Category Archives: Corrections

Inmates removed from OKC halfway house, contract ended

Source: Dale Denwalt, NewsOK, December 5, 2017

The Department of Corrections has abruptly ended a contract with Catalyst Behavioral Services after years of issues at a downtown Oklahoma City halfway house and the death of an inmate who walked away from the work-release residential site last month. … The Corrections Department paid Catalyst $32.50 per inmate, per day. Expenditures last budget year totaled more than $1.5 million and the average bed count was 126. The decision to move inmates from the Walker and NW 8 Street site comes after the death of an inmate who walked away from the site Nov. 11. Ardmore police found the remains of Justin Sullivan and a woman inside a burned vehicle 16 hours before Catalyst staff discovered he was missing, the Corrections Department said. … Catalyst reportedly did not keep an accurate head count and at one point, Allbaugh noted, staff did not have a master key to get into inmate rooms. Non-inmates were able to freely enter the facility without security’s knowledge. … In response, the Corrections Department posted its own security staff on site since Nov. 23. It has ongoing concerns with Catalyst Behavioral Services’ staff training, their experience and ability to conduct proper inmate counts, as well as contraband control and proper searches. … The state oversees nine other halfway houses that are maintained by contracts with private businesses, including another site in Enid operated by Catalyst Behavioral Services that was not affected by Monday’s shuffle. …

Tennessee Lawmakers Give Correction Department A Short Leash To Fix Troubled Private Prisons

Source: Julieta Martinelli, Nashville Public Radio, December 12, 2017
 
The Tennessee Department of Correction is getting another year to show improvement. Officials voted to reauthorize the state agency for 12 more months after a scathing audit last month highlighted severe staffing and safety concerns at several private prisons.  The state agency oversees more than 20,000 inmates. About one third of them are housed in facilities managed by CoreCivic, a private contractor formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.  Inmates, family members and even former employees have publicly called out conditions inside prisons like Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville. The allegations came shortly after it opened last year. …

Related:

State Audit Reveals Serious Staffing Concerns In Tennessee’s Largest Private Prison
Source: Julieta Martinelli, Nashville Public Radio, November 14, 2017

A state audit of the Department of Correction released on Tuesday highlights a number of issues plaguing prisons in Tennessee. The biggest issue is a shortage of correctional officers, which could put inmates and other prison staff at risk. The CoreCivic-managed Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, northeast of Nashville, and Whiteville Correctional Facility, near Memphis, operated with fewer than approved correctional officers and did not follow staffing guidelines required by the state. At Trousdale, which is the state’s largest prison, the audit found critical posts were even left unstaffed on multiple occasions. …

Read full report.

Kansas’s ravaged economy a cautionary tale as Trump plans huge tax cuts for rich

Source: Dominic Rushe, The Guardian, December 10, 2017
 
Is Donald Trump about to turn America into Kansas? It’s a question some worried people who live in the state are asking as the Republican party pushes through the biggest tax overhaul in a generation – an overhaul that, they claim, bears an uncanny resemblance to a tax plan that left their midwestern home in disarray. After a failed economic experiment meant to boost economic growth blew a hole in the Kansas budget as big as a prairie sky (a $350m deficit in the current fiscal year and nearly $600m in the next) state jobs and services have been slashed.

… Sarah LaFrenz Falk, president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees ,who recently spoke to Congress about her fears about the Republican tax plan, said she sees an agenda in the Brownback plan – one that is mirrored in Trump’s plan: give huge tax breaks to super-rich donors [the rightwing, union-bashing Koch brothers are Kansas’s richest residents], then hand them a second win by cutting services, waiting for those services to buckle under the strain and then argue the private sector can do it better. … Kansas has already had one horrific example of private enterprise failure. In October lawmakers were “flabbergasted” to learn that the companies that now run Kansan foster homes had “lost” more than 70 children. Revelations about the unaccounted children came after it was revealed children had been left to sleep in local contractors’ offices because there were no places for them. The state is currently looking to privatise its largest prison, at Lansing, near Kansas City. CoreCivic, the company overseeing construction of the new prison, is subject to lawsuits in six states and was accused by state officials of grossly under-staffing facilities in Tennessee. …

