NWDC: Despite Threats and Retaliation, Hunger Strikers Continue Protest ICE Ignores Demands for Improved Conditions

NWDC: RELEASE May 4, 2017
Despite Threats and Retaliation, Hunger Strikers Continue Protest
ICE Ignores Demands for Improved Conditions

Tacoma, WA/The Dalles, OR – Immigrants held at ICE facilities in two states – the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), run by GEO Group, and NORCOR, a rural public jail – continued their hunger strike today, despite growing weakness from lack of food. The exponential growth of immigration detention has led ICE to contract the function of detaining immigrants out to both private prison companies and to county governments, with both treating immigrants as a source of profit.

ICE has been using NORCOR as ‘overflow’ detention space for immigrants held at NWDC, and is regularly transferring people back and forth from the NWDC to NORCOR. People held at NORCOR have limited access to lawyers and to the legal documents they need to fight and win their deportation cases. They are often transferred back to NWDC only for their hearings, then shipped back to NORCOR, where they face terrible conditions. Jessica Campbell of the Rural Organizing Project affirmed, “No one deserves to endure the conditions at NORCOR – neither the immigrants ICE is paying to house there, nor the people of Oregon who end up there as part of criminal processes. It’s unsafe for everyone.”

The strike began on April 10th, when 750 people at the NWDC began refusing meals. The protest spread to NORCOR this past weekend. Maru Mora Villalpando of NWDC Resistance confirmed, “It’s very clear from our contact with people inside the facilities and with family members of those detained that the hunger strike continues in both Oregon and Washington State.” She continued, “The question for us is, how will ICE assure that the abuses that these whistle-blowing hunger strikers have brought to light are addressed?”

From the beginning of the protest, instead of using the strike as an opportunity to look into the serious concerns raised by the hunger strikers, ICE and GEO have both denied the strike is occurring and retaliated against strikers. Hunger strikers have been transferred to NORCOR in retaliation for their participation. One person who refused transfer to NORCOR was put in solitary confinement.

Just this week, hunger striking women have been threatened with forced feeding – a practice that is recognized under international law to be torture. In an attempt to break their spirit, hunger strikers have been told the strike has been ineffective and that the public is ignoring it.

Hunger striker demands terrible conditions inside detention center be addressed- including the poor quality of the food, the $1 a day pay, and the lack of medical care. They also call for more expedited court proceedings and the end of transfers between detention facilities. Hunger strikers consistently communicate, “We are doing this for our families.” Despite their incredibly oppressive conditions, locked away and facing deportation in an immigration prison in the middle of an industrial zone and in a rural county jail, hunger strikers have acted collectively and brought national attention to the terrible conditions they face and to the ongoing crisis of deportations, conditions the U.S. government must address.

For live updates, visit https://www.facebook.com/NWDCResistance/.

Ex-Mississippi Prison Boss Faces Bribery Charges

JACKSON, Miss. — Nov 6, 2014
By JEFF AMY Associated Press
Associated Press (via ABC)

Former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps has been charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a businessman connected to several private prison companies.

Epps is accused of receiving more than $700,000 from 2008 to 2014.

The 49-count federal indictment also charges Cecil McCrory of Brandon with paying Epps to obtain contracts for himself and other companies. It was unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Jackson. McCrory and Epps were scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Keith Ball on Thursday.

Read the rest here and also read a larger story, titled: Private prison operator in Mississippi fires indicted consultant Cecil McCroryhere.

Stop the McFarland GEO Women’s Prison!

From the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Aug 8th, 2014

Letter signed by women and trans prisoners at CCWF and CIW

 STOP THE MCFARLAND GEO WOMEN’S PRISON!

 We the undersigned incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and  the California Institution for Women (CIW) are outraged that CDCR has signed a contract with the GEO Group, the 2nd largest private, for-profit prison corporation in the U.S. According to the contract, GEO will open a new women’s prison in McFarland, CA by fall of 2014.

We call upon California State Legislators to direct CDCR to cancel the contract with GEO and implement existing release programs instead of opening a new prison!

