by Derek Gilna
An April 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) strongly criticized private prison company CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), which operates the Leavenworth Detention Center (LDC) in Kansas. The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), which contracts with CoreCivic to manage the facility, was also a target of the OIG’s criticism.
As previously reported in PLN,CoreCivic had already come under fire for secretly recording privileged conversations between LDC prisoners and their attorneys, then sharing the recordings with federal prosecutors. [See: PLN, May 2017, p.36; Oct. 2016, p.44].
According to the OIG report, “unbeknownst to the USMS, LDC officials had uninstalled beds prior to an American Correctional Association (ACA) inspection in 2011.” The beds – the third added to cells designed for two prisoners – were removed “to conceal from ACA that the LDC was triple-bunking detainees.”
The ACA is the main accrediting body for both public and private correctional facilities, tasked with carrying out inspections before it certifies a facility as compliant with its self-promulgated standards. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.1].
Triple-bunking violated both ACA standards and the $697 million, 20-year contract between the USMS and CoreCivic to operate LDC. The OIG also criticized the Marshals Service for the uncompetitive way in which it awarded the LDC contract to CoreCivic, as well as its poor supervision of the company’s management of the facility.
“We found that the USMS did not detect several weaknesses in CoreCivic’s contractually-required quality control program at the LDC, which our review determined had significant shortcomings,” the OIG report stated.
The concealment of the triple-bunking from the ACA was most troubling, since an internal audit determined it was a long-standing practice that the company knew about. But there were many other problems noted in the report.
According to the OIG, the USMS’s efforts at developing “continuous monitoring processes” at LDC were “insufficient,” and its “monitoring of internal, external, and ... audit results” was inadequate. The agency’s “quality assurance documentation” and “mechanisms to hold contractors accountable” were also deemed lacking.
More disturbing was the OIG’s comment that “several of these problems appear to be inherent in the USMS’s overarching continuous monitoring approach”--leading the OIG to warn that “we believe they may also be occurring at the USMS’s other 14 contract detention facilities.”
The USMS employee tasked with overseeing CoreCivic’s contract at LDC was stationed off-site and did not visit the facility often. Moreover, so little training had been provided for the job that the USMS had filed no claims against the company for contract violations for over ten years. From 2006 to 2017, the agency also did not impose penalties against the private operators of its other 14 contract facilities.
By contrast, the federal Bureau of Prisons imposed $23 million in contract violations against the operators of its 13 private prisons from 2011 to 2015.
The OIG report also said the USMS should more closely monitor CoreCivic’s endemic staff shortages – which have left up to 23 percent of guard positions vacant, including some the company itself had labeled “mandatory” for safe operation.
OIG Deputy Inspector General Robert Storch concluded that “understaffing at [LDC] potentially placed the security of staff and detainees at risk.”
Judy Greene, the director of Justice Strategies, a nonprofit research group, said understaffing is a constant problem “embedded in the business strategy” of private prison companies, whose quickest way to maximize profit is to cut their largest costs – which are related to staffing.
“It’s a somewhat perverse incentive,” she said, “if what you’re looking for is a prison that is adequately staffed.”
CoreCivic sometimes reassigned employees who were not guards to cover vacant security positions. But even as staffing levels dropped at LDC, the USMS allowed the company to accept more prisoners from other, non-federal prisons – sometimes at per diem rates lower than what the USMS was paying.
The OIG report faulted the USMS for language in its contract bid solicitation that appeared to limit the pool of potential bidders to those already located in Leavenworth – like CoreCivic. It also recommended that the USMS perform more specific price analysis for correctional services in the pre-bidding phase and increase training programs for their monitoring staff after the contract is awarded.
The OIG noted that CoreCivic had failed to pay its employees at LDC all the fringe benefits stipulated under the USMS contract. At the same time, the USMS had paid $103,000 in commissary salaries and benefits that should have been covered by CoreCivic under its contract but had been omitted.
In addition to its recommendations regarding contract bidding and oversight, the report said the USMS needed to “clearly specify in its new and existing contracts the circumstances under which triple bunking is allowed, and what rules, procedures, and ACA standards apply to the practice.”
Citing CoreCivic statistics, the OIG noted the company had $1.8 billion in revenue and $222 million in net income in 2015, housing some 88,500 prisoners in 77 facilities at the end of that year – “the fifth largest corrections system in the nation, behind only the federal government and three states.”
According to the Federal Procurement Data System, CoreCivic was the Marshals Service’s largest contractor “in terms of dollars obligated for 7 of the last 10 years, spanning (Fiscal Years) 2006 through 2015.”
The USMS accepted the findings of the OIG report and said it would address the report’s 24 specific concerns related to CoreCivic’s operation of LDC.
Sources: www.washingtonexaminer.com, www.oig.justice.gov, www.kansascity.com
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