Tag Archives: Oklahoma

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. …

The Oil and Gas Industry’s Latest Scheme Would All but Privatize Public Lands

Source: Jimmy Tobias, Pacific Standard, September 11, 2017

Having failed to turn over control of federal lands to state governments and private interests, anti-conservationists in Congress are at work on their next scheme: partially privatizing the public domain by allowing states to take charge of energy development on vast swaths of land owned by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This agenda was on full display at a Capitol Hill hearing last week when the House Natural Resources Committee convened a forum on the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2017, a bill that has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with avarice. The bill would allow industry-dominated state governments like Wyoming and Utah and Oklahoma to manage the leasing, permitting, and regulating of oil, gas, and other fossil fuel production on national lands. It would allow states to have near-total dominion over huge accumulations of federally owned mineral resources. And it would effectively exempt oil and gas drillers from the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other laws meant to protect public resources from pollution and destruction at the hands of commercial enterprise. For its right-wing proponents, the Federal Land Freedom Act is a solid step toward full disposal of some federal lands.

… According to the Wilderness Society, a land conservation non-profit, the Federal Land Freedom Act represents just “the latest push in a broader anti-public lands movement that has exploded into prominence in the last few years at the state, congressional, and administrative levels.” It is just the latest “land seizure” scheme, as the Center for Western Priorities calls it, to emerge from the muck of Washington, D.C. But what a shameless and telling scheme it is: An extremely powerful industry dominates state governments and hopes to dominate the federal government too. It essentially hires elected officials to do its bidding, and those officials deliver a proposed law that would allow said industry to have its way with millions of acres of land that rightfully belong to all Americans. They deliver a bill that would gut public interest laws and eliminate conservation protections in the name of corporate profits and private gain. …

Congress must continue to block Trump plan to sell BPA

Source: Union-Bulletin Editorial Board, August 8, 2017

Late last month the U.S. House Budget Committee approved a budget resolution that rejects privatizing the transmission assets of the Bonneville Power Administration proposed by the Trump administration. A great move. The sooner this lousy proposal is dead the better it will be for Pacific Northwest residents who pay power bills — pretty much all of us. … President Donald Trump is calling for turning over the transmission network of power lines and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of hydropower from the Columbia and Snake rivers’ dams, to private companies. As Trump sees it, this would lower costs to taxpayers and improve efficiency. But in reality it would result in far higher rates for consumers. And putting the high-voltage grid in the hands of private investors — perhaps foreign investors — would create national security concerns. …

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Down the Mighty Columbia River, Where a Power Struggle Looms
Source: Kirk Johnson, New York Times, July 28, 2017

To ride down the Columbia River as the John Day Dam’s wall of concrete slowly fills the view from a tugboat is to see what the country’s largest network of energy-producing dams created through five decades of 20th-century ambition, investment and hubris. … Now, the Trump administration has proposed rethinking the entire system, with a plan to sell the transmission network of wires and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of the Columbia basin’s output, to private buyers. The idea is part of a package of proposals that would transform much of the infrastructure in the United States to a mixture of public and private partnerships, lowering costs to taxpayers and improving efficiency, administration officials said. Assets of two other big public power operators, based in Colorado and Oklahoma, would be sold, too, if Congress approves the measure.

Debates about government and its role in land and environmental policy are always highly charged. But perhaps nowhere could the proposed changes have a more significant impact than along the great river of the West — fourth largest by volume in North America, more than 10 times that of the Hudson. Privatization would transform a government service that requires equal standards across a vast territory — from large cities to tiny hamlets — into a private operation seeking maximum returns to investors. …

Justice Department moves forward in its case against ETMC, Paramedics Plus

Source: Roy Maynard, Tyler Morning Telegraph, May 12, 2017

The U.S. Department of Justice continues to build its case against East Texas Medical Center and its ambulance division, Paramedics Plus, in what they say is a $20 million kickback scheme to ensure Paramedics Plus retained lucrative contracts. Most recently, Justice Department attorneys filed a list of people they expect to depose in coming months. In all, more than 100 people could be deposed as this case moves forward. The government also filed a proposed schedule, which outlines when fact discovery will take place, when expert discovery will occur, deadlines for motions and trial preparation and finally, an expected timeframe for the start of the trial – summer of 2018. … In January, the Justice Department announced it would intervene in a lawsuit against ETMC and Paramedics Plus brought by a whistleblower – former employee Stephen Dean, who was Paramedics Plus chief operating officer. According to the suit, ETMC and Paramedics Plus paid more than $20 million in kickbacks and bribes, including cash payments to Oklahoma officials. …

