Guards fight private prisons
July 2000

On May 9th, prison guards from all over the country were in Washington, DC talking to their congressional representatives about becoming co-sponsors of H.R. 979, a bill that would prevent the federal government from contracting with for-profit prison companies to house federal prisoners.

On that same day during a 60 Minutes II television show there was a segment exposing recent problems Wackenhut Corrections Corporation has had in Louisiana and Texas, and the abuse of prisoners there.

For example, the Justice Department just took the Jena Juvenile Facility in Louisiana from Wackenhut Corrections Corporation after months of trying to get them to clean up their act. The Justice Department accused guards at a privately run juvenile prison of violating inmates' rights by habitually using excessive force and allowing brutal fights over such basic items as food, clothing and shoes. "Jena fails to provide reasonable safety, improperly uses chemical restraints, and provides inadequate mental health, medical and dental care for the approximately 276 adolescent boys," said the report made public by U.S. Judge Frank Polozola.

The for-profit Jena Juvenile Justice Center is an "unsafe, violent and inhumane" institution, a consultant to the U.S. Justice Department John P. Whitley asserted, the court's appointed prison expert. "The high number of juveniles at Jena with bleeding ulcers and hypertension may be related to the stress and fear associated with living in such a violent place,"

Justice Department consultants, Nancy K. Ray of Delmar, N.Y., wrote that Jena's operating problems stemmed largely from staffing problems. During its 13-month history, she wrote, more than 600 people have drifted through 180 positions - including 125 fired in 1999.

Ray also found that Wackenhut hired many people who had no business working in a juvenile prison. At least 20 employees, Ray wrote, had been named in publicly filed abuse cases before they were hired. Others had criminal records. One sergeant, who was fired last July for slamming a boy's face onto a concrete floor, had four criminal convictions in 1998, including one for aggravated assault.

The Department of Justice is not the only one having problems with Wackenhut:

In Florida, five guards at a Wackenhut work-release facility in Fort Lauderdale were fired or punished for having sex with inmates last summer, according to an April 16 report in the Miami Herald. Though no charges were filed, the local sheriff plans to renegotiate contract terms with Wackenhut.

In New Mexico, state consultants concluded in a 500-page report that Wackenhut was partially at fault for a riot last August that left an inmate and a guard dead. They blamed the state for placing violent gang criminals in the company's medium-security prison, but they also denounced Wackenhut for lack of staffing, inexperienced supervisors, low pay and high turnover, the report said. The guard who was killed was making $7.98 an hour. Four inmates also died at the same facility.

In Texas, Wackenhut lost a $12-million Annual contract last fall and was fined $625,000 for not abiding by the contract to run a state prison, the Herald reported. The company barely kept the minimum number of guards required in the contract. Twelve former guards were indicted on charges of having sex with female inmates, the paper said. Women filed civil complaints claiming they had been raped at three Wackenhut prisons in Texas.

The Corrections and Criminal Justice Coalition, which opposes prison privatization, is asking people to call their congressional representatives and ask them to pass H.R. 979 to stop federal contracting-out of imprisonment.

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