Magnolia Health Corporation to Pay $325,000 To Settle EEOC Class Disability Discrimination Case

Source: Press Release, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, March 8, 2017

Magnolia Health Corporation, a Visalia, Calif.-based company that operates health care and assisted living facilities throughout California’s Central Valley, will pay $325,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today. EEOC filed suit against the company in September 2015, charging that since 2012, Magnolia had discriminated against a class of applicants and employees on the basis of their disability, having a record of a disability, or being perceived as having one. EEOC said that Magnolia denied employees accommodations for their disabilities, and refused to hire, or fired, applicants and employees who had disabilities or were regarded as such. EEOC also said that Magnolia rescinded employment offers when applicants’ post-offer medical examinations indicated that they had a record of a disability or had current medical restrictions. EEOC further charged that Magnolia required employees be completely free of medical restrictions to work. Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). …

NIFA warns Nassau about contract start dates

Source: Paul LaRocco, Newsday, March 14, 2017

Nassau’s financial control board is warning the county not to pay vendors for work done before contracts are approved, weighing in on a controversy that has caused a rift between Republican County Executive Edward Mangano’s administration and GOP county lawmakers. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority last week added language to its contract approval forms that explicitly states its guidelines on vendor payments. It says: “NIFA approves this contract/amendment, but no time charges shall be recognized or paid for services rendered prior to” the agreement’s final execution. NIFA counsel Jeremy Wise said the board took action because Nassau had allowed work to begin on numerous pacts before they’d come before county legislators. The county this month identified 47 such contracts, some dating back eight years. … The county administration for years has allowed some vendors to start work without legislative approval, but the practice began generating consistent complaints from GOP lawmakers only in the last month. … But [county procurement compliance director] Cleary said the problem isn’t unique. New York City, where Cleary worked previously, reported more than 600 retroactive contracts in 2013, records show.

This company is making millions from America’s broken immigration system

Source: Michael E. Miller, Washington Post, March 9, 2017
 
… More than 350,000 undocumented immigrants were detained between Oct. 1, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016 — a number that could rise this year under President Trump’s immigration crackdown. As asylum seekers, visa violators and those charged with crimes wait for their cases to be heard in badly backlogged immigration courts, thousands are eligible for bail, just as they would be in criminal courts. Yet few can afford it.  Libre has found a niche helping them post their bonds — for a price. In exchange for their freedom, immigrants sign contracts promising to pay Libre $420 per month while wearing the company’s GPS devices. But these contracts are the subject of lawsuits and allegations of fraud by immigrants such as Flores who claim they didn’t understand them. … Few companies have benefited from the country’s broken immigration system like Libre. An unprecedented immigration court backlog of more than 540,000 cases, fueled by the Central American refu­gee crisis and coupled with soaring immigration bond prices, means that many detainees eligible for bail choose between spending many months behind bars or paying Libre’s fees.

… As Libre has expanded, its contracts and tactics have come under increasing scrutiny from immigration lawyers, advocates and elected officials. Both a Guatemalan government official and a California congresswoman have called for investigations, although an ICE inquiry three years ago concluded that the company was not breaking the law. Two lawsuits in California, including a class-action complaint filed last month, could bring new attention to the company’s business practices and the control it wields over the lives of its clients. … Last year, 12 percent of the country’s detained immigrants — more than 42,000 — found a way to post bond. There was no competition, although ICE itself contracts with a private company, BI, to monitor undocumented immigrants with GPS ankle bracelets instead of detaining them. The program, which has grown from 6,000 immigrants in 2013 to about 30,000 today, doesn’t cost immigrants anything. Instead, BI charges the government $4.41 per immigrant per day, according to a 2015 report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. ICE spent about $50 million on the program last year. …

Higher Ed ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Orders

Source: Matthew A. Bruckner, Howard Law Research Paper No. 17-1, February 22, 2017

Abstract:
Concerned about exploitative profiteers opening fly-by-night colleges to defraud students and then seeking respite in bankruptcy court, Congress chose to effectively preclude all institutions of higher education from reorganizing in bankruptcy court. This Article contributes to the literature on higher education bankruptcies by explaining why Congress’ solution could never achieve its fraud-prevention goal. It also compares the bankruptcy treatment of healthcare enterprises to that of higher education enterprises to support this claim.

