A deadly riot in a privately-run Mississippi detention center was sparked in protest of poor food and medical care, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit. The riot, which killed one guard in May, was at the time chalked up to gang violence. But the group of Mexican immigrants leading the riot, called the Paisas, had no ties to gangs and reportedly ordered other inmates to disobey orders from prison staff until their list of grievances had been addressed.
The protest soon got out of control, with inmates taking hostages and inflicting more than $1.3 million worth of damage on the prison. Correction officer Catlin Carithers was beaten to death, while 20 others were injured.
The prison, Adams County Correctional Facility in Natchez, Mississippi, is run by Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), one of the biggest for-profit incarceration companies in the nation. CCA is notorious for cutting corners by understaffing facilities, charging inmates $5 a minute for phone calls, and using prison labor as a maintenance staff for $1 a day. The Adams County detention center, according to its inmates, was no different.
On the day of the riot, an inmate called the local news channel, explaining:
They always beat us and hit us. We just pay them back. … We’re trying to get better food, medical [care], programs, clothes, and we’re trying to get some respect from the officers and lieutenants.
Another inmate emailed the Jackson Free Press with the same message:
The guard that died yesterday was a sad tragedy, but the situation is simple: If you treat a human as an animal for over two years, the response will be as an animal. … Most of the correctional officers were not harmed. … Most of them that were taken hostage were shaken and afraid, but none of them was harmed.
Meanwhile, the Adams County Sheriff told reporters the riot stemmed from a gang fight. But the FBI affidavit, filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Jackson, confirms the inmates’ motive was their alleged mistreatment in the prison.
This was hardly the first riot in a CCA prison. Inmates at a different CCA prison in Mississippi started a fire in 2004. In Tennessee, CCA inmates were hit with chemical grenades after refusing to return to their cells.
Unlike a state-run prison, CCA and other private prisons have an incentive to cut corners in order to pad their profit margins. The private prison industry also invested millions in lobbying for policies that increase sentences and incarcerate more people. And it’s paid off; CCA, which lawsuits pushed to the brink of bankruptcy in 2000, reported $37.3 million in second quarter profits last week.