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Uprisings at CCA Prisons Reveal Weaknesses in Out-of-State Imprisonment Policies

by Matthew T. Clarke

States strapped by tight budgets and pressed by a swell of prisoners are faced with the Hobson's choice of releasing prisoners early to ease overcrowding or building prisons they can ill afford to construct and staff. Private prison corporations seem to offer a third choice. They claim to be able to house the state's excess prisoners without the substantial outlay of capital required to build prisons and at a lower cost of incarceration than the government can manage.

How do private prison corporations achieve this miracle of modern capitalism? By running a much more efficient operation than is possible with moribund state bureaucracies say private prison proponents. Opponents of private prisons reply that the savings are achieved by locating prisons in distant states with distressed labor markets and cutting the number of employees, union busting, slashing employee salaries and benefits, and the quality and/or quantity of food, medical care, and programs offered prisoners, as well as by plain, old-fashioned cooking the books. Regardless of the quality of programs and services offered, relocating prisoners to prisons in distant states traumatizes them and their families, making communication and visitation difficult and expensive, if not impossible, and reducing one of the most valuable aids to rehabilitation -- strong family ties

CCA, The 800-Pound Private Prison Gorilla

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the largest private prison operator in the United States and the world. It runs 65 prisons and jails, owning 38 of them, and is responsible for 66,000 prisoners located in 20 states and the District of Columbia. This makes CCA the sixth largest prison system in the United States behind the federal government and four states. CCA alone is responsible for contracts with eleven states to ship over 8,000 prisoners to out-of-state CCA prisons

Despite its formidable market position, CCA has a history of scandal. In 2001 its stock dropped to less than a dollar a share after stockholders who had discovered that CCA had cooked the books on a grand scale filed state and federal stockholders' lawsuits. CCA settled those suits by distributing over 3 million shares of common stock and $30 million in cash to stockholders, issuing $30 million in promissory notes (that guaranteed a minimum stock price) and paying $17 million in cash and 1.6 million shares to the stockholders' attorneys for attorney fees. CCA stock rebounded following the announcement of the final settlement on May 20, 2003.

Currently, CCA is facing another crisis. This one was caused by the downgrading of CCA stock due to multiple riots at CCA prisons in July 2004. Stock analysts seemed unwilling to take the word of CCA CFO John Ferguson that neither the riots, recent escapes from CCA prisons nor lawsuits filed against CCA alleging abuse and murder of prisoners would affect the company's bottom line. He claimed that most of the costs of the riots would be covered by insurance.

CCA profits were down $4.8 million to $15.4 million in the second quarter of 2004 compared to the second quarter of 2003. On August 11, 2004, James A. Seaton resigned as Chief Operating Officer of CCA. Currently the COO's responsibilities are being handled by J. Michael Quinlan, CCA senior vice president, former COO, and former Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the first Bush Administration. As PLN has reported in the past, Mr. Quinlan also has a history of sexually assaulting his male underlings. See: PLN, June 2000. Former BOP Director Fingered in Sex Scandal.

CCA gave no reason for the resignation. Richard Crane, former CCA general counsel, said that the resignation might indicate that Seaton's background in management of the Marriott hotel chain was inadequate for running a prison system. "It's just so hard to understand that environment," said Crane. "It's not like running a hotel. I'm sorry. Your hotel guests rarely riot."

