A Double Dose of Privatization Pitfalls

A prison physician – Dr. Mark E. Walden - has been accused of sexually abusing at least 25 men incarcerated at two separate private prisons in New Mexico.  Alleged abuses began in 2010 and include excessive and inappropriate digital anal penetration and probing during examinations, according to lawsuits.  

The allegations against Walden point to a double dose of privatization gone amuck. 

As we highlighted last month in our blog, private prison healthcare providers, like private prisons, have been exposed for cutting corners, understaffing, negligence, and inadequate care that have had dire, even deadly consequences.  In New Mexico, both prisons where alleged abuses occurred, located in Santa Rosa and Clayton, are operated by private prison industry giant, GEO Group.   Additionally, Walden was employed by Corizon Health,  a Tennessee based private prison healthcare company that, despite multiple lawsuits and an ugly track record, has branded itself as “the nation’s leader in correctional healthcare solutions.”

According to Katie Curry of the McGinn Law Firm in Albuquerque, attorney for a group of 10 prisoners who is suing Walden, Corizon, GEO Group, and two prison wardens, a written complaint filed by an inmate in September 2011 was essentially ignored.  Other red flags included suspicious staff members and one incidence in which one of Walden’s former patients reported abuse and underwent a sexual assault exam, which revealed anal tears. 

Curry’s lawsuit states, “Corizon and GEO did not encourage reporting or documentation of these incidents, and enacted no discipline or retraining of … Walden.” 

Frances Carpenter, attorney for another group of inmates in a separate lawsuit said of Walden, "I would almost put him in a category of someone who takes great pleasure of torturing people.” 

We believe access to quality healthcare is a basic and vital human right to which we are all entitled, including those who are incarcerated.  These alleged violations are unconscionable, and the fact that private companies like Corizon and GEO Group continually fail to provide such critical services to the people they claim to serve is unacceptable.  

Unfortunately, New Mexico is no stranger to the pitfalls of prison privatization.  In 2011, we inducted Joe Williams into our Humpday Hall of Shame for double dipping in GEO Group and the New Mexico Department of Corrections.  Williams went from GEO Group Warden to New Mexico Secretary of Corrections under Governor Richardson.  While serving as Secretary, Williams failed to collect up to $18.6 million in fines from private prison contractors for contract violations involving inadequate staffing.  His old friends at GEO Group certainly would not have appreciated that.  And after serving as secretary, what better way to repay him than to welcome him back to GEO Group with open arms and a well-deserved promotion?  Williams now serves as the head of GEO Group’s U.S. Corrections arm. 

Injustice prevails when companies like Corizon and GEO Group are not held accountable for their actions, and when public officials turn a blind eye.  How many more will suffer from the disasters of privatization?  The fight for justice continues.