Prisons, Profits & Politics


Sightings from The Catbird Seat

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February 19, 2006

Doing time a long way from home

For Hawaiians in Kentucky, it’s ‘double punishment’

By Andrew Wolfson, The Courier-Journal

WHEELWRIGHT, Ky. — It harkens back to centuries past, when felons were banished to penal colonies on distant continents.

One hundred and nineteen Hawaiians all women — are locked behind razor-wire fences at an isolated private prison in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, 4,500 miles from their homes and families.

Most will never get a visitor, no matter how long they’re incarcerated.

Emerald Nakamura, 26, of Honolulu, who is serving five years for forging checks, sees her 20-month old son Ikaika once a month — on a video screen. She said he doesn’t recognize her.

“It is very sad,” she said. “I think about him all the time.”

The Hawaiians are housed at the Otter Creek Correctional Center because of severe prison crowding in their native state, and because incarcerating inmates on the mainland saves Hawaii money.

Even with the price of flying inmates across the Pacific and back, it’s still cheaper to house them in the continental United States. It costs $56 per day to house each inmate off the islands, compared with $110 in heavily unionized Hawaii, where a gallon of milk is $6.

Ten years after Hawaii started exporting prisoners, nearly half its 3,858 inmates are lodged in the continental United States — in rural Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky, all in prisons owned by Corrections Corporation of America.

The Nashville-based company says it has saved the state $158 million since 1998.

But prisoner-rights advocates in Hawaii say it is a false economy.

“The cost per bed may be cheaper, but not when you include the cost of broken families,” said Kat Brady, coordinator for the Community Alliance on Prisons in Honolulu. “It is hard for a woman to come home after three or five or 10 years and say, ‘I’m your mom,’ when her child has never been able to visit her.”

The Hawaii Department of Public Safety doesn’t dispute that sending inmates out of state is hard on them, said Shari Kimoto, who runs its mainland branch. But she said the agency has no choice because the people of Hawaii don’t want prisons built in their back yards, and the remaining open areas that can still be developed are prized for resorts.

Kimoto acknowledges that separation is particularly hard on women, who traditionally have been the primary caregivers in their families. But that is where her sympathy ends.

“I don’t think they had their children or families on their mind when they did their crimes or did their drugs,” she said.

The Hawaiians have been held at Otter Creek since September, when CCA reopened it as a women’s prison; 399 Kentucky women also are held in the facility, which once housed about 600 men from Indiana and also was the scene of a nine-hour riot in July 2001.

But the Hawaiians went unnoticed outside of Wheelwright, a former coal camp, until Sarah Ah Mau, 43, died mysteriously Dec. 31 after complaining for a month of a stomachache. The cause of her death is still under investigation.

Hawaiian news organizations reported that she’d told family members before her death that her pleas for medical attention went ignored. CCA said in a statement that her care was appropriate.

A Courier-Journal reporter was allowed to interview 10 of the Hawaiians but barred from asking any questions about Ah Mau’s death; Warden Joyce Arnold also insisted that the prison’s security director monitor the interviews.

Adjusting to Kentucky

About half the women are serving time for using and selling crystal methamphetamine — known as ice — which swept through the islands in the 1990s.

The women interviewed said they deserved to be punished but questioned the fairness of being sent so far from home.

“It is like a double punishment,” said Deenie Tanele, 33, who has been locked up since 1999 for smoking and selling ice and will serve out her term until 2009.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled in a case from Hawaii in 1983 that an inmate has no “justifiable expectation that he will be incarcerated in any particular state.”

Most states, including Kentucky, ship only a few inmates to other states, usually for security reasons. (Kentucky has 19 housed elsewhere; Indiana has none, according to corrections departments in both states.)

Wisconsin, which six years ago had more than 5,000 prisoners out of state, leading the nation in that category, brought the last of them home last year, said John Dipko, a spokesman for the state corrections department.

The state acted in part so its prisoners would have more family support and be less likely to commit more crimes, Dipko said.

Otter Creek is the fourth stop for many of the Hawaiian women. They were removed from prisons in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado after other private companies allegedly violated contracts by refusing to provide promised vocational training and drug treatment.

In Colorado, two of the inmates allegedly were sexually assaulted, and inmates had to teach their own vocational classes.

The women say their hardest adjustment in Kentucky has been to the weather. The average February temperature in Wheelwright is 35 degrees, compared with 73 in Honolulu.

“The cold is unbelievable,” said Iwalani Carroll-Vierra, 27, who is also serving time for selling ice and noted that she must sleep fully dressed because she is allergic to her blankets.

The Hawaiians also have had to allow for subtle but significant cultural differences, said Catherine Samuel, 65, who is serving 20 years to life for murder.

For example, guards have confused a hand symbol that signifies good luck in Hawaii with a gang sign, she said. Hawaiians also are more likely to touch one another and hold hands, which Samuel said has been confused with prohibited lesbian advances.

Arnold, the warden, said officials are aware of the differences, which she said came into play earlier this month when an inmate innocently put her hand on an officer’s shoulder. Arnold said the inmate nonetheless was placed in segregation under the prison’s zero-tolerance policy for touching employees. Kimoto said Hawaiian prisons have the same policy.

As a concession to the Hawaiian diet, prisoners are served rice at least once a day and fresh fruit at least once a week. They also may practice hula and other native dances for one hour twice a week, and they will be allowed to celebrate King Kamehameha Day each June 11, to honor the monarch who unified the Hawaiian Islands.

But Arnold acknowledged that it is hard for the Hawaiians to watch as Kentucky inmates get visited weekly by their families and friends, while nobody comes to see them.

A few have received visits from friends from the mainland, Arnold said, but most say traveling from the islands is so expensive that they’re not expecting any visits from home….

Inmates such as Patsy Kahaunaele, 36, who is serving 10 years for selling and using ice, said she worries most that her family members will die and she won’t be able to bury them.

The state of Hawaii won’t pay to fly inmates home for funerals. They are allowed to listen on the phone, and the state will send them a videotape, Kimoto said.

