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CCA Florida Jail Operations: An Experiment in Mismanagement

by David M. Reutter

After being in business for twenty-three years, one would think that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) would have refined the art of running prisons and jails. Yet an examination of CCA's three jails in Florida reveals a pattern of gross mismanagement and substandard or indifferent care of prisoners on every level, which has resulted in injuries and deaths. Risks to the community abound in frequent escapes. Repeated suicides, beatings, rapes and misconduct by CCA employees have occurred.

CCA is the United States' largest operator or privatized prisons and jails. The Nashville-based company was founded in 1983 by Doctor Crants and Thomas Beasley, former chair of the Tennessee Republican party. CCA runs three state prisons and three county jails in Florida. The jails, which are the focus of this article, are located in Bay, Citrus and Hernando Counties. These counties sought privatization of their jails after buying into CCA's sales pitch that it could save taxpayers money.

Critics, however, claim that the savings come from hiring unqualified, untrained personnel at low wages, and by scrimping on services and security measures that the contracts require and prisoners have a constitutional right to receive. As the old adage says, You get what you pay for.

Catching Her Own Baby

It seems that CCA believes that because prisoners don't pay for medical care, they are entitled to none. No health care is exactly what Jennifer Bozeman, 26, received when she went into labor on November 7, 2005 at the Bay County Jail Annex.

Bozeman, who had been imprisoned two months earlier for failing to pay a $500 child support fine, began experiencing labor pains at about 2 a.m. A guard advised her that a CCA nurse, Joan Elliott, said she had to fill out a sick call request. When Elliott received that sick call request two hours later she stated, it could wait.

While Elliott tended to other medical matters, sympathetic prisoners comforted Bozeman. It was not until 6 a.m. that Bozeman was finally taken to the infirmary. Upon arrival, medical personnel diagnosed her condition as kidney stones and had her wait in a chair. Minutes later, Bozeman gave birth to her baby, Crystal. I had to catch my own baby, said Bozeman. It fell out into her pants, added fellow prisoner Charla Meadows.

Nurse Melissa Blalock removed the umbilical cord from around Crystal's neck, ordered guards to call 911 and helped cover the baby in blankets. The prematurely-born Crystal was flown to a Gainesville hospital. Bozeman paid her fine and was released the next day. For their substandard responses to Bozeman's early labor pains and childbirth, Blalock received a written reprimand while Elliott was fired.

Other Cases of Questionable Medical Care

For Justin Sturgis, 20, the lack of medical care at the Bay County jail cost him his life. Sturgis was admitted to the jail for driving under the influence on February 15, 2002, at 2:30 a.m. He was placed in a holding cell. A half hour later Sturgis felt distressed, and sought medical assistance for a possible overdose. He told a guard he had swallowed ten Ecstasy pills to avoid a drug charge.

After examining Sturgis, CCA nurse William Schwartz, Jr. called Bay Medical Center's emergency room. Dr. George Tracy advised Schwartz to take Sturgis' vital signs and report back with that information. Schwartz never furnished Dr. Tracy with the requested information. Instead, Schwartz ordered Sturgis to be monitored.

During that monitoring period guards did little more than watch Sturgis' condition deteriorate. Sturgis appeared to grab at things that were not there, acted as though he was smoking a cigarette he did not have, said he was cooking something, and spoke to a guard by identifying him as someone Sturgis had worked with. These abnormal behaviors were not reported by guards to a doctor or nurse, nor were they documented in any observation record, but came to light during a subsequent grand jury investigation.

Rather than ensure that Sturgis received proper medical care for what any rational person could realize was a drug-induced hallucination episode, guards treated Sturgis as a freak show, parading other prisoners by Sturgis' cell.

A 24-year-old man being booked into the jail witnessed Sturgis going into convulsions. [The guard] was telling me I had to see this messed-up kid here tonight. He said he ate like 10 Ecstasy pills at one time, said the man, who requested that The News Herald maintain his anonymity. I told [the guard] if he ate that many, you need to take him to the hospital and he was like, "oh he's just a drug addict." People were just looking in there like he was a freak show. The only time people checked on him were when they were getting checked into the jail. They were showing him off.

When it was finally decided to transport Sturgis to a hospital, it was too late. He was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival at 7:00 a.m. The grand jury said it was uncertain if Sturgis could have survived even with proper care, but his chances would have been far greater if he had received treatment at the onset of the adverse symptoms rather than four hours later.

