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Articles by David Reutter

“Please Rip Us Off” Florida Officials Tell Private Prison Companies

"Please Rip Us Off" Florida Officials Tell Private Prison Companies

by David M. Reutter

Despite having ordered a criminal investigation into its private prison contractors, the Florida Legislature and Governor Charlie Crist have enacted legislation that specifies those same companies are the only ones that can bid on expanding current prisons or building new correctional facilities.

The criminal investigation, conducted by the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement (FDLE), resulted after two state audits found that Florida had overpaid the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) more than $4.5 million for vacant job positions and maintenance that was never performed. GEO settled with the state for $402,541, literally pennies on the dollar, while as of September, 2007 the state was still negotiating with CCA over $3.6 million in payments. [See: PLN, June 2007, p.32]. The FDLE investigation found no criminal wrongdoing.

To address its continually burgeoning prison population, Florida is planning to build more beds. The state's 2007 budget calls for 384 new beds at a medium-security prison, which is estimated to cost between $15 and $20 million. The budget limits the prison expansion to companies that currently contract with the state, which are ...

Florida Supreme Court Enacts Rules Regulating “Super Sealing” of Court Records

Florida Supreme Court Enacts Rules Regulating "Super Sealing" of Court Records

by David M. Reutter

On April 5, 2007, the Florida Supreme Court implemented new rules that "provide a procedural vehicle for making circuit and county court records in non-criminal cases confidential." The rules were made to address "highly serious concerns" identified by mainstream media about hidden cases and secret dockets, sometimes called "super sealing."

The Court stated that the Florida Constitution mandates public access to court records, subject only to a narrow category of records where public access is automatically restricted by operation of state or federal law or court rule, such as in child dependency cases. "Otherwise, our rules strongly disfavor court records that are hidden from public scrutiny," the Court said. "The rules provide only a limited veil that is restricted to a second category of court records where a set of carefully defined interest are involved."

Instead, some courts were super sealing the divorce cases of local celebrities or the wealthy. To address this practice that was "clearly offensive to the spirit of laws and rules that ultimately rest on Florida's well-established public policy of government in the sunshine," the Court implemented strict procedures before ...

$1.6 Million Settlements by PHS and Hillsborough County in Death of Baby Born in Florida Jail

by David M. Reutter

Inadequate medical care by Prison Health Services (PHS) has resulted in yet another death and $1.6 million in settlements for the mother of a baby boy who was born over a cell toilet at Florida's Hillsborough County Jail (HCJ).

Incarcerated for prostitution, Kimberly Grey ...

Florida Jails: State’s Largest Mental Health Providers

Florida Jails: State's Largest Mental Health Providers

by David M. Reutter

Florida's policy of allowing mentally ill citizens to languish without treatment until they have encounters with law enforcement has turned the state's county jails into the primary provider of mental health services. This has created fiscal and overcrowding problems, which in turn force mentally ill prisoners to live in punitive environments that worsen their condition.

According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), Florida is in a state of crisis, with 23 percent of prisoners held in county and city jails having a mental disorder. The actual number may be higher. Anywhere from 70,000 to 90,000 people with mental problems are arrested in Florida each year.

Despite that fact, Florida ranked 48th nationwide in per capita spending for mental health treatment. As with all crises, this one did not occur overnight. In fact, it is the culmination of policies implemented in the 1950?s to "deinstitutionalize" the mentally ill by closing psychiatric hospitals and discontinuing state-paid treatment and care.

Many mentally ill defendants are found incompetent to stand trial, which has caused a serious dilemma for Florida's Department of Children and ...

20 Florida Prison Officials Fired or Suspended After Prisoner Beating, Party

by David M. Reutter

Continuing his quest to clean up the chronically corrupt Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), Secretary James McDonough fired or suspended at least 20 officials at Hendry Correctional Institution (HCI) for actions related to a prisoner beating.

Prior to McDonough taking FDOC's helm in February 2006, abuse of prisoners had become part of the department's culture under former Secretary James Crosby, who himself was sentenced to eight years in prison on bribery charges in April 2007.
The FDOC's abusive culture has even condoned murder, as when Florida death row prisoner Frank Valdes was brutally killed by guards who were later acquitted at trial.[See: PLN, Aug. 2002, p.12].

Retaliation for filing grievances or lawsuits is commonplace at FDOC facilities. Normally, the retaliation takes the form of a punitive job change or transfer to another prison; the latter punishment is termed "diesel therapy" because it involves riding numerous prison buses.

Charles Gundlah, a Vermont prisoner housed in Florida under the Interstate Corrections Compact, exhibited no fear of retaliation. He has filed over 250 grievances during his incarceration within the FDOC since 1998.

For unknown reasons, Gundlah was housed in a confinement unit at HCI ...

Florida’s Civil Commitment Center Exhibits Little Change Despite New Contractor

Florida's Civil Commitment Center Exhibits Little Change Despite New Contractor

by David M. Reutter

Despite recent scandals and a new private contractor, the Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC) is still a facility with little direction other than as a confinement center to warehouse sex offenders who have completed their sentences.