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You Paid For It: Pinellas Commissioners discuss ambulance kickback settlement Tuesday
Source: Mark Douglas, March 21, 2017

Former U.S Attorney Brian Albritton told Pinellas County Commissioners Tuesday that a federal lawsuit alleging ambulance fee kickbacks could have cost taxpayers as much as $1 billion if they lost in court. Commissioners agreed to settle the case involving Paramedics Plus Sunstar ambulance service for $92,700 and to forgo an estimated $500,000 in uncollected ambulance fees from patients. They will also have to pay legal fees to Albritton who the county secretly hired last year to resolve the case. Pinellas commissioners discussed the case publicly Tuesday for the first time since Eight On Your Side first broke the story of alleged kickbacks and a federal investigation of Pinellas County’s ambulance contract last month. That settlement, signed March 7 by Vice-Chair Kenneth Welch, requires the county to pay $92,700 to federal prosecutors, the Florida Attorney General and attorneys for the whistleblower–a former executive with Paramedics Plus. It also requires Pinellas County to turn over all documents and evidence gathered in the course of the county’s own internal investigation, and to cooperate with an ongoing federal investigation and whistleblower action filed against Paramedics Plus in Texas.

… Since 2004, Paramedics Plus has operated as Pinellas County’s exclusive ambulance provider under the county-owned brand name Sunstar. The current county contract with Paramedics Plus amounts to about $50 million a year. In 2014, a former high-ranking executive of Paramedics Plus filed a whistleblower action in Texas that alleged an ongoing ambulance fee kickback scheme that stretched from Pinellas County to Oklahoma and California for over a decade. The scheme alleged by the whistleblower and federal prosecutors in a related legal action included so-called “profit cap” rebates that essentially funneled overcharges from Medicaid and Medicare to Pinellas County and other local governments that oversee public ambulance contracts. County leaders in Pinellas insist the “rebates” or “kickbacks’ in Pinellas totaled only $35,000 or so and ended up in county bank accounts, not someone’s pockets. In Oklahoma, the whistleblower suit alleges those kickbacks amounted to as much as $20 million. Federal prosecutors in Texas have cited specific acts of corruption in Oklahoma that include kickbacks, political payoffs and self-enrichment involving Paramedics Plus executives and government overseers in Oklahoma. … Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard says the settlement has no impact on the county’s ongoing $50 million a year contract with Paramedics Plus because the company has not been charged criminally or been found guilty of anything.

Feds Intervene in Alleged $20M Ambulance Kickback Scheme
Source: Eric Topor, Bloomberg BNA, January 27, 2017

A Texas health system paid an Oklahoma agency and its president $20 million in cash bribes in exchange for lucrative ambulance service contracts over 15 years, federal prosecutors said ( United States ex rel. Dean v. Paramedics Plus, LLC , E.D. Tex., No. 14-cv-203, complaint in intervention 1/23/17 ). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas partially intervened Jan. 23 in a whistle-blower lawsuit, filed under court seal in 2014, accusing East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System (ETMC) of paying the kickbacks to Oklahoma’s Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA). Specifically, the government said ETMC concocted the kickback scheme with EMSA president and co-defendant Herbert S. Williamson, and paid the kickbacks through checks, bank wires and inflated service contracts, mostly through ETMC’s ambulance service company, Paramedics Plus LLC. The government said it paid the defendants over $70 million in Medicare reimbursements and over $38 million in Medicaid reimbursements just from 2009 through 2013, and it was seeking treble damages on all payments tainted by the kickback scheme, plus monetary penalties for each individual false claim submitted. The FCA authorizes monetary fines of up to $11,000 for each false claim submission. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on whether criminal charges against Williamson would be coming in the future. … The complaint describes how Paramedics Plus, which contracted with the EMSA to provide ambulance services within the EMSA’s jurisdiction, was forced to “cut corners” due to the amount of its revenue that went to paying kickbacks. Paramedics Plus “avoided training and personnel expenses” to make sure enough money was available to pay kickbacks to the EMSA and Williamson, according to prosecutors. The complaint alleges Paramedics Plus executives were forced to forgo paying drivers and paramedics retention bonuses to stem high paramedic turnover because the company “would not have enough excess profits to make [Williamson] whole.”

