Walnut Grove (Podcast)

Source: Criminal, January 6, 2017

Walnut Grove was such a violent prison that one Federal Judge called it “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts.” Today, we have the story of an especially troubled youth prison, the for-profit corporations that managed it, and the small town that relied on it.

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As prison closes, Mississippi still reckons with debt
Source: Jeff Amy, Clarion Ledger, September 25, 2016

If you’ve got to keep paying for something, you might as well use it. That, more than anything, might be the logic behind the announcement from Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher last week that the state prison system intends to seek new uses for the recently closed Walnut Grove Correctional Facility. Fisher said last week saying the department is considering using the 1,500-bed facility as an alternative to prison, as a facility to house prisoners after parole violations, or to help prisoners prepare to re-enter society. … Grace Simmons Fisher, a department spokeswoman who is not related Marshall Fisher, said the department owes almost $194 million overall on Walnut Grove and three other private prisons — East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, Marshall County Correctional Facility and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility. She couldn’t break down exactly how much the state owes for each. But it’s clear from bond documents the debt is largest at Walnut Grove — as much as $91 million. That’s in part because the prison is the newest, having opened in 2001. Walnut Grove and East Mississippi were also more expensive because each has 1,500 beds, while the two older prisons have 1,000 apiece. … Overall, the state is scheduled to be paying $21.8 million a year on the prisons’ debt until 2027. That comes out of money that lawmakers appropriate to the Corrections Department for private prisons — $74.6 million this year. …

Privately Run Mississippi Prison, Called a Scene of Horror, Is Shut Down
Source: Timothy Williams, New York Times, September 15, 2016

A privately operated Mississippi prison that a federal judge once concluded was effectively run by gangs in collusion with corrupt prison guards, closed Thursday, its prisoners transferred to other state facilities, officials said. Conditions at the prison, the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, were deemed so substandard by Judge Carlton Reeves of Federal District Court, that he wrote in a 2012 settlement order that it “paints a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.” The move to shutter Walnut Grove, in Leake County, comes one month after the Justice Department announced that it would phase out its use of private prisons to house federal inmates after concluding that such facilities are more dangerous and less effective than prisons run by the government. But the Obama administration decision does not affect states, which have increasingly come to rely on private firms to manage prison populations, including Mississippi. … The Mississippi Department of Corrections said in June that it had decided to shutter Walnut Grove not because of the often-unrestrained violence at the facility, but for budget cuts. Grace Simmons Fisher, a corrections department spokeswoman, declined to comment on Thursday. Issa Arnita, a spokesman for the private prison contractor, said on Thursday in a statement that Management and Training Corporation had “made tremendous improvements to overall operations” at Walnut Grove since it took over management in 2012. But the 1,260-bed facility had been operating since 2012 under a federal consent decree for violating prisoners’ constitutional rights, and in 2014, Walnut Grove was the scene of two major riots. Last year, Judge Reeves extended federal oversight of the prison because of continuing constitutional violations. …

Mississippi closing private prison with history of abuse
Source: Emily Wagster Pettus, Associated Press, September 14, 2016

A Mississippi private prison with a history of inmate abuse is preparing to shut down, three months after state officials announced their intention to close it because of a tight state budget. Thursday is the final day of operations at the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher said. About 900 inmates have been moved to state-run prisons in the past several weeks, and only a few remained in the Walnut Grove prison late Wednesday. Fisher said they would be moved by Thursday. … Utah-based Management and Training Corp. took over management of the prison in 2012 from Florida-based GEO Group Mississippi has been paying MTC $14.6 million a year to run the Walnut Grove prison, which has been one of the largest employers in a town of about 500 residents. The prison had 215 employees in June and was down to 175 about two weeks ago, MTC spokesman Issa Arnita said Wednesday. …

Walnut Grove: Prison loss ‘devastating’
Source: Mollie Bryant, Clarion Ledger, July 9, 2016

Uncertainty hangs in the air of Walnut Grove, a community bracing itself for the loss of its largest employer this fall. The state’s decision to close the privately run Walnut Grove prison, which under federal oversight since 2012 for its conditions, will leave the tiny town facing a precipitous drop in revenue as many residents look for work. … Citing budget cuts and a declining number of inmates, the Mississippi Department of Corrections announced it would close the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in September and transfer its 900 inmates to state-run prisons. The closure will mean about 200 fewer jobs in a town with a population that hovers around 500, and loss of revenue that will lead to furloughs and pay cuts for city employees. … The revenue loss will force the town’s 12 employees to begin a furlough once a week and police to take a $2-per-hour pay cut. … The state pays Management and Training Corp. $14.6 million per year to operate the prison, which is one of four facilities the company runs in Mississippi. While building the private prisons, the state racked up $195 million in debt. The Walnut Grove prison was presented to the community as an opportunity for jobs after the departure of several manufacturing plants. A shirt manufacturing and a glove maker closed several years ago and moved their operations overseas. It was touted as “recession proof.” The city annexed the land where the prison was built in 1999 and later expanded.

