America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Walnut Grove

This is from the series in MotherJones Magazine

“A picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”

—By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
May. 13, 2013

Serving time in prison is not supposed to be pleasant. Nor, however, is it supposed to include being raped by fellow prisoners or staff, beaten by guards for the slightest provocation, driven mad by long-term solitary confinement, or killed off by medical neglect. These are the fates of thousands of prisoners every year—men, women, and children housed in lockups that give Gitmo and Abu Ghraib a run for their money.

While there’s plenty of blame to go around, and while not all of the facilities described in this series have all of the problems we explore, some stand out as particularly bad actors. We’ve compiled this subjective list of America’s 10 worst lockups (plus a handful of dishonorable mentions) based on three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with criminal-justice reform advocates concerning the penal facilities with the grimmest claims to infamy.

We will roll out the final contenders this week, complete with photos and video. Number 9 is a corporate-run facility where children allegedly have been subjected to a heartrending pattern of brutal beatings, rapes, and isolation.

Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (Leake County, Mississippi)

Number of prisoners: Capacity 1,450 (actual population in flux)

Who’s in charge: (current) Lawrence Mack, warden; (former) George Zoley, CEO, the GEO Group; Christopher B. Epps, commissioner, Mississippi Department of Corrections

The basics: Efforts are underway to clean up and clear out Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, which one federal judge called “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts” visited upon children as young as 13. For years, the kids at Walnut Grove were subjected to a gauntlet of physical and sexual assaults, and psychological abuse including long-term solitary confinement. All of this took place under the management of private prison conglomerate the GEO Group.

The backlash: Evidence gathered for a report by the Justice Department and a lawsuit by the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center “paints a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world,” Federal District Judge Carleton Reeves wrote in a 2012 court order. The court found that conditions at Walnut Grove violated the Constitution, not to mention state and federal civil and criminal laws. Guards regularly had sex with their young charges and the facility’s pattern of “brutal” rapes among prisoners was the worst of “any facility anywhere in the nation” (court’s emphasis). Guards also were deemed excessively violent—beating, kicking, and punching “handcuffed and defenseless” youths and frequently subjecting them to chemical restraints such as pepper spray, even for insignificant infractions.

The guards also sold drugs on site and staged “gladiator-style” fights. “It’d be like setting up a fight deal like you would with two dogs,” one former resident told NPR. “They actually bet on it. It was payday for the guards.” Said another: “A lot of times, the guards are in the same gang. If the inmates wanted something done, they got it. If they wanted a cell popped open to handle some business about fighting or something like that, it just pretty much happened.” Kids who complained or tried to report these incidents faced harsh retribution, including long stints in solitary.

Judge Reeves wrote that the state had turned a blind eye to the prison company’s abuses: Walnut Grove’s charges, “some of whom are mere children, are at risk every minute, every hour, every day.” In accord with a court decree, the facility’s youngest residents have been moved to a state-run juvenile facility, and Mississippi canceled its contract with GEO—which still runs some 65 prisons nationwide. The contract was handed over to another private prison company, Management and Training Corporation, which also has been a target of criticism for advocates of criminal justice reform.

Also read:The Lost Boys,” about what happens when you put kids in an adult isolation facility.

Watch: Local news report on a protest by Walnut Grove parents.

Lynne Stewart’s Message for International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2013

Sent from Federal Medical Center (prison) Carswell, Fort Worth, Texas

This is a cry from deep in my soul on behalf of my sisters–abused, forgotten, made marginal.  We are always aware of our place on the rungs of the ladder of oppression based on race and class and sex.

Since this needs be brief I want to first talk about sisters Indian–Asian and Native American.  It is the most difficult concept to conceive of the evil predatory communities these women on different sides of the world live in.  Rape is VIOLENCE not sex. It has been routine for men to absolutely do as they will without any fear of retribution legally.  There have been no courts to Prosecute, to PUNISH.  My first rejoinder is always to urge self-defense–that will always get a woman to Court.  But she may be the victim again.  Right now, the Congress has passed a “law” that we hope will protect Native Indian women here.  But there have been many “Laws”.  There is greater hope in India where there has been a righteous female uprising that cannot, will not be ignored.  

