Inside a Private Prison: Blood, Suicide and Poorly Paid Guards

Source: Timothy Williams, New York Times, April 3, 2018
 
According to evidence and testimony at a federal civil rights trial, far worse things were happening at the prison than inmates strolling around during a lockdown: A mentally ill man on suicide watch hanged himself, gang members were allowed to beat other prisoners, and those whose cries for medical attention were ignored resorted to setting fires in their cells. So many shackled men have recounted instances of extraordinary violence and neglect in the prison that the judge has complained of exhaustion. …

Management & Training Corporation, the private company that runs the East Mississippi facility near Meridian in Lauderdale County, already operates two federal prisons and more than 20 facilities around the nation. The genesis of the problems at East Mississippi, according to prisoner advocates, is that the state requires private prisons to operate at 10 percent lower cost than state-run facilities. Even at its state-run institutions, Mississippi spends significantly less on prisoners than most states, a fact that state officials once boasted about. … Testimony has described dangerous conditions, confused lines of oversight and difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified staff. …

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Clergy ask gov. to take prison from private company
Source: Terri Ferguson Smith The Meridian Star, Oct 13, 2014

In the wake of a lawsuit alleging neglect and abuse of prisoners, a group of Mississippi clergy is calling upon Gov. Phil Bryant to have the state take back control of the East Miss Correctional Facility, a 1,300 bed facility in Lauderdale County, west of Meridian.

The Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference drafted a letter asking the governor to end privatization of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, according to the Rev. Tom Clark, who helped draft the letter. In a recent interview with Clark and the Rt. Rev. Duncan M. Gray, III of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, Clark said privately run operations often do better than governments, except for prisons.

Workers allege criminal activity at Bridgeport Health Care Center

Source: News12, April 3, 2018
 
Enough is enough. That was the message from the union representing Bridgeport Health Care Center employees. Workers at the facility called attention to what the union alleges is criminal activity by Chaim Stern, the chief financial officer for the privately owned nursing home. Employees claim Stern has failed to pay the staff on time on numerous occasions since June 2017. … “Throughout this ordeal, Bridgeport Health Care Center workers have continued to show up, and do their jobs,” said Sharon Weller, of AFSCME Local 1522.  “That’s because they care about the residents and take pride in their jobs.” …

DHHS reviews child abuse cases it contracted out

Source: Matthew Stone, Bangor Daily News, March 28, 2018
 
Maine’s child welfare program is revisiting six-and-a-half months of child abuse reports it received and referred to contractors who intervene in “lower-risk” abuse and neglect cases. The Office of Child and Family Services earlier this month asked the four contractors who handle those lower-risk cases to comb through their records dating back to last Aug. 31 and re-report to the state many of the families whose cases they were assigned. The state would then review those cases. The request indicates that the state’s alternative response programs, which the four contractors run in their respective regions, are one area of focus for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services following the deaths of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy and four-year-old Kendall Chick, allegedly at the hands of their caregivers. …

GEO Group sues Washington to keep privately run immigration detention center open

Source: Beryl Lipton, MuckRock, March 23, 2018

Yesterday, the GEO Group, one of the world’s largest for-profit prison companies, decided to push back against attempts in the the American Northwest to limit their immigrant detention operations, filing suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington against the City of Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma is home to the only detention facility in the state dedicated exclusively to holding violators of immigration and entry laws, the Northwest Detention Center. Washington is just one of the West Coast states actively challenging the immigration policies of the current Presidential administration. …

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Private Prison May Have to Boost Detainees’ Wages
Source: June Williams, Courthouse News, December 7, 2017

Washington State can pursue claims that the private prison company GEO Group failed to pay federal immigration detainees the state’s minimum wage, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. GEO could not prove that the state’s minimum wage law as applied to detainee wages is preempted by federal law, and the state has a valid interest in pursuing the case, U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan ruled. Washington sued GEO in September for violating the state’s minimum wage laws. GEO Group is one of the country’s largest operators of private prisons. …

Detention center contractor asks judge to toss lawsuit over $1-a-day pay
Source: Gene Johnson, Associated Press, November 20, 2017
 
A federal judge is considering whether to throw out two lawsuits, including one by the state of Washington, that seek to force one of the nation’s largest privately run immigration detention centers to pay minimum wage for work done by detainees. The GEO Group, the for-profit company that runs the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, is asking U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan to dismiss the cases, saying Washington doesn’t have authority to bring the lawsuit and that the state’s minimum wage law is overridden by Congress’ decision to set rates for work performed by detainees. …