‘Life has been taken away’

Several prisoners praised an intensive drug-treatment program offered at Otter Creek, and said they have more freedom there than at Hawaii’s single, crowded women’s prison on the island of Oahu.

But Samuel said the private prison has been slow to provide them with prescription medicines they got for years at other facilities.

Lorraine Robinson, the director of a Honolulu-based program that helps female inmates re-enter civilian life — Ka Hale Ho’ala Hou No Na Wahine (Home of Reawakening for Women) — said that being so far from home makes it hard for the women at Otter Creek to hold out hope.

“They are on shaky ground to begin with,” she said of the many who are addicted to drugs, depressed and lacking resiliency, “and this makes it worse.”

Deborah Mainnaaupo, 54, who is serving 20 years for attempted assault, said the Hawaiian women feel like “we are all on death row. Life has been taken away from us. It is too cold. They should leave us in Hawaii, where we belong.”

Looking out the barred windows of the visiting room to the barbed wire, cliffs and mountains outside, Kahaunaele laughed at the security that keeps the Hawaiians locked inside.

“I don’t think it would be possible for us to escape,” she said. “But even if we could, where would we go?”

© 2006 The Courier-Journal

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October 3, 2005

Prisons for profit:
Inside the big business of CCA

Years of problems yield few answers

By Kevin Dayton, Advertiser Staff Writer

Corrections Corp. of America, a pioneer in the private prison industry, has control over nearly half of Hawai’i’s prison population in what may be the state’s biggest venture into privatization.

Publicly traded CCA is the nation’s largest private provider of jail and prison services to government agencies, and has the country’s sixth-largest corrections system, behind only the federal government and four states.

It owns and operates 39 facilities and manages 38 others. The company also owns three facilities that are leased to other operators. In all, CCA is present in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Founded in 1983, the Nashville, Tenn.-based company has grown into a behemoth that employs 15,000 workers to oversee 62,000 inmates, including about 1,830 inmates from Hawai’i. CCA reported revenues of $1.15 billion last year, and last week became Hawai’i’s sole provider of Mainland prison space.

The company is expected to collect $36 million from Island taxpayers in mostly nonbid contracts this year.

All but one of the prison contracts were awarded without formal competitive bidding because, technically, they are government-to-government agreements, which are exempt from state procurement rules.

The contracts are with governmental entities such as Pinal County in Arizona, the Watonga Economic Development Authority in Oklahoma and the Tallahatchie County Correctional Authority in Mississippi, which subcontract the work to CCA.

Hawai’i Department of Public Safety officials said they invite other companies to compete for the contracts in an informal process, but the nonbid arrangement gives the state greater flexibility to negotiate for services.

In order to broaden the field of potential providers, the state issued a request for proposals when seeking a new facility to house women inmates, said Marc Yamamoto, purchasing specialist for the Department of Public Safety. CCA’s Otter Creek Correctional Center in Kentucky was selected, and last week about 80 women inmates were transferred there.

As for male inmates, an official familiar with the history of the prison contracts said that since the late 1990s, CCA has been the only private operator with enough suitable beds available to house all of the men Hawai’i must send to Mainland prisons. The official asked not to be identified because the official is not authorized to discuss the issue with the media….

The company has been dogged by controversy over its financial stability and management, labor practices, and safety problems that led to escapes and deadly violence. Some critics argue it is wrong for a business to profit from the imprisonment of human beings.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the company is simply filling a dire need for more prison beds while saving state and federal governments millions of dollars….

The company’s most notorious incidents occurred at Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, which opened in 1997. During the first year of operation, when the prison held 1,500 inmates from the District of Columbia, there were 13 stabbings, including two fatalities. The prison was supposed to hold only medium-security inmates, but more than 100 had to be moved after it was discovered they actually had higher security classifications.

The deaths of several inmates while under prison medical care brought additional scrutiny, and when a group of five murderers and another inmate escaped, Ohio Gov. George Voinovich wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in July 1998 saying he wanted the prison closed.

A lawsuit filed by inmates alleging unsafe conditions at the Ohio prison resulted in a $1.65 million settlement with CCA. The prison closed in 2001 when the District of Columbia withdrew its inmates, but CCA reopened the facility last year to accommodate federal detainees.

More recent CCA troubles include a five-hour riot involving inmates from Washington, Colorado and Wyoming at Crowley County Correctional Facility in Colorado in July 2004. Nineteen inmates were injured in that melee. A Colorado Department of Corrections report found prison staff were inexperienced, undertrained and spread too thin to control the inmates. The night of the riot, fewer than 35 corrections officers were on duty for more than 1,100 prisoners.

The company referred to the trouble in its 2004 annual report. “While disappointing, inmate disturbances are an unfortunate part of our business,” the report said, noting that the incidents led to significant changes in the company’s management structure and operations.

There also have been problems at CCA prisons holding Hawai’i inmates, including violence, drug smuggling and contract violations. Still, state prison officials say CCA has generally done a good job and has been quick to make changes when deficiencies are pointed out.

CCA’s formula for success includes buying or building prisons in rural or depressed communities such as Tutwiler, Miss., and Wheelwright, Ky., providing needed jobs in areas with high unemployment.

That strategy helps CCA keep its wages relatively low, which is critical because labor is the primary cost in operating a prison. The starting pay for a CCA corrections officer at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler is about $8.40 an hour, compared with $13.20 for a new guard in Hawai’i.

In the late 1990s, CCA teetered near bankruptcy as thousands of beds remained empty and states began withdrawing inmates from private prisons. A surge of new contracts from federal agencies seeking space for increasing numbers of criminals and immigration detainees helped the company rebound in recent years.

Since CCA relies on government contracts, it has not shied away from playing politics.

The company last year contributed $100,000 to the DeLay Foundation for Kids, a charity established by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay. DeLay resigned as Republican majority leader last week after he was indicted in connection with a Texas political fundraising scandal.

In Montana, which is a CCA client, the company donated $10,000 to help finance an inauguration ball for Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer. In the state of Washington, another client, CCA has made political contributions to Republican and Democratic organizations and candidates.

Hawai’i Gov. Linda Lingle accepted a $6,000 corporate contribution from CCA in 2002, the maximum allowed in a four-year campaign cycle, and an identical sum in February of this year for her 2006 re-election race.