CCA officials said Sturgis caused his own death by swallowing the drugs to avoid prosecution and not telling Schwartz what he had done. In effect, CCA has issued a death sentence to any kid who takes drugs. Even someone who has subjected himself to an overdose of drugs must be cared for. There's no excuse in denying someone reasonable medical care, said the Sturgis family's attorney, George Pittman. Ultimately CCA agreed to that premise, when it paid Sturgis' estate $500,000.

Pittman said denial of medical care at the Bay County facility was not unusual. "It's more than a weekly event that I'm receiving letters and telephone calls from people who have been deprived of medication that's been prescribed to them," he said. "They've been totally ignored just as Justin Sturgis was."

In another case where a prisoner's medical condition was ignored, John T. Wells, 43, who was being held at the Hernando County jail on minor charges, died on January 27, 2006 from a brain aneurism after suffering terrible headaches. He was up in the cell complaining all night long that he needed medical attention. The corrections officer told him, "You're pulling my leg," said Steven Masciarelli, another prisoner at the jail. "The nurse took him up and said there was nothing wrong with him.... Finally they brought him to the hospital." Wells suffered a brain hemorrhage while at Spring Hill Regional Hospital, which eventually caused his death. The state attorney found the jail wasn't negligent in Wells' medical treatment, but Wells' sister, Nancy Shave, disagrees. "In my opinion, they are responsible," said Shave. "Somebody does not come to jail and in 12 days get so sick that they become brain dead."

Suicidal Solitude

If you intend to commit suicide, being ignored is exactly what you want. And CCA jails are the perfect place to be if you have suicidal tendencies, even if they're known to guards. From November 2005 to January 2006, three suicidal prisoners took advantage of guards' failure to make regular checks at the Hernando County jail. Each took place in the late hours of the night or early in the morning.

First there was Daniel Ray Warren, 39, who hanged himself on November 2, 2005 by tying bed sheets to his cell bars. Warren previously had been assaulted by other jail prisoners, who tormented and punched him and threatened to pour shampoo down his throat. There were also allegations that he had been gang-raped, but medical reports indicated that was not the case. "You tell me what is going on in that jail. Is it so bad that these guys are taking their lives because they can't take the abuse?" said Sue Coleman, Warren's mother.

Two months later, on January 5, 2006, Geoffrey M. Conley, 21, used his sheets to hang himself from his bed frame. Conley's case caused a media storm because he had a history of mental instability and had been on suicide watch during most of his time at the jail. CCA guards falsely documented in logbooks that they had checked on Conley every 30 minutes.

The uproar came after an investigation uncovered video tapes that showed no one had checked on him for more than two hours before he was found dead.

Despite the two suicides, CCA apparently took no corrective action. Truoc Tran, 33, a federal prisoner being held at the jail, was another victim of CCA's indifferent attitude when he hanged himself on January 27, 2006. Video footage shows Tran was checked on at 4:35 a.m. and was not looked in on again until almost two hours later, when he was found dead at 6:33 a.m. (Ironically, Tran killed himself the same week that CCA corporate officials met with members of the Hernando County Commission to assure them the company would make improvements at the jail).

The failure of guards to make timely checks on prisoners was raised as far back as 2002. Laren Sims, 36, weaved bed sheets into a rope and hanged herself in March 2002. When a suicide note from Sims disclosed that staff did not check on her every 15 minutes, CCA cried foul. There were checks of her about every 15 minutes and each check was recorded in a log book according to policies and procedures in place, said CCA spokesman Steve Owens. One cannot help but wonder if video cameras would have revealed that the company's guards falsified those logbooks as was the case in Conley's self-induced death.

Several suicides occurred at CCA's Bay County jail, too. On April 5, 2005, James T. Sly, Jr., 35, used a bedsheet to hang himself from a showerhead.

Sly had been arrested after trying to kill himself in January and had been seen by a mental health counselor five times at the jail, but was not on suicide watch at the time of his death. According to a May 2005 report by the jail's contract monitor, a CCA guard identified only as J. Harris had included Sly in the midnight count without actually seeing him, assuming that he was in the shower because he heard the water running. And the previous year, William Henry Cantor, 22, hanged himself at the Bay County facility on Sept. 15, 2004; he was alone in a cell isolated from other prisoners at the time.

