The Dirty 30 | #6 - Riots Spiral Out of Control

In 2013, Corrections Corporation of America is "celebrating" its thirtieth anniversary.  We believe there is nothing to celebrate about 30 years of profiting off of incarceration.  In response Grassroots Leadership and Public Safety and Justice Campaign published "The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About Thirty Years of Corrections Corporation of America," a list of thirty stories that exhibit the most troubling aspects of the company's history.  Each week we'll highlight one of these stories.  Click here to view the full report.  Printed copies are available in limited quanitity.  For more information please contact Kymberlie Quong Charles.

The high number of uncontrolled protests amongst people prisoners at Corrections Corporation of America’s facilities continues to draw attention to the facility conditions that provoke riots, and the failure of staff to adequately respond when they arise. In many cases, protests have been explicitly aimed at the substandard conditions in CCA’s prisons, but have been dramatically mishandled by staff, far too often as a result of insufficient training. In April 2001, three-quarters of the 800 prisoners at New Mexico’s Cibola County Correctional Center engaged in a non-violent protest against their treatment at the facility by refusing to return to their cells. Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, it ended with guards firing tear gas into the recreation yard where prisoners had gathered.[1]

In July 2004, guards at Colorado’s Crowley County Correctional Facility ignored prisoners’ requests to speak with the warden over conditions, resulting in a quickly escalating riot with over 400 prisoners. Prisoners began to destroy property, setting fires and smashing furniture, and using steel weights and dumbbells from the exercise yard to smash doors, windows, and walls. Thirteen prisoners were injured, one of them seriously enough to require medical helicopter evacuation due to stab wounds; reports stated that CCA guards ran at the first sign of trouble. An after-action report by the Colorado DOC highlighted the poor training of CCA staff and insufficiency of emergency response procedures, making particular mention of staff members’ disregard of prisoners’ complaints and their use of excessive force as central reasons for the riot’s escalation.[2] After the riot, numerous prisoners said they were assaulted by CCA employees, including prisoners who did not participate in the disturbance. One prisoner, who was trying to assist a deaf cellmate, was forced to lie down in sewage, dragged from his cell by his ankles, and left outside all night in handcuffs. Others were forced to relieve themselves in their pants as they were taunted and gassed by staff, then video-recorded in the showers by female employees.[3] Over 200 prisoners filed lawsuits against CCA and in April 2013, CCA reached a $600,000 settlement.

Even when CCA officials knew about potential protests in advance, staff have often failed to put appropriate response procedures in place. In May 2012, CCA staff were informed about a protest concerning poor food and medical care at Mississippi’s Adams County Correctional Facility.[4] CCA employee Catlin Carithers was beaten to death, other employees were taken hostage, and at least five staff members and three prisoners were treated for injuries. An FBI affidavit describes a chaotic scene, with prisoners hurling tear gas canisters back at guards, many of whom abandoned the facility. Mississippi Representative Bennie G. Thompson commented that the riot “brings into question the effectiveness of privately owned and operated prison facilities.”[5] Incidents like the one in Adams County continue to be a somber reminder of the dangers of poorly managed for-profit correctional facilities.

  1. “Lockdown Remains in Effect at Private Prison,” Associated Press, April 27, 2001.
  2. Colorado Department of Corrections, “After Action Report. Inmate Riot: Crowley County Correctional Facility,” 1 October 2004.
  3. Alan Prendergast, “Crowley inmates settle lawsuit for $600,000,” Denver Westword, April 24, 2013.
  4. Holbrook Mohr, “FBI reports Mexican group ‘Paisas’ started prison riot in Adams County,” The Associated Press, August 13m 2012.
  5. Robbie Brown, “Mississippi Prison on Lockdown After Guard Dies,” The New York Times. May 22, 2012.