Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Prison Industrial Complex; Who Profits?

I worked 10-years for The GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut, as a chemical dependency counselor.  GEO is one of the major lobbyists for this insanity -- skyrocketing incarceration rates -- as well as for longer sentences.  "Bed days," the number of prison beds they keep occupied, is their bottom line. The more the scarier.

I personally know of at least 8 contracts they lost for abuse of prisoners, particularly juveniles, including one juvenile facility in Louisiana, one in north Texas and three in Mississippi.

One family detention unit outside Austin involved neglect of foreign nationals and their children being held for deportation. But there are many more.

I also remember when GEO's Willacy Unit in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, experienced a "mysterious illness" that caused the deaths of at least two foreign nationals.  Their bodies were sent to South America before they could be autopsied, an illegal act that was condoned by Texas Department of Criminal Justice. (In the 80s, TDCJ changed their name from Texas Department of Corrections to Texas Department of Criminal Justice -- what does that tell you?)

 At the north Texas facility, youth were not let out of their cells for days at a time. The kids ended up having to defecate on the floor in their own cells. Some were subjected to physical abuse.  Nutrition was sacrificed for food on the cheap, as with all their other facilities.  Inspectors for the Texas Youth Commission were apparently paid-off to look the other way.  They had approved the GEO unit routinely, even during the very week a special investigating team showed up unannounced to inspect the facility for themselves.  The scandal led to the reorganization of the Texas Youth Commission itself.

GEO has also been involved in a number of kick-back scandals as well, including the unit where I last worked, involving county officials, dummy companies and "ghost accounts."

In Louisiana, one GEO unit was shut down in 2003 for physical and sexual abuse of juveniles.  This month (May, 2012), The GEO Group lost three contracts in  Mississippi for physical and sexual abuse of juveniles.  Both contract losses were caused by abusive corrections officers and lax supervision.

GEO is generally run chronically understaffed and underpaid, while the prisoners are underfed and are denied standard medical treatment and quality of services. I know of one detainee who was denied medical attention, despite his complaints, until he was eventually hospitalized, where he was diagnosed with late-stage terminal cancer. He died while in the hospital.  The practice and cover-up of abuse is routine for these people.  Even staff members are subjected routinely to "employee abuse":
Workplace bullying, like childhood bullying, is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker or subordinate. Workplace bullying can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. This type of aggression is particularly difficult because, unlike the typical forms of school bullying, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. Bullying in the workplace is in the majority of cases reported as having been perpetrated by management and takes a wide variety of forms. Bullying can be covert or overt. --Wikipedia
Examples of Employee Abuse 
This type of verbal and emotional abuse includes put-downs, bullying, intimidation, harassment, shame, coercion, exerting values of power, being overworked to extreme, lying, condescension, creating feelings of powerlessness, being made to feel insignificant or inferior, excessive demands of perfection, inconsistent application of practices, not providing employees sufficient information to perform, depriving of rights/benefits, inappropriate nonverbal behaviors, ignoring, belittling, talking down to another, making judgments, setting up situations for failure, and double binds. Employee abuse occurs among employees, managers, and customers. --American Counseling Association
 Fortune Magazine once listed The GEO Group in the top 5 for employers you wouldn't want to work for because of low pay, poor benefits, employee abuse and generally lousy working conditions.  The corrections officers they hire are often thugs, and authoritarian personality runs amok among them, their wardens and other supervisors.

Private prisons keep foreign national detainees for the full extent of the contract before shipping them to release facilities, squeezing every last dollar they can from government coffers.  In many cases the crimes they were convicted of were only being "illegal aliens".

Private prison case managers even sometimes deny foreign nationals the right to obtain consular services.

Female foreign nationals are sometimes raped, their children not fed properly (Pearsal, Tex unit).  Their unit outside of Portland, Oregon was investigated by health department officials because of an outbreak of food poisoning.

Immigration Detainees at the Willacy County Unit were also physically and sexually abused by corrections officers. [cf. "Problems at Willacy" midway into the article.]

