Category Archives: Corrections

Following NYC, Philadelphia Pulls Pension Stock in Private Prisons

Source: David Gambacorta, Governing, October 27, 2017
 
The Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement voted Thursday to withdraw its investments in the for-profit prison industry, which has been dogged for years by health and safety problems.  Francis Bielli, the board’s executive director, said the board voted 6-1 in favor of liquidating the $1.2 million worth of stock it held in three companies: the GEO Group, CoreCivic, and G4S. The funds will be routed to other investments over several months.  In August, the Inquirer and Daily News published a report on the perils of the for-profit prison industry, which has been paid billions by the federal government since 1997 to house more than 34,000 inmates every year.  A multi-year study by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that for-profit prisons had higher rates of violence and lockdowns, and provided poorer access to medical care, than government-run prisons. …

Private Prisons Boost Lobbying as Federal Detention Needs Grow

Source: Dean DeChlaro, Roll Call, October 25, 2017
 
One of the country’s largest private prison companies is spending record amounts on lobbying amid efforts by the Trump administration to detain more undocumented immigrants, federal records show.  The GEO Group, which has contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Prisons and the Marshals Service, has spent nearly $1.3 million on lobbying from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, according to new lobbying records filed with Congress. That tops $1 million spent last year. The firm spent at least $400,000 on seven lobbying firms in the third quarter alone, the disclosures show.   GEO’s increased spending comes as ICE is seeking proposals for five new immigrant detention facilities and the Homeland Security Department is asking Congress to fund more than 51,000 beds, up from the current 34,000. ICE is the Florida-based prison company’s biggest customer, according to its 2016 annual report. …

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Immigrants Are Dying in U.S. Detention Centers. And It Could Get Worse.
Source: Brendan O’Boyle, Americas Quarterly, July 17, 2017

… Trump’s policies are already increasing the number of people held in detention centers, further straining the system. … The administration has signaled its commitment to private prison companies, which also operate immigrant detention centers. This alarms detainee advocates, since five out of the seven detainees who died this year were being held by privately operated providers, and multiple investigations have found privately operated prisons to be more dangerous for inmates. … As it pushes for more detentions, the Trump administration also reportedly has plans to weaken protections for immigrant detainees. …

Immigrant Deaths in Private Prisons Explode Under Trump
Source: Justin Glawe, Daily Beast, May 30, 2017

Men and women held by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are on pace to die at double the rate of those who died in ICE custody last year, a Daily Beast review of ICE records found. And most will die in privately run facilities. Eight people have died in ICE custody in the 2017 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2016. That’s almost as many as the 10 who died in the entire 2016 fiscal year. All but one of the deaths this year, and all but two last year, occurred in privately run prisons. Nine of the 18 deaths occurred at facilities run by GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison company. …

The problem with privatizing prisons
Source: Farah Mohammed, Daily JStor, May 15, 2017

… The theory behind private prisons has translated poorly into practice, however, and has been strongly criticized. Studies showed there were minimal savings compared to using public prisons. A scandal involving the murder of an Oklahoma couple by escaped inmates was linked to lax security at their private facility. Another private Ohio prison saw thirteen stabbings, two murders, and six escapes in its initial 14 months.  In 2011, a Court Judge was convicted in a “cash for kids jail scheme,” in which private prisons had paid him to dole out harsh sentences in order to maintain their prison population. … Under Trump, inmate numbers are expected to increase substantially, following a crackdown on illegal immigration and a new insistence on mandatory minimums (where repeat offenders of even non-violent crimes must serve sentences of years). …

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How the Prison Phone Industry Further Isolates Prisoners

Source: Kalena Thomhave, American Prospect, October 12, 2017
 
When inmates are able to speak to friends and family while incarcerated, it not only improves their lives, but also, studies have shown, reduces recidivism after they leave prison. But to fill in budget holes or to make a profit, many state and local governments work with companies that put a high price tag on this basic need for the incarcerated.  A handful of companies monopolize the prison phone industry, and their control of the market allows them to charge exorbitant rates for inmate calls to their homes. States that contract with these providers tend to choose the contractor that provides not the lowest price, but the highest commission rate for the state. As a result, prisoners and their families may pay up to $1 per minute on a call. …

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Face-to-Face Family Visits Return to Some Jails
Source: Mindy Fetterman, The Pew Charitable Trusts, February 15, 2017

… Jailhouse visits like this one between family members and inmates are starting to make a comeback, replacing a decadeslong trend of requiring families to use Skype-like video technology in which families dial in from a computer at home, a public library or inside the jail itself to talk to a loved one who is incarcerated. The reason: Video technology companies came under criticism for charging high fees and for providing poor quality video connections. And evidence is growing that in-person visits help cut the likelihood that inmates will return to jail once they get out. Counties in Texas and Mississippi as well as the District of Columbia are reinstating face-to-face visits. A few states, like New Jersey, are considering legislation to allow in-person visits again.

