCivic as companies to target for divestment. The organization reported that 28 hedge funds own more than $15 billion in stock in the three firms, with General Dynamics accounting for $10 billion. While General Dynamics is a global aerospace and defense company, it also plays a role in overseeing immigrant children who have been separated from their parents.
The AFT’s appeal was aimed at governmental policies that result in the detention of undocumented immigrants and family separation. Those policies existed under the Obama administration, and continued and were strengthened after President Trump took office.
In June 2017, New York City’s pension fund was the first public retirement fund to divest from private prison companies, dumping around $48 million in stock holdings. It cited human rights abuses related to “draconian” immigration policies. [See: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.48].
“You have these ...
by Scott Grammer
The Teachers’ Retirement Board of the California State Retirement System (CalSTRS) has decided to get out of private prison investments by dumping CoreCivic and GEO Group stock from its portfolio. About $12 million worth of stock is involved – which represents a fraction of the companies’ combined $4.57 billion market cap.
In a November 7, 2018 press release, Investment Committee Chairman Harry Keiley said, “The board conducted a review of the staff research. We agreed that the engagement efforts were thorough and listened to our expert investment consultants. Based on all the information and advice we were provided, the board decided to divest according to the policy criteria.” That decision occurred after officials visited detention facilities and met with senior management of both private prison firms.
The Chief Investment Officer for CalSTRS, Christopher Ailman, said there was an increased risk to the retirement system’s portfolio due to human rights violations at privately-operated detention centers used to house immigrants and their children.
In contrast, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) recently voted against divestment from private prisons. The agenda for a March 18, 2019 meeting of CalPERS’ investment committee stated, “as a California ...
by Ed Lyon
Scabies is the name for an infestation of tiny mites that burrow under a person’s skin and cause an itchy rash. They are spread by touching an infected person or an item of the person’s clothing or bedding. Crowded conditions, like those one normally encounters in prisons and jails, are highly conducive to the spread of the mites. With these facts in mind, it seems reasonable that medical staff who work with prisoners would be trained to identify and treat scabies.
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) contracts with Corizon Health, a for-profit company, under a five-year, $715.7 million contract to provide medical services at state prisons.
Prisoner Rebecca Smith at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHVCF) contracted an unidentified skin rash in October 2017.
She learned to clip her fingernails short enough so she would be unable to scratch. “It itches like anything – it’s like the worst mosquito bite,” she said.
Corizon’s staff were able to diagnose a scabies outbreak that, by early 2019, had spread to hundreds of the 2,000-plus prisoners at the facility, all of whom had to be treated.
Dr. Walter Barkey ...
by Ed Lyon
In 2014, a settlement was reached in Parsons v. Ryan, a lawsuit over healthcare in Arizona’s prison system. The state contracted with Corizon Health to provide medical services for the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), even though the company had been plagued with problems and lawsuits over its failure to provide adequate medical care to prisoners in other jurisdictions. [See, e.g.: PLN, Nov. 2018, p.60; Sept. 2018, pp. 26-27].
As part of the Parsons settlement, the ADC set up a monitoring board to oversee Corizon’s contractual performance. Time would prove the company was no better at providing medical care to Arizona prisoners than it was anywhere else, and as a result the Parsons case was eventually reopened.
U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver appointed an expert to review the ADC’s healthcare system operated by Corizon amid allegations by multiple whistleblowers that the for-profit company was skirting state auditors, violating regulations and risking the lives of prisoners who relied on the firm for medical care.
Jose Vallejo, a former police officer and prison guard, was employed as a licensed vocational nurse at ADC’s State Prison Complex-Eyman in Florence for two years, beginning ...