… The details of Trump’s tax plan are still being worked out, but it looks certain to pass, and the fixed positions are big corporate tax breaks and a massive reduction for pass-through entities. … The bill looks set to add $1tn to the national debt. Republicans are already discussing paying for the plan by cutting social security and gutting Medicare and Medicaid, the two federally funded health insurance schemes. But, worryingly for Trump, Brownback’s tax plan proved not just disastrous for the state but also for Brownback and his supporters. … Brownback’s plan led to electoral defeat for his supporters in 2016, and the election of moderate Republicans he had fought with to pass his plan. His political career is now in limbo. …

As The Criminal Justice System Changes, So Does A Private Prison Giant

Source: Lydia O’Neal, International Business Times, December 5, 2017

At a halfway house in southeast Pennsylvania last May, a former prison inmate on his way to reentering society died of a heroin and fentanyl overdose, the eighth person to die of a drug overdose there since the start of 2016, and the fifth in the first five months of 2017 alone, the Reading Eagle found in a November report that documented egregious mismanagement. … The Pennsylvania facility, known as the Alcohol & Drug Addiction Parole and Probation Treatment center, or simply ADAPPT, was acquired in April by politically-connected GEO Group Inc., better known for its private prison management. The previous manager, now a GEO subsidiary, is Community Education Centers, a private contractor known for its halfway houses. (GEO declined to comment on Zdanowicz’s criticism of ADAPPT.) The April CEC acquisition followed GEO’s 2010 purchase of Cornell Companies, another private prison and rehabilitation firm that owns facilities focused on drug treatment and counseling.

… GEO has been active on the federal lobbying front since at least 2002. In the second quarter of 2015, the firm began lobbying Congress on “the promotion of the benefits in the use of public-private partnerships for the delivery of secure residential care, community reentry and supervision [and] offender rehabilitation,” federal lobbying forms show. It has continued to promote such partnerships. … Many have advocated for the treatment of drug addiction within U.S. prisons as a means of stemming the crisis. … But given the track record of for-profit prisons, including a February University of Wisconsin-Madison study that found private prisons to be more expensive because they keep inmates behind bars for longer and don’t reduce recidivism, many critics are uncomfortable with the idea of such companies handling inmates’ addiction treatment. …

Related:

GEO Group closes $360 million acquisition of Community Education Centers
Source: Cindy Kent, Sun-Sentinel, April 6, 2017

GEO Group Inc. announced the closing of its $360 million acquisition of Community Education Centers, a national provider of rehabilitative services in reentry and in-prison treatment facilities as well as management services for county, state, and federal correctional and detention facilities.  The Boca Raton-based company, a global real estate investment trust specializing in the design, financing, development, and operation of correctional, detention, and community reentry facilities, acquired New Jersey-based CEC for $360 million in an all cash transaction, excluding transaction related expenses. GEO plans to integrate CEC into GEO’s existing business units of GEO Corrections & Detention and GEO Care. …

Geo acquires rehabilitation company for $360 million
Source: Marcia Heroux Pounds, Sun-Sentinel, February 22, 2017

Boca Raton-based prison operator Geo Group announced Wednesday it has agreed to acquire Community Education Centers, a private provider of rehabilitation services, for $360 million in cash. The transaction would make Geo the largest provider of prison rehabilitation services in the country, said George Zoley, chairman and CEO, on a conference call Wednesday with analysts. Zoley also said that Geo expects “an escalation” in the need for detention beds under President Trump’s immigration and border security policies. Geo is the largest provider of detention services for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and U.S. Marshals Service. …

Report on immigration detention centers raises questions of ‘perverse financial incentive’

Source: Esther Yu Hsi Lee, ThinkProgress, November 30, 2017

An analysis of the nation’s 201 immigration detention facilities contracted through the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is raising concerns about inadequate standards, contracting practices, and limited accountability. … A spreadsheet analysis by the nonprofits Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights found that an average of 35,929 people per day were detained in immigration detention centers nationwide during the 2017 fiscal year through July 10, a number that does not include family detention centers or women detained at Hutto, an all-women detention center in Texas. Of that total number, 73 percent (or 26,240 people) were held in facilities contracted to private prison operators, the documents show. The two major private prison operators are GEO Group and CoreCivic, which charge the federal government a per diem rate anywhere between $30 per bed to detain immigrants for a short-stay facility to $168.64 per day, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse data from 2016.

