State lawmakers who embraced private prisons as a cost-cutting measure are starting to have trouble ignoring their abysmal conditions. Corrections Corporation of America, the largest and most powerful private prison company in the nation, lost four prison contracts in the past month after extensive reports of abuse, neglect, and even fraud within their operations.
Idaho cut ties with the corporation on Wednesday, which turned the state’s largest prison into a violent hellhole inmates called “Gladiator School.” Earlier this year, CCA was caught understaffing the prison and using prison gangs to control the population. The company admitted to falsifying nearly 4,800 hours of staffing records to squeeze more money out of the state for nonexistent security work. Shift logs at the prison showed the same security guards working for 2 to 3 days at a time without breaks.
Last week, Texas closed two CCA prisons, including one with a history of suspicious prisoner deaths. One lawsuit alleges prison staff ignored an inmate’s cries for medical assistance, forcing her to give birth in a prison toilet to a baby that died four days later.
CCA was also booted from Mississippi earlier this month after multiple deadly riots over poor food and sanitation, lack of medical care, and mistreatment by guards. Mississippi is hiring another private prison company, MTC, to take over CCA’s contract — even though MTC runs another prison with the highest inmate assault rate in the state. Mississippi already terminated contracts with the other major private prison company, GEO Group, after it was found guilty of turning a juvenile facility into “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts.” Despite this record, the state is apparently not ready to give up on private prisons.
There is no reason to believe these human rights abuses are isolated. CCA has faced numerous lawsuits and investigations in virtually every state where it does business. Most recently, the company had to pay $600,000 to settle a lawsuit over abuses in a Colorado prison. Another CCA prison in Ohio has flunked multiple audits due to its filthy and overcrowded facilities. Riots are common in private prisons all over the country.The industry and its political allies have touted private prisons as a cost-saving alternative for cash-strapped states. But these companies have not actually saved money and even cost more than state-run prisons in some cases; CCA and others have been caught overcharging states by millions of dollars and extracting guarantees of 100 percent occupancy.
Though states are not seeing much fiscal benefit from these deals, the industry is thriving. Many of these companies are enjoying record profits. CCA has done especially well, rebounding from the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 to boast net profits of $162 million in 2011. However, the obvious violations and bad publicity may start to tip the scale against these companies, perhaps even outweighing the massive sums the industry has spent lobbying lawmakers.