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March 1, 2003

Lingle appoints
public safety director

The federal prosecutor is currently
serving the U.N. in Bosnia

By Richard Borreca, Star-Bulletin

Gov. Linda Lingle appointed veteran federal prosecutor John Peyton as the new director of the Department of Public Safety. His appointment was immediately praised by Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, who said the state would be “getting a running start with someone like him.”

Bob Awana, Lingle’s chief of staff, said yesterday that Peyton, currently serving in Bosnia with the United Nation’s Independent Judicial Commission, would be able to start work at the end of April or beginning of May.

Awana called Peyton “a bright, experienced, tough cop.”

As an assistant U.S. attorney in Honolulu in 1985, Peyton successfully prosecuted Ronald Rewald for swindling about $20 million from Hawaii residents. Rewald was sentenced to 80 years in prison but was let out of federal prison in 1995 after suffering a back injury and being confined to a wheelchair.

Peyton also served as the chief litigator for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle described Peyton, 58, as being “capable of taking on any kind of assignment you give him.”

“I didn’t think he was coming back to Hawaii. We are very lucky to get him,” Carlisle said.

Peyton will be the third person put in charge of the Public Safety Department since Lingle became governor. She first named Stephen Watarai, a Honolulu assistant police chief, to the post, but he withdrew after saying the police retirement pay schedule made it too costly for him to leave the city.

Hanabusa, whose committee would handle the public safety director’s confirmation, had been critical of Watarai’s experience. He is also being investigated by police internal affairs and the city ethics director because of allegations that he had ordered police officers to work during a charity golf tournament for a police charity and then take the extra day off with pay.

Watarai denied the charges.

Lingle then named James Propotnick, a retired first deputy U.S. marshal for Hawaii, as interim public safety director….

Hanabusa said in Peyton’s case, his relative lack of experience in running a prison would not be a handicap, because of his experience as a manager.

“He is clearly someone with superb credentials and is a true manager.

“What is necessary is someone who can manage these very different types of duties. Someone who can go to a foreign country and help them set up a judicial system has got to be able look at our prison system and make sense of it,” Hanabusa said…


Cabinet nominations confirmed

The state Senate gave unanimous approval yesterday to five Cabinet nominations made by Gov. Linda Lingle.

Mark Bennett was confirmed as attorney general. Bennett is a former assistant U.S. attorney.

Others confirmed yesterday include Micah Kane, Hawaiian Home Lands director; Rodney Haraga, transportation director; Brigadier Gen. Robert Lee, adjutant general; and Russ Saito, comptroller and director of the Department of Accounting & General Services.

Office of the Governor
State Department of Public Safety


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September 17, 2004

Prison Riot Followed
Increase in Inmates

By Deborah Yetter & Mark Pitsch, The Courier-Journal

The inmate riot Tuesday at a private Eastern Kentucky prison followed a dramatic increase in inmates and cutbacks in privileges such as free time outdoors, prison officials said.

It also came after allegation of inmate abuse and mistreatment increased and visits from friends and family were cut back, an inmate advocate said.

The Lee Adjustment Center near Beattyville took in 400 new prisoners from Vermont about four months ago, raising the population to about 800 men, officials said yesterday.

Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the prison for the Kentucky Corrections Department, does not believe those factors explain the riot in which inmates set two buildings on fire, spokeswoman Louise Chickering said yesterday.

“There is no justification for the destruction those inmates did,” she said.

But advocates for inmates and others with the prison industry said crowding, cuts in privileges and an influx of inmates far from home created an explosive situation there.

“Usually when there’s a prison riot it occurs after months or years of intolerable conditions,” said Barry Kade, a Vermont lawyer and a member of the Alliance for Prison Justice, an advocacy group which works to improve conditions for Vermont inmates.

Kade and others said private prison companies are profit driven to increase inmate populations. Nashville-based Corrections Corporation, the country’s largest private prison company, gets a daily rate of $38.44 for each Kentucky inmate it houses at the Beattyville prison and $42.50 per inmate from Vermont.

Kade said he has received an increasing number of complaints from Vermont inmates since they were sent to Kentucky this year to relieve prison crowding in their home state.

Of the nine inmates who officials said started the fires, five were from Kentucky and four from Vermont.

The increasingly common practice of states sending inmates to private prisons in other states has exacerbated problems, said some outside observers.

“It’s very clear that shipping prisoners far from their families is not good criminal justice policy,” said Peter Wagner, assistant director of Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit policy and research group in Massachusetts….

Corrections Corporation also experienced riots in July at prisons it runs in Colorado and Mississippi – both of which house out-of-state inmates. The company, which operates three private prisons in Kentucky, also had a nine-hour riot in 2001 by inmates at its Otter Creek Correctional Complex in Floyd County, which housed Indiana inmates….

“I think this latest uprising fits into this general pattern of unhappiness by prisoners who have been transported out of state,” said Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, a Vermont-based magazine about the prison industry.

Vermont inmates at Beattyville complained to Kade that visits from friends and family – who must drive about 1,000 miles to Kentucky – were cut to two hours a week. Free time on the yard was cut and some inmates alleged they were mistreated through physical abuse or by being put into isolation without have committed any violation, he said….

Kentucky, Vermont and Corrections Corporation have all said they plan to investigate Tuesday’s riot. Kade said he will ask for an outside investigation.

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September 20, 2004

No Date Given On Transfer
Of Female Inmates to Utah

By Vicki Viotti, Honolulu Advertiser

The state Office of Youth Services would not say today when six girls housed at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility will be transferred to an unnamed juvenile detention facility in Utah.

State officials last week said the transfer would be for 60 days and would allow the Office of Youth Services time to repair a building and relieve overcrowded housing conditions at HYCF.

Members of the faith and social services community planned to gather this morning outside the state Capitol to rally against the planned transfer.

“If there are only six girls, it’s unbelievable they can’t be accommodated,” said the Rev. Sam Cox, treasurer of the Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii, one of the organizations opposing the transfer.