Specific Contracts for Out-of-State Imprisonment

Eleven states and the District of Columbia use prisons outside their boundaries. Alabama imprisoned 1,423 men at a CCA prison in Mississippi and 285 women at a Louisiana private prison. Alaska sent 706 men to an Arizona CCA prison while Arizona sent 625 men to a Texas private prison. Connecticut imprisoned 500 of its men in a Virginia state prison and plans to send up to 2,000 more prisoners out-of-state, Hawaii has 843 men and 63 women at CCA prisons in Oklahoma and 532 men in Arizona, Indiana sent 655 men to a CCA prison in Kentucky while 1,800 beds sit empty in the Indiana state prison system. Kansas has 48 prisoners in a CiviGenics Texas prison. Vermont shifted 450 prisoners previously housed in a Virginia state prison to a CCA prison in Kentucky and may send another 250. Washington had 240 prisoners in a Nevada state prison and 198 in a CCA prison in Colorado before the riot in July 2004. Wisconsin sent 1,388 prisoners to Minnesota CCA prisons and 502 to CCA prisons in Oklahoma. Wyoming imprisoned 398 men in two Colorado CCA prisons before the July riot and 131 at a state prison in Nevada. The District of Columbia, which has no prisons of it's owns spreads its 5,800 prisoners across the country in federally-supervised prisons. The total is about 14,500 prisoners being imprisoned out-of-state, some of whom are thousands of miles from their home states.

Long Distance Suffering

Not taken into account by the prison profiteers is the misery long-distance incarceration causes the prisoners and their families. Vera Leblond, the mother of a Connecticut prisoner imprisoned in Virginia knows this all too well. Her son's transfer virtually eliminated the possibility of family visits.

"It's horrifying -- driving that distance would exhaust me," noted Ms. Leblond.

State officials turn a deaf ear to the protests of prisoners and their families.

"The public doesn't have a lot of sympathy for prisoners," said Robert Farr, ranking Republican on the Connecticut House Judiciary Committee. "Someone committed a murder and says, `Gee, I want to be closer to home,' What about the family of the person they murdered?"

Of course, most of the transferred prisoners were not convicted of murder and the public hasn't been given an opportunity to voice their opinions as there has been no referendum or other opportunity to do so.

Farr also noted that the out-of-state transfers saved up to $10,000 per prisoner and relieved severe overcrowding. This, he claimed, is more important than inconveniencing prisoners' families. Stacy Smith, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Corrections, claimed that the transfers were not punitive and a cross-section of prisoners were transferred.

"The attitude of the families -- initially, there is a shock, and then they acclimate," said Smith.

Whereas prisoners and families may be able to adjust to fewer visits when the prisoner is moved a few hundred miles away to a nearby state, it is difficult to imagine how Alaskan prisoners imprisoned in Arizona or Hawaiian prisoners incarcerated in Oklahoma can adjust to their new circumstances.

"Kids are great motivators for parents in prison to get their act together," said Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons which is based in Honolulu. "You take away the possibility of kids' visits, and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy: `See, these people can't be rehabilitated.'"

Brady noted that virtually none of the families of Hawaiian prisoners in Oklahoma could afford to visit them. Furthermore, outlandish telephone rates prevented even that diluted contact with families and helped explain why the recidivism rate for Hawaiian prisoners incarcerated on the mainland is higher than the rate for those who remain on the islands.

Indeed Vermont, in its recent contract to incarcerate a minimum of 236 prisoners primarily at the CCA Marion Adjustment Center in Kentucky, but also at CCA prisons in Tennessee and Arizona, took into account the distance from Vermont when rejecting bids from Emerald Correction Management to use a Texas prison and CiviGenics to use a prison in Louisiana. However, the consideration was not to reduce the burden on prisoners and their families.

"The cost for transport to Kentucky, when it was on our nickel, is a lot less than when it's to Texas and Louisiana," said Vermont Department of Corrections Commissioner Steve Gold.

Although CCA's provision of medical care to Vermont's prisoners was one of the most extensively negotiated portions of the contract, CCA will not be accepting any Vermont prisoners with AIDS, Hepatitis C, renal dialysis, and certain mental health disorders. Therefore, one has to wonder whether CCA's winning bid of $42.00 per prisoner per day for housing Vermont's healthiest prisoners is really such a good deal.

The prisoner transfer began with 390 Vermont prisoners moved from state prisons in Virginia to the Kentucky CCA prison in February 2004. The number of Vermont prisoners imprisoned by CCA is expected to grow at a rate of 20 prisoners per month thereafter. Vermont prisoners recently rebelled as well. PLN will report the details in an upcoming issue.

