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3 Months in Juvie For a MySpace Joke? How the For-Profit Prison Industry Locks Up More People Each Year

Private prisons are marked by corruption, expense, abuses--and yet their reach is vast, and it's growing.

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The investigation found a hidden world of flawed medical judgments, faulty administrative practices, neglectful guards, ill-trained technicians, sloppy record-keeping, lost medical files and dangerous staff shortages. It is also a world increasingly run by high-priced private contractors. There is evidence that infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and chicken pox, are spreading inside the centers.

Nurses who work on the front lines see the problems up close. "Dogs get better care in the dog pound," said Catherine Rouse, a contract nurse at an Arizona detention center who quit after two months last year because she saw what she regarded as "scary medicine" in the prison: patients taken off medications they needed and nurses doing tasks they were not qualified to do. "You don't treat people like that. There has to be some kind of moral fiber," Rouse said.

Bob Libal, senior organizer for Grassroots Leadership in Austin, Texas - considered by many to be the "guru" of private prison opposition - summed up the situation as he sees it. He told Truthout, "A litany of human rights abuses, scandals, and lawsuits have plagued private prisons corporations, particularly in Texas, where there are more private prisons, detention centers, and jails than in any other state," he said, adding:

"Unfortunately, the private prison industry has fought even the most limited oversight and transparency measures. Furthermore, the largest private prison corporations - CCA and GEO - spend millions of dollars each year on  lobbying and campaign contributions that ensure that their interests - an ever increasing flow of prisoners and detainees into private beds - are met."

ACLU attorney David Shapiro told Truthout that two issues play a major role in creating an environment in which death and deprivation in detention become inevitable. The first issue is the absence of any enforceable standards for the maze of 400 federal, municipal, county and private jails used by ICE to house immigrants.

The second issue is a medical care regimen that, until recently, allowed the government such wide discretion that it could deny urgent care, including biopsies for suspected cancers, and treatment of heart conditions. As a result of an ACLU lawsuit, there is now a new document that defines the medical care to which detainees are entitled. But lack of independent oversight casts doubt on the extent to which the new regimen is being followed.

The Obama administration has declined to produce system-wide enforceable standards for the prisons it uses to house immigrants. Shapiro declined to speculate on the administration's rationale, but others have said that it is based on the wide differences among the various types of facilities used by the government. It has also failed to produce a medical care program that is binding on ICE personnel and its contractors. A number of the reported deaths in detention have been caused by ICE's failure to provide timely medical interventions in emergency situations. Some observers believe that the rationale for deciding against providing "long term" medical care - for example, biopsies - is that ICE detention is largely short term.

Yet, ICE and its DHS parent department have acknowledged that many immigrants are held in custody for years. ICE has also admitted many of the deficiencies in its detention system and has vowed to initiate reforms. But Shapiro contends that the most recent documents obtained by the ACLU show that ICE's culture of secrecy has not changed.

Bernstein's New York Times article says that the documents show how officials - some still in key positions - used their role as overseers to "cover up evidence of mistreatment, deflect scrutiny by the news media or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse."

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