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. …

Related:

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.’” …


Editorial: Hawaii Should Pay Attention To Feds’ Decision On Private Prisons
Source: Honolulu Civil Beat, August 23, 2016

When we began this practice, it was only intended to be a short-term “solution to chronic overcrowding.” But it didn’t work out that way. As Civil Beat’s Rui Kenaya has reported in ongoing coverage of Hawaii’s prison system, when the state’s prison contracts went out for competitive bid in 2011 and again this year, CCA was the sole bidder. Under CCA, Hawaii’s experience with private, for-profit prisons has led to some of the same criticisms voiced by Department of Justice officials. For instance, the CCA contract only allows Hawaii to collect monetary damages for failure to staff mandatory posts, failure to allow an inmate into a substance abuse program within 30 days of compliance or failure to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. … While the CCA deal is often billed as a money-saver for Hawaii taxpayers, it’s not possible to tell whether that’s actually true. Neither the Hawaii Department of Public Safety nor any other state government entity maintains a comprehensive list of charges or a total of all costs related to the contract. Expenses such as transporting prisoners from Hawaii to the Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona are not included in the contract, for instance, but are nevertheless a cost of doing business with CCA. …

Why Hawaii Has A Double Standard On Isolating Prisoners
Source: Rui Kaneya, Honolulu Civil Beat, July 13, 2016

… Under the Hawaii Department of Public Safety‘s policy, “disciplinary segregation” lasting longer than 60 days is supposed to be limited to exceptional circumstances — and granted only with written approval from the administrator of the department’s institutions division. But Wilson served seven years of his sentence at the Saguaro Correctional Center, an Arizona prison where about 1,400 Hawaii inmates are housed. Hawaii’s policy doesn’t apply at Saguaro; instead, the state’s for-profit contractor, Corrections Corporation of America, is allowed to set its own policy governing the use of segregated confinement there. Under CCA’s policy, any offense that poses “a threat to the safe and orderly operation of the facility” can trigger weeks in “disciplinary segregation” — up to 30 days for each offense. …

Hawaii Keeps Secret What Happens In Its Private Prison
Source: Rui Kaneya, Honolulu Civil Beat, May 18, 2016

It was Aug. 7, and the department had learned that a 21-year-old prisoner from Maui turned up dead in his cell at the Saguaro Correctional Center, an Arizona prison where about 1,400 Hawaii inmates are housed. In a brief statement, the department passed on some scant details: The prisoner, Jonathan Namauleg, was found “unconscious and face-down” on the floor by his cellmate. Rushed to a nearby hospital, he was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival. … But the department has yet to even acknowledge any of the developments. In fact, for more than nine months, it hasn’t released a single follow-up statement — or the results of its investigation into Namauleg’s death. In many ways, the episode is a perfect illustration of the department’s attitude toward transparency: When it comes to troubling news out of Saguaro, it prefers to stay tight-lipped. …

… Five years before Naumaleg’s death, the murders of two other Hawaii inmates at Saguaro sparked concerted efforts to improve oversight and bring transparency to the state’s mainland prison operation. But no one in a position to impose accountability, then or now, has meaningfully done so — not the governor, not legislators, not the Department of Public Safety. Critics say the continuing lack of transparency makes it virtually impossible to assess how well the department monitors the performance of the state’s contractor, Corrections Corporation of America, despite a long history of problems. … Howard Komori, acting administrator of the Mainland and Federal Detention Center Branch, which oversees the state’s contracts with CCA, declined to comment for this story. For his part, state Sen. Will Espero, vice chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, says he sees little choice but to keep faith with the department’s monitoring efforts — unless, he says, “someone tells me there’s a massive cover-up and corruption in the mainland branch.” …

Experts: Act Now To Improve The Contract With An Arizona Prison
Source: Rui Kaneya, Honolulu Civil Beat, May 2, 2016

Hawaii has little choice but to ink the contract with CCA, despite a history of problems at the company’s Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona — including the murders of three Hawaii prisoners and other legal troubles. But some experts caution against rushing into the deal. Instead, they say, the state should take this golden opportunity to negotiate for new conditions — not only to better guard against contract violations, but also to guarantee the safety of prisoners. …

… To be sure, the state’s current contract, signed in 2011, isn’t entirely toothless. For one thing, the state managed to avoid one common misstep: agreeing to have occupancy guarantees built into the contract — in the form of either a minimum quota of prisoners or a payment of monetary penalties for empty prison cells. This means that the state only pays CCA a per-diem rate — currently at $70.49 — for each of about 1,400 prisoners who are actually housed at Saguaro, instead of covering for 80 percent or more of the prison’s cell space, as commonly dictated under occupancy guarantees. … But it is clear from Civil Beat’s interviews with a number of experts, as well as prison-reform advocates, that the contract has plenty of room for improvement. One area in particular was singled out by many: It’s important to have a strong provision for “liquidated damages” that lays out monetary penalties, should CCA fail to abide by the contract. Isaacs said the provision comes in handy in deterring understaffing — something that for-profit prison companies are prone to do, she said. …

Prison Officials Quietly Move To Extend An Out-Of-State Contract
Source: Rui Kaneya, Honolulu Civil Beat, April 25, 2016

Hawaii’s practice of outsourcing prison operations won’t be ending anytime soon. Without much publicity, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety is moving to award a new contract worth tens of millions of dollars to continue housing the state’s excess prisoners on the mainland. And the state’s current contractor, Corrections Corporation of America, appears to have an inside track — despite a long history of problems, including the murders of at least three prisoners at the Saguaro Correctional Center, an Arizona facility where about 1,400 Hawaii inmates are housed. … The resulting contract, which takes effect July 1, would allow Hawaii’s longstanding mainland prison operation — first begun in 1995 as a “short-term solution to chronic overcrowding” — to remain in place for at least three more years, with options for two one-year extensions. Under the state’s current contract, the state pays CCA a daily rate of $70.49 per prisoner — an arrangement that amounted to more than $30 million in fiscal year 2015. … CCA has also invested heavily in lobbying in Hawaii. According to the latest filings with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, it was among the state’s top lobbying companies in January and February, retaining six lobbyists and spending $21,624 during that period. And the terms of the request for proposals look tailor-made for CCA: As a minimum requirement, vendors must have a facility capable of handling at least 1,800 prisoners within 100 miles of a major airport — with direct flights from Honolulu. CCA has a number of facilities in its portfolio that can satisfy the requirement — including Saguaro, a 1,926-bed facility in Eloy, Arizona, about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Hawaii set to move mainland inmates to Arizona prisons
Source: Associated Press(HI), Jul. 8, 2006 12:00 AM

HONOLULU – Hawaii’s inmates housed on the mainland will be consolidated into two prisons in Arizona under newly signed contracts with a private prisons company. The state will send more than 2,500 inmates to the prisons run by Corrections Corp. of America at a cost of more than $50 million a year.