When George Bush was running for office, GEO company officials set up bank accounts for all employees, requesting that they donate $1 to the account, then the company would supply the other $1999 for the maximum amount allowed by election laws at the time. (That was before Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission, which blew open the doors for unlimited campaign contributions.) Then the employee "donations" were "bundled" and sent to the Bush campaign.

Of course, this "donation" method was used to skirt the election laws in place at the time.  Nearly every employee felt intimidated to provide the $1 and keep their mouths shut -- except me, of course, and a mere handful of others. I was eventually branded as a "trouble maker" due to simply being assertive about my rights and during a time of salary negotiation when GEO had used a definition of "counselor" that paid a lower scale than the one for which I was actually qualified. (I lost.)

Our warden told us that voting for, and donating to, George Bush and Richard Cheney was in our best interests as employees, since Bush and Cheney were going to expand the private prison sector.  Of course, Dick Cheney invested heavily in the private prison industry at the time. But hey, what's a little conflict of interest going to hurt among friends?  The American people didn't care.  In fact, in general, the American public and our authoritarian social and political leaders don't give a shit about anything that doesn't upset the public's "Christian" sensibilities, least of all ethical issues. They're like the infamously insensitive Honey Badger. Not surprisingly, the case against Cheney was dropped, much in the manner of the Halliburton-Nigerian bribery scandal of previous years.  It's nice to have money and power if you're going to live above the law.  "Fool me once, ummm... fool me twice..... er, ummmm.... I won't get fooled again."

The largest of the privates, Corrections Corporation of America, is just as dirty, just as abusive, just as negligent and just as money hungry at the expense of human rights.

The boom in incarceration rates began during the Reagan years of "law and order" politics aimed at minorities and drug/alcohol offenders (those anti-war communist-pinko-fag-hippies). America now has the most outrageous per capita rate on incarceration of any first world nation.  The rate is 600% more than in the 80s after Reagan took office and is due mostly to the criminalization of addiction.  At the same time, insurance companies made it more difficult to obtain treatment.  The last GEO unit at which I worked before leaving the industry for good, I had been brought in to develop the substance abuse department, but they quickly shuffled me into the education department, even though Substance Abuse was given a budget for contract purposes. But no funds did I ever see -- Zip.  Nada.  Not one penny. When I complained to the warden he told me, "I don't care if you give them a Big Book and send them all back to their cells."  Showing up for work quickly became a mere formality.

At the same time, our medical department fell under intense federal review.  We had a couple of inmates die because of neglect.  At my previous unit in Kyle, Texas, we had at least one death due to neglect.  In fact, one guy had a heart attack and staff made him wait seated in line where he turned blue and died while staff ignored inmates' pleas to help him.  The medical unit at Pecos was involved in a scandal whereby its director was caught in an audit for a having forged medical license (RN).

I could write forever.  Some things, perhaps, are better privatized.  However, the prison system, where human rights are at issue, is certainly not one of them.  Chuck Parcell (Facebook) writes the following.

"The two largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, combined had over $2.9 billion in revenue in 2010.
While private prison companies may try to present themselves as just meeting
existing 'demand' for prison beds and responding to current 'market'
conditions, in fact they have worked hard over the past decade to create
markets for their product. As revenues of private prison companies havegrown over the past decade, the companies have had more resources with whichto build political power, and they have used this power to promote policiesthat lead to higher rates of incarceration."
"Corporations [ esp. Correctiions Corporation of Ammerica and GEO Group(formerly Wackenhut) ] are running many American prisons, but will they putprofits before prisoners? A grim new statistic: One in every hundredAmericans is now locked behind bars. As the prison population grows fasterthan the government can build prisons, private companies see an opportunityfor profit. This week, NOW on PBS investigates the government's trend tooutsource prisons and prisoners to the private sector. Critics accuseprivate prisons of standing in the way of sentencing reform and sacrificingpublic safety to maximize profits."--PBS
"NOW looks at how the private corrections industry is profiting whenimmigrants -- including children --- are held in detention centers awaitingdeportation. Loretta Perry-Wilborne, a former employee of the AuroraDetention Center in Colorado, gives us an insider's view of a detainees'life behind bars. 'It's freezing in the winter time ... and we have a lotof detainees that get sick,' she tells NOW"--PBS 

Prison Slavery: