Humpday Hall of Shame | CCA-run state jails prove unsafe (again) for prisoners

Thanks to a lawsuit filed by Edwards Law in Austin, TX on September 3rd, a veil of secrecy around rampant sexual abuse and staff misconduct is being lifted at CCA-run Bartlett State Jail in Bartlett, TX.  In particular, the suit sheds light on acute staff incompetence and most disturbingly, a well-known hazing ritual known by prisoners and prison staff alike as “ass on the glass.”

"Shortly before a prisoner is released from custody, other prisoners will forcibly pick the victim up, strip off his pants, and carry him upside down to the glass partition between the inmate housing area and the officers’ picket where guards (like Officer Roe) observe the  prisoners. The victim’s bare buttocks are slammed against the window, exposing his  buttocks and anus to the officer. It would be impossible for “ass on the glass” to happen without the officer noticing it."1

Rather than an isolated incident, we have reason to believe that “ass on the glass” is a pervasive violation that has traumatized prisoners at Bartlett State Jail for years.  Anecdotal narratives from others who have served time at Bartlett, as well as a well-documented record of CCA’s abuse and neglect of prisoners under their supervision in Texas and beyond support our concerns.  A court order granted by Travis County District Court this week will require CCA to respond to Texas Public Information Act requests which will help us learn more about the depth of the problem.    

Just about two years ago we were learning about prisoner abuses at another CCA-run state jail, the Dawson State Jail in Dallas, TX.  Not unlike what we’re seeing happen at Bartlett, as soon as one story was uncovered, more followed, and it became clear that medical neglect and incompetence by CCA guards had led to the deaths of several women serving short sentences at Dawson.  Along with a statewide coalition of partners, we organized to close Dawson and as of September 1, 2013 it was shuttered forever.  As part of our campaign we forced lawmakers to take responsibility for allowing a contract between the state and a private, for-profit prison company lead to egregious human rights violations on their watch.  

We also called into question the utility and effectiveness of the state jail system as a whole, which is where people convicted of low-level drug and property crimes end up in Texas.  They’re supposed to serve short sentences of no more than twenty four months and receive robust services while incarcerated, but due to lack of funding, those services are not being delivered and state jails have higher recidivism rates than state prisons for those convicted of more serious offenses.  Diversion and alternatives to incarceration programs are more effective at solving the issues related to drug and alcohol abuse which often underlines these crimes, and they produce more cost-savings to boot.  

The closure of Dawson State Jail could have been an opportunity for the state to scrutinize all of our CCA-run facilities (currently the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has five contracts with CCA) and to work on resolving bigger issues related to the state jail system.  Unfortunately, Texas continues to contract with CCA despite its reprehensible record.  Shame on the Texas Legislature for allowing more wards of the state to be violated while under CCA supervision.  Don’t worry, we’re planning on helping you learn your lesson again.   

See our press release on Bartlett lawsuit released 9/17/2014 

1John Doe v. Corrections Corporation of America, Eduardo Carmona, and Officer John Roe filed by Edwards Law in United States District Court Western District Of Texas, Austin Division, September 3, 2014