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Prisoners in Hawaii Are Being Sent to Die in Private Prisons in Arizona

Source: Gabriel Thompson, VICE, March 13, 2017

… Over the next three years, Johnathan [Namauleg] bounced from a Maui jail to two different prisons. … What his parents didn’t know at first was that in 1995, when Johnathan was just two years old, Hawaii had begun sending prisoners to the mainland. The policy was proposed as a temporary measure to relieve overcrowding. But more than 20 years later, 1,300 inmates—43 percent of Hawaii’s state prisoners—remain in the continental United States, inside a notorious private facility in the Arizona desert, midway between Tucson and Phoenix, nearly 3,000 miles from home. And that was where Johnathan’s prison odyssey would end in his mysterious death. It’s hard to know what happens behind the prison’s walls. The Saguaro Correctional Center—named after a cactus native to the Sonoran Desert and based in the small town of Eloy—is run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), recently renamed CoreCivic, the country’s largest private-prison firm. The company isn’t legally obligated to respond to public information requests, and, as I and others have discovered, Hawaii officials tend to follow CCA’s lead, putting up roadblocks to even the most basic questions. Publicly, Hawaii has released little more than this: On the evening of August 6, 2015, Johnathan was found in his Arizona cell, facedown and unconscious, and was declared dead later that night, several days before what would have been his 22nd birthday.

… The origins of the Hawaii-to-Arizona prison pipeline can be traced to 1985, when prison overcrowding and an ACLU lawsuit led to federal oversight of Hawaii’s prisons. … Hawaii’s solution to prison overcrowding brought new problems—chief among them oversight. … Between 2000 and 2008, Hawaii’s inmate population grew by roughly a fifth, to nearly 6,000. Hawaii’s relationship with CCA deepened with the opening, in 2007, of the Saguaro Correctional Center: Its 1,926 beds were contracted exclusively to handle Hawaii’s overflow. … Even those check marks are open to question. In 2010, staff from Hawaii’s state auditor tagged along as state contract monitors conducted a quarterly inspection of Saguaro. They watched as monitors accepted the testimony of CCA staff “without verifying their statements against documentary evidence” and concluded, in a lengthy report, that Hawaii “lacked objectivity” when monitoring CCA. The state has close ties to the company. Over the past four years, CCA has spent more than $450,000 to lobby Hawaiian politicians. …

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Public Records on Hawaii Prisoners Held by CCA Will Cost You $23,000
Source: Rui Kaneya, Mother Jones, November 3, 2016

Each year, Hawaii spends tens of millions of dollars to house prisoners on the mainland, a practice that it has maintained for more than 25 years. But the state’s taxpayers are kept in the dark about much of what goes on at the Saguaro Correctional Center, a private Arizona prison where about 1,400 Hawaii prisoners are housed. … But we’re still waiting for much of the information we requested months ago. Now, the Department of Public Safety wants $23,000 to give us records that should be readily available. In February, we submitted a public records request, asking for a number of documents that would help us—and the public—better understand the Saguaro operation, which is handled by Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison contractor that owns and operates the Arizona facility. CCA’s problems at a number of its mainland facilities have been well-documented over many years. …

Secret Deals: Prison Operator Is Mum On Hawaii Court Cases
Source: Rui Kaneya, Honolulu Civil Beat, August 28, 2016

