Gangs Ruled Prison as For-Profit Model Put Blood on Floor

Source: Margaret Newkirk and William Selway, Bloomberg, July 12, 2013

…More than 130,000 state and federal convicts throughout the U.S. — 8 percent of the total — now live in private prisons such as Walnut Grove, as public officials buy into claims that the institutions can deliver profits while preparing inmates for life after release, saving tax dollars and creating jobs.

No national data tracks whether the facilities are run as well as public ones, and private-prison lobbyists for years have successfully fought efforts to bring them under federal open-records law. Yet regulatory, court and state records show that the industry has repeatedly experienced the kind of staffing shortages and worker turnover that helped produce years of chaos at Walnut Grove. …

…In Texas and Florida, which hold about a third of all privately detained state inmates, employee turnover rates were 50 percent to more than 100 percent higher in private prisons than in public ones, according to data from the Texas Criminal Justice Department and the Florida Law Enforcement Department. In Mississippi, Tennessee and Idaho, company-run prisons have had higher assault rates than public ones, state data show. …

…The for-profit prison industry has encountered staffing issues in other states. Idaho Corrections Department officials voted last month not to renew a contract with Nashville, Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, the largest U.S. prison company, after it admitted billing for hours that weren’t worked. …

State and federal officials have reported dangerous conditions at understaffed privately run prisons in Ohio, Colorado and in Mississippi. New Mexico fined Geo $2.4 million in 2012 for excessive staff vacancies at three prisons in 2011 and 2012, according to Jim Brewster, general counsel for the state corrections department. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration last year sought $104,000 in penalties against Geo, including $70,000 for worker shortages, faulty cells and inadequate training at a prison in Meridian, Mississippi, that the agency said put workers at risk of being attacked. Geo is contesting the matter. …

…Walnut Grove is now run by Management & Training Corp., a closely held company based in Centerville, Utah. Brick Tripp, Walnut Grove’s former warden, runs another Geo prison in North Carolina. Through Paez, he declined to comment. …