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CCA Finally Loses Contract at Mismanaged Tulsa Jail

by Matthew T. Clarke

For years the Sheriff of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, Stanley Glanz, has been telling anyone who would listen that he, not CCA, should be running the county jail. Now, after five years of CCA mismanagement, he may finally get his chance.

The saga started in the late 80s and early 90s when the previous county jail, located in the top two floors of the county courthouse, became hopelessly overcrowded. A federal judge ordered Glanz to reduce the crowding in the jail. He responded by setting up tents for prisoners and lobbying for a 5/12th cent increase in county sales tax to fund construction of a new jail. The tax increase passed along with a measure setting up the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority (TCCJA) to oversee the jail's administration.

The 1,714-bed new county jail is known as the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center. It was named after a tough-on-crime former District Attorney. The jail was immediately surrounded by controversy when former Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage led a coalition to privatize the new jail's management.

Glanz fought that move all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. However, the courts disagreed with his argument that the TCCJA didn't have the right to remove him from control of the jail.

Forced to submit a bid to TCCJA for the running of his own jail, Glanz lost out to low-bidder CCA in 1999 and CCA found itself responsible for the largest privately-run county jail in the country. Thrown out of his own jail, Glanz has vigorously led opposition to the jail's privatization. Meanwhile, CCA has become the (mis)managing entity for four other incarceration facilities in Oklahoma (placing Oklahoma in the vanguard of the prison privatization movement), two of which were recently rocked by riots. [PLN Jan. 2005, p. 26, see this issue of PLN.] Additionally, it was recently discovered that a jail employee had brought drugs with him to work. [PLN Apr. 2005, p. 16.]

During the time he spent out of his jail, Glanz has gained a national reputation as an expert opponent to jail privatization.

I'm pretty well known in the corrections field," said Glanz. I have a lot of expertise, but none of that is recognized locally. It takes some dedication to run a jail.

If there is one thing CCA has, it is dedication--to the bottom line, not to the proper running of the jail. This is emphasized by the fact that CCA improperly released two prisoners in 1999 and 2000, one of whom was convicted of murder. Both were eventually recaptured, but no one even suggested charging CCA for the cost of the searches. CCA's excuse in both cases was that they were isolated mistakes by low-ranking employees. However, the high turnover rate (75% in less than 2 years) of the poorly-paid jail workers suggests that the problem might actually lie with the inexperience and poor training of new CCA employees. One ex-employee complained of only having received $9 per hour and having often received only one 1.5-minute break in the course of a twelve-hour shift. He also claimed that the CCA floor guards had a better relationship with the prisoners than with the jail's administration. CCA has also discriminated against its female employees in Oklahoma. Female employees at the CCA North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre, OK, won $152,000 in back pay in 2002 based upon a claim of illegal discrimination. A similar, class-action suit has been filed by female CCA employees in California.

Two Tulsa jail suicides have also caused CCA controversy. In. September 2004, Darla Lamb, mother of Scott Ray Dickens, a prisoner who committed suicide in the Tulsa jail on December 21, 2002, filed suit in federal court. The suit alleges that CCA disregarded strong indications of Dickens's suicidal state of mind, allowing the father of three to use a bed sheet to hang himself in his cell.

In July, 2004, Michael Andrew Jones committed suicide in the medical facility of the jail using a plastic trash bag. At the time, he was under observation for seizures. However, in a civil suit filed by his mother, it is alleged that CCA failed to adequately supervise Jones, who suffered from a brain-injury- induced mental condition.

These deaths were two of up to eighteen that occurred in the jail since CCA took over in August, 1999 (the official prisoner-death statistics are ambiguous, possibly because CCA tries to count a prisoner who is not pronounced dead until he reaches the hospital as a non-jail death). At least five of them have been suicides. Early in 2005, CCA settled a suit by the family of a drunken man who was dumped" in the jail's lobby and ignored by jail officials until they discovered he was dead several minutes later. There have also been two recent suicide attempts by prisoners who hoarded their psychotropic medication which had been given to them in pill form instead of the liquid form specifically required by CCA's contract. Additionally, there was an apparent hanging suicide of jail prisoner Felipe Gonzales, 46, on March 28, 2005. CCA also settled a 2002 suit by a prisoner who had been locked in a cell with another prisoner who was known to be violent toward cellmates.