Endangering the Public

From a community standpoint, the biggest problem with CCA is its failure to keep prisoners imprisoned. Shortly after it assumed management over the Hernando County jail, four prisoners escaped from CCA's custody in January 1990. Those escapes resulted from similar lapses that contributed to the recent suicides: failure to check prisoners who were known escape risks every 15 minutes, and falsification of records to cover it up. A few months later another prisoner escaped by removing a stainless steel plate in a shower stall.

Jail prisoner John De Vane was allowed to walk away in July 2001 after he replaced his identification bracelet with a lower-security bracelet he found in the trash. De Vane then walked out the facility to empty the trash, and kept on walking. On November 6, 2002, Nelson Georges cut a hole in the Hernando County jail's ceiling and found his way to freedom.

Matthew Draper walked through an unlocked door at the jail on February 10, 2006, climbed a stack of chairs to get to the roof, and then jumped down and ran away. Tiffany Wilson, a CCA guard who had been employed for less than five months, was reprimanded for leaving the door unsecured. The nightmare continues, said County Commissioner Jeff Stabins. A month later, on March 9, after Draper had been caught and returned to the jail, he tried to kill himself by cutting his arm with a blade removed from a safety razor.

CCA's Bay County jail has had its share of escapes, too. Prisoner Tracy Collier escaped in June 2001 after guards left him unattended at a courthouse law library. The most recent escape at Bay County occurred on Feb. 18, 2005 when 18-year-old Jeremy D. Aultman manipulated the locks on a CCA transport van and fled. According to prisoner Ryan Meadows, the van's only guard, the driver, jumped out of the van, leaving his door and our door wide open -- keys still in the van. A dozen other prisoners were in the vehicle but none tried to flee. When he returned, the CCA guard then unsuccessfully tried to follow Aultman in the van at high speed through a residential area. "This is an endangerment of the public and I can't tolerate that," said Hernando Commissioner Chris Kingley. In contrast, the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) has had only three escapes from secure prisons since July 2003.

Taking Hostages and Other Violent Incidents

CCA not only has problems keeping prisoners within its privately-run facilities; it also has a problem keeping them in their cells. Bay County guard James C. Hall was supervising the jail's third floor on September 5, 2004, when he allowed prisoners to shut their own cell doors after another prisoner began popping doors.

Hall let prisoner Kevin Nix out of his medical cell to talk to him. Nix then began messing with the door lock control box, opening the cell doors. Shortly thereafter, Hall let three prisoners into the dayroom, in violation of jail policy, and allowed them to lock their own doors upon returning to their cells.

At 7:40 p.m., while Hall was checking on a prisoner that hadn't respond to the nurse at pill call, he was attacked by prisoner James R. Norton. Nix, Norton and two other prisoners, Kevin Bradley Winslett and Matthew R. Coffin, then took control of the third floor with homemade weapons, seizing Hall and CCA nurses Ann Hunt, Glenn Baker and Kathleen Baucum as hostages.

Two and a half hours later Hall was released in exchange for cigarettes and pizza. Baker and Baucum were released between midnight and 3:30 a.m. The stand-off came to an end the next day at 8:00 a.m. when a SWAT team member fired five shots at Nix's legs. CCA nurse Hunt was struck three times in the fusillade of bullets, which hit her in the lower leg and small of her back. Nix and Norton were also shot, though nobody was killed.

CCA guard James Hall was fired in Dec. 2004 for policy violations related to the prisoners' escape from their cells; Hall admitted to investigators that he falsified shift logs, made a mistake in allowing three of the prisoners into the dayroom area prior to the hostage-taking, and lied about how hard he was hit on the head by Norton. Nix, Norton and Coffin were later acquitted of kidnapping, aggravated assault and escape charges, but were convicted of three counts of false imprisonment. On Sept. 6, 2005 they each received 15-year sentences.

The forth prisoner involved in the hostage incident, Kevin Winslett, was referred for a mental competency evaluation instead of going to trial. On March 7, 2006, Winslett injured a CCA guard at the Bay County jail during a cell extraction, slamming a shield into his face and splitting his lip. A few hours later the same unnamed guard who had been injured by Winslett entered the cell of another prisoner, Robert James Bailey, an accused cop killer facing the death penalty. Bailey promptly cut the unnamed guard's head with a homemade shiv. In August 2005, Bay County jail officials, after being alerted by DEA agents, had found seven hacksaw blades in Baileys cell, which he had used to cut through several bolts in a screen over his cell window in an escape attempt. CCA was unable to explain how Bailey, a maximum security prisoner, obtained the saw blades.