 Once again we are shuffled around without regard for our well-being or our human rights. Since VSPW was converted to a men’s prison in January 2013, we have been subjected to overcrowding at historically high levels (CCWF is now at 185% capacity), even while the state is under court order to reduce the prison population. This is discrimination against people in women’s’ prisons!  As a result of this overcrowding, health care, mail services, food and education have greatly deteriorated. We are locked down more frequently, leading to heightened tensions, drug overdoses and suicides. The prison staff has responded by locking more people into solitary, further violating our human rights.

CDCR could easily implement existing programs to reduce overcrowding, such as: Alternative Custody Programs (ACP); Elder and Medical Parole; and Compassionate Release. Instead, on April 1, 2014 GEO announced its new contract with CDCR to open a 260 bed women’s prison with an “enhanced rehabilitation and recidivism reduction program.” This is nothing but a bad April Fool’s joke! The 260 women who are “chosen” to go to McFarland could be released through one of these other programs instead. None of us should be hauled off to showcase a so-called “gender responsive” prison and to put money in the pockets of GEO investors.

GEO is a private corporation whose business makes profit from imprisoning primarily people of color and immigrants. GEO’s press release about the new prison reports expected revenue of $9 million in McFarland’s first year. Think of how much $9 million could do for providing community-based re-entry services!

GEO has been the subject of numerous lawsuits around the country about atrocious, unconstitutional conditions. Private prisons are notorious for operating with even greater secrecy than the CDCR: assaults are 49% more frequent; racist behavior and sexual abuse by staff are widespread.

GEO is responsible for human rights violations at many of their facilities.  In 2012 GEO was forced to close the Walnut Grove, Mississippi youth detention Center after being condemned for allowing, in the words of Fed. Judge Carlton Reeves, “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk.”

  • In March 2014, 1200 people detained in GEO’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA (for immigrants) went on hunger strike to protest the grossly inadequate medical care, exorbitant commissary prices and low or NO pay for work within the center.  Other GEO prisoners have since gone on hunger strike at detention facilities in Conroe, Texas and Stewart, Georgia.
  • In January of 2014, Governor Jerry Brown’s reelection campaign reported $54,400 in donations from GEO Group. GEO Group has spent $7.6 million on lobbying and campaign contributions in the U.S. in the last decade.

 GEO lobbied strongly to advance laws that increased the time served for drug convictions and other non-violent crimes through mandatory minimum sentencing, three-strikes laws, and truth-in-sentencing laws. GEO was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC) when the model bill that became AB 1070 (profiling immigrants in Arizona) was drafted. These legal changes resulted in significant profits for GEO.

  • In McFarland, CA, GEO has signed a contract incentivizing prolonged incarceration over release by charging the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation less per prisoner if the facility is more than half full.
  • GEO operates reentry facilities around the state, including the Taylor Street Center at in San Francisco and the Oakland Center in Oakland.  Residents experience these facilities as “re-entry prisons” that are structured to threaten and punish people rather than providing support for people to reenter community life.  .

It is shameful that CDCR is about to open a for-profit “boutique prison” that does nothing positive to solve the disproportionate overcrowding in the women’s prisons at this time. Assembly Members and Senators, please intervene!  Stop the GEO prison from opening. Instead use this $9 million to fully implement existing release programs immediately and fund community-based (not for-profit) reentry programs.

Thank you for listening to this urgent request,

Natalie DeMola, CCWF

Jane Dorotik, CIW

Fonda Gayden, CCWF

Anne Marie Harrison, CCWF

Valerie Juarez, CCWF

Terah Lawyer, CCWF

ChiChi Locci, CCWF

Maydee Morris, CCWF

Amy Preasmeyer, CCWF

Patrice Wallace, CCWF

The state police investigate after officials report discrepancies in Idaho Correctional Center books

From: Idaho Statesman, Feb. 5th 2013

By REBECCA BOONE — The Associated Press

BOISE, IDAHO — The Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America has run the facility under a contract with Idaho for a decade. The agreement contains minimum staffing requirements, which also have been spelled out in a legal settlement reached with the American Civil Liberties Union after inmates sued in federal court.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke told the state Board of Correction on Tuesday that he requested the investigation because the department found “potential anomalies” during an audit.