… The experts said that the findings suggest an “irresponsible” ICE agency, which requested increased congressional funding this year in part on claims of a cost increase in detainees’ chronic health care needs, while at the same time, lowering levels of detention standards. Advocates previously alleged that lowered detention standards contributed to repeated violations of ICE’s own standards of care. That meant detainees routinely received unsanitary food and substandard health and mental care. … What’s more, the spreadsheet outlined 159 out of the 201 detention centers that do not have a contract expiration date, drawing attention to the process of renewing a contract that would require facilities to undergo reviews that address chronic problems at facilities. Already, 12 immigrant detainees have died after being held in immigrant detention facilities during the 2017 fiscal year. … Findings from the spreadsheet also suggest detention facilities are increasingly cropping up in localities that have a “perverse financial incentive” to participate in two federal programs that solicit local law enforcement to detain immigrants. ….

MT special legislative session works late into night to finalize budget deal

Source: Mike Dennison, KRTV, November 16, 2017
 
Montana lawmakers worked into the early-morning hours Thursday to fashion a deal to fill the state’s $227 million budget hole, agreeing to a package of spending cuts, fund transfers and one, big charge on the state workers’ compensation fund.  The plan also includes at least $15 million from a fund controlled by the company that operates Montana’s only private prison – and that can be accessed only if Gov. Steve Bullock negotiates a new contract to extend the prison contract with CoreCivic. … The 600-bed private prison near Shelby is in Jones’ district, and CoreCivic’s contract expires in 2019.  The special session, called by Bullock to balance the state’s budget, started Tuesday and wrapped up after two long days of back-and-forth negotiating primarily between the Democratic governor and the Republican majority at the Legislature. …

Related:

MT Republicans plan to expand special session agenda
Source: Mike Dennison, KXLH, November 8, 2017
 
Legislative Republicans plan to expand next week’s special session agenda, to include more options to fill Montana’s $227 million budget hole, MTN News has learned – including $32 million from an account controlled by the owner of the private prison in Shelby. … GOP leaders are drafting a proposed expansion with nine new items, including: Using $32 million from a fund set up to help the state buy the privately run prison at Shelby. The owner of the prison – CoreCivic – controls the money, but has offered to give it to the state — if the state agrees to extend the company’s contract, for another 10 years.  …

Corrections pledges to increase private prison oversight
Source: Associated Press, November 30, 2016

The Montana Department of Corrections has pledged to strengthen its oversight of a private prison in Shelby after auditors recently found weaknesses in the agency’s monitoring of guard staffing levels, health care services and food service. Department officials said checks have already been increased to ensure mandatory security staffing levels are being met, and they will build more comprehensive checks in the other areas. The Legislative Audit Division did not find any major violations at the Crossroads Correctional Center when auditors conducted surprise visits, analyzed prison data and spoke to former inmates. However, the auditors did report that the department’s on-site contractor assigned to monitor the prison’s health services does not verify that inmates receive timely access to medical care. The department also has not defined the level of review it expects from the contractor and conducts only limited reviews of health services data from the prison, the November report found. … But DOC director Mike Batista said in his written response that the department has already set up reviews of shift rosters, payroll logs, video reviews of staff and other checks as a result of past violations discovered in audits. Batista pledged to increase the review of shift rosters each month. The department also “will build a more comprehensive reporting and compliance check for medical access and timeliness requirements” for its health care monitoring contractor, Batista said. He added that the department’s dietician will review the prison’s menu annually. DOC spokeswoman Judy Beck said Wednesday she did not have further comment beyond Batista’s response to the audit.