In Indiana, the 2003 decision to increase by several hundred the 650 Indiana prisoners imprisoned in Kentucky CCA prisons met with controversy in light of the fact that the Indiana prison system has over 1,800 new, unused beds,

"It's incomprehensible," said Indiana Representative Dennis Avery, D-Evansville. "To open up those prisons so the prisoners can stay in the state of Indiana -- to me it makes sense. Otherwise, it is a waste of tax dollars for construction."

Furthermore, Avery questions the claims by private prison proponents that it is cheaper to incarcerate Indiana prisoners in the Kentucky prisons than to open and operate the already-built prison in Indiana He claims that the prisoners selected for the Kentucky transfer are the "cream of the crop" whose costs of incarceration is less than the prison system average used in the calculations.

Indiana Governor Frank O'Bannon claims that the state budget left the prison system with no choice by providing no money to open and operate the Miami and New Castle prisons. However, State Budget Agency Deputy Director Mike Landwer says that internal transfer of prison funds is a common practice and could be done. However, the General Assembly made its intentions clear when it explicitly stated that the budget did not include money to increase bed capacity beyond what it was on June 30, 2003.

"They do not want to increase the number of beds being used," said Landwer. "If that means double-bunking, so be it, if that means continuing to use contract beds, that's the preferable approach."

"We wanted to make the Department of Corrections very much aware of the fact that we want a focus on community corrections and alternative sentences," said State Senator Vi Simpson, D-El1ettsvillea "We learned a lesson from other states: You can't build yourself out of a corrections problem. For a while we took the advice of the DOC and built many more beds. But at this point in time, we're saying: `We want to put pressure on you -- the department -- to do as much as you can to build community resources and alternative sentences and rehabilitate people so we don't have this continuous growth in prison population and continuous recidivism.'"

In many cases, voters refuse to approve bond issue to build more state prisons. Rather than release prisoners or change their sentencing policies when state prison capacity is reached, state officials have contracted the warehousing of their prisoners to the private for profit prison industry. Thus ensuring continued imprisonment growth.

Washington State Prisoners Rebel at Colorado CCA Prison

Washington State legislators were faced with a dilemma in late 2003 -- a huge budget deficit caused in part by a growing prison population. Apparently, they expected reductions in prisoner counts when they approved a so-called "half-time" law that actually had the effect of releasing 180 prisoners a few months early while lengthening sentences for thousands more. Instead, they were faced with hundreds of new prisoners being shoved into an already overcrowded state prison system and a "community corrections" program growing by thousands. They ignored the findings of the Legislature's nonpartisan research unit that, noting the low recidivism rate among most categories of sex offenders, recommended early release for the 70% of sex offenders in the low-recidivism categories. Instead they came up with the not-so-novel idea of contracting with CCA to incarcerate prisoners out-of-state.

The initial one-year contract, announced on July 1, 2004, called for 300 Washington prisoners to be sent to CCA's 1,222-bed. Crowley County Correctional Facility (CCCF) located 35 miles east of Pueblo in Olney Springs, Colorado, at a charge of $56.85 per prisoner per day for up to 250 prisoners and a $2.00 discount per prisoner per day for levels between 250 and 400 prisoners. Housing at CCCF consisted of 944 two-men cells;. 144 four-man cells, 22 single-man cells in segregation, and 92 two-man cells in close custody. It is a medium-security prison.

Washington prisoners were not unfamiliar with CCCF. It had been built in 1998 for Dominion Management, Inc. and run by Correctional Services Corporation (CSC). On March 3, 1999, Washington State prisoners were sent to CCCF. Two days later they rioted. The cause of the riot, according to Colorado State prison officials, was poorly trained guards. PLN reported abuse of prisoners as the core cause of the riot. [ PLN, June 1999, p. 10].

The current riot had several causes. Washington prisoners were angered at having been shipped about 1,400 miles from their homes only to find that the quality had been squeezed out of the food by penny pinching prison profiteers. Colorado prisoners were upset that the Washington contract called for prisoners who worked to be paid $3.00 per day when Colorado prisoners received only 60 cents for a day's work. Prisoners were also perturbed by a lack of access to prison officials and the guards beating of a prisoner who refused to go to work earlier in the day.