On Dec. 20, 2005, Robert Sweatt, 49, a prisoner on suicide watch at the Bay County Jail Annex, was housed with another prisoner, Orlando Marcus Holly, 25, who had a history of assaulting his cellmates. Sweatt was beaten by Holly so severely that he remained in critical condition for two weeks and suffered brain swelling. The County's contract monitor found no procedural violations with the questionable cell assignment, despite the fact that Sweatt had asked to be moved out of the cell with Holly, but rather blamed overcrowding for the assault.

Three Bay County jail prisoners were injured in a racially-motivated attack on July 19, 2004. Nine prisoners were involved in the fight, which involved one group attacking another with their fists and a makeshift weapon. CCA said two guards were on duty at the time and called for backup. The prisoners received minor injuries; five were charged with felony battery.

And on March 29, 2004, James DeRossetti and Larry K. Burks, the last two of six Bay County jail prisoners charged in the Oct. 2002 beating death of another prisoner, Chad Littles, 18, were sentenced to ten and seven years in prison, respectively. The other four prisoners convicted in Littles' death had previously received sentences ranging from five to 12 years; Littles was beaten because they thought he was a snitch. Littles' mother filed a lawsuit against CCA, saying the company's guards didn't protect him.

Improper Releases/Fingerprint Backlog

CCA's internal controls and training of staff were found to be virtually non-existent in two critical areas: prisoner releases and notification of arrests on a statewide computer network.

Violet Armour, 58, and Deborah Castillo, 40, were arrested by Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agents on warrants from the Virgin Islands for charges of embezzlement and forgery. They refused to waive extradition and were to appear in court on May 11, 2005 to determine if they should be extradited. Florida law holds that contested extraditions cannot occur without the Governor signing a warrant.

Despite state law and the scheduled hearing, CCA officials at Hernando County contacted the U.S. Virgin Islands Justice Department on April 27 and stated in a fax that Armour and Castillo were ready for pickup. On May 7, 2005 the women were turned over to Virgin Islands authorities. "It's off the charts bizarre. I've never seen anything like it," said the women's attorney, John F. Lazoro. "The jail literally opened up the gates and said 'take them wherever you want.'"

Not even a court order is always sufficient to keep prisoners in the Hernando County jail, apparently. After sentencing Aaron Hagen to five years in prison for vehicular homicide on January 17, 2006, the judge ordered that Hagan remain at the jail until his co-defendant's case was resolved. The next morning Hagan was transferred by CCA to FDOC's Central Florida Reception Center in Orlando.

On December 19, 2005, Daniel Swetokos was mistakenly released from the Hernando County jail; when he reported to his probation officer the following morning he was immediately re-incarcerated. Hernando County prisoner Kelly Hewitt was scheduled for release on dealing in stolen property charges, and CCA allowed him to go free in June 2004. The problem was that Hewitt had a pending warrant in Pasco County, which wanted to take him into custody. CCA could say nothing other than they let him walk free.

In regard to CCA's performance of security-related administrative duties, in 2002 the Florida Department of Law Enforcement examined CCA's computerized arrest records at Bay County against 288 booking reports, finding a high percentage of discrepancies that ranged from incorrect or misspelled names to incorrect charges. But at least staff at the Bay County jail were entering the records.

It was discovered in December 2005 that CCA's Hernando County jail had a backlog of 758 arrests that had not been entered into a statewide fingerprint database. Thus, the arrests didn't show up on electronic searches by law enforcement. Hernando Sheriff Richard B. Nugnet called it a serious, serious public safety concern, noting that One of these guys could be on a national terror watch list and get booked into the county jail on a minuscule charge, and the information never gets past the jail.

On February 14, 2006, apparently not trusting CCA to fix the fingerprint backlog, the Hernando County Commission voted to assign six deputies to operate the digital fingerprint machine at the jail. The $305,000 annual cost will be subtracted from the County's payments to CCA.

Atrocious Conditions

When one learns about the conditions in CCA's Florida jails, one can hardly blame prisoners for trying to get out. At the Citrus County jail rat feces is in the cellblock and bat feces is in the recreation yard. Mold, staph infections, bad food, cold air, problems with the telephone system and difficulties in obtaining medicines are among prisoner complaints.