On Christmas Eve 2014, a high-profile lawsuit involving the brutal death of a Hawaii prisoner named Clifford Medina came to an official end: settlement out of court. It was an unceremonious, if predictable, finale to a legal saga that began two years earlier, when a team of attorneys sued the state and its mainland contractor, Corrections Corporation of America, on behalf of Medina’s family. … In the lawsuit, Medina’s family laid the blame squarely on CCA — and, by extension, the state. According to a 48-page complaint, Medina, diagnosed as moderately mentally retarded, was “particularly vulnerable to manipulation and violence by other inmates,” and CCA’s “pattern of greed-driven corner-cutting and short-staffing” failed to protect him. In the end, after many rounds of legal wrangling, the parties agreed to settle the lawsuit out of court. … But, to this day, much of the details surrounding the settlement — the amount of damages, as well as corrective steps, if any, that CCA promised to take — remain shrouded in secrecy. …

… In many ways, the case illustrates what typically happens when Saguaro prisoners and their families sue the state and CCA: settled quietly, with the terms kept out of the public eye. Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, says the practice flies in the face of “the principle of accountability and transparency.” … As a rule, when the state settles a lawsuit against any of its departments and employees, it must go through a vetting process: The Legislature has to sign off on the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for damages. … But the legislative scrutiny doesn’t extend to settlements involving Saguaro prisoners, thanks to a loophole: the indemnity clause in the state’s contract with CCA that requires the company to cover “all costs, attorney’s fees and other litigation expenses.” … In fact, under the state’s contract, the department is supposed to get semi-annual updates from CCA about news lawsuits filed by Hawaii prisoners and their families The department also required CCA to submit a five-year “history of the cases filed against it and/or its employees by inmates” as part of its bid for the state’s contract in 2011 and again this year. But, in its bids, CCA made it clear that the information is not meant for public inspection. “It is a unique compilation and is confidential and proprietary,” the company wrote. “Further, if vendors fear that reports of this nature will be released to public view, they would be reluctant to provide them via a procurement process, depriving the government of material that contributes to making an informed procurement decision in ‘frustration of a legitimate governmental function.’” …

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‘Foster Shock’ documentary takes Florida’s privatized child welfare system to task

Source: Les Neuhaus, SaintPetersBlog, March 13, 2017

A documentary film about Florida’s privatized child welfare and fostering programs — made by a Guardian ad Litem and filmmaker from Palm Beach — casts a draconian look at what happens to children when they are taken from abusive situations at home and become dependents of the state, at taxpayer expense, often to their peril. “Foster Shock,” which is currently being screened around the state at community viewings and nationally film festivals, was directed and produced by Mari Frankel, who has also served as a Guardian ad Litem (person the court appoints to investigate what solutions would be in the best interests of a child) for the last several years. … Her film paints the picture of a bleak and broken system funded to the tune of roughly $3 billion per year of Florida taxpayer money. The film also argues that a sizable chunk of that money often goes to the six-figure salaries of the executives running the so-called “community-based care” agencies (CBCs), like Eckerd Kids, whose own executive director, David Dennis, earned $708,028 in the fiscal year 2015, according to publicly-available IRS 990 statements. But the children sometimes wind up in group homes, or foster homes, where they are abused or even killed – maliciously or by neglect. There have been a string of widely-publicized incidents the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) has had to ultimately deal with in recent years, but the CBCs keep getting their contracts – typically worth tens of millions of dollars per county – renewed by the state. … The CBCs – routinely staffed by personnel who are not licensed social workers, certified master social workers or licensed clinical social workers and are packed into cubical-farm office spaces – subcontract out much of the case management work to other agencies. The case management workers who actually check on the children’s welfare are not licensed clinic social workers either and have demanding caseloads hovering around 20-30 families, depending on the county. …

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Family: Teen suicides evidence of failure of privatized foster care
Source: John Pacenti, Palm Beach Post, March 13, 2017

