On March 19, a Travis County, Texas court has declared the the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) a governmental body, according to Prison Legal News ("Texas Court holds CCA is a governmental body in PLN public records suit 2014"). According to the Texas Public Information Act, CCA, as a governmental body, is required to disclose information to the public.
This ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication housed within the Human Rights Defense Center that focuses on criminal justice issues. PLN filed a lawsuit against CCA in May 2013 after the for-profit prison corporation refused to disclose information, such as audits and other investigations regarding the troubled Dawson State Jail, which Grassroots Leadership helped close that same year. The records in question would have been public had Dawson not been operated by a private company. CCA operated nine facilities in Texas, four of which are used to incarcerate state prisoners.
PLN managing director Alex Friedmann commented on CCA's secrecy:
This is one of the many failings of private prisons... By contracting with private companies, corrections officials interfere with the public’s right to know what is happening in prisons and jails, even though the contracts are funded with taxpayer money. This lack of transparency contributes to abuses and misconduct by for-profit companies like CCA, which prefer secrecy over public accountability.
PLN argued that CCA can be defined as a "governmental body" because the company performs duties that are also performed by the government. CCA rebutted, claiming that not all funds from Texas are allocated for Texas facilities, but are instead used to "to support CCA’s corporate allocations throughout the United States." PLN's has won a lawsuit against CCA in Tennessee and another is pending in Vermont.
Brian McGiverin of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who represented PLN along with Cindy Saiter Connolly, calls the ruling against CCA a "victory":
The conditions of Texas prisons have been the focus of intense public scrutiny for nearly 40 years... Today’s ruling is a victory for transparency and responsible government. Texans have a right to know what their government is doing, even when a private company is hired to do it.
According to CNHI News Service, a Parker Country grand jury has pressed charges against two former corrections officers, 11 former inmates and five other individuals for possible involvement in bribery and the intent to provide contraband to an incarcerated person in February 2013.
Carl James Guittard, 36 and Terrie Elaine Glover, 49, who are both former employees of the Mineral Wells facility, are charged with bribery and intending to provide an incarcerated individual with tobacco. The charges allege that 10 people offered or gave money to both Guittard and Glover with a prepaid debit card. Information regarding the charges reached investigators at the beginning of the year.
Mark Mullin, a special prosecutor, said it is uncommon for state prosecutors to seek this type of case with the number of defendants involved.
"This is a lot of folks," Mullin said. "You know we've seen it before but we don't deal with it very often and not this many of them." Mullin also stated that, though there have been a lot of contraband cases, none involve as many people as the one in question.
The Democrat was unable to reach the corporate spokeswoman for the Corrections Corporation of America, which operated the Mineral Wells Facility.
The facility has a troubled history with contraband issues, which is reportedly a reason for the facility's closure in 2013. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice elected to close Mineral Wells for safety reasons, as well as the problems with contraband and capacity. CCA's contract with TDCJ was thus terminated.
Despite the facility's permanent closure on July 30, 2013, Parker County grand juries have continued to press charges in the last few months regarding contraband violations that have occurred over the last few years.
Last month, the Christian Broadcasting Network published an article that covered serious concerns with the for-profit prison industry. While the issues CBN raises are nothing new to regular Texas Prison Bid’ness readers, we are excited to see that the diversity of groups raising these concerns continues to grow. Here’s an excerpt:
Critics complain that private prisons cut corners on salaries, guard training, inmate medical care, and facility maintenance to add to their bottom lines. "The model as a whole has not had a happy history," Dr. Fran Buntman, a criminologist at George Washington University, said.
In her opinion, for-profit companies should not be in the business of locking up criminals.
"Ethically we need to deal with the fact that when we have chosen to put people in prison, we've taken away from their liberty rights to control their own lives," Buntman said. "We as a society and the government as the institution looking after them have a responsibility to their welfare," she continued. "We cannot subcontract out that responsibility to a private agency."
For critics of the industry, their fears materialized a few months ago when CCA proposed a $250 million deal to 48 states. The company would buy state prisons and manage them if the states would guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate. [For TPB’s coverage of this offer click here.]
"What's more important? People or money?" John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, asked. "I'm not saying corporations are evil, but corporations exist for one reason, to make money, maximum profit," he continued. "That's okay if you're making widgets or toothpaste, but when you're dealing with people and you're making money off of people -- you're starting to treat people like they're toothpaste and you're making money off of them and I think that's way we're headed.
"We're de-personalizing people in this country and I think that we're heading to a country where people are going to be treated like they're products," he said.
To make matters worse for the for-profit prison industry, this is not the first time this year that CBN affiliated individuals raised issues that could negatively impact the industry’s profits. In March, CBN founder Pat Robertson came out in favor of legalizing marijuana. How could this harm the for-profit prison industry? Well, approximately 46% of drug prosecutions (858,408 in 2009) are for marijuana – and that adds up to a lot of prison beds! And, the for-profit prison industry has lobbied for draconian drug laws that rely on incarceration rather than evidence-based solutions such as treatment programs.
How can the for-profit prison industry both maximize shareholder profit and ensure public safety, human rights, and fiscal responsibility? As the industry’s actions indicate, the answer is – they can’t! We hope that CBN continues to highlight this clear conflict of interest.
Corrections Corporation of America’s (CCA) letter offering to purchase state and local prisons/jails in return for a 20-year deal and 90% guaranteed occupancy rate (probably making the hotel lobby very jealous) continues to gather press. Last week, an AP story (Corrections firm offers states cash for prisons, Greg Bluestein, Associated Press) about the facility was picked up by a number of newspapers around the country.
In defense of the deal, CCA continues to point to its “successful” purchase of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Ohio. Did CCA think no one would check to verify this claim? Unfortunately for CCA, the ACLU of Ohio did. Quoting Mark Twain, they wrote "’[t]here are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’ A recent letter sent out by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to 48 governors offering to buy state prisons included a little of each.”
Here are some highlights from the ACLU of Ohio’s blog:
· “While CCA claims it will save Ohioans $3 million per year, a recent report analyzing the state's contract shows that taxpayers will actually lose money over the next 20 years. Of course, this is not earth-shattering news, as other fiscal analyses in Ohio and Arizona have produced similar results.”
· “CCA also leads readers to believe there was no drama behind the transition to private ownership, but the people of Conneaut may disagree. As CCA took the reins of the Lake Erie facility, Conneaut city officials were informed that it would be the duty of local police officers to investigate crimes at the private prison. Typically, the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) handles all investigations at state prisons, but private properties are under the jurisdiction of local police forces. This could cost the city of Conneaut taxpayer dollars it just doesn't have.”
· “CCA also points out that 93 percent of the previous staff from the Lake Erie facility was retained in the ownership transfer — the implication being that governors shouldn't worry about privatization because most state corrections officers will be hired back. What it does not explain is that Lake Erie has been a privately operated facility for over a decade. … Certainly, if the facility had employed state corrections officers, many of those workers could not afford to continue working there. It's no secret that private prisons pay employees far less than state workers and provide few benefits, leaving doubt that privatization of a state facility would be as ‘seamless’ as CCA describes in its letter.”
On the bright side, I imagine CCA’s management and shareholders made out quite well. Stay tuned to Texas Prison Bid’ness for more on this story.