Mississippi to close privately-run prison as inmates dwindle
Source: Jeff Amy, Associated Press, June 10, 2016

Mississippi officials plan to close a privately-run prison in Leake County in September, another sign of Mississippi’s falling prison population after lawmakers cut prison sentences. The Mississippi Department of Corrections announced Friday that it would close the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, which is run by Utah-based Management and Training Corp. Commissioner Marshall Fisher said he made the decision because of lower-than-requested state funding in the budget year beginning July 1, as well as the decreasing number of inmates. … Fisher said MTC’s 215 employees at Walnut Grove could apply for jobs at other state prisons. However, the move could be a financial disaster for the 1,900 resident-town in Leake County, Mayor Brian Gomillion said. … The state pays MTC $14.6 million a year to run Walnut Grove. …

Judge Allows Class-Action Suit Over Mississippi Prison Conditions
Source: Timothy Williams, New York Times, October 1, 2015

Inmates at a privately run Mississippi prison where, they say, guards arranged for prisoners to attack one another, ignored fires set by inmates to signal distress, and allowed prisoners to trade whiskey and cellphones will be permitted to file a class-action lawsuit against the facility, a federal court judge ruled this week. The judge, William H. Barbour Jr., granted the request by inmates at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian on Tuesday in their lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections. … The company that operates the prison, the Management & Training Corporation, based in Utah, also runs another Mississippi prison, the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, which is under federal court oversight for conditions including severe and systematic violence against inmates. … At the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, about 70 percent of the 1,200 inmates have some form of mental illness, advocates say. Inmates there say that they are punished for seeking medical care, that toilets often do not work and frequently overflow, and that some inmates live in near-total darkness because light bulbs are not replaced.

Mississippi prisons prove dangerous to staff, inmates
Source: Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger, October 5, 2014

Mississippi taxpayers spend more to keep people in prison than on economic development, disaster relief, drug enforcement, hospitals, hospital schools and the state’s entire judicial system combined. So what exactly are taxpayers getting for $389 million in taxes? A system where gangs rule, where corruption festers and where at least one private prison has been called “barbaric.” …. Three different private contractors have operated East Mississippi Correctional Facility since it opened in 1999. The current operator is Utah-based Management & Training Corp., which was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Seeing Squalor and Unconcern in a Mississippi Jail
Source: Erica Goode, New York Times, June 7, 2014

Open fires sometimes burn unheeded in the solitary-confinement units of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a privately run state prison in Meridian, 90 miles east of here. Inmates spend months in near-total darkness. Illnesses go untreated. Dirt, feces and, occasionally, blood are caked on the walls of cells. For years, the prison, the state’s primary facility for inmates with mental illnesses, has been plagued by problems. When a previous private operator, the GEO Group, left in 2012 after complaints to the state about squalor and lack of medical treatment, hopes rose that conditions would improve. But two years later, advocates for inmates assert that little has changed under the current operator, Management and Training Corporation, a Utah-based company. Civil rights lawyers and medical and mental health experts who toured the facility recently painted a picture of an institution where violence is frequent, medical treatment substandard or absent, and corruption common among corrections officers, who receive low wages and minimal training…..

Operator says East Miss. Correctional Facility ‘much better place’ now / Civil rights groups dispute claim
Source: Emily Le Coz, Clarion-Ledger, June 2, 2013

The East Mississippi Correctional Facility today radically differs from the cesspool of filth and abuse described in a federal lawsuit that two civil rights groups filed Thursday, according to the private company that now runs the prison. Utah-based Management & Training Corp. took over operations of the 1,500-bed institution for the mentally ill in July. Since then, offender-on-offender assaults have decreased 74%, and use-of-force incidents have dropped 60%, company spokesman Issa Arnita said. ….. Not everyone agrees. Jody Owens, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Jackson office, said conditions at the prison have worsened since the new contractor took over….The Southern Poverty Law Center joined with the American Civil Liberties Union in filing the 83-page complaint. It details a litany of woes at the Lauderdale County prison, but most of them occurred under the watch of the Boca Raton, Fla.-based GEO Group. MTC, which was not named in the lawsuit, came on board after the Mississippi Department of Corrections ended its contract with GEO last year….

Mississippi Sued Again for Prison Conditions
Source: R.L. Nave, Jackson Free Press, May 30, 2013

A rat infestation at Meridian’s East Mississippi Correctional Facility has gotten so bad that some of the prisoners have adopted the disease-carrying vermin as pets, sometimes taking them on walks around the prison on leashes fashioned of paper clips and string…. The 1,500-bed EMCF houses the state’s severely mentally ill prisoners, and is run by Management & Training Corp., a Utah-based firm that is one of the nation’s largest private corrections-management companies. Attorneys involved with the lawsuit describe the prison as “hyper-violent, grotesquely filthy and dangerous.” The complaint details numerous claims, including broken plumbing systems that result in people sometimes having to defecate in trash bags or food. It charges that chronic understaffing often leads to prisoner-on-prisoner altercations and rapes, as well as excessive use of force by corrections officers….

Feds: Prison operator in Miss. fined
Source: Jeff Amy, Associated Press, June 12, 2012

A private prison operator that’s giving up its business in Mississippi could face up to $104,000 in fines from federal workplace safety regulators. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said GEO Group exposed employees to assaults by inmates at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Lost Gap. Citations issued Tuesday by OSHA say GEO Group knowingly failed to provide adequate staffing, fix malfunctioning cell door locks or provide training to protect employees from inmate violence, including stabbings, bites and other injuries.

Two guards fired, one quits after escape from East Miss. prison
Source: The Associated Press, December 16, 2005

Two guards have been fired and a supervisor has resigned after the October escape of two inmates serving life sentences for murder at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Lauderdale County. “The message is that if you don’t follow policy and procedures, you will be terminated,” said Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said. While The GEO Group Inc., a Florida-based company, operates the 1,000-capacity prison under a contract with the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Epps has ultimate authority over the prison.