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Largest Public-Housing System in the U.S. Is Crumbling

Source: Mara Gay and Laura Kusisto, Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2018
 
New York City’s public housing is literally falling apart. The sprawling network of 176,000 apartment units across the five boroughs needs an estimated $25 billion of repairs, up from $6 billion in 2005. Yet annual federal funding for the nation’s largest public-housing program hasn’t kept pace. Residents of decaying brick towers battle leaking roofs and moldy walls, broken elevators and aging infrastructure. This winter, the housing authority’s ancient boilers gave out, leaving more than 320,000 people without heat or hot water. … Mayor Bill de Blasio has blamed public-housing problems on decadeslong funding declines from Washington. The New York City Housing Authority is overseen by HUD. Housing authorities in other major cities, such as San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta, now manage a vanishingly small share of their units. In some cases, cities have continued to own the land or buildings and they are run largely by private real-estate companies, while in other cases the original buildings are demolished completely. Tenants typically are given Section 8 rental-subsidy vouchers. Critics say New York was too slow to adopt this model. … Bringing in private partners to rehabilitate and manage public housing could generate millions of dollars of new investment but raises fears of privatization in the eyes of many tenants and advocates. Mayor de Blasio was initially resistant to that approach, embracing it only after appeals from Obama administration housing officials and NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye, according to people familiar with the matter. … So far, the city has transferred one traditional public-housing complex with some 1,400 units over to private management and has plans to complete the same process for 15,000 units over the next decade. …

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Federal Cuts Could Force N.Y.’s Creative Hand
Source: Paul Burton, Bond Buyer, March 24, 2017

The specter of massive cuts in federal domestic aid could force New York City officials to think outside the box about how to salvage programs now financed by the feds. … The New York City Housing Authority alone could lose up to $150 million in operating funds and up to $220 million in capital funding. … “The biggest issue for New York City is the housing program,” said Howard Cure, director of municipal bond research for Evercore Wealth Management. One creative option, according to Cure, is to convert some properties to the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, program, which the Department of Housing and Urban Development operates. It allows public housing agencies to fully own their public housing units and to renovate or redevelop the housing using private financing sources. The renovated or new housing receives rental support for the residents through a project-based Section 8 subsidy. … While Trump has called for more public-private partnerships, New York and other Empire State cities still need approval from state lawmakers to execute P3s. …

Republican congressmen defend $1 a day wage for immigrant detainees who work in private prisons

Source: Tracy Jan, Washington Post, March 16, 2018
 
A group of 18 Republican congressmen is urging the Trump administration to defend private prisons against lawsuits alleging immigrant detainees are forced to work for a wage of $1 a day.  The members say that Congress in 1978 had explicitly set the daily reimbursement rate for voluntary work by detainees in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, and that the same rate should apply in government-contracted private prisons. … In the March 7 letter, first reported by the Daily Beast, the congressmen argue that the detainees are not employees of private prisons, so they should not be able to file lawsuits seeking to be paid for their work. … At least five lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including GEO and CoreCivic, over detainee pay and other issues. The lawsuits allege that the private prison giants use voluntary work programs to violate state minimum wage laws, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unjust enrichment and other labor statutes. The state of Washington sued GEO last year for violating its minimum wage of $11 an hour and sought to force the company to give up profits made through detainee labor. … Inmates in Colorado and California have also sued the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company, alleging that they were forced to work for $1 per day to pay for necessities like food, water and hygiene products. …

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Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor
Source: Ian Urbina, New York Times, May 24, 2014

… As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities. … The federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force. … Officials at private prison companies declined to speak about their use of immigrant detainees, except to say that it was legal. Federal officials said the work helped with morale and discipline and cut expenses in a detention system that costs more than $2 billion a year. … The compensation rules at detention facilities are remnants of a bygone era. A 1950 law created the federal Voluntary Work Program and set the pay rate at a time when $1 went much further. (The equivalent would be about $9.80 today.) Congress last reviewed the rate in 1979 and opted not to raise it. It was later challenged in a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets workplace rules, but in 1990 an appellate court upheld the rate, saying that “alien detainees are not government ‘employees.’ ”…