Cox said that he and others have heard that the transfer would take place today, but Sharon Agnew, director of the Office of Youth Services, said she could not disclose scheduling or other details….

Kat Brady, legislative coordinator for the Hawaii Juvenile Justice Project, said the response from the community has been a flood of e-mails calling the Office of Youth Services plan “outrageous.”

“We know that in Hawaiian culture, strength is family, and since their mission is to strengthen families, what the heck are they doing?” Brady said.

“Have they done any work to help the parents prepare?”

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March 26, 2004

Crossing Lines

By Kathy Kelly, Voices in the Wilderness

This weekend, I’m preparing for an April 6, 2004 entry into the Pekin FCI (Federal Correctional Institute) in Peoria. I’m one of several dozen people who, on November 22, 2003, crossed the line at the US Army’s military combat training school in Fort Benning, Ga….

I could be harmed in prison, but that certainly could have happened to me while in Bagdad or several other places I’ve traveled by choice. I don’t feel anxiety beyond normal fear of the unknown.

The cruelty of prison rests in locking up people who are often already feeling remorse and low self-esteem because of past actions and then heaping upon them more reasons to feel badly about themselves and allowing almost no means to improve their situation. Parents separated from their children, feeling that they’ve screwed up their lives, are often snarled at by counselors and guards who say they should have thought about their loved ones before they started causing trouble.

People who’ve committed crimes, often nonviolent crimes which they honestly regret, (mainly related to drug use and drug trade), shouldn’t be free to continue harming themselves or others through drug traffic. But why take away every other freedom, and why employ other human beings to act as “human zookeepers?”

I’ve felt somewhat insulated from attacks on self-esteem while in prison. I’m proud of line-crossings that protest pouring money into the Project ELF nuclear weapon facility in northern Wisconsin that fast tracks Tomahawk Cruise missiles to maim and kill people in Iraq. Likewise, it’s good to be part of the growing group who’ve crossed the line at a military combat training school in Fort Benning, GA. Graduates of the school have been responsible for massacres, assassinations and tortures. People should be crossing these lines every day of the week. No shame, no stigma here.

But I do feel troubled because I’ve been so distanced, in recent years, from some of the poorest people in our country. I need to better understand what’s happening to them. Am I right when I guess that the media successfully pressures young people in inner cities to consume, to buy, to have brand name this and that? Does this corporate push to buy certain lines of clothing, cosmetics, and cars push people further into an underground economy because they cant’ get a stake in the above ground economies after our education system has badly failed them?

Thinking of how George Fox, who helped found the Quaker faith, would stand on church pews during sermons and urge people to trod gently over the earth, seeing that of god in everyone, I’ve nurtured a fantasy related to court rooms. Suppose one were to stand up on a courtroom bench, risk contempt of court, and ask, “Could we just take a minute to analyze how many are “the raw material” feed this system? I’ll bet that the people making money would be, primarily, white and well educated. They’re the lawyers, the judges, the courtroom personnel.

And I’ll bet that the people feeding the system, keeping the well paid criminal justice system employees in business, would be African American, Hispanic, and Asian. If convicted, the “criminals” could find themselves earning 18 cents per hour laboring, within the prison industrial complex, for major US corporations who can hire prison labor without ever having to worry about paid vacations, benefits, overtime, hiring supervisors, or renting workspace. The prison industrial complex resembles enslavement and might be a precursor to fascism.

I want to nonviolently defy this system.

In 1988, upon entering the Cass County jail in Harrison, MO, my heart sank as I realized how intensely the other 12 women in the cell, a dingy area called “the bullpen,” didn’t want to see a new person encroach on the minimal space allotted to them. Most had already been there for many weeks.

The bullpen was meant to be a small holding cell area, but because the jail was so overcrowded, the six bunk beds, exposed toilet, metal table and spray-mist shower with a ripped curtain became housing for women prisoners awaiting transport. I had just been released from the hospital following major surgery after a lung collapse caused by a congenital abnormality. Friends said that in my prison uniform I could have posed for a Soviet Union poster charging the US with abusing prisoners.

The women prisoners glaring at me were seeing a 90 pound woman with pink eye, a runny nose, tangled hair, an obnoxious cough, and a facial rash. Eying the top bunk assigned to me, I wondered how I’d heave myself up there without stepping on another woman’s bed. And how could I stuff the lumpy mattress I carried into the prison issue casing when I could barely bend down to tie my shoes?

At that point, the most intimidating woman in “the bullpen” laughed, rolled her eyes, and said, “I don’t know what I did so wrong to be locked up with this white motherfu*ker with AIDS!”….

In our world, many of us who live in the US are perched, quite by accident, amidst inordinately luxurious surroundings, relative to the rest of the world. We’re the luckiest. We’re the most blest. And we have the greatest responsibility to build a better world.

My own logic tells me that when US troops “crossed the line,” in March 2003, they trespassed into a sovereign country, Iraq, based on the theory and argument that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat to people in the US. Now it’s clear that Iraq didn’t pose even a distant threat to people here.

At Fort Benning, GA, we crossed a line onto two feet of government grass at a place where it’s beyond dispute that graduates of the military combat training school have participated in torture, maiming, disappearance, massacre and assassination when they returned to their own countries….

On Monday, March 29, I’ll go to Madison, WI to face a one-month jail sentence for refusing to pay a $150 fine after twelve of us walked two feet across the line onto the Navy’s ELF/Trident transmitter site located in the northern woods of Wisconsin. ELF (extremely low-frequency waves) is used to trigger nuclear missiles. The ELF system is also used to trigger Cruise missiles. Cruise missiles were the weapon of choice among war planners as the Shock and Awe campaign against Iraq was developed….

Not all peace activists can be part of civil disobedience actions resulting in prison sentences. But for those who can, entering the prisons offers an opportunity to better understand how the once lauded war on poverty has become a war against the poor.

Those of us who ‘do time’ for crossing lines at Fort Benning and at Project ELF will be away from our desks, but we won’t be away from our work.