How does CCA retain its contract in the face of such mismanagement? Political connections and contributions! CCA's pattern of operation is to liberally grease the wheels of the political system with contributions and hire ex-politicos to lobby for the company. [PLN, Apr. 2005, p. 22]. It has a lengthy, nationwide history of incurring no political consequences for mismanagement leading to riots and murders within CCA-managed prisons. [PLN, Apr. 2005, p. 14; Mar. 2005, p. 26; Jan. 2004, p. 26; Jan. 2005, p. 31; December 2004, p. 24; July 2004, p. 12].

CCA's methods are no different in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Ethics Commissions's list of registered CCA lobbyists includes former state legislator Scott Adkins (sponsor of a law requiring stricter sentences for gun crimes); Fried and Associates, a corporate tax and appropriations specialty firm that includes former state Senate staffers Otie Ann Fried and Brayn Fried, former state representative Jim Fried and Lesa Borin, former employee of former Tulsa mayor, state representative and state senator Rodger Randle. CCA employs Marvin Branham--former campaign consultant for former Mayors Randle and Savage, former County Commissioner Dick and former Tulsa City Council member Dewey Bartlett Jr.--as its spokesman and lobbyist in Tulsa.

CCA also keeps its Corrections Corporation of America, Inc. Political Action Committee well funded. During the 2004 election cycle, it slipped $59,000 to federal candidates across the country, including $1,000 to Oklahoma federal representative Frank Lucas. CCA also gave $1,000 to Oklahoma federal Senator Jim Inhofe and $500 to Lucas in 2002 and contributed $10,000 to the Committee for the Inauguration and Transition of Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry. CCA's origins reveal its corporate character. It was the 1983 brainchild of former Tennessee Republican Party Chair Thomas Beasley and Jack Massey, who had helped establish Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hospital Corporation of America as corporate icons. Having applied fast-food principles to the medical profession, Massey proceeded to give us fast-food prisons, bastions of low-wage, low-benefit, high-turnover jobs that teach their employees few marketable skills.
Ultimately, CCA's political connections couldn't save its Tulsa jail contract. Nor is Tulsa the first contract CCA lost. North Carolina took back two prisons CCA had been managing since June 2000 amid concerns about CCA understaffing the prisons.

The drive for the bottom line always leads to pressure to reduce staff and increase the numbers of prisoners. One of the issues in Tulsa is possible manipulation of the prisoner population by CCA to keep daily counts high and maximize profits at the jail. However, according to former Tulsa prosecutor and current Tulsa Bar Association president Phil Frazier, CCA isn't cooperating in the investigation.

I've been practicing law in Tulsa for 40 years and before CCA it was an orderly and well-run affair at the [old] jail;" said Frazier. But since they've built that
[new] jail and CCA has taken over, it's
been an absolute zoo.

The contract to manage the Tulsa jail will be bid in mid-2005. CCA currently charges $48.60 per prisoner per day and is ensured payment for a least 1,150 prisoners each day, regardless of the jail's actual population. That's 32% higher than its contract-winning bid of $36.76 in 1999 and made the cost of running the jail $23 million for fiscal 2003-2004. The price increases has driven TCCJA into a $2.9 million deficit and CCA has refused to back down on its prices. It may not be clear who will run the Tulsa jail until the bidding is over, but it appears that Sheriff Glanz will beat the $48.60 rate. Current estimates are that the county would save $4 million a year by letting the sheriff run the jail compared with CCA. Once again, CCA has proven that privatizing prisons is a bad idea whose time has gone.


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