Wrongful Death Suit Filed Against Tulsa County Jail Mental Health Provider

Source: News On 6, March 14, 2017

The estate of a Tulsa County jail inmate who died after a suicide attempt last March filed a wrongful death suit on Monday. Nathan Bradshaw’s estate cited negligence by Tulsa County jail’s contracted mental health care provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc. According to the suit, Bradshaw was booked into the jail on March 8, 2016. In a screening by Armor personnel Bradshaw told a licensed practical nurse he was a daily heroin user and had received treatment for bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, the lawsuit states. … The suit says a physician ordered a four-day Clonidine prescription for Bradshaw under that protocol but he didn’t receive the medication as prescribed. In the suit, jail records show Bradshaw requested to talk to someone from mental health on his third day behind bars, but jail records show no one responded to that request. … Jail records show the evening before Bradshaw was found unresponsive and hanging in his jail cell, jail staff had not checked on him until the early hours of March 13th. … The estate claims the inconsistent treatment of the detox protocol led to Bradshaw’s increased risk of suicide and eventual death.

Oklahoma proposes privatizing power plants to pay for budget gap

Source: Jonathan Baker, HPPR, December 22, 2016

Oklahoma’s budget gap next year could amount to well over half a billion dollars. To plug the hole, lawmakers in Oklahoma City are discussing selling some of the state’s power plants. … Lawmakers plan to soon introduce a plan to sell the Dam Authority. If the plan is approved, the power plants would be given over to private enterprises. The GRDA’s sale could be worth more than a billion dollars. The Grand River Dam Authority is currently a state-owned, non-appropriated, non-profit utility. This isn’t the first time the sale of the GRDA has been floated, but the bills always failed in the past.

Private Prison Company Lets Mass Killings Break Out In Prisons

Source: Carbonated TV, October 24, 2016

A lawsuit alleges that one of country’s biggest private prison facilities is letting inmates kill each other. The suit was filed against Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)—a multi-billion dollar company, operating 88 facilities in 20 states — after four inmates died in a September 15 fight, which lasted just two minutes and yet became the deadliest incident in the history of Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections. Kyle Tiffee, along with the other members of the Irish Mob prison gang were preparing for a violent altercation with the members of the United Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang which shared a housing pod with them. In just two minutes, Tiffee lay stabbed and bleeding on the floor from wounds inflicted by improvised weapons made form light fixtures. When the guards arrived, they maced Tiffee while a nurse and attempted to tend to the prisoners’ life threatening wounds. Four inmates were taken to the hospital where they soon died. … The lawsuit also claims internal corruption enables these prison gangs to fight to the death. Just one month after the deadly fight, Lockett and another prison guard from Cimarron, Megan Hood, were called in for reportedly smuggling contraband into the facilities to sell to the inmates. Hood said she wanted to use the $2000 one of the inmates promised her for two cell phones to get away from her abusive spouse. Lockett has been accused of bringing in drugs, including marijuana and meth into the prison. This isn’t the very first litigation to hit CCA. There have been lawsuits going back to 2014, including one in which a prisoner had to have his testicle removed after the staff repeatedly ignored his cries of pain for months. Another prisoner said he was refused chemotherapy after he had a tumor removed. Yet another said his swollen hands were ignored by the medical staff. Eventually doctors found two of his fingers were broken — and had to rebreak them to treat the injury properly. …

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America’s Biggest Private Prison Company Let Inmates Kill Each Other, Lawsuit Claims
Source: Justin Glawe, Daily Beast, October 24, 2016