A 41-page report from an internal audit conducted bv CCA in August 2005 found that the Hernando County facility was non-performing in five broad categories, including patrols and inspections, safety/emergency procedures, and physical plant. The facility received an overall 72% rating in the audit, and only 70% in certain areas. If they say their own people are only performing at a C-minus level, that should throw the flag up, said County Commissioner Chris Kingsley. The Hernando County jail is also grossly overcrowded, with prisoners sleeping on stacked bunks or cots in dayroom areas. The company's response? "God bless the Sheriff. God bless the judges," said CCA's Hernando County spokeswoman Cathy Sullivan in 2004. "They keep bringing them in." Interestingly, the Hernando County jail is ACA accredited.

The Bay County hostage-taking episode resulted in part due to faulty locks that had gone unrepaired for months. Living conditions at the facility are no better. Mold and rust permeate the showers and the drain doesn't work properly. The facility is infested with roaches. When attorney Nancy Jones defended the prisoners who took CCA employees hostage at the jail in 2004, she said in her opening statements that the prisoners wanted to raise awareness of the horrible and horrendous conditions at the facility.

Conditions in that jail were so bad they made one's toes curl, she said. Robert James Bailey, the accused cop killer who had tried to escape and had attacked a CCA guard in March 2006, had previously complained that the toilet in his cell wouldn't flush for three months. A judge finally ordered Bay County jail employees to repair the commode. "A Fortune 500 company like Corrections Corporation of America can't fix a toilet"? asked Deputy Public Defender Walter Smith, Bailey's lawyer.

And as for conditions at CCA's Citrus County jail, four former prisoners, Javon Walker, Jeffrey Young, Larry Robbins and Greg Platt, filed suit against the company on March 10, 2006, saying they suffered medical problems after at least two CCA guards had urinated and placed fecal matter in their food and drinks on multiple occasions in late 2004 when they were held in segregation. CCA admitted that one of their employees had twice mixed urine into juice served to prisoners at the jail. The lawsuit further alleged that the contaminated food was part of systemic torture and abuse at the facility, claims that are being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Two CCA guards, Kevin Hessler and Alexander Diaz, and a supervisor, Charles Mulligan, were fired in December, 2004 in connection with the allegations of contaminated food and drinks. CCA later accused Bill Grant and Bo Samargya, the attorneys representing the four prisoners who filed suit, of using media coverage in an overt effort to get the company to pay a larger settlement in the case. "We're not the ones scrambling about like a cockroach when the light comes on," Grant replied.

Running a Business

Anyone with a modicum of business sense realizes that labor is one of the largest expenses of running a business. Prisons and jails are no different, with staffing costs typically consuming up to 80% of detention facility budgets. CCA realizes that, and does a great job at minimizing such employee costs. Critics, however, say that is one of the reasons that CCA jails are improperly run.

"The guys coming in there, they're qualified to handle the average Joes on the street. But they're not capable of watching out for the guys with psychiatric problems," said James Black, a former Hernando County jail guard. Management is not the problem. Their problem is a lack of qualified corrections officers and in my opinion that sums it up.

Management, however, sets the pay scales and does the hiring. At Hernando County, 53 of the 109 guards are uncertified. Salaries for uncertified guards start at $10.02 an hour while certified guards start at $13.46 an hour. That's about $20,842 and $27,997 per year. In contrast, prospective employees only need to go down the road to the Hernando Correctional Institution, operated by the Florida DOC, where uncertified guards start at $27,458 and certified guards at $30,204.

Uncertified guards are on temporary employment authorization status, which means they can work as guards while awaiting state certification. According to the State Attorney's office, the significant number of uncertified guards at the Hernando County jail was without question a contributing factor to the problems experienced at that facility. For example, one uncertified CCA guard, Reynaldo Luciano, a former Wal-Mart employee, was on duty when both Daniel Warren and Geoffrey Conley committed suicide, and was reprimanded for not checking on Conley in violation of jail policy.

"When you're there uncertified, I didn't know anything. They just put you through a one-week orientation. It's kind of ridiculous, said Daniel Laufenberg," who worked at the Hernando County facility for 15 months. "Sometimes you have brand new officers come in who hadn't had orientation. They'd put people on their second or third day on a post. That's wrong to do to someone. That's like throwing them in the lion's den. A lot of officers quit."

