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The Shocking Ways the Corporate Prison Industry Games the System

The private prison system has rebounded, growing dramatically, and making big bucks with huge help from the Feds, as large numbers of immigrants are incarcerated.

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The potential for such injustice involving incarcerated children isn't limited to Pennsylvania.  The ACLU report notes, "According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, privately owned corporations operate more than 50 percent of youth correctional facilities in the United States."

There is no clearer example of dangers associated mixing profit-making and juvenile rehabilitation than the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (WGYCF) operated by the GEO Group in Mississippi.   WGYCF, which has been called "the deepest depths of hell," is the nation's largest juvenile prison.  It houses 1,200 young males between the ages of 13 and 22, 67 percent of whom are incarcerated for non-violent offenses.  The facility was originally established by the Mississippi state legislature to create a safe environment for juveniles charged as adults by keeping them separate from the cruel and harsh conditions often found in adult prisons. 

Unfortunately, that mission is incompatible with the priorities of the for-profit prison industry. As it turns out, conditions at  WGYCF are so atrocious that the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center have teamed up to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf the inmates against the prison operator (GEO Group), prison administrators, and state officials.

The complaint alleges, "The for-profit entities that manage WGYCF perpetuate violence and corruption."  More specifically, youth have been kicked and punched while handcuffed, others stripped naked and confined to solitary for weeks at a time.  Another inmate was "held hostage in his cell for almost 24 hours, brutally raped and physically assaulted after prison staff failed to heed his plea for protection."  Another lives with permanent brain damage after suffering multiple stabbings and beatings that prison staff are described as having been complicit in.   

While each atrocity sounds more chilling than the next, even more striking is the prospect that this inexplicable violence and neglect may be rooted in the insatiable desire for higher profit margins through cost cutting at the expense of the safety and health of inmates.

An investigation carried out by NPR found that state audits from both 2005 and 2010 indicate that there were fewer guards despite an increase in the number of prisoners.  According to the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, most juvenile facilities around the country have one guard for every 10 to 12 juveniles. At  WGYCF there is 1 guard for every 60 inmates.  Yet, as the ACLU report points out,  "private companies, including the GEO Group...have extracted more than $100 million in revenue from the facility’s operation."  Since salaries make up the largest chunk of correctional budget expenses, hiring fewer guards can prove to be quite lucrative, especially since the one full-time state employee tasked with monitoring the prisons operations has his salary reimbursed by the private company operating the facility.

The violence doesn’t stop at  WGYCF. According to Shapiro, there is evidence, including multiple studies carried out by the Justice Department, that for-profit prisons are more violent than governmentally operated facilities, which is likely the result of understaffed, poorly paid, and poorly trained guards. 

These are the companies we are putting in charge of the expanding immigration detention system, and so far, their track record fairs no better. Last year, the New York Times and ACLU obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act detailing107 deaths in ICE detention since October 2003.   According to the report, nine of those deaths occurred at a CCA detention center in Eloy, Arizona, “more than any other immigration jail under contract to the federal government."   Even worse, “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,” underscoring the lack of oversight that exists in immigration detention as it is.

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