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January 2012

Austin protestors target Wells Fargo private prison investments

On Tuesday, I participated in an Austin protest against Wells Fargo's holdings in private prison corporations GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.  The coalition of immigrant rights groups (including Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families) called on Wells Fargo to divest of their holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.

Nearly half of the more than 33,000 immigration detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations, and the detention system will cost taxpayers more than $1.7 billion this year. Benefiting from this practice are companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, as well a companies like Wells Fargo, that have invested in the growth of the private prison industry.

For more on the Austin protests, see the Grassroots Leadership or Texans United for Families facebook pages.  And, for more photos and videos from other Wells Fargo protests around the country, check out the National Prison Divestment Campaign, coordinated by Enlace. 

Supreme Court rejects Bivens action against private prison employees

In an 8-1 opinion last week issued in Minneci v. Pollard, the Supreme Court held that an inmate in a privately contracted federal prison cannot maintain a Bivens action against facility employees to redress injuries he sustained as a result of their neglect. 

The plaintiff, Pollard, a prisoner in the Taft Correctional Institute operated by The GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation), fractured his elbows in a fall outside of the prison’s butcher shop in 2002.  He alleges that through the neglect of Wackenhut staff, he suffered immeasurable pain and “two permanently damaged arms”.

Although the Ninth Circuit found existing California tort law to be an insufficient remedy for Pollard, the Supreme Court found that "the state tort law authorizes adequate alternaive damages actions -- actions that provide both significant deterrence and compensation."

The ruling is significant for states (including Texas) “where federal prison facilities are being run by private companies”, but it is also important to note that the decision is narrowly focused on cases in which an appropriate state remedy exists that provides protection to the plaintiff.  The greater question of whether or not an employee of a private corporation under contract with the federal government “acts under color of federal law” for the purpose of Bivens remains unanswered.  

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The Sentencing Project Publishes New Report on Private Prisons

The Sentencing Project* recently published a new report on private prisons titled, Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America authored by Cody Mason.  The publication details the history of private prisons in America and documents the increase in their use.  The major findings include:

  • Texas prisoners in private facilities grew by 55% from 1999 thru 2010.
  • From 1999 to 2010 the use of private prisons increased by 40% at the state level and by 784% in the federal system.
  • In 2010 seven states housed more than 25% of their prison population in private facilities. 
  • Savings associated with investing in private prisons appear dubious.
Mason provides an overview of recent studies on prison privatization and charts state-by-state changes in private prison populations as well as changes at the federal level.  Worth a look when you get the chance.
* The author of this blog post is employed by The Sentencing Project where she works as the State Advocacy Coordinator.  She provided editorial assistance in the publication of Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America.