Statistics at the CCA jail prove Laufenberg's point. As of April 2005, of the company's guards at the Hernando County facility, fully 51% had been there less than one year. Seventy employees left the jail's employ in 2005; some were fired and one died. Most of them, 45 to be precise, voluntarily resigned. CCA employees at the Hernando County facility had a turnover rate of 75% in 2004 and 82% in 2003, according to the FDLE's 2004 Criminal Justice Agency Profile.

There is high turnover among CCA's management staff, too. On March 21, 2006, Mark Henry abruptly resigned as warden over the Bay County jail. Six months earlier he had replaced the former warden, Kevin Watson, who requested a transfer for personal reasons in August 2005 -- about the same time that the jail's Assistant Warden, John Rochefort, was fired for violating an undisclosed company policy. And in February, 2006, Hernando County jail warden Arvil Chapman was replaced by Don Stewart, whom CCA described as their most experienced warden.

Rather than blame CCA, Stephan Langley, executive director of the American Jail Association, blamed the county for lack of qualified labor at the Hernando County facility. "It's really a community issue, he said. People want everyone locked up. They want to throw away the key, but they don't want to pay for it." More precisely, he should have noted that CCA doesnt want to pay higher wages that will attract more experienced, qualified and professional employees.

Employee Misconduct

It is believed that low pay pushed one CCA guard to steal from prisoners. Jeffrey S. Hodges, 32, used his position as a booking officer at Hernando County to steal money from incoming prisoners. He was arrested and booked into the jail himself on February 7, 2006.

Hodge's arrest stemmed from an investigation that started after Timothy Milwee was released from Hernando County on January 15, 2006. He was missing $350 that he had when he was booked in. That investigation tied into the November 2005 complaint of Uriel Cervantes, who was arrested with $445 but given a receipt for only $45.93 upon his release.

The arrest came as no surprise to Brooksville lawyer Ashley Aulls. "You talk to any defense lawyer in this town, and they've heard the stories, one after another," he said. "Where there's smoke, there's fire." Hodges plead guilty in March, 2006 to two counts of grand theft, and was placed on 18 months' probation and ordered to pay restitution. He still faces several misdemeanor charges.

In April 2006, a CCA guard at the Hernando County jail was arrested for taking part in an escape attempt. Verda May Terry was charged after she agreed to help prisoner Tommy Lee escape by smuggling hacksaw blades and other tools into the facility in a submarine sandwich.

CCA Hernando County jail guard Nathaniel Pullings, 33, was fired on September 30, 2005. Pullings had walked into a womens housing unit in the jail and ordered the female prisoners to strip naked so he could wash their laundry, calling them bitches. He was overheard by a husband of one of the prisoners, who was talking with him on the phone.

On July 16, 2005, a male nurse employed by CCA at the Bay County Jail Annex was arrested on felony charges of having sex with a female prisoner. Christopher Michael Byrd, 33 was accused of having sex with the prisoner on an examining table in the medical unit. Byrd and a jail supervisor were fired in connection with the incident.

CCA also fired Bay County jail guard Grant Cox, 35, on April 8, 2005 after Cox got into a fight with prisoner Skylar Jones. Cox reportedly violated the company's policy by hitting Jones during a verbal altercation in the jail's elevator. According to Jones, Cox grabbed him by the throat, pushed him to the ground and put his knee into his chest, then rushed him after the elevator door opened and knocked him into a trash can. Cox was charged with misdemeanor assault.

On March 5, 2005, a former CCA guard at the Hernando County jail, Louis Gregory, 38, plead guilty to sexual misconduct involving Kim Hines, a then 17-year-old prisoner. Gregory had twice touched the teenager inappropriately after she got out of a shower. Previously named CCA's workhouse employee of the month in February, 2003, he was sentenced to six months in jail.

Further, police arrested a CCA guard employed at the Bay County jail on February 4, 2005 on charges of selling and possession of cocaine, possession of steroids, possession of Xanax, possession of drug paraphernalia and sale of a controlled substance. Jamie Bishop, 29, was booked into the jail where he worked and held without bond.

A Misguided Experiment

In April 2006, the Florida state attorney's office, in an 11-page report, detailed the numerous problems at the Hernando County jail described above, including negligence and incompetence by CCA employees, failure to check on prisoners, leaving a door unlocked which resulted in an escape, and failure to log hundreds of arrests into the statewide fingerprint database.