PLN has previously reported on the out-of-control, "free-for-all" atmosphere that reigned at FCCC. That article, published last year, detailed incidents of FCCC employees selling drugs, delivering contraband to facility residents, having sex with residents, and allowing residents to do as they pleased so long as they were "happy." [See: PLN, Nov. 2006, p.13].

Meanwhile, little treatment was being providing to the then 484 resident sex offenders. In fact, as of May 2005, only 35 percent of the residents were even enrolled in sex offender therapy programs. During Liberty's eight-year term of managing FCCC, only one resident obtained a recommendation from company staff that he should be released.

FCCC was ostensibly created to treat sex offenders after they were released from prison. From its establishment in 1998 under the Jimmy Ryce Act (FS 394.910), the facility was operated by Liberty Behavioral Health Corporation under an annual contract ...

Florida Homeless Sex Offender Ruling Reversed, FDOC Changes Policy Anyway

by David M. Reutter

Florida?s Fifth District Court of Appeals has reversed, on procedural grounds, an order by the Volusia County Circuit Court that enjoined the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) from engaging in the ?practice of automatically violating the probation of every sex offender who fails to give an address acceptable pursuant to Section 948.30(1)(6), Florida Statute (2005), at the time of a scheduled release from incarceration.? PLN reported the circuit court order. [See: PLN, Jan. 2007, p. 36].

FDOC?s policy was to violate, upon release, all sex offenders who failed to provide an address that was not ?within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park, playground, or other place where children regularly congregate,? maintaining that homelessness was not an excuse for noncompliance. The Fifth District Court said it was ?sympathetic? to the circuit court?s frustration with FDOC?s actions and to the notion of essential fairness in the lower court?s order.

Nonetheless, several procedural issues required the appellate court to reverse. ?First, the DOC was not a party to the proceedings and, evidently, no notice was given to DOC that such an order was within the contemplation of ...

Fulton County Jail Consents to Improve Dismal Conditions

The Fulton County Jail (FCJ) has entered into an agreement to correct the “dismal environmental conditions and poor maintenance” at the facility. A Georgia federal district court approved a consent order on February 7, 2006 to solidify the badly needed changes.

The FCJ comprises three facilities, holding 2,250, 200 and 100 prisoners. Each is badly overcrowded. The Court appointed an expert, Dr. Robert B. Greifinger of Dobbs Ferry, New York to tour FCJ and issue a report on conditions with recommendations to correct the problems found.

What Dr. Greifinger found frightened him. “Extremely tense. Each of my senses raising an alarm. Scary. With almost two decades of visiting inmate housing units, it was the first time that I declined to go in,” wrote Dr. Greifinger in a May 31, 2004 report. What Dr. Greifinger found on the fifth floor of FCJ was nothing that “came as a surprise to anyone” associated with this litigation.

The fifth floor unit was built for 108, or 200 double-bunked, prisoners. On Dr. Greifinger’s visit it held 59 on the North side, with 18 on the floor. The South side held 326, but had only 12 showers. While Dr.Greifinger’s May visit was ...

Prison Privatization Launders Taxpayer Dollars into Political Contributions

by David M. Reutter

If you know a company is not saving you money or performing its contractual obligations, why would you continue to use that company? The normal consumer would end the relationship quickly. When it comes to contracts for privatized prison services, the answer may lie in the laundering of taxpayer money through for-profit corporations into campaign contributions.

Politicians, however, ardently deny that political graft factors into their decisions to award lucrative privatization contracts for services normally reserved to the public sector. "It's outrageous even to imply or infer a connection and absolutely not true. State contracts are fully transparent and must follow strict procurement procedures," said Pahl Shipley, spokesman for New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D).

While politicians are quick to justify their ethically-questionable actions, a little research and investigation usually reveals that someone is getting a raw deal. In the case of prison contracts, those who are supposed to benefit often suffer while the politically-connected companies hired to perform public services are the ones that benefit.

Buying Political Influence and Prison Contracts

The GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut Corrections, understands the connection between money in politics and procuring government contracts. The company hedges its bets both ...

Minnesota Prison Industries Managers Ride High on Prison Slavery

by David M. Reutter

A report by Minnesota?s Office of The Legislative Auditor (Auditor) has found conflicts of interest, the improper disposition of surplus property, and questionable contracting practices existed at MINNCOR Industries, Minnesota?s prison industry.

That special review came after former MINNCOR sales representative Larry Williams blew the whistle on the practices. After he was laid off in May 2006, Williams sued MINNCOR under whistle blower protection laws. His union, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, says the report confirms Williams? allegations.

MINNCOR was created in the 1870?s to provide Minnesota prisoners an opportunity to work and acquire certain knowledge and skills prior to release. It currently operates in eight prisons, providing various products and services that are sold to state agencies, local units of governments, and businesses. Some of the services and products include custodial supplies, park and patio accessories, data entry, market research, laundry and sewing services, and office, library, and residential furniture. The Minnesota Department of Corrections (MDOC) oversees MINNCOR?s operation.

The Auditor?s first conclusion was that MDOC failed to adequately resolve a conflict of interest that it was aware occurred between three MINNCOR employees and ?a business partner.? The conflict ...

 

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