“What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.” -- Molly Ivins, 2003

Michael Moore to tackle private prisons in new film?

Will Michael Moore make private prisons the focus of his newest documentary expose?  That's the question the film-indusry blog slashfilm.com:

A film crew for Michael Moore’s next yet-to-be-titled documentary was in Wilkes-Barre, PA last week interviewing people involved with the Luzerne County Courthouse scandal. According to FilmBuffOnline, Moore wasn’t present during filming. For those who don’t know, county judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. accepted a $2.6 million from two privately owned juvenile detention centers in exchange for helping secure contracts worth upwards of $30 million.

Details about Moore’s new documentary have been kept tightly under wraps, but it was announced as a quasi-follow-up to Fahrenheit 9/11, focusing on a post-Bush administration world and the financial crisis. Privately owned prisons have become a big business over the last decade, but what does outsourcing government services to the private sector have to do with the big picture? The Geo Group has recently come under fire for possible mistreatment of prisoners, which may have resulted in inmate deaths at some of their facilities.

We'll keep you posted on developments... 

Controversial MTC federal prison will not come to Nacogdoches

Opponents of a controversial MTC-proposed federal prison in Nacogdoches were celebrating last week after the Federal Bureau of Prisons pulled the plug on the project, according to Nacogdoches Daily Sentinal ("Federal government rejects plan for prison in Nacogdoches," May 1),

The proposed private federal prison — the subject of months of debate in Nacogdoches — will not be built here, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said.

The federal government rejected a proposal by the private prison operator Management and Training Corporation to build the facility because it was not competitive enough, according to an April 28 letter from Amanda J. Pennel, a contracting officer with the bureau of prisons. "After evaluating this proposal in accordance with the terms of the solicitation, it was determined that this proposal was not among the most highly rated proposals," the letter said. "A proposal revision will not be considered," the letter continued.

While public offials were generally in favor of the proposed facility, a facility for immigrants to be deported following their sentences, community opposition to the facility was fierce and included an effort to bring the issue to a referendum vote by amending the city's charter and gathered over 2,700 signatures on their website, and impressive feat in a town of less than 30,000 total population.   

Prisoner injured at CCA's Mineral Wells facility

A prisoner was hospitalized after injuries sustained during an assault last week at the Corrections Corporation of America pre-parole transfer facility in Mineral Wells, according to the Mineral Wells Index ("Prisoner injured in disturbance at CCA facility," May 1),

A prisoner was reported transported Wednesday evening to Palo Pinto General Hospital from the Corrections Corporation of America pre-parole transfer facility with serious injuries, according to the Mineral Wells Fire Department and EMS.

According to a statement released late Thursday by CCA, “at approximately 4:45 p.m. … an inmate was found in the first-floor dayroom of housing unit 756 with injuries consistent with having been assaulted.”

According to statements by the dispatcher at the time, the caller stated that there was “blood everywhere.” Police also responded to the call but cleared within 15 minutes after speaking with a guard about the problem.

CCA's Mineral Wells facility has been home to numerous reports of disturbances, a rash of smuggling incidents, and was the subject of a three-part series here at Texas Prison Bid'ness by Nick Hudson (see part 1, part 2, and part 3).  It's also been the facility which has consistently generated heated comments from readers of this blog - both against the facility and in defense of it.  

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Annual turnover rate is 90% in TDCJ's private prisons

Amongst the interesting statistics in the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee's interim report on private prisons (PDF), was the shocking statistic that TDCJ-contracted private prisons have a 90% annual staff turnover rate.  The report also presented numbers on differences in guard pay between public and private facilities.

"The wages and benefits paid to employees of private contractors are generally lower than that paid to employees of state-operated facilities... Correctional officer salaries in the private prisons vary among facilities, with the highest peaking at slightly more than $24,000 annually."

For comparison to this figure, TDCJ Director Brad Livingston told the Austin American Statesman ("Big raises sought for prison workers," August 14) that starting pay for correctional officers in public facilities is $26,016, and the maximum salaries range from $34,624 to $42,242. This means the lowest-paid TDCJ guard's annual salary is $2,000 more than the highest-paid guard at TDCJ-contracted private prisons.

This probably contributes to the high turnover at private facilities noted in the report:           

During FY 2008 the correctional officer turnover rate at the seven private prisons was 90 percent (60 percent for the five privately-operated state jails), which in either case is higher than the 24 percent turnover rate for TDCJ correctional officers during FY 2008.

It's hard to understand how ANY organization can operate with 90% staff turnover.

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