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Colorado Expands Private Prisons While Fining CCA for Understaffing

by Matthew T. Clarke

On June 28, 2006, Colorado assessed $126,000 in fines against Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for persistently understaffing two Colorado private prisons. The Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) also awarded contracts for new private prisons and the expansion of current private prisons to CCA and other private prison companies.

The fines were prompted by a state auditor's report which blasted the private prison companies and recommended fines. [PLN, Apr. 2006, p. 18].
CCA's Kit Carson County Correctional Facility (KCCCF) in Burlington was fined $103,743 for short shifting 701 times during the ten-week period ending January 10, 2006. This meant that the prison was short about ten employees per day every day spread out among three shifts. The supervisor was missing for five shifts while the assistant supervisor was absent for 44 shifts. In October 2005, the DOC waived $46,000 in fines for KCCCF because it said it was unfair to strictly enforce a contract that was only a month old at the time.

CCA's Crowley County Correctional Facility (CCCF) in Olney Springs was fined close to $23,000 for short shifting 157 times during the ten weeks. CCCF had been previously granted a waiver for $18,000 in fines.

Alison Morgan, the DOCs supervisor of private prisons, said that staffing had improved at the private prisons since the fines were assessed. According to the state auditor, private prisons have a large turnover in staff because the guards are paid only about two-thirds the amount that state prison guards are paid. And have little in the way of benefits.
Interestingly, the DOC did not state how much money CCA made by short staffing its facilities. In similar cases around the country, private prison companies have determined they can short staff their facilities, absorb the fines and still make a handsome profit off the difference.

Around the same time it was assessing the fines against CCA, the DOC announced that it was awarding several contracts to build new and expand existing private prisons. The DOC awarded Houston-based Cornell Companies a contract with a potential value of $16 million annually to build and operate an 832-bed women's prison in Hudson. This beat a competing bid from GRW Corporation to expand a 282-bed private women's prison it operates in Bush. GRW may have lost the contract due to a scandal involving employees having sex with prisoners at Brush. [PLN, Oct. 2005, pp. 18-20].

The DOC also awarded Boca Raton, Florida-based GEO Group a contract to build and operate a 1,504-bed prison in Alut potentially worth $28 million a year. CCA was awarded a contract to expand KCCCF and its mens prison in Bent County by 720 beds each.

The expansion projects and new prisons are expected to be completed by the middle of 2008.

Colorado currently pays private prison companies $51.91 per prisoner per day to incarcerate state prisoners.

According to DOC spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti, Colorados prison population is growing by 100 prisoners per month and will exceed existing capacity by the end of 2006.

We are almost out of state beds, and we are desperately in need of places to put these inmates to keep them safe and secure and house them in a humane way, said Sanguinetti. The private prisons allow us to do that without incurring the construction costs to the state.

Colorados private prisons have been plagued with short staffing, riots, and guards bringing in drugs and coercing prisoners to have sex with them. [PLN, Jan. 2005, pp. 26-32; Oct. 2005, pp. 18-20; April 2006, p.18]. Whats safe, secure and humane about that? Sentencing reform, releasing lifers held long past their parole dates and similar measures are not within the bounds of political consideration.

Sources: Rocky Mountain News, Greenly Tribune, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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