Kathy Kelly is a co-ordinator of Voices in the Wilderness – ph. 773-784-8065

For the complete article, and much more, visit

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July 21, 2002

Race, class and crime no bar: In fetters, they toil

Online edition of India’s National Newspaper, The Hindu

In the U.S., a number of states have passed laws that allow commercial organisations to use convict labour. Prisoners get much less than the minimum wage. Retrenchments are not a problem, there is no sick leave, vacation or overtime, and unions are non-existent. The result, says noted journalist P. SAINATH, is that American corporations are on to a good thing.

THE young executive was gushing. “You know, when I phoned my credit card people while in the United States, I was speaking to a girl in Gurgaon. They’d trained her so well, she had an American accent and was able to tell me what the next day’s weather in my part of California would be. Why can’t we learn from them?”

The Indian press, too, had run many pieces on this much earlier. Since year 2000, the much heard of, but seldom seen, “girl from Gurgaon” has attained special status. She is a metaphor for the wonders of globalisation and corporate efficiency.

Never mind the need to train the girl in an American accent. The executive had made other calls to his bank’s enquiries section and or “credit card people”. I asked if he had located who and where they were. He had not.

A pity. Some of those he had spoken to were in places that make Gurgaon look a healthy hill resort in contrast. Possibly, they were convicts in prison. Probably working at much less than the minimum wage. And, quite likely, Black or Hispanic.

Welcome to the new slavery.

Privatised prisons in the United States run by for-profit corporations. And Federal or State-run prisons that allow — often invite — private enterprises to use that labour. Quality control made easy. Unions non-existent. And workers don’t get more disciplined than this. Even if the prisons are not private, the State can hold down prison labour for private gain and its own benefit.

“These days,” says Business Week (online) “prison labour is as close as your cell phone. Jail-based customer service centres have fielded 800-line requests for airline reservations. According to news reports, prisoners have also wrapped software for Microsoft, produced electronic menu boards for McDonald’s, and stitched clingy lingerie for a manufacturer.”

In the past 20 years, more than 30 States have passed laws that allow commercial outfits to use convict labour. Such programmes now exist in 36 of the 50 American states.

American prisons…New age “slavery” or
a good business idea?

The corporations that use prison labour at far less than minimum wage include Fortune 500 giants and other famous “brands”. Starbucks and Nintendo Game Boy systems are just two of the big names that have done so. Some of these companies do pay minimum wages — many don’t. But they pay it to a private corporation that hires or rents out the prison labour. A form of outsourcing that conceals their use of such labour.

But the private corporation chews half off the top of a prisoner’s pay check. Or the department of corrections may do that if it is a State-run prison. Which raises the obvious question: why do companies willing to pay the minimum wage not do so to workers outside the prisons, looking for a job?

The answers are fairly simple. Some of the work they’re getting done in prisons could cost more than double the minimum wage hourly, outside. And outside, you can’t coerce people into doing it for that much less.

The editors of Prison Legal News, a remarkable journal run by prisoners, point to other gains, too. There are no problems of retrenchments and layoffs. Business in a slump? Just send the “workers” back to their cells whenever it suits you. There are no health, insurance or retirement benefits to be paid out, either. Nor is there any vacation time, sick leave or overtime. It allows you to massively undercut any rivals who have qualms about human rights and the treatment of prisoners. And it helps push down wages across the industry.

There is now a large, and growing, pool of prison labour to draw from. The United States has around two million people behind bars. Of these, 63 per cent are Black and Hispanic, although these two communities together form only 25 per cent of the population. With only five per cent of the world’s population, the U.S. has nearly 25 per cent of the world’s eight million prisoners.

“It’s the new slavery,” says Randall Robinson. “It’s destroying the younger generation of Black people,” he told us at Trinity College in Connecticut earlier this year. This leading African-American thinker points to “the built-in bias and discrimination of the system. It ensures this huge pool of labour. In our democracy, we have private prisons. When as private corporations you own prisons, the only way you can get your stocks to go up is to get more prisoners.”

“Blacks are just 12 per cent drug users,” points out Robinson, “but account for 35 per cent of those arrested for drug use; for 55 per cent of those convicted for use; and 75 per cent of those incarcerated for use.”

In the State of Washington, where Starbucks and others milk this situation, Blacks account for less than four per cent of the population. Yet, they make up almost 40 per cent of the State’s prison population. In West Virginia, there are 17 Black prisoners for every White one.

A Human Right Watch backgrounder early this year brought it out in other ways. It observed that “in 12 States, Black men are incarcerated at rates between 12 and 16 times greater than those of White men. In 15 States, Black women are incarcerated at rates between 10 and 35 times greater than those of White women.”

One out of every 14 African American men is now in jail. And one out of every four is likely to be in prison at some point in his lifetime. The fastest growing section of prisoners, though, is Black women, of whom 70 per cent are non-violent offenders and 75 per cent have children.

Tying prisons to commerce will affect all prisoners. Black, though, will do much worse than others. That goes back a long way in history. For decades into the 20th Century, the State of Alabama, for instance, ensured a steady supply of servile Black labour to “U.S. Steel”. Its laws were shaped for this purpose. A system that even the Wall Street Journal describes as one “rooted in racism and economic expedience”, Alabama, says the Journal, “was providing convicts to businesses hungry for hands… ” That is, mainly unpaid hands.

“For many years,” writes the Journal, ” ‘convict leasing’ was one of Alabama’s largest sources of funding.”

And for some States and corporations, it could well be so again. The Federal Prison Industries (FPI) has yearly sales of $600 million and it is rising. Profits in 1999 were over $37 million. And that’s a government programme. What of private prisons? Or private use of labour in State prisons?

Stan Saunders of the Columbia Theological Seminary writes that “prisons for profit now generate $30-40 billion of revenue annually. The corrections segment of our economy today employs over half a million full time workers.”

That’s “more than any `Fortune 500′ company except General Motors.”

Saunders rightly includes prisoners, guards and others in the “corrections industry”. If we take just prisoners put “to work”, some counts are as low as 100,000. If that is true, it would only show that business is booming. If putting five per cent of the prison population “to work,” can rake in such revenues, then the money yet to be made is mind-boggling. Hardly surprising then, that the number of prisoners made to labour for profit goes up each year. Prison workers “employed” by the FPI alone went up 14 per cent two years from 1998.