Descriptions of the food are indeed abysmal. Prisoner Fredrick Morris, 47, said that he quit his job after three years as a cook due to the prison's poor food preparation. According to him, they were ordered to grind hot dogs for spaghetti sauces, use muffin mix in meatloaf, mix instant potatoes with pinto beans for burritos and spike the Jewish prisoners' soup with pork, Morris complained to CCA supervisors over three months before the riot, but nothing happened except that the food got worse.

CCA claims that it received no formal grievance from prisoners about food quality.

CCCF prisoner Robert Horn also witnessed the beating of the prisoner that sparked the protest. According to Horn, the prisoner was jerked to the ground after a struggle with guards taking him to a disciplinary cell for refusing to go to work. After he was subdued: "These other guards started pummeling him and kicking him," said Horn. "We'd just had enough, you know? To treat someone like an animal is not going to fly anymore."

The incident which led to the riot began as a peaceful protest when Washington prisoners refused to return to their cells from the recreation yard at about 7:30 p.m. on July 20, 2004. Guards ignored prisoners' requests to speak with the warden and apparently did little to quell the demonstration initially. Colorado prisoners then joined the demonstration, which swelled to include about 400 prisoners. The demonstration became an uprising within an hour when prisoners began to destroy property by smashing furniture and setting fire to cellblocks and the greenhouse. They also used steel weights and dumbbells from the exercise yard to smash doors, windows and walls. Much water damage was caused by the fire suppression sprinkler system.

After 5 hours, order was restored to the prison by over 150 Colorado state prison guards using tear gas and rubber bullets. Two of the prison's five housing unit were uninhabitable, two others were damaged and the greenhouse was totally destroyed. Damage is expected to exceed $1 million. Thirteen prisoners were injured -- one of them seriously enough to require medical helicopter evacuation due to multiple stab wounds, another prisoner was shot in the foot with a rubber-coated bullet.

Prisoners reported that the guards ran at the first sign of trouble. "They ran," said Horn. "They just abandoned the place."

"They just took off running, and they left the female employees behind," according to CCCF prisoner William Morris.

Of course, the CCCF guards didn't just abandon the female employees, they also abandoned the prisoners they were charged to protect -- with predictable results. As many as 15 prisoners are reported to have used the riot as cover to attack sex offenders and real or suspected snitches.

Prisoner Rudy Lujan, 32, who was beaten, stabbed, thrown off the second tier run and assaulted with a microwave oven as he lay limp on the floor during the riot, had called his sister after the first fires were set. He told her he feared for his life and asked her to call police.

"He said a riot was going on, and all the guards were so scared they went on the roof," said Lujan's sister. "The prisoners had already taken control. He was scared. He told me, `If anything happens to me, tell everybody that I love them,'"

According to the Lujan family, Rudy was attacked because he refused gang members' attempts to recruit him. He is expected to survive.

Slow decision-making and a lack of communication hampered the CCA response according to a Colorado Department of Corrections review of the incident. One senior official said that CCA failed to respond promptly and with sufficient force, ignored an attempt to negotiate, and failed to account for missing staff.

According to Colorado Director of Prisons, Nolin Renfrow, CCA officials were told to use chemical agents as soon as the demonstration became unruly to keep prisoners away from housing units and break up the riot. The CCA officials replied that they needed approval from their Nashville headquarters to deploy chemical agents. CCA denies any requirement for approval from headquarters and claims that "chemical agents had already been disbursed by facility staff at approximately 8:20 p.m." That is earlier than Renfrow said he asked for the use of chemical agents.

During the ordeal, prison librarian Linda Lyons remained in the library along with 37 prisoners in her charge, forgotten by her CCA colleagues even though she had radioed them her location. At one point she ordered the prisoners to return to their cells, but they begged her not to force them out into the nascent riot. The riot came within one building of the library. However, Lyons maintained a calm atmosphere within the library throughout the ordeal.

