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CCA Fined $140,000 for Early Release of Prisoners at FL Jail; Quits Contract

The nation’s largest private prison firm, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has once again upset county officials by repeatedly failing to control vital jail operations. The company responded by discontinuing its contract to operate the facility.

On November 1, 2007, a CCA worker prematurely released nine prisoners from the Bay County, Florida jail’s substance abuse program before their sentences had expired. Upon CCA’s discovery of the mistake, the prisoners were notified and each agreed to return to finish their jail terms.

The Bay County Commissioners fined the company $140,000 for the mistaken early releases, an amount equivalent to 1 percent of the monthly $1.4 million paid to the company for operating the facility.

“This is a jail and it needs to be run like one,” said Commissioner Mike Nelson. A report by the county contract monitor found the incident resulted from poor judgment by CCA staff, broad booking procedures and inadequate staffing. CCA was also cited for allowing several hours to pass before informing the contract monitor that the incident had occurred. “It shouldn’t have happened ...” explained Nelson. “What I am really upset about is that there was a 7-hour delay before anyone at our place was ever notified.”

PLN readers, however, know that such problems are typical for CCA, as the drive to increase profit leads the company to provide substandard services with fewer staff, less experienced staff and inadequate training. Various deficiencies at the CCA-operated Bay County facility – including a hostage taking and shooting, sexual misconduct by staff, escapes, suicides and in-adequate medical care – were previously profiled in a PLN cover story that also detailed the company’s mismanagement at other Florida jails. [See: PLN, July 2006, p.1].

CCA and Bay County have a lengthy relationship – CCA has operated the county’s jail since 1985. In May 2006, county and company officials entered into a six-year contract renewal; included in the agreement was the construction of a new $39.7 million jail facility.

“We’re gonna have to get it across to the folks up in Tennessee [where CCA is headquartered] that we take this very seriously,” said Nelson.
CCA officials apparently did take the $140,000 in fines seriously. On May 1, 2008 the company announced it was withdrawing from the Bay County contract. The company will cease operations by October 1, after the new facility is built.

CCA stated its withdrawal from Bay County was due to financial concerns; the company said it could not keep paying the competitive wages necessary to “retain the brightest and the best staff.” Which makes one wonder what kind of staff CCA has been hiring to run the facility over the past two decades. Another possible factor is that under its contract, CCA would have been paid a lower per diem rate after the new jail facility was complete.

The Bay County Sheriff’s Office will operate the jail after CCA pulls out, at an estimated annual expense of $17.8 mil-lion. Presumably, despite the greater cost, the quality of the sheriff’s management will be higher. The cost increase was mainly for pay raises for jail staff. “It’s a little higher rate,” admitted Commissioner Jerry Girvin, “but let’s face it; a lot of the problems have been because of the [lower] salary” paid by CCA.

Perhaps CCA wouldn’t have to abandon its contractual obligations if it didn’t rack up large fines due to violations and mismanagement caused by staffing deficiencies and poorly-trained employees. Then again, that would make it difficult for the company to earn as large a profit as it does.

Sources: News Herald,

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