And in some towns across the U.S., the prison is now the mainstay of the local economy. Crime rates have dropped in the U.S.. Violent crime is down by one-fifth in the last three decades. But incarceration rates, Saunders points out, have quadrupled. Creating a state of siege mindset in the public has helped. Both, media and lawmakers have done that.

People have often been led to act against their own interests. Like in Oregon in 1994. Over 70 per cent of voters there, including union members, voted for a constitutional amendment forcing all prisoners to work 40 hours a week.

The result? As Alan Whyte and Jamie Baker write in analysis for the World Socialist Web Site: “thousands of public sector jobs have been lost to convict labour. And thousands of private sector jobs have been lost as a result of firms that now utilise prison labour.”

But as they point out, corporations have gained: “Prisoners now manufacture everything from blue jeans to auto parts, to electronics and furniture.

Honda has paid inmates $2 an hour for doing the same work an auto worker would get paid $20 to $30 an hour to do.

Konica has used prisoners to repair copiers for less than 50 cents an hour.

Toys R Us used prisoners to restock shelves and Microsoft to pack and ship software.

“Clothing made in California and Oregon prisons competes so successfully with apparel made in Latin America and Asia that it is exported to other countries.”

Quite a few public dollars also go to prison farms. These may be government-run, but the labour in these prisons can be hired out to corporations. The giant $178 billion U.S. farm bill (see The Hindu, May 5, 2002) gave subsidies to these and university-owned farms.

“We need to merge the prison and university system,” jokes Prof. Eileen Mahoney of San Francisco State University. “It seems the only way we’ll ever get money for education. At least, in this social and political climate.”

Some private prison groups have had top state level political leaders on their payroll.

Take Wackenhut Corp. for instance. In New Mexico, as investigations by journalist Greg Palast show, it hired the state legislature’s Democratic Party leader as a paid lobbyist. It also gave out contracts to one of his companies.

Are these private prisons “efficient”?

For their top bosses and their political friends, yes. For the State and its people, it has cost a bomb. Wackenhut hired untrained guards on the cheap.

Another cost-saving trick: It used fewer guards to control dangerous prisons. A riot in April 1999, points out Palast, “required 100 state police to smother 200 prisoners with tear gas… The putative savings of privatisation went up in smoke literally”.

The damage from riots, prisoner and even guard revolt cost millions of public dollars. That, in a single year.

The social costs, though, are beyond measure. The implications for poor minorities and non-convict labour are appalling. Corporate profit resting on a largely racial basis and a servile workforce is legitimate.

Goodbye Gurgaon. Welcome back, Alabama.

P. Sainath is one of the two recipients of the A.H. Boerma Award, 2001, granted for his contributions in changing the nature of the development debate on food, hunger and rural development in the Indian media.


From: “Linda C. Miller” <>


Subject: Tainted prison plasma

Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2003 02:16:16 -0800

I found your site by searching on “tainted prison plasma”, and am always glad to find others who are making this issue known to the world. However, I don’t know where you got the information that prisoners caught in homosexual acts were not permitted to donate thereafter. In fact, known jailhouse prostitutes, also known to be infected with HIV and AIDS were permitted to donate regularly. One male AIDS-infected prisoner prostitute, known as “Charlotte” donated right until the end of “her” life.

You might be interested in my web site on this topic – my brother was one of the hepatitis-infected prisoners who was the source the the tainted plasma. Most of my information was provided by prisoners who worked and/or participated in the program. In addition to the web site, I am working with a documentary film maker who is in the process of selling his film about the AR end of this atrocity.

My web site is at

Thanks for your interesting and informative site.



When Corporations
Rule the World

By David C. Korten

Corporations profit not only from committing and facilitating crime, they also profit from punishing street criminals. Prison operators such as Corrections Corporation of America, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, and Sodexho SA aggressively promote prison privatization globally.

J.C. Penney, Victoria’s Secret, IBM, Toys ‘R’ Us, and TWA are among the U.S. corporations that have augmented their profits by employing prisoners who reportedly earn as little as 11 cents an hour with no benefits – a rate competitive with the worst of China’s sweatshops.

Under a new law that took effect in July 2000, Kentucky prisons began billing prisoners up to $50 a day for room and board. Other states were expected to follow.

Combine long mandatory sentences for minor drug offenses, a strong racial bias, prisons run by corporations for profit, the sale of convict labor to corporations at sweatshop rates, and a charge for prison room and board and you have a modern system of bonded labor, a social condition otherwise known as slavery….

– From When Corporations Rule the World, by David C. Korten (w/foreword by Danny Glover)



By David McGowan, Derailing Democracy

While arrests and convictions are steadily on the rise, profits are to be made – profits from crime. Get in on the ground floor of this booming industry now!

– From a brochure for a conference on prison privatization held December 1996 in Dallas, Texas

~ ~ ~

The privatization of the prison industry, creating an entirely new American industry dependent upon filling prison cells to make a profit, has been accompanied by the equally disturbing trend towards the use of prison labor forces by private industry.

On the bright side, these parallel trends should stop some of the siphoning off of jobs out of the country and into third world slave-labor markets, while still allowing American corporations to post record-breaking profits. Of course, sustaining those profits will require a steady flow of new prisoners, creating a self-sustaining system that, once built, will become a permanent part of the landscape.

~ ~ ~


“Many experts believe that the involvement of private companies increases the likelihood of inmates being abused and subjected to poor conditions. They suggest that private companies have a stronger interest in cutting costs, which can lead to less investment in staffing, training, health care, educational or rehabilitation programs, and even food. Such fears are borne out by serious complaints about conditions in privately run facilities in a number of states.”

– Amnesty International “United States of America–Rights for All,” October 1998

~ ~ ~

“In August 1997 a videotape, apparently compiled for training purposes, showed guards in a privately run section of Brazoria County Detention Center, Texas, kicking and beating inmates, coaxing dogs to bite prisoners and using stun guns.”

