Private Prison News from Around the Country June 2012

Wisely, Maine gave firm no to private prison

Maine flirted briefly in 2011 and 2012 with a bill that would have allowed construction of a private prison in the Piscataquis County town of Milo.

Both Gov. Paul LePage and Gov. John Baldacci had shown interest in dealing with privatized prisons in order to reduce Maine's corrections expenses which are, on average, 136 percent higher than similar rural states. Both men also received campaign contributions from the private prison company.

But the legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee drove a stake through the heart of the idea when it voted unanimously just days into this year's legislative session to kill the bill.

The wisdom behind that vote has become apparent in recent weeks after The Times-Picayune newspapers in New Orleans ran a disturbing examination of Louisiana's prison system.

The state is, the newspaper reported, the prison capital of the world. On a per capita basis, it imprisons more people than every state in the U.S., which itself has the highest national incarceration rate in the world.

The U.S., with 5 percent of the world's population, imprisons 25 percent of the world's inmates and has 2.3 million people behind bars.

So first in American means first in the world for Louisiana. Maine, meanwhile, has the lowest rate in the country.

To understand the stark contrast, consider this: In 2008, Louisiana imprisoned 853 people per 100,000 population. Maine, meanwhile, imprisoned 151.

The Times-Picayune revealed the perverse sort of profit motive that may help explain Louisiana's high rate.

While there are several private prison companies operating in the state, more than half of the state's inmates are in jails operated by parish sheriff's.

This came about in the 1990s when the state, faced with an overcrowding problem, encouraged the sheriff's to build their own prisons.

Sheriff's are paid $24.39 per person per day, yet they manage to generate a "profit" that is then used to pay their officers and finance their departments.

Meanwhile, they are seen favorably locally for creating jobs.

Ironically, violent and repeat offenders are funneled into the state's separate prison system. There they can learn trades or even earn a college degree.

Non-violent offenders, meanwhile, sit idle in local prisons, often warehoused for years before their release.

Despite its willingness to lock people up, Louisiana still has the highest crime rate in the country.

Meanwhile, a system of legislators and sheriff's fight any efforts to reduce sentences for non-violent offenders.

The story is similar to another punishment-for-pay scheme revealed last year. In Pennsylvania a juvenile court judge was sentenced to 28 years behind bars for funneling young people into a private system. The judge had received nearly $1 million from the developer who built the detention facility.

All of which shows that building a profit motive into the imprisonment and punishment of human beings creates an incentive for corruption and abuse.

The goal instead should be diverting non-violent offenders into other treatment programs, while training and educating those remaining behind bars for life on the outside.

That, unfortunately, is expensive.

Private jail faces suit over inmate's suicide

Relatives of an inmate who hanged himself at the privately run Central Texas Detention Facility have sued Florida-based The GEO Group and its warden, alleging the federal prisoner was able to kill himself because he was wrongly taken off suicide watch in December 2011.

The lawsuit claims warden James Coapland was negligent in watching over Darrell Clayton Delany, 31, and that The GEO Group is liable for the acts of its employees.

The operators of the jail, located in downtown San Antonio, deny the allegations of the suit, which seeks unspecified damages.

Delany was sent to the jail by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons because he had been unable to meet the conditions required of him to serve his sentence on drug smuggling charges at a halfway house, said a court affidavit from Brett Bement, who preceded Coapland as warden at the jail.

Bement's affidavit said that, on the morning of Dec. 29, 2011 — the day Delany was to be released from the lockup — he was found hanging in his cell by bed linens and was later pronounced dead at a San Antonio hospital.

He had been on suicide watch before the incident but had signed a “no-self-harm” agreement and was removed from suicide watch two days before his suicide, Bement's affidavit said.

The affidavit, filed by lawyers for Coapland, tries to deflect blame from Coapland, who was the jail's assistant warden at the time. The affidavit said Coapland did not have the authority to remove inmates from suicide watch, but does not specify who authorized Delany's removal from suicide watch.

Inmates have frequently complained to federal judges about conditions at the lockup. And the suit comes as police in Atascosa County arrested Jack Shane McNeal, a former guard at that lockup, on Thursday on theft charges unrelated to the Delany incident. McNeal was out on bond, facing federal charges that he helped members of the Texas Mexican Mafia smuggle cell phones and heroin and marijuana into the jail.

McNeal is scheduled for a bond-revocation hearing on Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Primomo. - Twitter: @gmaninfedland
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GEO Group Fined More Than $100,000

The former management company of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility has been fined for multiple safety and health violations.

Posted: 4:14 PM Jun 12, 2012

Reporter: Chip Scarborough

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration says it has cited The GEO Group Inc. with six safety and health violations, totaling $104,000 in fines, at East Mississippi Correctional Facility.

A report released by OSHA Tuesday says the GEO Group exposed prison employees to workplace violence and failed to take measures to reduce the risk. It says while prisons are obviously dangerous workplaces, the employer is still required to take every reasonable precaution to protect corrections officers and other staff against safety hazards.

OSHA's findings were based on a December 2011 inspection stemming from a complaint about the facility.

The report goes on to say the GEO Group also failed to provide adequate staffing, to fix malfunctioning cell door locks, or to provide proper safety training. OSHA says these were all willful violations, meaning there was intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements.

The GEO Group has 15 business days to respond to these charges. Newscenter 11 has reached out to GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez for a comment, but we have yet to receive a response.

Lawrenceville "private" prison locked down after death
By: Times-Dispatch Staff | Times-Dispatch. Frank Green
Published: June 13, 2012

The Lawrenceville Correctional Center remains on lockdown after the death of an inmate last week following an attack.

Dwayne M. Mckoy, 36, died "from apparent unnatural causes" in a suspected inmate-on-inmate attack in a cell about 2:45 p.m. Thursday, said Pablo E. Paez, a spokesman for The Geo Group Inc., which operates Lawrenceville.

Paez said Mckoy was pronounced dead in the prison's medical unit.

Lawrenceville is Virginia's only privately operated correctional facility. Paez said no correctional officers or employees were injured.

"The incident is under investigation, with the facility operating under lockdown status at this time," he said. According to the Virginia Department of Corrections, the prison holds about 1,500 medium-security inmates.

Mckoy, whose criminal record stretched back to at least 1999, was serving a 5½-year sentence for crimes that included assault, robbery and trespassing.