A lawyer representing the biological family of a teenager in foster care who broadcast her suicide on Facebook live says the tragic death is just the latest evidence that the state’s move to privatize foster care is not working. WLRN-FM reports the death of 14-year-old Naika Venant in January was the second teen suicide in a Miami Gardens foster care home overseen by the agency Our Kids in the two months. In December, 16-year-old Lauryn Martin hanged herself with a scarf in her room at the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter on Plantation Key. Howard Talenfeld, a lawyer representing Naika Venant’s biological family, said it is the Department of Children and Families that gives the job to a contractor like Our Kids. … Talenfeld says it’s been 40 days since his firm requested relevant records from DCF and Our Kids, and it hasn’t gotten anything yet. …

Florida’s child-protection system needs major overhaul, report says
Source: Orlando Sentinel, February 3, 2015

A new report from the Florida Institute for Child Welfare, created last year as part of a wide-ranging reform law, calls for state leaders to go well beyond their previous efforts to fix the state’s troubled child-protection system. The 50-page report, submitted Friday to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, focused on “the need for a statewide, system-wide child welfare strategic plan” that pulls together the disparate parts of Florida’s response to the abuse and neglect of children. ….. Following a scathing review by the non-profit Casey Family Programs of 40 child deaths in Florida, lawmakers last year sought to fix problems that have repeatedly occurred in the state’s programs to protect children from abuse and neglect. Lawmakers concluded, in part, that Florida needed its own research arm to better advise the Department of Children and Families and privatized community-based care organizations that provide adoption, foster care and case-management services. As part of a major reform bill, the Legislature established the Florida Institute for Child Welfare at Florida State University’s College of Social Work. In the new report, Patricia Babcock, the institute’s interim director, and Nicholas Mazza, dean of the university’s College of Social Work, wrote that “Florida’s child welfare system is unique in that its case management services have been privatized.” ….

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These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like a Prison’

Source: Sarah Carr, Francesca Berardi, Zoë Kirsch and Stephen Smiley, ProPublica, March 8, 2017

… Over six months in 2013 and 2014, about a half-dozen parents, students and community members at Paramount Academy — billed as a “therapeutic” day program — complained of abusive behavior by the school’s staff. … Thirteen Camelot students have alleged in interviews or documents that they were shoved, beaten, or thrown — assaults almost always referred to as “slamming” — by Camelot staff members, usually for the sin of talking back, in separate incidents that span 10 years and three states. … Two additional students, and five Camelot staff members, say they have personally witnessed beatings or physical aggression by staff. The abuse allegedly occurred in Camelot programs in Reading; Lancaster; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and Pensacola, Florida. … Despite such allegations, Camelot has continued to expand. It contracts with traditional school districts to run about 40 schools across the country — schools that serve kids who have gotten into trouble, have emotional or behavioral issues, or have fallen far behind academically. In 2015, Camelot reported more than $77 million in revenue, more than a third from contracts with the school districts of Philadelphia, Houston, and Chicago. … About half a million students in the United States attend alternative schools, which are publicly funded but often managed by private, for-profit companies such as Camelot. Camelot’s story illustrates the risk that for-profit schools, which are favored by the Trump administration and new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, may put earnings ahead of student welfare. It also exposes the dismal educational options available to some students that traditional high schools don’t want to serve, because they are disruptive, severely disabled, years behind in school, or have criminal backgrounds.

