Legislature chooses savings over rights in prison contract

June 6, 2017
WyoFile

The Wyoming Department of Corrections recently signed a contract with CoreCivic to house prisoners if the state penitentiary becomes uninhabitable; a future that seems all but certain with the consistent dilly dallying of the Wyoming Legislature and its inability to meet any of the state’s problems head on. A new contract will be entered into this year with CoreCivic, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. CoreCivic is the name Corrections Corporation of America has chosen in an apparent effort to reorganize and leave its shameful past behind.

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In August the Department of Justice announced that it will be phasing out the use of private prisons after a scathing report from the inspector general’s office. This report found substandard living conditions, inadequate medical care and high rates of violence at prisons run by private companies including 14 prisons run by CoreCivic. In the early 1980’s, CoreCivic was the first company in the country to run for-profit prisons and, according to a recent report by Grassroots Leadership, a group that advocates against private prisons, one of the founders of Core Civic stated that they sold incarceration just “like you were selling cars or real estate or hamburgers.”

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In 2013 Grassroots Leadership issued a report about CoreCivic’s celebration of its 30th anniversary in business. Entitled The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About 30 Years of Corrections Corporation of America the report outlined the corporations infamous history. 

According to Grassroots Leadership the report looks at many areas of concern: “As well as unearthing notable scandals and violations that have taken place over the company’s last three decades, this report charts several other key areas in which CoreCivic has left a dubious legacy. From controversial economic and political ties to operational cost-cutting and depressing labor practices, CoreCivic’s drastic efforts to maximize profits only serve to demonstrate the fundamental reasons why the for-profit prison industry is at odds with the goals of reducing incarceration rates and raising correctional standards.”

Grassroots selected a few of the more egregious issues in CoreCivic’s history to present its concerns about the use of private prisons for incarceration. CoreCivic purchased the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in 2011 and a year into its administration state audits found “staff mismanagement, widespread violence, delays in medical treatment, and unacceptable living conditions including a lack of access to toilet facilities with prisoners forced to defecate in plastic containers and bags.” The prison was often overcrowded and prisoners were forced to sleep on mattresses on the floors or were triple-bunked. Medical care was delayed and chronically ill prisoners were not treated with standard medical protocols.

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According to the Grassroots Leadership report staff misconduct is prevalent and well documented in CoreCivic’s facilities with allegations of violence, sexual abuse, incompetence and mistreatment being regular complaints.  Officers have been found stealing prisoners’ money, selling drugs to prisoners and taking bribes. CoreCivic staff officers have been fired for urinating and placing fecal matter in prisoners’ drinks and food and for sexually abusing female prisoners.

The Grassroots Leadership reports that lack of expertise and training have resulted in numerous escapes and mistaken releases and CoreCivic’s security policies have received heavy criticism. Improper staffing and officer assistance was involved in some of the escapes. Poor conditions, understaffing, and inadequate response have led to riots at CoreCivic’s facilities. A riot in 2004 At Crowley County Correctional Facility resulted in a $600,000 settlement for prisoners who allegedly suffered retribution and abuse. After the riot, prisoners were assaulted by staff, forced to lie in sewage, left outside all night in handcuffs and forced to relieve themselves in their clothes as they were gassed and harassed by staff. Even prisoners who had not participated in the riot were punished. According to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, Wyoming inmates were housed in this private prison at the time of the riots.

Grassroots Leadership goes on to report that lack of adequate medical care has been a continuing problem for CoreCivic. In 1988 a complaint was filed over the death of a 23 year old from pregnancy complications. CoreCivic settled this lawsuit with the family for $100,000. Other lawsuits followed. For example, a death resulted from failure to provide prescribed medication; the inmate ran out of medication, repeatedly asked for a new prescription, and died a day before he was to be released. This case was settled by CoreCivic in 2004 for an undisclosed amount.

Numerous prisoners have suffered under Core Civic’s profit-making schemes and the Grassroots Leaders report lists numerous incidents. In 2003, Estelle Richardson died in a CoreCivic facility in Nashville, Tennessee.  According to the autopsy, Richardson had four broken ribs, a cracked skull, and internal organ injuries consistent with her head and body being slammed on a hard surface. CoreCivic settled this case for about $2 million dollars.

In the CoreCivic Hutto facility built in 1997 as a for-profit medium security prison in Taylor, Texas, immigrant families from Central America, Africa, Iraq, and Eastern Europe were housed when it was changed from a prison to a detention center for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the report, the detainee families, including children, were dressed in prison scrubs, housed in cells, and forced to adhere to strict prison schedules. CoreCivic employee Donald Charles Dunn was found guilty of sexually abusing at least 8 female immigrant detainees while transporting them from the facility. These stories and many others tell the tale of who Corrections Corporation of America was and who CoreCivic very likely will be.