Briefly I just want to mention –women who are not in the cruel world but suffer behind bars –cages, if you will.  Some of us are political –here because the Government has criminalized our actions or framed us –I call out to you to Remember and  Cherish  Marie Mason, a “green warrior”, Afiia Siddique ” a heroine in her own Pakistan for her brave resistance”, and also Me–Still fighting, Still Struggling.  Still loving you all.

Love Struggle,

Mumia’s column about the raping officers in PA

(col. writ. 9/29/11 © ‘11 Mumla Abu-Jamal)
Listen to this here on PrisonRadio.

Several months ago. I reported on the firing of a trio of high-ranking prison officials in connection with a series of sexual assaults in a Southwestern Pennsylvania prison.

Few news agencies took up the story. especially national ones. This was astounding. given the nature of the charges: prison guards both raping men and forcing others to assault them, on their very whim. Prison administrators turning a collective blind eye.

Is this not news?

Since that initial report, one prison guard (who spent months on suspension), Harry Nicciletti, has been arrested and faces over 9O-90!–charges stemming from the events.

According to the local DA, 11 other guards will soon be arrested on related charges.

When news first broke of the scandal, it forced some prison observers to recall ex-President George W. Bush, who, after the rise of the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq. pointed to Saddam Hussein’s usage of the prison, and particularly made note of his “rape rooms.”

Well–once again, Americans have gone one better–from rape rooms to rape blocks!

In the prison known as State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Pittsburgh, those convicted of sex crimes were targeted for beatings, rapes–or both. Sometimes by prisoners, sometimes by guards- -sometimes by both.

Boy–talk about ‘corrections!’

Some men filed institutional grievances (or prison internal complaints) which were invariably dismissed or simply ignored. Other tried to file time-consuming actions in court, where most fell into black holes.

It is worthy to note that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the notorious and vicious slaughter at Attica–a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.

Attica was supposed to be the bellwether of change to American corrections. But, if anything, it shows the limits of liberal reforms, which can be washed away in another season.

Limits were promised by liberal politicians. Years later, neo-liberals would push more restrictive laws that shuttered courtrooms from prisoners, and made civil suits an obstacle course.

They joined with conservatives to build the prison-industrial-complex into the monster that it is today (boy–talk about bipartisanship!).

In many ways, they made the scandals which we see today–and the rape blocks–possible.


Ex-inmate claims harassment

Levittown – In a lawsuit, a Hulmeville woman says she was sexually harassed and assaulted by two male guards at Bucks County Prison in 2007 and 2008.

A former inmate at the Bucks County Prison has sued the county and a number of corrections officials alleging that she was sexually harassed and assaulted by two male guards in 2007 and 2008.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania demands a jury trial and claims the former inmate is entitled to damages in excess of $150,000.
The newspaper is withholding the identity of the plaintiff because of the nature of her claims and the identities of the guards whom she accuses because no criminal charges have been filed.
The suit also names Bucks County Prison Warden Terrance Moore, Director of Corrections Harris Gubernick and nursing supervisor Joan Crowe as defendants, alleging they failed to take action to prevent the assaults.
Doylestown attorney Martha Sperling filed the suit Monday on behalf of the Hulmeville woman who pleaded guilty in 2008 to theft charges and was sentenced to 18 months to 10 years in prison. Sperling said the woman has served her sentence and is no longer incarcerated.
Sperling said one of the guards named in the suit no longer works as a corrections officer; however, the other guard remains employed at the prison. A list of county employees provided by the solicitor’s office in May includes the name of the guard whom Sperling said remains at the prison but not the other.

Denim Day 2010 Takes On Prisoner Rape

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and next Wednesday, April 21, is Denim Day — an international day of action during which hundreds of thousands of Americans wear jeans as a statement against sexual violence. This year’s Denim Day campaign will emphasize the urgent need to end prisoner rape

In addition to raising awareness, the goal of Denim Day is to stimulate policy change. Next week, Just Detention International and Denim Day sponsor Peace Over Violence will encourage participants to send postcards to the U.S. Attorney General in support of strong national standards addressing sexual abuse in detention.

Please join us next Wednesday by wearing jeans and by taking a stand against all sexual violence — in the community and behind bars. 

Thank you for your support,
Lovisa Stannow
Just Detention International