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CCA Fined for Florida Jail Escape; County Commission Poised to Impose More Fines

After a series of escapes, prisoner suicides and thefts by employees over the past year, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) promised it would take action to prevent similar incidents at Florida?s Hernando County Jail (HCJ). The pledge was made in a successful attempt by CCA to hold onto its $10 million annual contract to operate the facility. [See: PLN, July 2006, p.1].

Despite that promise another prisoner escaped from HCJ on February 26, 2007. Kenneth Ferris, who absconded from the jail, was later apprehended by sheriff?s deputies; CCA Lt. Mary Mills, who had left Ferris? cell door unlocked, was fired. The escape resulted from the same cause as many of the previous problems at HCJ ? inadequate staff to provide security. This was one of the issues that CCA had promised the Hernando County Commission it would address and solve.

The Commission?s response to Ferris? escape was to levy a $23,000 fine against CCA. Yet there was no talk about canceling the company?s lucrative contract. Instead the Commission members proposed a band-aid solution to the jail?s staffing problem: They suggested installing a perimeter fence that will cost around $300,000. The Commission planned to cover the expense by fining CCA for contract violations.

To date CCA has been fined four times, totaling $100,000. Presumably the County Commission intended to let CCA continue to be deficient in its contractual responsibilities until it milked another $200,000 out of the company. Wanting to quickly expand the jail to accommodate a growing prisoner population, however, the County appropriated funds for the fence in its 2008-2009 budget.

Yet CCA isn?t off the hook for problems at HCJ. In March 2007, former jail prisoner Jeffrey McLaughlin filed suit against the company, claiming guards had failed to protect him from being assaulted by other prisoners in 2005. McLaughlin alleged in his pro se lawsuit that the cell block?s emergency call button didn?t work, the guards weren?t paying attention and no one was monitoring the security camera.

Further, in June 2007, lawsuits were filed against CCA for the suicide deaths of two HCJ prisoners in separate incidents earlier this year. Geoffrey Conley, 21, hung himself on January 5, while Trouc Tran, 33, committed suicide less than a month later on Jan. 27. A State Attorney?s Office report faulted HCJ staff for failing to conduct and document checks on both of the prisoners.

Fines, of course, are little consolation for the families of prisoners who die due to the incompetence or negligence of CCA staff.

Source: Hernando Today

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