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One Guard killed, Sixteen Staff and Three Prisoners Injured in Mississippi Private Prison Riot

On May 20, 2012, violence erupted at a 2,567-bed private prison near Natchez, Mississippi which is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The Adams County Corrections Center (ACCC) houses low-security adult male illegal immigrants who have entered the country illegally after having previously been deported. Although this is a criminal offense, all of the prisoners will eventually be returned to their home countries.

The hours-long disturbance began on May 20, 2012 at 2:40 p.m. local time and centered on the inner compound and housing units of the prison. Prisoners were seen armed with makeshift weapons like broom handles and trash can lids. They built a bonfire in the prison compound, but none of them attempt to escape.

According to Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield, the disturbance involved a power struggle between two different factions of prisoners. He said that 200 to 300 prisoners were involved in the incident and that the prison's Special Operations Response Team (SORT) and SORTs from other CCA-run prisons in the area responded to the disturbance, deploying chemical agents and firearms to quell the unrest while sheriff's deputies and the Mississippi highway Patrol surrounded the prison.

During the course of the disturbance, a half dozen guards were held hostage and others were trapped for hours within the inner prison compound. One guard, Catlin Carithers, 24, was beaten to death. Sixteen other prison staff were injured as were three prisoners.

Mississippi's legacy of private prisons traces its roots to the enactment of a law in 1995 requiring all prisoners to serve 85% of their sentences. The subsequent expansion in the prisoner population forced the Mississippi Department of Corrections (DOC) to contract with private prisons for bed space. The 85% law caused the prisoner population to increase by 75% in five years, from 9,626 in 1993 to 16,695 in 1998.

The prisoner population collapsed when the law was amended to allow nonviolent prisoners to become eligible for parole after completing 25% of their sentences. This led to the ironic situation of the DOC renting bed space from private prisons while thousands of DOC beds remained empty and the DOC paying for empty private prison beds for so-called "ghost prisoners."

Many believed that this windfall for private prison companies could be explained by the generous campaign donations these companies had given to state politicians. Whatever the case, private prisons got a foothold in Mississippi and have expanded ever since so that the DUC currently has 3,110 of its 25,572 state prisoners in private prisons even as the influence of private prison companies in Mississippi has waned and the parole eligibility laws were liberalized for prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes.

Part of the repurposing of the private prisons originally built to hold Mississippi state prisoners involved contacting, with the federal government to hold illegal immigrants, hence the prisoner population at ACCC, but all are not pleased with the privatization of immigration detention.

"There are some issues with the privately run facilities, so I think between the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Homeland Security, you will see some restricting of that process," said Bernie Thompson, D-Miss., the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee which oversees the Bureau of Prisons. Thompson has called for an investigation by the inspector general into how ACCC handles prisoners.

ACCC is not the only Mississippi private prison in trouble. Relatives and friends of prisoners at the Walnut Grove Youth Correction Facility (WGCF) in Carthage, Mississippi, attended a Mat 20, 2012, rally at Smith Park in Jackson, Mississippi to protest the inhumane conditions at the GEO Group-run prison.

"They did the crime. We want them to do the crime, but we also want them to be treated like people--not ahimals," said Kimberly Carson, a parent of a child incarcerated at WGCF. "Were just trying to reach out to (DOC Commissioner Richard Epps) and thank him for what he did already and just hope and pray that he continues to do the right thing for our kids."

In April 2012, Epps announced the termination of the DOC's contract with the GEO Group, which manages WGCF and two other private prisons in Mississippi, effective July 1, 2012.

The conditions at WGCF under GEO Group had already led to a civil rights lawsuit which was settled in February 2012.

"They're just not doing the job," according to Belinder Hymes, one of the protestors. "These companies are more revenue-oriented. They don't look at our children as human beings. Our children are merely commercial goods to them."

Hymes is right, of course. Private prison companies treat prisoners as commodities, not people. That is why no one should be incarcerated in a private prison--not illegal immigrants, not state prisoners, not federal prisoners and, most of all, not children.

Sources: Hattiesberg American;;, Natchez Democrat

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