The department began taking a deeper look around the time The Associated Press filed public records requests for shift logs at the prison.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an email that his company is also investigating and working with state officials. He said the safety of staff, inmates and the community is CCA’s top priority.

“It is premature and speculative to draw conclusions before all of the facts have been gathered, and to do so at this point would undermine the investigation that is taking place. If our efforts uncover inconsistencies, we will take swift action to rectify any issues,” Owen wrote.

CCA’s monthly staffing reports to the state — obtained by The AP — appear to show guards listed as working 24, 36 and 48 hours straight without time off. Although its contract with Idaho does not limit the number of hours a guard may work in a row, correction officials said it would be unwise to have such long shifts.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/02/05/2439788/apnewsbreak-prison-companys-reports.html#storylink=cpy

Vermont: One Tiny State’s Movement to Ban Private Prisons

An interesting and well researched article about prisons for profit and mass incarceration:

By: Jonathan Leavitt, From: Toward Freedom
Thursday, 24 January 2013

Vermont, the most progressive state in America, spent over $14 million last year to lock up Vermonters in for profit prison like Lee Adjustment Center, located in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest. Private prisons like Correctional Corporation of America (CCA)’s Lee Adjustment Center offer no mental health, educational or rehabilitational services, but they do post massive corporate profits; CCA posted $1.7 billion in 2011 revenue alone.

As best-selling author Michelle Alexander notes in her seminal book The New Jim Crow, more black men are under correctional control now than were enslaved in 1850. A recent New Yorker piece noted more Americans are now incarcerated than there were imprisoned in Stalin’s gulags.

Clearly a dialogue about mass incarceration, budget crises, and privatization is unfolding. A group of Vermonters working out of Church basements and living rooms is attempting to build a movement to push this conversation forward by passing a historic law banning Vermont’s use of for-profit prisons.

Behind the Profitable Private Prison Wall

Between 2002 and 2003, according to the Rutland Herald, the number of prisoners in Vermont increased at “nearly five times the national average.” The number of teenagers and young adults in Vermont jails surged by more than 77 percent. A racialized “get tough on crime” ideology, mandatory minimums, and harsher sentencing guidelines from the failed war on drugs left then Republican Vermont Governor Jim Douglas at a moment of departure: build new prisons, or start shipping Vermonters incarcerated under these controversial policies into the deep south to be warehoused without even the “rehabilitative” programs found in Vermont prisons.

According to Prison Legal News’ Matthew Clarke, CCA doubled the population of Lee Adjustment Center in three months in 2004 with a massive influx of some of the first Vermont prisoners housed in private prisons. These conditions and what State Senator James Leddy called a “rogue warden” led to an uprising at Lee Adjustment Center involving 100 inmates. The Louisville Currier Journal and The Times Argus detailed how those involved in the riot tore down fences, began “tearing apart” a wooden guard tower with a guard still inside and toppled the guard tower. In addition, fires “heavily damaged the administration building and guard shack.”

“The inmates literally had control of this place, the inner compound,” said Adam Corliss, an inmate from Springfield, Vermont. A week and a half after the riot, the Montpelier Vermont daily The Times Argus printed an excerpt of a Vermont inmate’s letter home to his fiancé detailing the uprising: “Inmates chasing guards with 2x4s breaking everything in sight…It was so hostile that the S.W.A.T. team of guards came in, launching tear gas, armed with shotguns.”

When the Assistant Warden summoned the 20-person response team only three responded. Clarke details the precipitating conditions: racial and regional prejudices, overcrowding, poor nutrition, and CCA’s warden undertaking, “a zero-tolerance disciplinary crackdown that gave guards the ability to discipline prisoners without proof of misconduct and even put them in solitary confinement for 60 days without disciplinary charges.”

These conditions and the riot they produced happened in the first months of Vermont’s experiment with private prisons. Rather than serving as a cautionary tale about the hollowed-out services privatization provides, policymakers have since only increased the number of Vermonters housed in Lee Adjustment Center and other CCA prisons.

