Bartlett, TX -- Grassroots Leadership and its allies are shocked and disturbed to learn of the latest lawsuit against for-profit private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), for its complicity in what appears to be widespread sexual abuse and assault at their Bartlett State Jail facility.
According to the complaint, filed on September 3, 2014, prisoners at Bartlett State Jail are regularly subjected to a hazing ritual known as “ass on the glass” in which those about to be released from state custody are stripped and victimized against a glass partition that separates guards and prisoners. Sexual assault while incarcerated is a violation of a prisoner’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
Evidently CCA, Bartlett Warden Eduardo Carmona, and prison staff are all well-aware of the practice but have done nothing to stop it. Regarding the night the suit’s plaintiff was sexually assaulted, a high ranking CCA officer admitted that there was not enough staff to adequately supervise the cell block of 54 men where the incident occurred.
“Understaffing, violence, sexual abuse, and incompetence are endemic to CCA-operated facilities in Texas and beyond,” said Kymberlie Quong Charles, director of Criminal Justice Programs at Grassroots Leadership. “As part of a statewide coalition, we went after CCA during the 2013 legislative session for their abuse and neglect of prisoners at Dawson State Jail in Dallas where several women actually died serving short sentences. CCA lost the contract for Dawson and it was shuttered a year ago as a result of our efforts. Justice can only be achieved when no one profits from the incarceration of human beings, and these companies must be held accountable when they are complicit in human rights violations.”
"CCA's secrecy at Bartlett is part of a larger pattern," said Brian McGiverin, attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. On September 15th a Travis County District Court granted McGiverin a court order requiring CCA to comply with an earlier ruling that it must respond to Texas Public Information Act requests. "CCA keeps the public in the dark so it can stay in business. As we've seen, sometimes it will even defy courts," said McGiverin. "It hides the truth because the truth is horrifying. We learned about truly awful things when we began pulling back the veil at CCA's Dawson State Jail. The recent sexual abuse lawsuit at Bartlett State Jail is likely just the tip of the iceberg."
"Staff misconduct is a major problem with CCA Bartlett State Jail," said Lance Lowry, President of the Huntsville based AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees, whose organization represents state correctional employees. In 2009 a former prison guard armed with a gun took the CCA Bartlett prison hostage. The standoff ended with negotiations after a swat team was called in. Lowry states, "the latest incidents of sexual hazing are not surprising due to the lack of hiring standards and training utilized by the private prison company. The private prison operates under the radar of public scrutiny with its vast use of secrecy and lack of public oversight. Private prison companies should be held to the same level of transparency and civil enforcement as publicly operated prisons. Transparency threatens Corrections Corporation of America's profit margin due to the company taking shortcuts on security. There is no excuse for a company allowing sexual assaults of humans."
Grassroots Leadership and its statewide allies will be closely monitoring the developments in the case against CCA at Bartlett and working with lawmakers to ensure that the state of Texas is dedicated actively to maintaining accountability and safety for all prisoners in the TDCJ system.