This youth prison has violent, abusive conditions But the company that runs it makes millions

From an email by Matt Nelson, :
3 March 2011

This youth prison has violent, abusive conditions
But the company that runs it makes millions
Join us in calling on Mississippi officials to shut down this prison:

Teenagers and young men locked up at the youth prison in Walnut Grove, Mississippi live in a nightmarishly abusive and violent environment.

According to a lawsuit against the prison, guards have sold drugs to the youth there, engaged in sexual relationships with them, beaten them while they are handcuffed and defenseless, and looked the other way as some inmates are brutally attacked by others.1 The prison is privately-run, and its management has tried to increase their profits by cutting essential safety, health and educational services.

It’s sick. Mississippi shouldn’t be paying a private company to neglect and abuse youth prisoners. Will you join us in demanding that Mississippi officials cancel the state’s contract with the company that operates the prison? It takes just a moment:

Two youths have lost their lives in the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility over the past three years and countless others endure daily threats to their safety. The violence at the prison was highlighted a year ago when a melee broke out in the prison, leaving multiple youth injured and 21-year-old Michael McIntosh with permanent brain damage.2

Ross Walton, who spent three years inside the Walnut Grove prison said this when he testified recently in front of the Miss. State Legislature:

“Walnut Grove treated us like we were nothing. Like we didn’t matter. Like our destiny was to spend the rest of our lives locked up, making more money for the private prison corporations and making our mothers cry….We have the potential to turn our lives around and make you proud. And we all deserve more than an abusive prison that cares more about profits than people.”

A for-profit youth prison, like Walnut Grove, has a strong financial incentive to imprison as many young people as possible on the cheap, and a financial disincentive to rehabilitate prisoners (which would reduce the demand for prison beds). This profit motive is a big part of why the Walnut Grove prison has such terrible conditions.

The prison is run by the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut), the second largest for-profit prison company in the country. The company makes hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and has a long history of health and safety violations in their facilities.

A systemic problem

We’ve seen before how private prisons create openings for corruption and abuse. In the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a private juvenile prison company bribed two judges to fill their cells with youth who committed minor infractions. One of the judges, Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella, Jr., was recently convicted of accepting bribes and kickbacks for putting juveniles into detention centers. He and another judge, Michael Conahan, are said to have received $2.6 million for their scheme.3

In Boise Idaho, guards at a corporate prison watched, but did not intervene as a man was beaten unconscious by another inmate. This victim now lives with permanent brain damage and the company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), faces an FBI Civil Rights investigation.4

Ending the abuse at Walnut Grove

Some of the youth imprisoned at Walnut Grove have committed serious crimes, but 67% of them are there for non-violent offenses.5 But no matter what crime they’ve committed, children’s lives shouldn’t be at risk because corporations cut corners in order to increase their profits. Youth prisoners must be given safe and healthy conditions, and an opportunity to lead successful lives after their incarceration.

The abuse at Walnut Grove needs to end immediately and the youth there should be moved to facilities that can provide for their care and rehabilitation. Your voice can help make that happen. Please join us in calling on Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, and the Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner, to cancel the state’s contract with the GEO Group. And please ask your friends and family to do the same. It just takes a minute:

Thanks and Peace,
— James, Gabriel, William, Dani, Matt, Natasha and the rest of the team
March 2nd, 2011

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1. “Federal Lawsuit Reveals Inhumane Conditions at For-Profit Youth Prison,” SPLC, 11-16-2010

2. “C.B., et al. v. Walnut Grove Correctional Authority, et al.” SPLC, 11-16-2010

3. “The verdict’s in, let change begin,” The Times Leader, 2-20-2011

4. “‘The public doesn’t know what goes on behind these walls,'” KBOI, 2-28-2011

5. “Federal lawsuit seeks to end years of physical, sexual abuse of teenage inmates,” Better Mississippi Report, 12-20-2010