The Moral Consequences of Privatization

“I could write a book about violations [against Vermonters in private prisons],” says Frank Smith, of the Bluff City, Kansas-based Private Correction Working Group. “I visited Beattyville after the September 2004 riot and I have Open Records Act info on it. In Marion Adjustment Center (a CCA prison in St. Mary, Kentucky) there was sexual abuse by guards. CCA did very little to stop it or to help track down the offenders after they fled to avoid prosecution from MAC and the women’s prison -also known as, the ‘rape factory’ – at Otter Creek, Kentucky.”

The same year of the Lee Adjustment Center uprising, The Vermont Guardian reported that Republican Governor Jim Douglas requested corporate bids for the healthcare for (what was then) 1,700 in-state prisoners. Douglas went with the lowest bidder, Prison Health Services, for $645 million over ten years, and Vermonters under their care started literally dying from inadequate care, including Ashley Ellis, a 23 year old woman serving a 30 day sentence.

Prison Health Services broke the contract, not due to concerns related to the deaths, but due to their projected profits never materializing. Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright was quoted by The Associated Press as saying Vermont “cannot contract out the public’s fundamental right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and the quality of services the pubic is getting for its money.”

Powerful Allies, Monolithic Opponents

According to a bombshell 2008 memo detailing the cost of Vermont’s for-profit prisons use, newly sworn in Vermont Auditor Doug Hoffer wrote, “Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) does not provide mental health services. […] CCA does not provide services related to sexual abuse, substance abuse, or violent offenders.” According to the memo there’s a laundry list of programing provided here in Vermont facilities which are conspicuously absent at the for-profit prisons. “DOC programs not available through CCA include the Cognitive Self Change program for violent offenders; the Intensive Domestic Abuse Program; Batterers Intervention Program; the Network Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Programs; and the Discover Program for those with substance abuse problems.”

Suzi Wizowaty, a Democratic Vermont State Representative from Burlington and lead sponsor of H.28 which states “As of July 1, 2013, all Vermont inmates shall be incarcerated in correctional facilities that are owned and operated by the federal, state, or local government (‘public’).“ Wizowaty, in explaining her bill, makes the case that in this time of austerity Vermonters wanting to use these public dollars responsibly means using public oversight. “The idea that private prisons save money is illusory and has been debunked, the most optimistic studies show that they are a-wash in spending, because there are higher rates of recidivism, less job training, therapy and programming. All we are doing is putting profits in the pockets in the prison corporations.”

Another elite schism which lends credence to Vermont’s anti-privatization efforts comes from an unlikely place, Florida’s Republican Party. Florida Republican State Senator Mike Fasano led a successful effort to stop the privatization of 27 prisons, saying, “We have a 10 percent-plus unemployment rate in the state of Florida, and the last thing we should be doing is moving prisons that were paid for by the taxpayers into the hands of corporations, that would probably put many of these families out of work, who have mortgages to pay, homeowner’s insurance to pay, food on the table. This would be devastating to—not only to their families, but also to the community they live in.”

One might assume that given these financial and moral arguments policy makers would be feel compelled to discontinue using private prisons, if only because risk-adverse state governments typically dislike courting law suits. However, the prison corporations Wizowaty and Hoffer have critiqued are Wall Street monoliths. CCA send a letter to 48 states, dangling hundreds of millions of dollars in front of the cash strapped, austerity budget-minded governors, if only those states will privatize their prisons for the next twenty years. And, oh yeah, one other tiny piece of fine print: the prisons must be kept at least 90% full for the duration of the contract. Seemingly, this would create a contractual incentive for states to enact harsher sentencing guidelines and policing procedures. Meanwhile as best-selling author and legal scholar Glenn Greenwald writes, “Since there is no well funded lobby advocating for penal reform or promoting the interests of prisoners, the prison lobby goes virtually unchallenged and can buy the ability to shape pertinent laws at bargain basement prices.”