Equally shocking is that CCCF officials knew that prisoner unrest was imminent.

"I was told about it," said one guard who asked not to be named. "They said it wasn't going to be more than two months. It wasn't even that long. I was told this by several different inmates." [ Editor's Note: In 1999 Washington prisoners rebelled within four days of arriving at CCCF.]

According to Frank Smith, a Kansas criminal justice reform advocate, prisoners warned CCCF employees about a possible uprising a week before the riot. Smith says that the information was passed on to Colorado DOC officials, but "nothing was done." Smith began receiving information from CCCF staffers after he spoke on a Pueblo radio station and gave out his e-mail address. Smith's reports were later borne out by the official Colorado DOC report on the uprising (see sidebar for details).

"In fact, one gave me information [in May, 2004] that the situation was getting very tense in Olney Springs, that the staff was concerned that the Washington prisoners would get there, and that there were things like rebar lying around the place from construction that nobody bothered to pick up, nobody recognized as weapons."

According to Smith's CCCF sources, rioting prisoners freed prisoners in administrative segregation while prison employees "locked themselves in." However, it was never a prisoner-against-guard or attempted escape type of situation.

"It wasn't a thing of, 'We're going to capture all these guards and blow our way out of there.' But, they almost got out; they were two doors away from getting out," said Smith.

Smith further explained the riot as resulting from CCA's "terrible wages, terrible training, fraudulent record keeping, manufacturing of records (to meet standards), hiring people that were clearly inappropriate, gang-connected people, stuff like that." Smith opposes private prisons "because they treat prisoners and employees poorly, and use their profits to corrupt municipalities and state governments with campaign contributions or `outright bribery.'"

"They lobby at arm's length for longer sentences. It's more market share and more market (for them)," said Smith. Smith isn't the only one questioning the wisdom of allowing private prisons. Colorado Representative Buffie McFayden., D-Pueblo West, has repeatedly requested information on the true costs for housing state prisoners in private prisons only to be rebuffed by CCA.

"It is consistently argued that these facilities are cheaper for the taxpayer, but safety should be the utmost concern when evaluating incarceration. This is the second riot at this prison since 1999, although there were different owners then. The question is -- are we risking the safety of the public and is it really cheaper?" McFayden asked.

McFayden, whose district includes eight state-run prisons, called for a fiscal analysis of housing prisoners in private prisons and the cost of using Colorado state resources to quell private prison riots. She noted that the private prisons are located in rural areas where there is little local law enforcement to help out and that private prison employees may be poorly trained and equipped. Colorado State Senator Abel D. Tapia, D-Pueblo was also concerned that the state not foot the bill for riot control at CCA prisons. However, officials of the Colorado Department of Corrections said that they would probably not send CCA a bill, explaining that this is never done when outside law enforcement is asked to help out in a prison riot and that they expect CCA to reciprocate in the event of a riot in a state prison.

Brian Dawe, Executive Director of Corrections USA, a nonprofit prison guard association, argued strongly against private prisons. He noted that they have a widespread climate of substandard training and wages that caused a huge turnover rate which in turn resulted in a lack of staff mentoring. He also said that they put shareholder profits ahead of prisoner and public safety.

"They say they're better. Yet, they won't open their books. If I was better, I wouldn't be afraid to open my books," said Dawe.

Dawe quoted statistics showing that private prisons are much more violent and have more escapes than state-run prisons. Furthermore, they have a negative effect on nearby land value and industries. The private prison industry's claim that land values increase when a private prison opens he says is laughable.

"When you're looking for a house, is one of the questions you ask, 'Is there a private prison nearby?'" asked Dawe.

Following the riot, 300 prisoners were moved to a newly-constructed housing unit at CCCF; 300 more were transferred to Colorado state prisons. Some Colorado prisoners believed to have taken part in the riot were immediately transferred to a CCA prison in Tutwiler, Mississippi. There they broke out of recreation cages and started a riot the next day.