Private-prison guards maced Kyle Tiffee as he bled to death after being repeatedly stabbed in a gang battle last year. According to a lawsuit filed by Tiffee’s family, every element of the chaotic fight—right down to the light fixtures made into shanks—can be blamed on Corrections Corporation of America. CCA is a multi-billion-dollar company and the largest operator of privately run prisons in the United States, running nearly 70 facilities including Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, Oklahoma, where Tiffee and three other men died on Sept. 12, 2015. The fight, which lasted all of two minutes, claimed four lives and was the deadliest incident in the history of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. … The lawsuit names Terrance Lockett as the guard who stood idly by, but Lockette disagrees with the description. … Lockett, when he did decide to warn his superiors that the gangs were gathering in a menacing manner, was told to “call back when (the fight) happens.” Eventually Lockett and a nurse entered the fray to attend to a badly wounded inmate. Not long after that, the riot squad arrived and maced Tiffee—stabbed likely by the rival Aryans—while trying to break up the brief and bloody battle. Tiffee and another member of the Irish Mob lay dead or dying; two members of the United Aryan Brotherhood were also suffering from mortal wounds. The murders may have been captured on security footage inside Charlie North, but that footage remains in the hands of CCA. … Cimarron has been a problem for CCA for at least the past two years. Lockett and another guard have been indicted for smuggling phones and drugs into the facility, according to Payne County court records. In the lawsuit, Bryan claims the pair’s actions represent a culture of lawlessness that provides an atmosphere ripe for violent conflict. … Also still open are several federal lawsuits going back to 2014 levied on CCA because of alleged mistreatment of prisoners at Cimarron. They include one in which a prisoner had to have a testicle removed after staff at the prison allegedly ignored his complaints of pain for months. Another inmate said he came to the prison with swollen hands only to be ignored by medical staff. Eventually doctors found two broken fingers that had to be rebroken to heal the inmate. …

State Speaker: Deadly Clash In Cushing Prison Should Be A ‘Wake Up Call’
Source: Jessica Holley, News on 6, September 14, 2015

For years, Speaker Jeff Hickman has been outspoken on the issues and problems within the Oklahoma corrections system. He said this deadly “inmate-on-inmate altercation” needs to be a wake up call to all Oklahomans for the change needed. … But a former CCA correctional officer, who did not want to be identified, claims the prison is understaffed and CCA knew there were safety issues not being addressed. “The Cimarron Correctional Facility is majority understaffed. They have about 100 correctional officers for 1,600 inmates. It’s just not a safe environment,” the former CCA correctional officer said. …

Private Company Owns Oklahoma Prison Where 4 Inmates Killed
Source: Sean Murphy, Associated Press, September 14, 2015

Current and former officials defended Oklahoma’s use of privately run prisons Monday following a weekend melee at one of the facilities that left four inmates dead and several others wounded. … The prison is one of three private facilities housing nearly 6,000 of Oklahoma’s prisoners. That company, Nashville, Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, and another that runs a 2,500-inmate facility in Lawton, oversee dozens of facilities and tens of thousands of prisoners nationwide. A rash of violence at some privately-run Oklahoma lockups is prompting questions about whether there is adequate staffing and oversight. … With Oklahoma’s state prison facilities at or above capacity for years, state legislators have increasingly turned to private facilities to help house state prisoners. The facilities operate under contracts with the DOC, which pays a per-diem cost for each inmate and has state monitors who ensure the facilities maintain proper levels of staffing and programs spelled out in the contracts. At Cushing, the state pays $44 a day for each medium-security inmate and $58 for maximum-security offenders.

4th Inmate Dies After Oklahoma Prison Brawl
Source: Liam Stack, The New York Times, September 13, 2015

An inmate hospitalized after a weekend outburst of violence at a prison in Oklahoma died of his injuries, the company that owns and operates the prison said on Sunday, bringing the number of dead from the episode to four. … The violence took place Saturday night in one of the prison’s housing pods, the company said in a statement on Sunday. The altercation lasted only two minutes, but it took prison staff members 38 minutes to secure the area, prison officials said. No staff members were injured, Mr. Owen said. … It was the second time in four months that those measures were put in effect in response to violence.

3 Dead, 5 Injured In ‘Inmate Disturbance’ At Cimarron Correctional Facility In Cushing
Source: Leighanne Manwarren, News9, September 12, 2015

Three people are dead and five others were injured Saturday evening at the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, the Corrections Corporation of America reported. … About 4:40 p.m., prison staff stopped an “inmate disturbance” in a single housing pod. The facility was placed on lockdown. The details of the “disturbance” were not released Saturday. … The Cimarron Correctional Facility is a private prison owned by the Corrections Corporation of America. The prison has 1,720 beds and houses medium and maximum security male inmates for the state Department of Corrections.