… Although in-person visits remain the most common form of interaction between inmates and family members, the trend toward video visitation has been growing since the late 1990s. More than 500 jails and state prisons in 43 states have some sort of video visitation system, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. About 12 percent of jails have it, according to a study by PPI, which advocates for prisoners and their families. … And as video visitation has increased, face-to-face visitation has declined. The PPI found in a 2015 study that 74 percent of jails dropped in-person visits when they started video visits. Often the private companies that provide video visitation services require governments to drop in-person visits. … More than one in three families go into debt to cover the costs of staying in touch with people who are incarcerated, including paying for video calls, telephone calls and travel expenses for trips to jails and especially prisons, which can be hundreds of miles away, according to a survey of families by the Ella Baker Center, a nonprofit that advocates against mass incarceration. … Those fees have come under criticism for being a “kickback” for governments, too. … The controversy over the cost of video visitation calls is part of a larger debate over the high cost of regular telephone calls for inmates. …

FCC made a case for limiting cost of prison phone calls. Not anymore.
Source: Ann E. Marimow, The Washington Post, February 5, 2017

Federal regulators no longer are pressing to cut the costs of most prison phone calls, backing away from a years-long effort to limit charges imposed by a handful of private companies on inmates and their families. The shift by the Federal Communications Commission comes as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Monday considers whether commissioners went too far when they capped prices for inmate calls that had reached more than a $1 per minute. To make phone calls from most federal and state prisons, inmates generally must set up accounts with a private company to hold money deposited by family members. The companies typically have a contract with the prisons, which receive a portion of the call revenue. Federal regulators had pushed since 2013 to lower the costs, saying the prices made it too hard for relatives to stay in touch. But a week after President Trump tapped a new leader for the FCC, the commission’s attorneys changed course and told the court that the FCC no longer would defend one of its own key provisions that limited fees for prisoners’ intrastate calls. … But supporters of the FCC’s limits say the phone contracts are being awarded on the basis of companies’ willingness to pay the highest commissions to prison systems — not on the basis of lowest rates or best service. In 2013, phone-service companies paid at least $460 million in commissions to correctional facilities, according to a brief filed by a coalition of advocates for inmates and their families. A number of state prison systems, including in New York’s, Mississippi’s and New Jersey’s, have taken steps to reduce rates and in some cases to limit commissions. …

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They thought they were going to rehab. They ended up in chicken plants

Source: Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter, Reveal News, October 4, 2017
 
Across the country, judges increasingly are sending defendants to rehab instead of prison or jail. These diversion courts have become the bedrock of criminal justice reform, aiming to transform lives and ease overcrowded prisons.  But in the rush to spare people from prison, some judges are steering defendants into rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.  The programs promise freedom from addiction. Instead, they’ve turned thousands of men and women into indentured servants.  The beneficiaries of these programs span the country, from Fortune 500 companies to factories and local businesses. The defendants work at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Oklahoma, a construction firm in Alabama, a nursing home in North Carolina.  Perhaps no rehab better exemplifies this allegiance to big business than CAAIR. It was started in 2007 by chicken company executives struggling to find workers. By forming a Christian rehab, they could supply plants with a cheap and captive labor force while helping men overcome their addictions.

… At some rehabs, defendants get to keep their pay. At CAAIR and many others, they do not. Legal experts said forcing defendants to work for free might violate their constitutional rights. The 13th Amendment bans slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States, except as punishment for convicts. That’s why prison labor programs are legal. But many defendants sent to programs such as CAAIR have not yet been convicted of crimes, and some later have their cases dismissed. … CAAIR has become indispensable to the criminal justice system, even though judges appear to be violating Oklahoma’s drug court law by using it in some cases, according to the law’s authors. … The program has become an invaluable labor source. Over the years, Simmons Foods repeatedly has laid off paid employees while expanding its use of CAAIR. …

Prisoners at private-run prisons released without IDs

Source: Demetria Kalodimos, WSMV, September 19, 2017

In facilities operated by the state of Tennessee, the Department of Correction commissioner has said no prisoner should be let out without a valid driver’s license or state ID. Without it, they have trouble finding housing or jobs and are more likely to be arrested for something minor. But at some of the state’s largest prisons, the ones run by Core Civic, the ID rule doesn’t yet apply. A Tennessee state senator said that’s just one example of a much larger problem. … In a February 2016 memo, Commissioner Tony Parker wrote a memo addressed to the Tennessee Department of Correction inmate population. “Providing (the) offender with the tools necessary to successfully re-enter society is an important function of our mission,” the memo read. “Your valid DL (driver’s license) or state ID will be issued to you at your time of release. “I should have had a state ID. I should have had a Social Security card. It’s all stated in policy 511-03 and 511-05, effective in 2011 and 2013, but they refused to do it,” said Middleton. The reason for Core Civic’s refusal may be a surprise, especially when you consider the company is under contract with the state of Tennessee, and paid millions of taxpayer dollars, to manage the South Central facility and others. … “South Central Correctional Facility is not a state-run facility, therefore, cannot provide the actual documents that he is requesting.” … “I think there’s a real danger of creating a two-tier system where we have one set of prisons operated by the state that adheres to one set of standards and another set of prisons operated by a private operation that adheres to a different set of standards,” said Tennessee state Sen. Jeff Yarbro. Yarbro has been outspoken about the need for prison oversight. He said the contract the state has with Core Civic needs to be examined and quite possibly re-written. …