However, the state attorney determined that no criminal charges would be filed. "We're still disappointed in [CCA]. At least I am," stated County Commissioner Chris Kingsley. "It was a negative report. It just doesn't say there was anything criminal."

The many deficiencies at the jail caused the Hernando County Commissioners to consider terminating CCA's contract; they even threatened to call for a grand jury investigation. In January 2006 the county fined CCA $20,000 on two separate occasions for failing to perform its contractual obligations. However, county officials eventually bought into CCA's assurances that the company would upgrade its personnel and services at the jail. While the County Commission swallowed CCA's sales pitch, former Hernando Sheriff Tom Mylander said the company's sweet-talk sounded just like it did 19 years ago when CCA first proposed taking over the jail. "The question is," he said, "will they follow through?"

Apparently Bay, Citrus and Hernando Counties have deluded themselves into thinking so. Hernando County Commissioners voted in 2003 for an $11 million expansion of the CCA-run jail, at the taxpayers' expense. Further, the commissioners agreed in February, 2006 to let CCA continue to operate the jail after the company agreed to make improvements and abide by new contract requirements, including hiring a contract monitor and paying increased fines of up to $200,000 per quarter for future contract violations (only three commissioners voted on the contract extension, since two, Nancy Robinson and Paul Sullivan, had family member's who were employed by CCA at the jail). In mid-2005, CCA agreed to pay for a 360-bed expansion at the Citrus County jail -- so long as the company gets a contract to run the facility for the next 20 years. And Bay County agreed in February, 2006 to build a new jail in cooperation with CCA, estimated to cost $39.7 million, which the company will operate under a six-year contract.

Why would these counties agree to continue their relationships with CCA in light of the company's terrible track record regarding jail management? Money. Taking over the operation of their jails would be an expensive undertaking. In Hernando County, Purchasing Director James Gantt estimated that if the Sheriff's Department operated the jail, the annual cost would be $7.5 to $10 million higher than what CCA was being paid. It's the nature of the beast. Thats why these people get contracts, said Gantt.

Ken Kopczynski, Director of the Florida-based Private Corrections Institute, which opposes prison privatization, disagreed. "The county is ultimately responsible for the well-being of the inmates. That's a core function of county government," he said. "And it's going to cost money. Let's face it, you get what you pay for. The commissioners need to get some spine and pony up." But apparently it's cheaper to allow CCA to keep running the facilities regardless of the cost to public safety, and to the safety of prisoners and the company's privately-employed guards.

Sometimes the county commissioners share the blame, too. In July 2003, the Florida Police Benevolent Association filed complaints with the Florida Ethics Commission against three former Bay County commissioners, Danny Sparks, Carol Atkinson and Richard Stewart, and former county manager Jon Mantay, former county attorney Nevin Zimmerman and county emergency services director Bob Majka. All had taken a trip to visit a CCA-run jail in Tennessee in February, 2000. CCA had paid for their flights; the county was negotiating a renewal of CCA's contract for the Bay County jail at the time.

Critics Speak Out

Critics believe privatization of jails and prisons simply does not work. CCA has succeeded in staying in business for two decades, but it has not succeeded in demonstrating that prison privatization makes sense, says a study commissioned by the non-profit Grassroots Leadership, released in December 2003.

For a company that set out to improve upon what the public sector can offer, it has had to spend an inordinate amount of time defending its own performance, the study continues. Overall, CCA's record during the first two decades of its existence is far from impressive. Rather than fulfilling the original promise of raising standards of corrections, CCA has built a reputation marred by numerous instances of scandal, mismanagement, [and] alleged mistreatment of prisoners and its own employees.

Frequent readers of PLN, and those who have ever done time in a CCA jail or prison, should agree with that report's conclusion that, while CCA celebrates the past 20 years and looks forward to many more, we believe the time has come to put an end to the misguided experiment of prison privatization.

But it should be remembered that CCA's goal is not public safety, nor the rehabilitation of prisoners, nor frugal use of public resources. CCA's goal and fiduciary duty is to enrich its shareholders, and it has done a remarkable job of accomplishing that goal. The fact that CCA has profited at the expense of taxpayers, and the safety of prisoners, the public and the company's employees, is another issue -- one that is wholly beside the point.

Sources: St. Petersburg Times; New Herald; Hernando Today; Florida Today; Citrus Times

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