The military refers to mission creep as “the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals.” Corporate prisons who only know how to maximize profits for shareholders have expanded their mission to incarcerating 50% of immigrants detained in the US. Perhaps unsurprisingly the number of immigrants detained has exploded during the same period. Which begs the question: to what degree can a $1.7 billion per year prison corporation like CCA shape public policy? As a December 2008 Boston Phoenix article details: “[private prisons] regularly lobby against criminal punishment reforms, and for the creation of new criminal statues and overly harsh prison sentences. While these efforts are cloaked as calls for public safety, they are essentially creating more business for themselves […] CCA spent more than $2.7 million from 2006 through September 2008 on lobbying for stricter laws.”

Or, as CCA states in plainsong in its 2010 annual report: “Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new corrections and detention facilities. This possible growth depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates and sentencing patterns in various jurisdictions and acceptance of privatization. The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any change with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number or persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

The Primacy of Movement-Building

“It is absolutely essential that we raise the profile of this issue. We will not get anywhere without people calling their public officials, we will not get anywhere without that kind of organizing,” says Wizowaty. With that in mind, in a Burlington church basement this Martin Luther King Day, community organizers like Infinite Culcleasure began what they hope to be the first of many conversations about private prisons. “The grassroots component,” says Culcleasure, “is invaluable in overcoming the special interest and apathy that currently exists on this mass incarceration. With all of the competing crises for communities to manage, our greatest challenge in making this a watershed moment for prison reform is to make it a local issue that is directly relevant in people’s everyday lives.” With a network of 145 churches statewide interested in hosting similar conversations, it seems the tiny state of Vermonters are poised to bring forward a very different vision than corporate mass incarceration.

That said, the CCAs of the world are well-versed in utilizing their taxpayer dollars to leverage Vermont’s political elite: they helped finance former-Governor Douglas’ Inaugural Ball and donate to influential state senators’ re-elections. This is an industry which, as Glenn Greenwald notes in With Liberty and Justice for Some, has spent $3.3 million on state political parties and politicians in the 2002 and 2004 political cycles, according to a 2004 National Institute on Money In State Politics report.

Dick Sears, the influential state senator who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee that this bill will have to emerge from, has received more campaign donations from private prisons than any other policymaker in Vermont’s Statehouse. CCA’s annual reports assume that this rarified historical moment where The New Jim Crow is a bestseller, The House I Live In has won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and Stop and Frisk has been declared unconstitutional won’t last forever. Certain social and political factors which prefigure a new social movement emerging are appearing: a loss of legitimacy in former institutions and attitudes, elite schisms, and unifying motivations. The question is one of organizing to scale. As with making health care a human right, decommissioning a failing nuclear power plant, and getting drivers’ licenses for migrant workers, if the Green Mountain State is to lead the country forward on the issue of private prisons, it will depend on Vermonters making good on their aspirations to build a statewide movement which will compel  VT senators such as Dick Sears to move this bill forward.

As the first of many Vermont church basement organizing conversations on private prisons unfolds, high schoolers hands are flashing in the air: “How is this moral?” “Why do corporations do this?” and in so many different ways “What can I do?” Infinite Culcleasure and Suzi Wizowaty have skillfully transfigured the church basement of teenagers into eager community organizers. Before the conversation reaches its midpoint the high schoolers are poised to bring this dialogue out into the larger community, to hold their elected officials accountable and draw Vermonters across the state together to share their stories and build a movement which can be a sufficient countervailing force to the influence of Wall Street’s private prisons. Afterwards the interstitial space of the Church hallway is luminous with excitement; the Pastor offers Suzi and Infinite the opportunity for similar conversations about for-profit prisons in congregations around Vermont. Just down the corridor a new generation of organizers is sending so many social media appeals to shutter the Lee Adjustment Center, shutter CCA and to shutter the private prison industry. Their prescient questions haunt me as I walk out into the snow: “How is this moral?” “Why do corporations do this?” and in so many different ways “What can I do?”

