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Abuse of Prisoners Confirmed at CCA Facility

On August 5, 1998, Jerry Reeves, a guard at Tennessee's Whiteville Correctional Facility (WCF), suffered near-fatal injuries in an altercation with prisoners. WCF, which houses prisoners from Wisconsin, is owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

In the days following the assault on Reeves, CCA employees investigated to determine which prisoners had attacked the guard. The investigation included intensive interrogation of any prisoners the CCA officials suspected might have information about the attack.

Wisconsin DOC administrators soon began receiving complaints from prisoners and the families of prisoners who'd been interrogated at WCF, claiming CCA employees had physically abused prisoners during interrogation in order to coerce the prisoners into answering questions. In October, after consulting with WCF managers, WDOC Secretary Michael Sullivan denied that any Wisconsin prisoners were abused during the interrogations.

Not satisfied with Sullivan's denial, the families of several prisoners retained attorneys to look into the abuse allegations. As those lawyers began turning up evidence to support the prisoners' claims, the WDOC decided to conduct its own investigation. WDOC officials travelled to Whiteville, where they questioned 51 prisoners and prison employees.

On November 10, the WDOC held a press conference, announcing that its investigators concluded that 15 to 20 Wisconsin prisoners were abused during the interrogations, and that CCA employees had attempted to cover up the episode, initially lying to the WDOC about the incidents. The WDOC stated that prisoners were slammed into walls by CCA guards, struck in the groin and shocked with electrical stun devices, all to coerce prisoners into answering questions.

The use of beatings and electrical stun devices as interrogation techniques is condemned around the world, by Amnesty International and other human-rights groups, as torture.

Nancy Rost, director of the Wisconsin Network to End the Transfers (WisNET), which opposes having prisoners serve their sentences in other states, says the revelations about abuse of prisoners at WCF confirms the group's concerns about the CCA. "We've been warning all along that Wisconsin prisoners would be abused in private prisons," Rost says. "The CCA has a terrible record on human rights and the professionalism of its staff." Rost says that many WisNET members fear their loved "returning from the CCA prisons in boxes."

Despite confirming the torture of prisoners at WCF and the attempted coverup by the CCA, Wisconsin officials continue to transfer prisoners to Whiteville. The WDOC sent a shipment of 80 prisoners to WCF one week after its press conference revealing the torture episode.

"It is simply outrageous that the DOC would turn more inmates over to the CCA after confirming that prisoners were physically abused at Whiteville," says Nancy Rost. WisNET advocates immediate termination of the transfers and the return of all Wisconsin prisoners confined in other states.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wis consin State Journal

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