Humpday Hall of Shame: Come on, Mississippi!

Since 1996, Mississippi law requires that convicts serve at least 85% of their sentences.  At that time the state began relying on private prison operators who are mandated to operate correctional facilities at 10% less than what it costs to run public facilities.  In the years since, GEO Group, CCA, and Management and Training Corp have all operated Mississippi facilities.  Although the boom in private corrections contracts has helped the state manage bed capacity needs, they are now also having to manage a Pandora's box of unwanted problems that are making headlines.

On April 20, 2013, two different news stories came out about violence in privately operated Mississippi facilities.  The first story reports on research showing that assault rates in the state's privately operated facility is two to three times higher than that of state run facilities.  One of these facilities, Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, reported a rate of 27 incidents per 100 prisoners last year.  That's more than a quarter of the prison population, and it's even more astounding next to the rates at state run prisons -- that same year, the highest rate was 7 incidents per 100 inmates, a fourth .  Interviewees, including prisoners rights attorneys and Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections Christopher Epps, attributes problems with violence to an indequacy in staffing and supervision.  Epps said that employees at private facilities are paid less than correctional officers at public facilities, they are fired more quickly and "less-expensively".  Additionally, those incarcerated in private Mississippi facilities receive less educational and vocational training.  "It sounded good that you could go out and contract to build a prison and get somebody to operate at 10 percent cheaper," Epps said.

But the price that has been paid in Mississippi for cheaper, privately operated facilities, has been a steep one.

Last April federal judges heard a lawsuit that was brought against GEO Group for the company's mismanagement of what was then Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility.  Walnut Grove had been cited for multiple violations including prison staff having sex with incarcerated youth, severe brutality against youth by correctional staff, staff's deliberate indifference to possession of homemade weapons, and staff having gang affiliations.  Judge Carlton Reeves who heard the case described the youth prison as "a cesspool of unconstitutional and conditions."  The case against GEO Group at Walunt Grove led Mississippi to kick the private prison company out of state entirely, ending two other contracts.

Just one month after GEO Group left Mississippi, a guard was killed at CCA-operated Adam's County Correctional Center, which houses undocumented immigrants, after a riot broke out.  The first media reports chocked the incident up to gang violence inside of the facility; however, according to an FBI agent's affadavit, the riot was sparked in protest of poor food and medical.  

And again this past weekend, one year since the Adam's County riot, news from Woodville, Mississippi reported an inmate death and several injuries after a "disturbance" at CCA-run Wilkinson Country Correctional Facility.  Further investigation is needed to identify the events leading to the disturbance, but as a privately operated facility, investigators should look closely at staffing levels and staff turnover rates and their impact on safety within the prison.  Last week we reported on CCA's admittance of falsified staffing records at Idaho Correctional Center, after numerous suits filed against CCA for management of that facility.  And in the coverage of Mississippi's rate of assault in private facilities, the deputy warden at Walnut Grove reported that nearly half of her staff that had been hired in January had already quit or been fired.  

Mississippi's failed system proves that private prisons aren't good for incarcerated people, employees, or tax payers.  It's time for them to kick all for-profit prison companies to the curb!

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