Jonathan Leavitt a journalist, community organizer, and teaches college classes about social movements in Burlington, VT Email: jonathan.c.leavitt(at)gmail.com

Link to article: http://www.towardfreedom.com/home/special-reports/3119-vermont-one-tiny-states-movement-to-ban-private-prisons

Private Prison Information Act of 2013

This is a letter that concerns making private prisons more transparent. PrisonWatchNetwork.org endorses this letter as well.

Please visit the website on which this letter to Repr. Sheila Jackson Lee is published:

Privateprisoninformationactof2013.blogspot.com

We – a coalition of over 30 not-for-profit criminal justice and public interest organizations – urge Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX) to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act during the 113th Congress. The bill, which would extend Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reporting obligations to private corrections companies that contract with federal agencies, is an important first step in bringing transparency and accountability to the private prison industry.

PRESS RELEASE
Human Rights Defense Center– For Immediate Release
December 19, 2012
Organization Urge U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to Reintroduce Private Prison Information Act
Washington, DC: – Yesterday, a joint letter signed by 34 criminal justice, civil rights and public interest organizations was submitted to the office of U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, urging her to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act.
The Private Prison Information Act (PPIA) would require for-profit prison companies that contract with the federal government to comply with public records requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the same extent as federal agencies. Currently, FOIA does not apply to private companies that contract with the federal government.
We are deeply troubled by the secrecy with which the private corrections industry presently operates. Whereas the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections are subject to disclosure statutes under the Freedom of Information Act and state-level public records laws, private prison firms that contract with public agencies generally are not,” the joint letter submitted to Rep. Jackson Lee noted. “This lack of public transparency is indefensible in light of the nearly $8 billion in federal contracts that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO) – the nation’s two largest private prisons firms – have been awarded since 2007.”
In fact, according to the U.S. Senate’s Lobbying Disclosure Electronic Filing System, CCA has lobbied against the PPIA when it was introduced in previous Congressional sessions. Other allies of the private prison industry, including the Reason Foundation – which receives funding from CCA and GEO – have also opposed extending FOIA to private prison contractors.
Both CCA and the GEO Group receive over 40 percent of their revenue from federal contracts, which “makes them the perfect candidates for FOIA compliance” because “The private prison industry is fundamentally different in that no citizen can freely purchase incarceration services as a private individual. There is no natural market for incarceration services; the entire market would cease to exist without direct government intervention in the form of taxpayer-funded contracts to operate correctional facilities.”
The joint letter submitted to Rep. Jackson Lee was a cooperative project between UC Berkeley doctoral student Christopher Petrella and the Human Rights Defense Center. Signatories include the ACLU National Prison Project, Florida Justice Institute, In the Public Interest, Justice Policy Institute, National CURE, Prison Policy Initiative, Southern Center for Human Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center, Texas Civil Rights Project, Enlace and YouthBuild USA.
The private prison industry operates in secrecy while being funded almost entirely with public taxpayer money,” noted Human Rights Defense Center associate director Alex Friedmann, who testified in support of the PPIA before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security in June 2008. “The public has a right to know how its money is being spent, and transparency and accountability demand that private prison corporations answer to the public by being subject to FOIA requests to the same extent as federal agencies. If they have nothing to hide from the public, they should not object – but they do, which speaks volumes.”
Obligating private prison companies to comply with FOIA requirements applies a single standard for transparency in corrections reporting regardless of agency type,” added Christopher Petrella. “And because efforts to privatize federal detention facilities are on the rise – populations held in privately-operated facilities have grown by nearly 20 percent over the past year – the time is right to demand meaningful accountability in the private corrections industry.”
________________________
The Human Rights Defense Center, HRDC, founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.

Christopher Petrella is a doctoral candidate in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley where he is currently working on a manuscript entitled “Race, Markets, and the Rise of the Private Prison State.” His work on the private corrections industry has been cited by a number of national organizations and campaigns including Prison Legal News, the ACLU’s National Prison Project, Southern Poverty Law Center, Justice Policy Institute, Prison Policy Initiative, National Prison Divestment Campaign, and the Real Cost of Prisons. He’s also a frequent contributor to Truthout, Business Insider, Monthly Review, and Nation of Change.