… Add it all up, skeptics say, and the Camelot experience starts to resemble the nation’s incarceration system: racially biased, isolated, punitive, unnecessarily violent and designed, above all else, to maintain obedience and control. … Public school districts typically contract with Camelot to run one of three types of programs: “transitional schools” for kids with behavior issues; “therapeutic programs” for those with special behavioral and emotional needs; and “accelerated programs” for students who have fallen far behind. … Most Camelot students share two characteristics. They are nearly all poor. And they are overwhelmingly peopleof color. … The incidents at Camelot tended to follow a similar pattern, according to multiple accounts from students and staff members. Nonacademic staff members (usually the behavioral specialists and team leaders but sometimes higher-level employees) were permitted by administrators and school leaders to manhandle students as a form of intimidation — whether the teenagers had acted out or not. They preyed most often on students who had the least recourse to complain: social pariahs whose parents were disengaged or unable to advocate effectively, because they didn’t speak English, for instance. School leaders condoned the abuse and in some cases even encouraged it, according to Jandy Rivera and others. … In most middle- and upper-income communities, parents provide an informal yet crucial form of accountability for schools — protesting, and even suing over, mistreatment of their children. But this safety net is largely missing in the Camelot schools, where parents lack the knowledge, confidence, resources or language skills to complain. Those who have come forward say that few people in positions of power, including school officials, lawyers and police officers, take them seriously — if they listen at all. …

Can a Private Company Teach Troubled Kids?
Source: Alexia Fernandez Campbell, The Atlantic, August 27, 2016

Disruptive students are a headache for public schools. They distract from lessons, skip class, and often bring down the graduation rates. That’s why school districts across the country have resorted to opening alternative schools in recent decades, with hopes that smaller classes and individual attention might help these students get their diplomas. But even these alternative schools (which differ from charter schools in that they are still part of school districts and thus answer to superintendents) can be a burden: They’re expensive to run, and their graduation rates are still pretty low. Desperate for help, many school districts are now hiring private companies to manage these alternative schools and educate their most troublesome students. … Richmond is one of the latest cities to experiment with outsourcing education. In July, the city hired a Texas-based company called Camelot Education to run the Richmond Alternative School, which last year served 223 students from across the city in grades 6 through 11. Nearly all of the students at Richmond Alternative are black (97 percent) and most are poor (87 percent qualify for free lunches). Some black parents once dubbed it the “colored children’s prison” and it has been criticized for contributing to what’s called the school-to-prison pipeline—Virginia is the state that refers the most students to law enforcement. …

… The turn to the private sector is not new for Richmond. In 2004, the city hired a private company to run a previous iteration of its alternative school, which was then called the Capital City Program. The $4.6 million agreement with a Tennessee-based company called Community Education Partners was the school district’s most expensive contract that year. … The quality of the education provided by Community Education Partners turned out to be substandard, according to a Richmond Magazine investigation, which found that a third of the school’s teachers were not credentialed. Elsewhere, schools run by Community Education Partners were not faring much better. The American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia sued the company in 2008 for allegedly providing “fundamentally inferior” education to students at an alternative school in Atlanta—an environment “so violent and intimidating that learning is all but impossible.” Atlanta canceled its contract with the company, and a year later, so did the city of Philadelphia. …

… The teachers who have been working at Richmond Alternative the past few years will have an opportunity to interview for teaching positions with Camelot, Bock says, but, if hired, they will be required to undergo the company’s de-escalation and behavior modification training. Companies such as Camelot can pay teachers less if they choose to, as they are not subject to collective bargaining agreements with the local teachers’ union. … This may be the first time that Richmond will work with Camelot, but data on the company’s presence in Philadelphia provides a fuller picture of its track record. Camelot was one of half a dozen companies running Philadelphia’s alternative schools in the past decade, the largest experiment in privatizing alternative education to date. …

Student Login Records at Ohio E-Schools Spark $80 Million Dispute

Source: Benjamin Herold and Alex Harwin, Education Week, March 7, 2017

The Ohio education department could seek repayment of more than $80 million from nine full-time online schools, based on audits of software-login records that led state officials to determine the schools had overstated their student enrollment. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, for example, was paid for 15,322 full-time students during the 2015-16 school year. But state officials said they could document just 41 percent of that total. An Education Week analysis of both the login records submitted by ECOT and the results of the state’s audit for that year further demonstrates the scope of the discrepancy: Under Ohio law, schools are expected to offer students 920 hours of learning. But for the average ECOT student, state officials were able to document just 227 hours spent using the school’s learning software, Education Week’s review found. …

