Private prisons have been a source of much controversy after their creation following the unprecedented increase in incarceration, mostly due to the “War on Drugs”. Many people refer to this period, continuing today, as an “addiction to incarceration” or America as the “Incarceration Nation.” One of the leading issues surrounding private prisons is regulation and insuring Constitutional rights and procedures are put before profits (the goal for private organizations).
Corrections Corporation of America has had its fair share of controversies in the past. CCA was founded in 1983 and oversees an estimated 90,000 inmates in 60 facilities with 17,000 employees.
The death of an inmate in 2006 at a CCA facility in Arizona led government investigators to discover that CCA was not providing adequate medical care to detainees. Another inmate death at the same facility resulted in the same conclusion. Lack of full disclosure from investigators into CCA overseeing the care of prisoners resulted in a 2009 ACLU lawsuit. This resulted in the disclosure that 1 in 10 inmates that died in immigration detention centers was omitted from the official list presented to Congress. Two of those deaths took place at a CCA facility. CCA’s Arizona jail, at Eloy, has 9 known fatalities, more than any other immigration jail under contract by the government.
In 2010, the FBI investigated the corporation over an incident at the Idaho Correctional Center, owned by CCA. A video released to the media showed a prison inmate being beaten to unconsciousness with guards watching, but taking no action. The company said that the release of the video was “an unnecessary security risk” to their staff, inmates, and the public.
In 2012, 8 inmates filed a lawsuit in Idaho alleging that CCA officials ceded control of the Idaho Correctional Center to gangs. The lawsuit cited a report that suggests that the Aryan Knights and the Severely Violent Criminals wrested control from the staff. The prison then began housing inmates with their same gang, counter to the policy of other prisons, in order to reduce violence.
That same year, CCA sent a letter to prison officials in 48 states, offering to buy their prisons in exchange for a 20-year management contract that guarantees a 90% prisoner occupancy rate. Critics responded that contractual obligations to fill prisons is counter to the objectives of justice, could increase the number of innocent people in prison, could cause communities to “create” crimes, and the “deal” ends up costing communities more than a state-run prison contradicting what CCA promises.
In May of 2012, a riot broke out at CCA’s Natchez, Mississippi facility, which caused the death of a staff member and wounded 16 staff and 3 prisoners. Prisoners held 25 employees hostage. Mississippi Highway Patrol eventually ended the riot in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The riot arose because of an unexplained inmate death at the facility. The inmate was suffering from epileptic seizures and CCA refused to change his medication to the one he was taking before incarceration, which had successfully controlled his seizures.
That same year, the CCA helped conduct a drug sweep at the Vista Grande High School in Arizona with law enforcement. The fact that prison officials were present in schools drew criticism.
In 2013, the CCA confirmed that an internal review exposed employees who were falsifying records.
U.S. District Judge David Carter ruled Monday that the private prison corporation has persistently and regularly understaffed its Idaho prison, failing to meet the requirements of a state contract and a settlement with the ACLU and prisoners. The statements from U.S. District Judge David Carter were made in an order temporarily extending the settlement agreement between the ACLU and the Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA. The extension is designed to give the judge time to review transcripts. The ACLU sued the Idaho Correction Center on behalf of inmates in 2010 contending that the prison, which is nicknamed the “Gladiator School” was overly violent, out of control, and prison staff did nothing about it. CCA denied the allegations.
Carter wrote that CCA had ample reason to make sure it was meeting the staffing requirements, yet left the understaffing issue without remedy and Carter wrote that the issue was far worse than the company acknowledged originally. He is appointing an independent monitor to oversee operations at the prison. He has threatened fines starting at $100 an hour if more than 12 hours are understaffed in one month again.