For further information, please contact:

Alex Friedmann, Associate Director
Human Rights Defense Center
(615) 495-6568
afriedmann@prisonlegalnews.org
Christopher Petrella 
(860) 341-1684
cpetrella@post.harvard.edu


December 18, 2012

The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee
U.S. House of Representatives
2160 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC 20515
Re: Private Prison Information Act

Dear Representative Jackson Lee:
We, the undersigned not-for-profit criminal justice and public interest organizations, respectfully urge you to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act (PPIA) during the 113th Congress. The bill, which would extend Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reporting obligations to private corrections companies that contract with federal agencies, is a critical first step in bringing transparency and accountability to the private prison industry.
We are deeply troubled by the secrecy with which the private corrections industry presently operates. Whereas the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections are subject to disclosure statutes under the Freedom of Information Act and state-level public records laws, some state courts have held that private prison firms that contract with public agencies generally are not. This lack of public transparency is indefensible in light of the nearly $8 billion in federal contracts that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO)—the nation’s two largest private prisons firms—have been awarded since 2007.
If private prison companies like CCA and GEO would like to continue to enjoy taxpayer-funded federal contracts, then they should be required to adhere to disclosure laws equivalent to those governing their public counterparts—including FOIA.
Though five separate iterations of the Private Prison Information Act have been introduced in Congress since 2005, each bill has died as a result of vigorous lobbying efforts on behalf of the private corrections industry. According to documentation maintained by the U.S. Senate’s Lobbying Disclosure Electronic Filing System, Corrections Corporation of America has spent over $7 million lobbying against the passage of various Private Prison Information Acts since 2005. They claim that the bill violates their “trade secret” FOIA exemption.
But why should private prison contractors, which are paid exclusively with taxpayer funds, be any less accountable to taxpayers than public corrections agencies such as the Bureau of Prisons? We contend that because the private prison industry relies entirely on taxpayer support, the public has a right to access information pertaining to its operations.
There is little evidence that taxpayers currently have access to the type of information that would allow them to evaluate the performance of private corrections firms in comparison to the public sector. Though the private prison industry routinely cites its record on measures of efficiency and safety relative to public agencies, it nonetheless refuses to disclose the very information required to substantiate its most basic claims of success.
Disclosure statutes providing the public with access to information pertaining to the operations of private prisons is vital if reasonable comparisons are to be made between the private and public sectors.
The time to reintroduce and pass this bill is now. Privately-operated federal facilities have grown 600 percent faster than state-level contract facilities since 2010, and now represent the single most quickly-growing corrections sector. Moreover, business from federal customers like the Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Marshals Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement now accounts for a greater percentage of revenue among private prison companies than ever before.
In the past, critics of the Private Prison Information Act have argued that its passage would set a “dangerous precedent” for FOIA overreach. In his 2007 testimony before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, Mike Flynn, the Director of Government Affairs for the Reason Foundation, testified that applying FOIA to private prison companies could open the “floodgates” to any other federal contractor and, by extension, their contractors and suppliers. “Thousands of individuals, small and large businesses, provide services to the government and products to the government at great efficiency for the taxpayers [and] all of that could be opened up to the FOIA process,” he claimed. He did not mention that Reason Foundation receives funding from private prison companies, including CCA and GEO.
We squarely reject these unfounded assumptions. The Private Prison Information Act should be applied narrowly and judiciously. It is unlikely that the Private Prison Information Act, if enacted, would unwittingly extend FOIA provisions to other private companies because private prison firms hold an exceptional market position relative to other private companies. To our knowledge, no other type of private industry is contracted by the public sector solely to perform an essential governmental function such as incarceration.
That private corrections firms are supported exclusively by public agencies and enjoy the benefits of operating within an artificial government contract-driven market makes them the perfect candidates for FOIA compliance. In most economic sectors there is a free market analogue for many kinds of services that governments typically provide. A field such as education, for example, has a robust market of existing non-profit and for-profit organizations and agencies willing to sell/provide services to a market of potential buyers that includes both individuals and governments.
This is not the case with private corrections firms.
The private prison industry is fundamentally different in that no citizen can freely purchase incarceration services as a private individual. There is no natural market for incarceration services; the entire market would cease to exist without direct government intervention in the form of taxpayer-funded contracts to operate correctional facilities.
We, the undersigned, argue that because private prison firms are ultimately functionaries of the state, they must come under the same FOIA requirements as their public counterparts. We therefore urge you to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act this Congressional session and are willing to support your efforts. Should you have questions or require additional information, please feel free to contact either Christopher Petrella at 860-341-1684 or cpetrella@post.harvard.edu, or Human Rights Defense Center associate director Alex Friedmann at 615-495-6568 or afriedmann@prisonlegalnews.org.
Respectfully,
ACLU National Prison Project
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Media Justice
Center for Prison Education
Enlace
FedCURE
Florida Justice Institute
Florida Reentry Resources & Information (FreeRein)
Grassroots Leadership
Human Rights Defense Center
In the Public Interest
Justice Policy Institute
Justice Strategies
Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition
Media Alliance
National CURE
National Immigrant Justice Center
Partnership for Safety and Justice
Prison Policy Initiative
Private Corrections Institute
Private Corrections Working Group
Southern Center for Human Rights
Southern Poverty Law Center
Texas Civil Rights Project
Texas Jail Project
The Center for Church and Prison
The Fortune Society (David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy)
The Real Cost of Prisons Project
The Sentencing Project
The Workplace Project/Centro de Derechos Laborales
Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center
Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform
Voters Legislative Transparency Project
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Inmate pleads guilty, second charged, in Mississippi prison riot