Tutwiler Uprising aka CCCF Uprising - Part Two

Colorado prisoners suspected of participation in the July 20th CCCF rebellion were transferred to the 1,400-man CCA-run Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility (TCCF) in Tutwiler, Mississippi. Other Colorado prisoners were sent to TCCF in May 2004 after they allegedly participated in six riots within three months in Colorado prisons. When a guard left them unsupervised on July 21, 2004, at 6:20 p.m., they broke the low-quality locks and chains on their recreational cages and rioted, setting fire to their mattresses, clothing and a portable toilet and using the cages' temporary locks to break 124 cell windows.

"They started with the mattresses, and then they started taking off their shirts and burning those, too," according to Terry Tyler, a Tutwiler fireman who arrived at the prison at 7:00 p.m. "Finally they got a hold of a Port-a-Potty, and burned that. They will burn good too, with all that plastic it's made out of."

The prison's in-house S.W.A.T. team put down the riot about thirty minutes after it started. They fired tear gas into the recreation area from a nearby rooftop. The Coahoma County sheriff's departments, Mississippi Highway Patrol, Tutwiler fire department, Tallahatchie County sheriff's and fire departments, and Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman sent assistance to the CCA prison. Thirteen prisoners were injured sufficiently to be sent to the hospital. Most of them suffered smoke inhalation and other minor injuries. At the time of the riot, the prison held 850 prisoners: 120 from Colorado, 690 from Hawaii and 40 from Tallahatchie County. Local governments will be paying for their own expenses in responding to the TCCF riot.

The only known indication of why the prisoners rioted is a letter by a Colorado prisoner to the Clarksdale Press Register mailed the week of the riot. In the letter, prisoner Harrell King alleged that more than 100 prisoners had been participating in a hunger strike for over five days to call attention to the abuse of prisoners. He accused guards of beating prisoners, denying them access to toilets, and keeping them in 24-hour-a-day lockdown, claiming it had driven some prisoners to attempt suicide. TCCF officials declined comment on the letter or whether King was involved in the riot.

Local residents complained about a lack of notification that there was a problem in the prison. Relatives of prison workers complained that the prison, the largest employer in the county, refused to tell them about the fate of their loved ones who were not allowed to leave the prison or call out for hours after the riot had been quashed.

During the riot and ensuing lockdown/communications blackout, local residents had spread rumors about hostages, escapes, and fatalities.

TCCF Warden Jim Cooke promised to improve notification of residents in the event of future prison disturbances. The prison is also hiring 37 additional staff, 25 of them guards, and adding additional security cameras according to Cooke who said this was not a reaction to the riot, but rather to keep up with a growing prison population. Total staff with the increases will be 302, about 65% of them guards.

The prison is the most important "industry" in the town of 1,364 residents. CCA built the 1,400-bed prison at a cost of $25 million and pays $562,000 in annual property taxes. It also pays a local utility bill of $484,000 annually, state and local taxes of $225,000 each year, and $3,000 per month ($5,000 starting in 2005) to the Tallahatchie County Correctional Authority. The Mississippi Legislature passed a bill in the 2004 session which allowed the CCA prison to accept other out-of-state prisoners in an effort to save the TCCF jobs after Alabama withdrew its state prisoners in mid-March, 2004. Arizona Prisoners Rebel At

Oklahoma CCA Prison

On May 14, 2004, more than 500 Arizona prisoners imprisoned at the 2,000-bed CCA Diamondback Correctional Facility (DCF) in Watonga, Oklahoma rioted. Arizona Department of Corrections Director Dora Schriro attributed the riot to "poor management of the population by the facility." She noted that there had been a conflict between two racial groups the day before the riot. This and other warning signs were ignored by the DCF administration. Furthermore, when the riot began, they failed to activate their emergency response or notify the Arizona DOC's monitors. This made containment of the disturbance difficult. DCF was also understaffed, with CCA double-counting some of the staff to come up with sufficient numbers on paper.