– Amnesty International “United States of America–Rights for All,” October 1998

~ ~ ~


“To be profitable, private prison firms must ensure that prisons are not only built but also filled. Industry experts say a 90 to 95 percent capacity rate is needed to guarantee the hefty rates of return needed to lure investors.”

CounterPunch “America’s Private Gulag,” January 1997

~ ~ ~


“The private prison business is most entrenched at the state level but is expanding into the federal prison system as well. Last year Attorney General Janet Reno announced that five of seven new prisons being built will be run by the private sector.”

CounterPunch “America’s Private Gulag,” January 1997

~ ~ ~

“ In addition to the companies that directly manage America’s prisons, many other firms are getting a piece of the private prison action. American Express has invested millions of dollars in private prison construction in Oklahoma and General Electric has helped finance construction in Tennessee. Goldman Sachs & Co., Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, among other Wall Street firms, have made huge sums by underwriting prison construction with the sale of tax-exempt bonds, this now a thriving $2.3 billion industry.”

CounterPunch “America’s Private Gulag,” January 1997

~ ~ ~

“The prison-industrial complex now includes some of the nation’s largest architecture and construction firms, Wall Street investment banks that handle prison bond issues and invest in private prisons, plumbing-supply companies, food-service companies, health-care companies, companies that sell everything from bullet-resistant security cameras to padded cells available in a ‘vast color selection’.”

Atlantic Monthly “The Prison-Industrial Complex,” December 1998

~ ~ ~


“Convicted kidnapper Dino Navarrete…earns 45 cents an hour making blue work shirts in a medium-security prison near Monterey, California. After deductions, he earns about $60 for an entire month of nine-hour days . . . Navarrete was surprised to learn that…California, along with Oregon, was doing exactly what the U.S. has been lambasting China for – exporting prison-made goods.”

Covert Action Quarterly #54, Fall 1995

~ ~ ~

Some of the country’s largest and most profitable corporations have quietly begun to use prison labor forces, at wages up to 80% below the national minimum wage. Among those reportedly contracting to emply prisoners, either directly or through their subsidiaries: AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Chevron, Costco, Dell Computers, Eddie Bauer, IBM, Konica Business Machines, Microsoft, Starbucks, Texas Instruments, TWA, and US West.

– Michael Moore Downsize This, Daniel Burton-Rose, et al. The Celling of America, and Covert Action Quarterly #54, Fall 1995

~ ~ ~

“In a revealing comment, Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix argues that corporations should cut deals with prison systems just as Nike shoes does with the Indonesian government. Nike subcontractors there pay workers $1.20 per day. ‘We propose that [Nike] take a look at their transportation costs and their labor costs,’ says Mannix. ‘We could offer [competitive] prison inmate labor’ in Oregon.”

Covert Action Quarterly #54, Fall 1995

~ ~ ~


“U.S. companies have also been expanding abroad. The big three (Corrections Corporation of America, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, and Esmor) have facilities in Australia, England and Puerto Rico, and are now looking at opportunities in Europe, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and China.”

CounterPunch “America’s Private Gulag,” January 1997


The privatisation
of prisons

By Amanda George

The first private prison opened in Australia in 1990. In just three years, Australia now has the highest percentage of prisoners in private prisons in the world. Private security is one of the fastest growing industries in Australia.

There are two private prisons in Queensland, one opened at Junee in NSW this year and a contract has been awarded for one at Alice Springs. Unlike other areas, when prisons are privatised the government foots the total bill. The government pays private corporations to build prisons and then run them. They also contract out services such as prisoner transport, education and food.

The state’s avoidance of responsibility for running the criminal justice system is a major concern arising from privatisation of prisons. That contracts for the construction and operation of such prisons are not open for scrutiny, not subject to Freedom of Information because of the issue of commercial confidentiality; that private corporations cut costs by installing electronic equipment and cutting services to prisoners; that there is evidence of corruption and interference in government policy on law and order issues where private prisons exist — all these are matters of concern.

On the question of whether they are cheaper for the state, Queensland economist Dr Allan Brown states that more information and analysis is necessary before the matter can be determined.

US experience

In research done in the US comparing the New Mexico private women’s prison with its state-run counterparts, the prisoners found conditions better in state-run prisons except on the issue of physical activity. This prison was recently visited by Victorian corrections minister Pat McNamara as part of the Kennett government’s strategy of replacing Fairlea women’s prison with a private prison.

The New Mexico prison is run by the Corrections Corporation of America. Their Australian subsidiary, Corrections Corporation Australia, runs Borallan prison in Queensland as a joint venture with Chubb Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chubb UK.

CCA US was financed on capital from the Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation.

According to the vice-president of CCA US, “the business of private prisons is just like selling cars, real estate or hamburgers”.

~ ~ ~

In the US, private prisons are now
executing people as part of their contract

The newest private prison contractor in Australia is Australasian Correctional Management, which runs Junee prison in NSW and the Arthur Gorrie prison in Queensland.

ACM is a wholly owned subsidiary of another US private prison company called Wackenhut. They run Junee prison in a joint venture with ADT Security Australia, which is also a wholly owned subsidiary of ADT Ltd, a US electronics company….

Australian prison governors come from US prisons. The governor of Junee is an avid supporter of capital punishment. Every inch of Junee prison is monitored by cameras. In its first month of operation tear gas was used on the prisoners.

In the 12 months of Arthur Gorrie prison’s operation there have been four deaths. David Biles, from the Australian Institute of Criminology, said after the third death that this rate of deaths was “much higher than the national average”. There have been riots and fires at the prison over conditions.

The last man who suicided there was in the process of suing ACM for negligence over the rapes and bashings to which he had been subjected.


The private prisons’ passion for keeping things out of the public eye is illustrated by the fact that after the Brisbane Courier Mail ran stories criticising the private jail following the fourth death, the paper was contacted by the prison’s lawyers threatening to sue them for damage to the prison’s “commercial reputation”.

One of the biggest hurdles prisoners and prison activists face is the silencing that occurs around prison issues. The Victorian government has now made it virtually impossible for the media to have access to prisons unless “to improve the public image of the department”, according to the Corrective Services Director General’s Rules. This sort of silencing occurs all the time around what goes on in prisons and is compounded by the pressure that transnational corporations can bring to bear on the media.