Continue reading

Are Private Prisons Using Forced Labor?

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg Business Week, November 8, 2017 

On Nov. 15 the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver will hear arguments in a case that could change the future of the $5 billion private prison industry. Judges will decide whether a district court was correct in February when it certified a class action on behalf of around 60,000 current and former detainees who are suing Geo Group Inc., one of the largest U.S. private prison companies, for allegedly violating federal anti-trafficking laws by coercing them to work for free under threat of solitary confinement. The case was first filed in 2014 by a group of immigrants who had been detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility run by Geo in Aurora, Colo. Their key claim rests on the assertion that Geo violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law designed to stop human trafficking—a scourge many associate with sexual exploitation by gangs, not with government contractors’ treatment of detained immigrants. Their lawsuit argues that Geo violated the law’s prohibition on using threats to obtain labor. …

Related:

How a Private Prison Company Used Detained Immigrants for Free Labor
Source: Madison Pauly, Mother Jones, April 3, 2017

… The GEO Group, the private prison company that operates Aurora, allegedly forced more than 50,000 immigrants like Ortiz to work without pay or for $1 a day since 2004, according to a lawsuit that nine detainees brought against the company in 2014. On February 27, a federal judge ruled that their case could proceed as a class action, breathing new life into a suit that exposes the extent to which the for-profit company relied on cheap or unpaid detainee labor to minimize costs at the Aurora facility. … GEO incarcerates more immigrants (and receives more public money to do so) than any other detention center operator, according to an analysis by the anti-detention group CIVIC. And its business detaining immigrants for ICE is only expected to grow “with this increased and expanded approach to border security,” CEO George Zoley said in a February earnings call. …

Thousands of ICE detainees claim they were forced into labor, a violation of anti-slavery laws
Source: Kristine Phillips, Washington Post, March 5, 2017

Tens of thousands of immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were forced to work for $1 day, or for nothing at all — a violation of federal anti-slavery laws — a lawsuit claims.  The lawsuit, filed in 2014 against one of the largest private prison companies in the country, reached class-action status this week after a federal judge’s ruling. That means the case could involve as many as 60,000 immigrants who have been detained.  It’s the first time a class-action lawsuit accusing a private U.S. prison company of forced labor has been allowed to move forward. … At the heart of the dispute is the Denver Contract Detention Facility, a 1,500-bed center in Aurora, Colo., owned and operated by GEO Group under a contract with ICE. The Florida-based corporation runs facilities to house immigrants who are awaiting their turn in court. … The lawsuit, filed against GEO Group on behalf of nine immigrants, initially sought more than $5 million in damages. Attorneys expect the damages to grow substantially given the case’s new class-action status. … The original nine plaintiffs claim that detainees at the ICE facility are forced to work without pay — and that those who refuse to do so are threatened with solitary confinement. Specifically, the lawsuit claims, six detainees are selected at random every day and are forced to clean the facility’s housing units. The lawsuit claims that the practice violates the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which prohibits modern-day slavery. … GEO Group also is accused of violating Colorado’s minimum wage laws by paying detainees $1 day instead of the state’s minimum wage of about $9 an hour. The company “unjustly enriched” itself through the cheap labor of detainees, the lawsuit says.

… The class-action ruling by Kane, a senior judge in the U.S. District Court in Colorado, came at a critical time, DiSalvo said, noting President Trump’s pledge to deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants. Advocates say private prison companies that have government contracts stand to benefit significantly from the president’s hard-line policy of detaining and deporting a massive number of immigrants. … Notably, the stocks of the two biggest private prison operators, Geo Group and CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), have surged since Trump’s election. The companies donated a total of $500,000 to Trump’s inaugural festivities, USA Today reported. Since Trump took office, his administration has reversed the Obama administration’s policy to end the country’s reliance on private prisons. … Under ICE’s Voluntary Work Program, detainees sign up to work and are paid $1 a day. … Jacqueline Stevens, who runs Northwestern University’s Deportation Research Clinic, said the program does not meet the criteria for what qualifies as volunteer work under labor laws. … Prison labor, Stevens added, has two purposes: to punish prisoners after they’ve been convicted of a crime and to rehabilitate them. Those don’t apply to immigrant detainees, she said. … In 2015, Kane, the federal judge, partially denied the motion to dismiss. Although he agreed with GEO Group that Colorado’s minimum wage law is inapplicable, he ruled that the other claims can stand. … Kane granted class-action status a few days after the Justice Department directed the Bureau of Prisons to, again, use private prisons, a significant shift from the Obama-era policy of significantly reducing — and ultimately ending — their use. …