Arizona has removed about 400 medium-security prisoners who did not take part in the riot back to Arizona. Schriro said that they would not move Arizona prisoners who rioted back to Arizona, but might move them to other out-of-state prisons in Texas.

"We don't want to reward inmates who have had bad behavior by letting them come back to Arizona because they didn't want to be there," said Arizona DOC spokesperson Cam Hunter.

A signal of the impending trouble came the day before the riot when Mexican nationals attacked a group of Mexican-Americans who were on their way to the infirmary. The riot began at 8:00 p.m. with fighting between groups of Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans, but blacks and whites soon joined in. Prisoners used construction material left on the recreation yard, baseball bats, canned goods and boards both as weapons and tools to damage the prison by smashing windows and walls. Some prisoners broke out of their housing using metal shower rods as battering rams to defeat fire escape door locks and join the melee. Higher-security prisoners recreating on a different yard broke down a fence to join the fray. The section of the prison in which the riot took place housed 360 Arizona prisoners and 783 Hawaiians. 91 prisoners were injured in the riot. Two were evacuated by helicopter to Oklahoma University Medical Center in extremely critical condition. No staff was reported injured.

The Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) criticized CCA for failing to notice warning signs such as the fight the day before the riot and the fact that prisoners had turned out on the recreation yard in greater-than-usual numbers, then segregated themselves by race and ethnic group. The signs were duly noted by guards who pointed them out to supervisors. The supervisors did nothing.

The Arizona DOC report on the incident further criticizes CCA officials for ignoring DOC advice at two critical junctures. The first was the day of the fight, when Arizona DOC monitors, noting longstanding volatility between Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans, advised CCA to lock down the Mexican national unit. The recommendation was ignored. On the morning of the riot, Arizona DOC officials again advised the partial lockdown and were again ignored. Once the rioting started, the report states that CCA never got its Incident Management Team operational and the Arizona monitoring team had to give the CCA staff directions. Despite the mismanagement at the prison, Arizona renewed its contract with CCA, expanding it to incarcerate up to 2,000 Arizona prisoners at CCA prisons out-of-state.

Other Arizona prisoners being held at a CCA prison in Texas have also rebelled. They went on a hunger strike to protest bad conditions and had several fights hoping that the misconduct would get them returned to Arizona.

Other Private Prison SNAFUs

In addition to the riots, private prisons have had to contend with multiple escapes, lesser disturbances and allegations of abuse of prisoners recently. Three prisoners were injured in a jailhouse melee at the CCA-run Bay County Jail in Panama City, Florida in July, 2004. The fight was reportedly motivated by “racial prejudice” and involved six men attacking two men using fists and a padlock in a sock. One of the six also attacked a man who tried to stop the fight. Six prisoners were charged with felonies relating to the fight.

On June 7, 2004, a prisoner escaped from the CCA-run 960-bed Marion County Jail in Indianapolis, Indiana two days after being sentenced to 14 years in prison. The 26-year-old man was recaptured 15 hours later after having been turned in by an anonymous tip. He escaped by breaking into a manager’s office on the jail’s second floor and prying off a second-floor metal gate over a window then lowering himself to the ground.

A 26-year-old man serving a life sentence without parole for murder escaped from the CCA-run Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, Tennessee on August 7, 2004. He was recaptured about nine miles from the prison a day and a half later.

A prisoner awaiting sentencing on drug charges escaped from the CCA prison in Florence, Arizona, on July 30, 2004, with the assistance of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Service. Sacramento Irbie Flores, 20, a Mexican citizen who pleaded guilty to possession of 37 pounds of cocaine and 10 pounds of methamphetamine, was scheduled to be sentenced on October 15th. Instead, he swapped identification cards with Juan Carlos Damian-Burrola, a prisoner awaiting deportation for illegal entry into the United States, and was driven to the border in a government van.