Investigation Into Large Brawl At Cimarron Correctional Facility
Source: Alex Cameron, News9, June 11, 2015

An investigation is underway Thursday, into a violent and large prison fight that sent almost a dozen inmates to the hospital. The State Department of Corrections is joining the Corrections Corporation of America in looking into what sparked the brawl at CCA’s Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing. … It was around 4:36 Wednesday afternoon, when CCA officials said staff at the Cimarron Correctional Facility responded to fighting in three separate units. By 5:15 p.m. the incident was over. … Some have been warning for years that riots were inevitable at Oklahoma prisons. … In 2012, a group of corrections officers told News 9 understaffing, due to low pay, was a riot risk factor. In 2015, DOC facilities are not only understaffed, News 9 saw they’re also overcrowded, which adds to the risk. …

How one inmate discovered his private prison was ripping him off—and took his warden to court

Source: Casey Tolan, Fusion, September 19, 2016

Michael Leatherwood, an inmate in a private prison in Oklahoma, is an exception. He’s gotten notably further with his lawsuit, which alleges that inmates at his prison, the Lawton Correctional Facility, are being charged far higher rates for food and other items at the prison commissary than inmates at public prisons. … The Lawton Correctional Facility, which houses up to 2,682 inmates, is the largest prison in Oklahoma and one of the top 10 largest private prisons in the country. It’s run by the GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the U.S. The prison’s bleak, squat buildings are stuck between farm fields on a dusty road outside of Lawton, a small city in the southwest corner of the state. … Many of the inmates who had been transferred to Lawton from the state’s severely overcrowded public prisons, he said, complained to him about the higher prices in the commissary. Leatherwood started to study the issue, filing open records requests to get the commissary menus for public prisons. “I looked at them and compared them, and I realized, yeah, some of the processes were very much out of whack,” he said. Last July, he filed a lawsuit in federal court, suing several prison officials and Keefe Commissary Network, the company contracted to operate the prison commissary, for allegedly inflating prices. (Keefe has contracts to operate commissaries at more than 800 prisons around the country.) His argument is that because Oklahoma inmates are arbitrarily placed into private prisons instead of public prisons, charging private prison inmates substantially more than public prison inmates is a violation of his constitutional right to equal protection. … In addition, Leatherwood alleges that inmates at Lawton have far less variety in the choice of items they can buy. Commissary items that are sold at public facilities and not Lawton include, according to the menus he’s obtained: beard trimmers, ice buckets, clock radios, reading lights, jeans, whole milk, bottled water, grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, frozen foods, and cream cheese. … Leatherwood showed Rios a 2013 contract between Keefe and the GEO Group stating that the commissary prices would be kept “low and comparable to Oklahoma Department of Corrections commissary pricing.” When Leatherwood pointed out the 131% price disparity for ramen, which Rios said he hadn’t known about, Rios said, “That is a concern. That is a concern.” Rios admitted that the high prices could “absolutely” be a disturbance to the facility. … The defendants have all filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit, and Leatherwood has a week and a half left to respond. If Judge Robin Cauthron lets the lawsuit go forward, she will then decide whether to approve a class action and appoint a lawyer to represent the inmates.

When Outsourcing Works

Source: Scott Beyer, Governing, July 2016

Oklahoma City successfully farmed out economic development. ….. Since the beginning, economic development in Oklahoma City has been handled not by a public entity as in many cities, but by the Chamber of Commerce. … This makes sense, given the intersection between economic development corporations (EDCs) and chambers. A typical EDC aims to dictate a city’s growth agenda by determining the industries and locations worth investing in. Chambers collect donations from businesses and then provide them with information, networking opportunities and lobbying. There is enough overlap that merging both organizations would seemingly reduce duplication. That’s been the case in Oklahoma City, says Mayor Mick Cornett. By contracting with the chamber, the city pays solely for services, rather than having to fund its own EDC office and workforce. …..

SOCIAL IMPACT BONDS

Source: Jessica Hathaway, NCSL, July 12, 2016
Overview

Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), a type of pay-for-success funding agreement, are a private financing mechanism used to fund social programs. SIBs are gaining interest from policymakers at all levels of government as a way to mitigate the simultaneous demands of tight budgets and rising social service costs. To date, state level SIB activity has centered on legislative efforts to authorize the process, create study committees, begin pilot projects, engage in feasibility studies and learn which types of programs this financing tool can be effectively used for. …

Use of Social Impact Bonds at the State Level

At least 24 states and the District of Columbia have considered, are considering or are implementing SIB related projects. Of these, 11 states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah —and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation. Legislative introductions and enactments range from establishing study committees to creating funds and supporting pilot projects. Enacted legislative actions are listed below. …

See list of enacted Social Impact Bond bills.