Exclusive: Nursing Home Sought Help From Lobbyist Friend Of Governor

Source: Jim Defede, CBS Miami, November 3, 2017

State officials intended to permanently shut down the now infamous The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in 2014, when a lobbyist with deep ties to Governor Rick Scott interceded on behalf of the man who wanted to take it over, CBS4 News has learned. The role of one of the Governor’s friends lobbying state officials on behalf of Dr. Jack Michel so Michel could obtain the license for the Hollywood Hills nursing home has not been previously reported. The nursing home is now drawing intense scrutiny following the deaths of more than a dozen residents after its air conditioning system lost power during Hurricane Irma. … In 2014, Michel wanted to buy the nursing home, whose owner at the time, Karen Kallen-Zury, had just been convicted of Medicare fraud and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. … Political leaders have questioned whether Michel should have been granted a license given the fact that Michel and two former business partners paid $15.4 million to the federal government to settle fraud claims. …

Related:

Hollywood nursing home should never have been licensed, state senator says
Source: Bob Norman, Local 10 News, October 26, 2017

The U.S. Justice Department hit Michel with civil Medicare fraud charges in 2004, alleging he received $70,000 each month in kickbacks to funnel nursing home patients into Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami for medically unnecessary procedures. … Michel eventually purchased the Larkin hospital (beginning with what the feds alleged appeared to be sham transactions) and, according to the complaint, began paying to other doctors for more bogus Medicare referrals. … Farmer says the fraud described in the Michel complaint has become all too common. … Michel and his business partners — including Chicago Rabbi Morris Esformes and his son, Philip — paid $15.4 million to settle the fraud case while admitting no wrongdoing. Published reports show that the Esformeses have a long history of nursing home violations going back decades in Chicago and other cities, including one case in 2001 involving the deaths of four women during a heat wave in St. Louis. Criminal investigations netted no charges in that case, but the nursing home was hit with a $275,000 civil judgment in one suit while three others ended with undisclosed settlements. But after paying the $15.4 million settlement to the federal government, both Michel and the Esformeses simply continued in the business of running nursing homes and hospitals. …

Hurricane Irma: Hospital linked to nursing-home deaths was paid $48M to care for Florida prisoners
Source: Arek L Sarkissian, Naples Daily News, September 26, 2017

The owner of a Florida nursing home whose 11 residents died after Hurricane Irma has benefited for years from millions of dollars in government contracts despite repeatedly running afoul of state and federal regulators. Dr. Jack Michel, owner of Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, owns a Miami hospital that has received $48 million in taxpayer money since 2006 to treat state prisoners. The payments to Larkin Community Hospital started the same year Michel settled a federal fraud lawsuit that accused him of bilking taxpayers. They continued after the state barred one of his assisted-living homes from taking new patients. And state officials are giving no indication that the payments will stop now despite Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s comments that the owner is unfit to care for patients after deaths at his nursing home.

Larkin provides the prison hospital care under no-bid agreements that the Florida Department of Corrections approved, according to agency contract and finance records. The hospital has served as a subcontractor to the state’s prison health care vendors with approval from corrections officials. Eight elderly patients died Sept. 13 after Irma knocked out power at Michel’s nursing home and residents remained for several days without air conditioning. Three other patients died days later after being hospitalized with complications. …

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. …

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. …

Related:

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. …

Continue reading