Nurse says she was fired for missing work during Hurricane Irma

Source: Lauren Seabrook, WFTV.com, September 21, 2017

Hurricane Irma hit Leesburg, Florida, hard, and resident Ami Honea’s neighborhood has piles of debris to prove it. Just before the storm blew through, Honea said she made a decision that ended up costing her job. … Honea said she told her boss she felt that her only option was to leave and that he never told her she would lose her job for it. … Attorney Kelli Hastings, who spoke to WFTV before the storm, said that because Florida is a right-to-work state, the termination is legal. … WFTV contacted the privately contracted company that fired Honea, Armor Correctional Health Services, and was referred to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Officials with the Sheriff’s Office said they have nothing to do with the hiring or firing of the medical employees at the company.

More Tennessee trouble for Nashville based CoreCivic prison

Source: Associated Press, September 19, 2017

Tennessee corrections officials have fined a private prison company $43,750 because of problems it had counting inmates at a jail it operates, according to state documents. The state Department of Correction levied the penalty against CoreCivic in May over breach of contract due to the woes at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, a medium-security lockup in Hartsville that holds up to 2,552 male inmates, a letter released in a public records request shows. … According to state reports, officers weren’t counting correctly; inmates weren’t in the correct cells; and, in most cases, only one worker was counting inmates without another standing watch. The reports also said it was taking too long for officers to count and inmates were allowed to move around during count time. …

ICE Wants to Destroy Its Records of In-Custody Deaths, Sexual Assault, and Other Detainee Files

Source: John Washington, The Nation, September 13, 2017

In July, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)—the agency charged with maintaining records produced by the federal government—published a request made by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to begin destroying detainee records, including those related to in-custody deaths, sexual assault, and the use of solitary confinement. The request has been preliminarily approved. … Immigration advocates worry that ICE’s request, made public at a time of expanding operations (the original request, which went through multiple revisions, was made in 2015), is a further turn towards obfuscation for the notoriously opaque agency. … Just since January, with ICE’s expanding charge, it has been accused of a host of ongoing and heightened abuses, including the stripping away of due process, contracting out detention services to increasingly deadly private companies, racially profiling as it collaborates with local police departments, targeting women suffering from domestic abuse, doctoring documents in order to arrest immigrants with protected status, and using children as bait to arrest immigrant parents. ..

ICE transfers immigrants held in detention around the country to keep beds filled. Then it releases them, with no help getting home.

Source: Libby Rainey, Denver Post, September 17, 2017

… Cruz is one of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers who are picked up in one part of the country and transferred to other parts of the far-flung network of more than 200 detention centers every year. The transfers often result in people being released on the streets of unfamiliar communities far from family, support and legal representation. … Each month, ICE shuffles thousands of detainees throughout the web of privately contracted centers, county jails and other facilities to keep beds filled. ICE has no obligation to return detainees to the areas where they were picked up. These transfers prioritize finances over the well-being of people being moved, immigrants rights advocates say. … Transfers allow ICE to keep beds filled in detention centers around the country and consolidate detainees near immigration courts with faster dockets and transportation, he said. A congressional mandate requires ICE to maintain at least 34,000 detention beds a day. … Detainees are regularly released without much notice, advocates say. Detention facilities typically have phones that those inside can use, but once detainees are released, ICE doesn’t help them transition into the outside world. “There’s a lot of shuffling of people that takes place to fill beds,” said Megan Hope, a social worker with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. “It’s very burdensome for somebody to get out in a community they’re not from.” …

Harris County Nixes Private Prisons

Source: Allison Lee, Houston Public Media, August 1, 2017

Private prisons usually get a bad wrap from advocates, for a lack of oversight. But, that wasn’t main reason behind Sheriff Ed Gonzalez shifting the department away from private prisons. … “Within three months, we were able to move everybody back in house,” Gonzalez said. … According to the Harris County Sheriff’s office, the department spent $4.5 million on outsourced inmates last fiscal year. This fiscal year, they’re projecting to spend just under $300,000 (for what’s been spent before the transition). … He says there are also other benefits to bringing inmates back in-house. “We have more control of what we’re doing. You know, the medical records, things like that,” Gonzalez said. Another benefit? Loved ones can visit inmates, without having to travel to other municipalities or cities.