By HOLBROOK MOHR Associated Press
Posted September 7, 2012
In: The Commercial Appeal, TN

JACKSON — One inmate has pleaded guilty to participating in a deadly prison riot in Mississippi, while a second prisoner has been charged in the case.

One guard was killed and 20 people were injured in the May 20 riot at the privately-run Adams County Correctional Facility in Natchez, which holds illegal immigrants convicted of crimes in the U.S.

Yoany Oriel Serrano-Bejarano was charged Tuesday. A complaint filed by an FBI agent says he assaulted a guard and helped other inmates climb onto the roof of a building where correction officer Catlin Carithers was beaten to death.

The affidavit says prisoners took food service carts out of the dining hall and kitchen and stacked them on top of each other to climb onto the roof where Carithers was assaulted.

“Serrano-Bejarano has been identified as one of the inmates who held the food carts so the inmates could access the roof,” the complaint says.

The court documents also say Serrano-Bejarano assaulted a different guard, was seen with a prison guard’s radio, and destroyed cameras and windows.

Serrano-Bejarano is at least the second inmate charged in the case. Court records did not list an attorney for him.

Juan Lopez-Fuentes pleaded guilty to participating in the riot during a hearing Aug. 27 in U.S. District Court in Natchez. He faces up to 10 years in prison at sentencing on Nov. 19. Lopez-Fuentes was charged with leading a group of inmates who took hostages in one section of the prison. He forced one of the hostages to relay orders for tactical teams to drop their weapons and back off, according to court records in his case.

Lopez-Fuentes was serving time for two previous felonies at the time and was facing deportation.

The FBI affidavit doesn’t say why Serrano-Bejarano was being held in the prison, though it says he was released Aug. 28 and turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement for deportation. The criminal charge will allow authorities to hold him pending the outcome of the case.

Court records say the prisoners were angry about their treatment the day the riot erupted.

The prison holds nearly 2,500 illegal immigrants, most of them convicted on charges of coming back to the U.S. after being deported. The prison is owned by Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America, one of the nation’s largest private prison companies.

The FBI says in court records that the riot was started by a group of Mexican inmates, known as Paisas, who were angry about what they considered poor food and medical care and disrespectful guards. Paisas are a loosely affiliated group within the prison, without ties to organized gangs, FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden has said.

It took hours for authorities to control the riot, which grew to involve hundreds of inmates and caused an estimated $1.3 million in damage.

Read the rest here

It would be good to know from other sources what happened.