Five federal prisoners escaped from a CSC-run prison near San Antonio, Texas, on August 6, 2004, after using wires cutters to make holes in two fences surrounding the exercise yard. The jailbreak was discovered by a private citizen who reported seeing the five men in jail garb crawling under the fences. Four of the men are Mexican citizens. The fifth is a high-ranking member of the Mexican Mafia gang. There have been four other jailbreaks involving 15 prisoners at the Frio County Jail during the last eight years. Only one of the 15 prisoners was recaptured.

Dustin Holley, a 22-year-old CCA guard at the CCA-run Tulsa Jail in Oklahoma was charged with possession of marijuana. The dope was found after a visual inspection of his car when he arrived at work on August 6, 2004, revealed a gun under the front seat. A subsequent voluntary search of the automobile turned up a small bag of pot.

On September 17, 2003, CCA guard Constance Edwards, 33, was arrested as she attempted to smuggle two balloons of heroin stuffed into her bra into the CCA-run Southern Nevada Women’s Prison in North Las Vegas. According to CCA, Edwards was paid between $50 and $200 per trip to smuggle drugs and other items given to her by a former prisoner to the prisoner’s former cellmate. A few months earlier, a scandal had broken out at the prison after a prisoner became pregnant and named a guard as the father.

The Lowdown: Private Prison Profiteers Care Only About Making Money

Clearly critics have a point when they note that private prison corporations seem willing to compromise prisoner and public safety to enhance their bottom lines.

Former Davidson County, Tennessee, Sheriff Hank Hillin said it well. “With me it’s a moral issue. I don’t think people should make money off the discomfort of others and locking them up.” He also noted that “private prisons are inefficient, politically connected and bottom-line driven -- often at the expense of good management.” Hillin lost his reelection bid in 1995 to a private prison advocate.

A 2003 report by the Open Society Institute notes that CCA faces “numerous lawsuits and scandals” due to alleged systematic failure to provide adequate medical care, control violence, and. prevent criminal activity by employees in its prisons. It cites “self-defeating labor practices” such as low pay, understaffing, insufficient pension plans, and poor training that lead to a high turnover rate at CCA prisons. It also questions academic studies that have favorable conclusions about CCA’s record of safety and efficiency because they were funded by CCA.

Ken Kopczynski of Private Corrections Institute, Inc., a group opposing private prisons, notes that “almost half of the employees in the facility” where the murder of a female prisoner in Tennessee took place “had no experience whatsoever.” Two of the guards were working double shifts due to staff shortages.

Let’s review: private companies take a selection of very healthy and usually well-behaved prisoners, incarcerate them in prisons far from their home states, and understaffed the prisons with poorly-paid, ill-trained, inexperience guards then tout how much more efficient they are than state prisons that have to deal with prisoners in all custody class and levels of health. The private prisons often cut additional corners on food, medical services, and programs. They become violent places where ill-treated prisoners react with foreseeable violence to the abusive and stressful environment. The result is dehabilitation, not rehabilitation. After all, the prisoners who survive their private prison ordeals will eventually be returned to the general public -- complete with physical and psychological scars. Hopefully the public will soon understand that prisons privatization is an idea whose time has gone. Until the 1920’s many prisons and jails were privately operated. The practice ceased after widespread abuse and corruption became public knowledge and reform ensued. That remained the situation until 1984 when CCA was founded. How often must history repeat itself before its lessons are clear?

Sources: Nashville Tennessean,, Greenly Tribune, Jackson Sun, San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle, Indianapolis Star,, Denver Post, www.claironled,,,, Arizona Daily Star, Arizona Republic, Arizona DOC Corrective Action Plan-Diamondback Correctional Facility (6-22-Oh),,, Panama City News Herald, The Oklahoman, Seattle Times, Pueblo Chieftain., Rock Mountain News,, Colorado DOC Press Release, AP, New York Times, Indianapolis Courier-Journal, Burlington. Free Press, Washington Post, CCA Press Releases, Chattanooga Times/Chattanooga Free Press, Puget Sound Business Journal,, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Dallas Morning News, Washington DOC Confidential Documents on CCCF Transfers.

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