Napolitano addresses higher education access, student support at LA event

Source: Anirudh Keni, Daily Bruin, March 19, 2018
 
University of California President Janet Napolitano said at an event Monday the University is working to expand access to higher education by accepting more transfer students and improving academic advisory and student support programs. Napolitano spoke to UC regents and local high school students at City Club in Los Angeles about the different ways the University is helping more people attend the UC. Napolitano was briefly interrupted by members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299, the UC’s largest union, protesting UCLA’s decision in August to end its contract with ABM Industries, a facility management company that employed valet workers at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The protesters, who chanted “UCLA, hire the valets,” claimed UCLA’s decision has led to workers losing their jobs or being transferred to other locations that do not offer the same wages or benefits UCLA provides. …

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LACMA’s Art + Film Gala honors Mark Bradford and George Lucas
Source: Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2017

Earlier in the evening, UCLA service and hospital workers who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union tried to steer some of the focus to the Westside by protesting the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s treatment of contract valet workers. They chanted,“David Geffen make it right, support valet workers’ rights,” referring to the philanthropist who recently pledged $150 million toward the construction of a new Peter Zumthor-designed building for LACMA. “More than 40 immigrant service workers have lost their jobs,” union organizer Paul Waters-Smith said. “David Geffen is the most prominent backer to UCLA Health. He can, with a phone call, make it right.”

UCLA student groups advocate for medical center valet workers 
Source: Sharon (Yu Chun) Zhen, Daily Bruin, October 24, 2017

UCLA labor- and immigration-justice groups held a town hall meeting Monday night to urge UCLA to create more insourced positions for contract valet workers at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.  … Victoria Salgado, a union organizer at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the UC’s largest union, said many workers are concerned for their job security because they received unclear notifications in July and September about their employment dates. … Owen Li, a senior researcher for AFSCME Local 3299, said the UC has been increasing executive pay while cutting benefits for workers.  “The University of California literally wastes billions of dollars on hedge funds, management bloats and on these crazy executive perks,” he said.  The UC has 67 percent more overall staff than in 1993, and the number of senior managers has increased by 327 percent since 1993, Li added.  Li said most of the jobs UCLA is offering to current valet workers are part-time jobs, which he he thinks do not offer enough pay to live on. …

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South Py. holds first public talk on police dept.

Source: Quinn Schwartz, The Herald, March 16, 2018
 
Township supervisors remained mostly silent at the first public hearing to discuss the future of their community’s law enforcement. Supervisors approved a motion in February to advertise for proposals to outsource the municipality’s police services. … Aside from outsourcing police services, other options regarding the future of the township’s police department are to disband the department altogether and rely solely on state police coverage, negotiate a new contract with AFSCME, which represents the township police, or extend the existing contract, which expires at the end of 2018. Acker said that he has been contacted by AFSCME, and that the parties hope to schedule a meeting for later in the week to discuss contract negotiations. He added that if the township does decide on a contract with an outside entity, or to continue without local police, a public meeting will be held before a final decision is made. …

Texas city drops its bus service in favor of ridesharing vans

Source: Jon Fingas, Engadget, March 12, 2018

Ridesharing companies often dream of changing the face of public transportation, but one of them is going a step further — it’s becoming the only option for public transportation in one community. Arlington, Texas is replacing its bus service with Via’s ridesharing platform. Pay $3 per trip ($10 for a weekly pass) and you can hop in a Mercedes van that will take you where you need to go, whether your hail it through a smartphone app or a phone call. … The low fares are possible thanks to subsidies from the city, which is providing about a third of the overall project’s cost (about $322,500). The Federal Transit Administration is supplying the rest. Whether or not it lasts for a while depends on the initial experience. … This is arguably one of the larger experiments of its kind, however, and it hints at the potential future of ridesharing: it could become the go-to option for public transportation in cities that can’t afford or justify extensive bus or subway routes. …

Florida Gov. Scott Signs Voucher & College Aid Bills

Source: Gary Fineout, Associated Press, March 11, 2018

Florida will create the nation’s first ever private school voucher program for bullied students under a sweeping education bill signed into law Sunday by Gov. Rick Scott. … Florida already spends nearly $1 billion a year on several private school voucher programs including one directed at low-income families. The bill signed by Scott will allow students who are victims of bullying and other types of violence to move to a different public school or receive a private school voucher under the $41 million a year Hope Scholarship program. The vouchers will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis starting this fall. … Democratic legislators sharply criticized the legislation (HB 7055) as it moved through the process and the bill barely edged out of the Florida Senate as four Republicans voted ‘no.’ They said instead of setting up another private school voucher program that the state should do more to deal with bullies in schools. …