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Counterpoint: Protecting proprietary interests?
By Brian Dawe
Published: 04/21/2008

In his recent commentary, Counterpoint: Too harsh on private industry, 4/14/08, Mr. Owens is correct when he states that our statistics are old and that only 29 facilities responded to the Corrections Yearbook. We would welcome any new verifiable statistics the industry cares to offer.

However, what Mr. Owens doesn’t say is why those statistics are outdated. On February 20, 2008 the Associated Press reported the following,
    “Corrections Corp. of America spent almost $2.5 million in 2007 to lobby on legislation and regulations related to the private prison industry…. The company lobbied on the privatization of Bureau of Indian Affairs prisons and on the Public Safety Act, which would outlaw private prisons, as well as the Private Prison Information Act, which would force private prisons to make public the same information government jails must provide.
Not more than government agencies must provide, but the same as they must provide. Why would CCA spend more than $2.5 million to keep information away from the public?

If they were doing such a bang up job, you would think they would want us to see how well they are doing. But they spend $2.5 million to do just the opposite.

We’ve heard the claim about protecting corporate proprietary interests. This is a despicable and dangerous argument in my profession. In public corrections when one of us finds a solution to a problem or comes up with a new idea we share it knowing it may save a life.

That’s what Corrections.com is about; sharing information so we all benefit. Are these private prison corporations arguing proprietary interests over human life? Indeed they are.

There is another reason why it is difficult to get accurate information out of the private prison industry in general, and CCA in particular. Mr. Gus Puryear IV is CCA’s top lawyer.

He was featured in a recent Time magazine article on March 13, 2008,
    “When Mr. Puryear felt there was highly sensitive or potentially damaging information to CCA, I would then be directed to remove that information from an audit report," Robert T. Jones CCA Manager.

    “The former CCA manager, alleges that the company even began keeping two sets of books — one for internal use that described prison deficiencies in telling detail, and a second set that Jones describes as ‘doctored’ for public consumption, to limit bad publicity, litigation or fines that could derail CCA's multimillion dollar contracts with federal, state or local agencies.”
This is not an insolated incident. The media is full of articles describing failed audits, hidden records and contract breeches.

For nine years I have openly offered to debate the private prison industry and I make that offer again. I am a mere correctional officer nothing more, nothing less.

They can bring all the experts and high priced attorneys they want and I’ll come with only two other people. If Corrections.com is willing to sponsor this debate just tell us when and where.

But they won’t debate us; they never have because it’s an argument they cannot win. That is why they are willing to spend $2.5 million a year to make sure the public never knows what’s really going on in those “Dungeons for Dollars.”

Brian Dawe
Executive Director
American Correctional Officer


Comments:

  1. Diogenes on 04/27/2008:

    It's obvious that Mr. Dawe is correct and the industry is reacting to his comments in typical fashion, smears from the corporate "suits." The comment about the age of the industry turnover figures is also correct, however. The 53% annual rate figure is about eight years old. That astonishing rate of turnover had been progressively deteriorating until reaching that published nadir. Since then they have simply not released the horrific numbers. If they want some recent numbers and stories, let me provide just a few. A management study for the state of Oklahoma published last year revealed that GEO's flagship mammoth "model" prison in Lawton, Oklahoma had successive annual turnover rates of 95% and 69%. GEO has been touting its operations all the state, with Superbowl-winning coach Barry Switzer parading around telling the uninitated that their prisons are just wonderful, thank you, and every town should have one. GEO just did that after a particularly bizzare GEO escape in San Antonio, Texas where guards were said to have ignored the report of an eyewitness passing by. They did not miss the prisoner until about 24 hours later. When turnover reaches that astonishing amount a few things are obvious: Working conditions are abysmal. The for-profit prison jobs are a last resort, often for parents holding down two jobs, the other at Wal-Mart or some similar bottom-of-the-barrel employer. In that sort of situation, the guards can't possibly have the vigilance and alertness required of such an intense security situation. There is no mentoring process apprehending. Almost everyone is the "new guy on the (cell) block." The industry actually boasts that they have octogenarians working for it as guards. Each year, about 16% of public correctional officers retire, but only .6%, one out of every 160, take a pension. For-profit industry benefits are a small fraction of that paid to state or federal employees. GEO settled a wages and hours suit in California for $10 million. CCA was unable to match that settlement and only had to pay up $1 million for shorting workers their wages. MTC had a similar multi-state suit. When GEO had a riot in Arizona in Indiana a year ago, newspapers had reported they had been recruiting guards for $8 an hour. CEC/CiviGenics is paying a buck less in Texas. I pointed out in a panel discussion on 11/2/05 that included CCA VP Rick Seiter that CCA had been paying $7.65 an hour to guards in a Kentucky prison, but that new employee Seiter was making $270,000 a year, and had gotten about a 2/3rds of a million dollar stock award earlier that year. The next year his award and salary approximately doubled. CCA's James Ferguson was reported to have bagged $22.5 million in 2006. GEO Group's George Zoley and Wayne Calabrese were reported to have gotten about $4.5 and $2.5 million, respectively. CCA is so scraping the bottom of the barrel for employees that they recently promoted an ex-GEO official to become an assistant warden in Eloy, AZ. The man had previously been convicted of killing another motorist while driving drunk. In Tulsa, CCA had their substance abuse program manager convicted of sexual abuse of a prisoner. The Tulsa World found he had, before working in CCA institutions, done 17 years for the murder of a University of Alabama football player. The World obtained a staff list and found 20 other CCA employees in that town who had criminal or domestic violence charges filed locally within the previous five years. In Florida, it appeared that GEO and CCA had overcharged the state by over $12 million. They whitewash their profiteering by renaming and reframing it, as a "public-private partnership." It is about as much of a partnership as that as exists between a battered spouse and her abuser. Last year Cornell Companies had two more inmates escape from their riot-plagued Great Plains prison, at Hinton, Oklahoma. An internal document recounted the roles of more than half a dozen employees whose collective and individual incompetence clearly facilitated the escapes. Although the alarms went off when the first fence was breached, it was not until about 3 hours later that Cornell finally notified local law enforcement that the pair had fled. By then, they had kidnapped a 71-year-old local woman and driven her 50 miles to Oklahoma City where they broke into the house of a 74-year-old. After numerous death threats against the elderly women, they stole the second's car and drove to Tulsa, before Cornell admitted they were gone. Cornell had announced to its employees that they would almost all be laid off just four days before the escape. It closed the prison for months when it was unable to squeeze the state for a higher per diem and imported higher priced cons from Arizona. This year CCA had an escape in Tennessee and despite all the evidence to the contrary, didn't believe the man was gone, so didn't make proper notification efforts. Last year I attempted to obtain the mug shots of dozens of for-profit officials, lobbyists and politicians who had been convicted of or indicted for corruption in connection with for-profit prison construction and contracts. The Department of Justice simply refused to release them. There's a "public-private partnership" for you. Frank Smith


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