Open Letter to WV Prisoners: Beware of Private Prisons Before Signing Away Your Rights

January 30, 2014

This week, Grassroots Leadership sent an open letter to prisoners in West Virginia to raise awareness of their constitutional rights that are at risk. State lawmakers continue to debate sending prisoners to private facilities run by the Corrections Corporation of America in Kentucky or choosing other options to the state’s overcrowded prisons issues that would keep with the spirit of the state constitution.  
 
The prisoners themselves would play a critical role in making this scheme by having to sign away their right to be incarcerated and rehabilitated within the state of West Virginia. And they can say no. 
 
“We stand firmly against our nation’s over reliance on incarceration and believe that the solution to West Virginia’s overcrowded prisons is not shipping you to out-of-state for-profit prisons, but strengthening proven alternatives to prison and reducing the number of people who are incarcerated,” the organization says in the letter. “If no one volunteers to be transferred to Kentucky, the state will be forced to consider in-state reforms to address its prison population, such as parole or sentencing reform, rather than contracting with a company that profits from incarceration.”
 
AN OPEN LETTER TO PRISONERS IN THE WEST VIRGINIA SYSTEM OF CORRECTIONS
 
We, Grassroots Leadership — a social justice organization that opposes the use of for-profit incarceration — write you today because the State of West Virginia is currently deciding whether or not to sign a contract with a multi-billion dollar private prison corporation, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  This contract would allow the state to send up to 400 prisoners across state lines to a private prison in Kentucky.
 
If this contract is signed, you may be asked to volunteer to be transferred to this for-profit prison in Kentucky.  Grassroots Leadership is not a legal service and this letter is not legal advice.  But as a social justice organization dedicated to stopping the abuse of for-profit prisons, we believe you should know that you have a constitutional right to refuse being sent to Kentucky, and we suggest you read the below before you decide to sign anything:

1) CCA, the private prison company that manages the Kentucky prison, has a record of abuse, misconduct, and neglect.
 
A federal judge recently found CCA in contempt of court for understaffing a prison in Idaho (nicknamed the “Gladiator School” because of its high levels of violence) and falsifying the records for security posts that went unfilled.  Similarly, in Ohio, state auditors levied thousands of dollars in penalties against CCA for violations that included inadequate staffing, delays in medical treatment, and unacceptable living conditions.
 
In addition, more than 200 Vermont prisoners currently housed in CCA’s Kentucky prison have been on lockdown since January 15th after a series of assaults and fights.  You can tell friends and family to read about it here:http://www.benningtonbanner.com/ci_24969479/more-than-200-vt-inmates-lockdown-at-kentucky
 
Finally, Grassroots Leadership published a report last year about this private prison company titled The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About 30 Years of Corrections Corporation of America, which documents some of the most shameful incidents and scandals that have taken place over the company’s 30-year history, including stories of prisoner transfer to their facilities.  You can tell friends and family to read it here:http://grassrootsleadership.org/cca-dirty-30
 
2) You can say NO.  
 
As a citizen of the State of West Virginia, you have a constitutional right that protects you from being sent to another state to serve your sentence, and you cannot be sent to CCA’s Kentucky prison unless you voluntarily decide to waive that right.
 
3) Instead of signing the contract with CCA, West Virginia officials could provide you access to rehabilitative services and programs in your home state.  
 
Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein has said that sending prisoners out-of-state is necessary for prisoners to have access to programs required for parole.  However, we believe it is unjust to ask you to forego one constitutional right to access another — especially when in-state options exist for providing those programs to you.  
   
John Lopez, chief of operations for the state Regional Jail Authority (RJA), testified in December before Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jails and Corrections that the Regional Jail Authority could address the urgent problem of parole applications being held up due to prisoners being unable to access necessary programming – by expanding programming in the jails to allow prisoners to become more quickly eligible for parole by hiring one or two counselors at each of the state’s 10 regional jails.
 
4) You should not have to choose between moving farther away from family and support networks in order to receive programming needed for parole.  
 
In some cases, transferring to Kentucky may make it more difficult for family and loved ones to visit you while you are incarcerated.  Long distance phone charges may also cause difficulty for you and your family.  We believe this is a choice you should not be forced to make.
 
Grassroots Leadership also published a report titled Locked Up & Shipped Away: Interstate Prisoner Transfer and the Private Prison Industry.  The report examines the shameful practice of shipping incarcerated people across state lines to private prisons, which not only hurts families and their incarcerated loved ones, but also funnels hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year into the for-profit prison industry.  You can tell friends and family to read it here: http://grassrootsleadership.org/locked-up-and-shipped-away
 
We stand firmly against our nation’s over reliance on incarceration and believe that the solution to West Virginia’s overcrowded prisons is not shipping you to out-of-state for-profit prisons, but strengthening proven alternatives to prison and reducing the number of people who are incarcerated.  If no one volunteers to be transferred to Kentucky, the state will be forced to consider in-state reforms to address its prison population, such as parole or sentencing reform, rather than contracting with a company that profits from incarceration.
 
If you have questions about this letter, or if you had any problems with receiving it, please write back to us.  We also encourage you to get in touch with your family so that they can express their concerns to state officials.
 
In Solidarity,

Grassroots Leadership
 
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