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Online charter school loses state attendance audit appeal
Source: Associated Press, December 15, 2016

A judge will allow Ohio’s education department to review attendance records that could force Ohio’s largest online charter to return millions of its funding. Franklin County Judge Jenifer French on Thursday finalized a ruling against the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT. The decision rejects a request by ECOT to block the state from requiring the school provide log-in durations as a way of measuring how many students attend the school. The state said has said that ECOT’s enrollment is nearly 60 percent lower than originally reported, potentially jeopardizing about $60 million in state funding from last year. …

ECOT online charter school appeals two rulings that threaten $60 million in funding
Source: Patrick O’Donnell, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, October 11, 2016 (Appeal available at bottom of article)

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) has filed appeals with both the Ohio Department of Education and an appeals court to challenge rulings that threaten more than $60 million of its state funding. Neither appeal offers much detail of the online charter school’s case, but they start procedures to block the state from recovering money paid to the school last year because it cannot document how much time its students spent on their classes.

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Nevada National Guard security will be privatized

Source: Sean Whaley, Las Vegas Review-Journal, March 8, 2017

A panel of lawmakers on Wednesday approved funding of nearly $400,000 to provide contracted security for the state’s National Guard facilities, although some committee members expressed concern about the move to privatization. The Nevada Office of the Military learned in October 2016 that it was improperly allowing its Army Military Security Officers to use privately owned firearms on duty, contrary to an Army security agreement. As a result, the office was forced to disarm its security officers, which it said is an unacceptable security risk for the guard bases. The $392,000 contract approved by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee will transfer funds from a different military account to allow the guard bases to use private armed security. While some lawmakers expressed concern with the move, the office said the use of contractors for such services is common for the military. …

Govt Watchdog Finds Flaws in Implementation of Contractor Whistleblower Law

Source: Daniel Van Schooten, Project On Government Oversight, March 7, 2017

Advocates of whistleblower rights achieved a victory in December when then-President Obama signed whistleblower protections permanently into law for employees of companies working on civilian federal contracts (Defense Department contractor employees were already covered by a permanent program). Previously the protections were part of a four-year pilot program that began in 2013. While making these legal protections permanent was an important step forward in contractor and government accountability, the track record for employees filing complaints over the pilot program’s first few years hasn’t been encouraging, according to a new report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last week. The GAO report indicates that IGs and agencies have not always implemented all of the pilot program’s requirements. … The GAO report states that 127 whistleblower retaliation complaints were submitted by contractor employees during the first two and a half years of the program. Of those, 44 were investigated by the involved agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). … None of the 27 completed investigations at the time resulted in findings that substantiated whistleblower reprisal against the employee.

While that sample size is relatively small and every case has to be individually reviewed on its merits, it is concerning that in the first two and a half years of the law, not a single claim of retaliation was substantiated. While it is clearly possible that there was in fact no retaliation in any of these cases, there are a number of other reasons that may also contribute to the lack of any substantiated complaints. For example, when reviewing another whistleblower protection law, the Project On Government Oversight observed at the Defense Department OIG an overly narrow legal interpretation of protections regarding defense contractor employees. … The GAO also found inconsistent implementation of some portions of the law, which could impact the final outcome of complaints and whether or not complaints are filed. … Even when an OIG does not find that reprisal occurred, the agency head must, by law, make a final determination—a step that did not properly occur in most of the cases. … Of the 27 investigations that were completed, one IG, responsible for 15 of them, reported that it had not sent any to the agency head for final determination. Of the remaining 12, all IGs said they referred their findings to the agency heads, but it is unclear how often the agency head made a final ruling. … The now-permanent protections provided to contractors and subcontractors is a big win for whistleblowers. We hope agencies and IGs take these GAO findings to heart and make sure that people who stand up to report waste, fraud, or abuse are given all the protections provided for in the law.

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