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Riot at Private Prison

On November 14, 1999, hundreds of prisoners housed at a privately operated prison in Taft, California, rioted in protest over conditions, according to The Bakersfield Californian. Prisoners at the Wackenhut Corrections run facility broke windows, televisions, and furniture causing some $60,000 in damage at the two year old prison in the state's Central Valley. The prison houses federal minimum and medium custody prisoners.

A special team of prison guards fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and sting grenades into a group of some 800 prisoners who refused to lock up in a protest about food and other conditions. Some 100 guards, including two 25-man special response teams, were called in to confront the prisoners. After the prisoners were gassed, they returned to their dorms. "That had the effect we intended," said Associate Warden Kevin Belt. Wackenhut downplayed the reasons for the protest, but prisoners had a different story.

Nathaniel Osuorji, responding to the one-sided newspaper coverage of the riot, wrote that Wackenhut's "prison for profit" at Taft was built only to make money, rather than providing basic services to prisoners. Osuoriji said prison management lacked the "basic concept or regards for [prisoner's] rights." He points out that the Taft private prison offers no vocational, educational, or similar programs provided to the same classification of prisoners in government operated facilities. "Inmates are simply wasting away without gaining any of the special skills they will need for post-release survival," Osuoriji said.

Wackenhut officials placed over 100 of the medium security prisoners in the Security Housing Unit for participating in the protest and riot. While praising "the excellent performance of our staff" in quelling the riot, Belt said some prisoners may be transferred to higher security prisons and lose good time or privileges. The rioting took place over a nine hour period, from about 2:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Similar disturbances, some resulting in deaths or escapes, have plagued other privately operated prisons across the nation.

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