In the UK there is clear evidence that private prison corporations lobby governments on law and order policies. And why not? The more prisoners there are, the more business they get. In Junee a local council member has won a contract to provide sporting equipment to the jail. Clearly this meshing of financial interest and politics is absolutely improper.

Making money

Not only is there money to be made in private prisons, there is money to be made out of prison labour.

In Victoria prisoner labour brings in $5.5 million per year. In Queensland prisoners are working in the River of Gold Slate Mine. They get $5 a day, with a productivity bonus of $2 a day. The contractors certainly have a river of gold with those sorts of labour costs.

There is a long history of privatisation in prisons which seems to be coming full circle. Private contractors were removed from corrections because of the high rates of death and abuse. Women prisoners were moored in hulks off Williamstown pier in 1850. In the last two years prison hulks have reappeared, moored in New York harbour and in the river Thames.

None of this is to suggest that state-run prisons have reason to be proud. The last year has seen increasingly punitive regimes operating in our prisons that can only have terrible long term consequences. Legislation is about to be introduced in Victoria allowing body cavity searches. These already occur in Queensland where prisoners can forcibly have speculums stuck in the vagina and anus.

The sentencing the Victorian government, which created indeterminate sentences, is more than any private prison could have wished for.

[Amanda George is a lawyer who is active around issues of police violence and prisoners’ rights. This article is based on a speech she gave to a meeting on August 8 opposing the closure of Fairlea Women’s Prison in Victoria.]

– This article was posted on the Green Left Weekly Home Page.


Spring 2001

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul:
Prison Labor in America as the Dubious Answer to Corporate Flight

by Allison Sheedy

More than 80,000 prisoners are employed in some variety of inmate work program, but the typical image of chain gangs at work along the edges of the highway is changing. Inmates are just as likely to be engaged in apparel manufacturing, at computer terminals, or in telemarketing consumer services.

All states employ some of their prisoners in labor situations, but the details of these programs vary from state-to-state. Some prisoners work in government industries or assemble products for the state; others manufacture goods that are sold on the open market. Private sector manufacturers subcontract through inmate work programs in 38 states, with companies such as Victoria’s Secret, CMT Blues, and Target Corporation using prison labor to manufacture their retail products. In at least three states, labor is mandatory for everyone in jail.

Although prisoners have always been used as a form of cheap labor in this country, some recent trends are troublesome to both those concerned with human rights, and those concerned with the labor movement….

As the United States recently surpassed China to have the largest percent of its population behind bars, the moment is now for an analysis of the facts and philosophies.

The increasingly close relationship between private corporations and public correctional facilities has spawned the term “prison industrial complex.” Currently, around 5% of the 1.8 million behind bars are contained in private prisons. While, along with charter schools, this fits into a larger trend of privatization used as a measure when public institutions get “out of control,” all such transformations are merely examples of corporations making a national crisis into a profit-making opportunity.

Investors such as Allstate, Merrill Lynch, General Electric and American Express have purchased stock in private prisons. By no means a philanthropic gesture, these investments are made with the intention of financial profit.

In areas where the economy has collapsed in the last few decades, private prisons are viewed as a growth industry. For example, rural areas use new prisons as sources of construction, administrative and security guard jobs for the community. As a result, criminals from cities on the East Coast often end up incarcerated in Indiana, which can be problematic for prisoners who wish to maintain relationships with their families.

The purpose of the correctional system in America should be to reduce crime, increase safety, and reform individuals. However, prisons can only make a continuous profit if more people are incarcerated, even if crime rates drop. Privatization, with its necessary drive towards profit, therefore transforms the function of the correctional system in drastic ways, and begins to answer to its investors rather than to the needs of society at large….

Prison labor is indeed most alarming in the states that require all of the inmates to work more than forty hours a week: Texas, Oregon, and Missouri.

Labor leaders are unsurprisingly concerned about what the practices of prison labor mean in the future for laborers who are not behind bars. Private companies find prison labor attractive despite PIE regulations because state governments offer tax-breaks and other incentives to foster these relationships.

CMT Blues, a garment manufacturer that operates in California prisons, gets a 10 percent state tax break for operating behind bars, and does not have to pay overtime, worker’s compensation, vacation or sick leave to its employees….

Since the wave of 1980’s drug sentencing laws increased the incarcerated population by 80 percent, the accelerated velocity of prison growth has served to focus public attention on the very function of prisons in capitalist society. This is to say that the relationship between prisons and the political economy must be called into question.

Not only should the profitability of operating private correctional facilities be examined (the Prison Industrial Complex), but the larger picture of how the global economy and the movement of labor to increasingly cheap markets makes prison labor profitable.

* * *

Read the complete article at:

Texas Prison Labor Union
Abuses In The Texas Prison System

* * *



~ o ~




The Case for Immediate Closure

By Christine Cooper and Phil Taylor, University of Strathclyde
and University of Stirling

On September 3rd 2001 the company which runs Scotland’s controversial private prison in Kilmarnock commenced operation of Scotland’s first detention center for asylum seekers at Dungavel, near Strathaven, South Lanarksire. Premier Custodial Group (PCG) operates Kilmarnock prison through its subsidiary Premier Prison Services (PPS), and the Dungavel detention center is being run by Premier Detention Services (PDS).

All Premier companies are subsidiaries wholly owned by their American parent, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation….

= = = = = =

Chairman, Wackenhut Corrections and Wackenhut Corporation : George R. Wackenhut

Vice-Chairman and CEO : George C. Zoley

President, COO, and Director : Wayne H. Calabrese


Shares Owned as of 22 March 2001:

George R. Wackenhut : 12,107,530

Zoley : 268,000

Calabrese : 103,334

(South Florida Business Journal, 13.7.01)


Wackenhut Corrections was founded in 1984 as a division of the Wackenhut Corporation to build and run prisons. 55% of its total shares are owned by their parent Wackenhut Corporation.

Wackenhut Corrections won its first two contracts in Colorado and New York to operate minimum/medium security facilities. In 1994 Wackenhut Corrections went public selling its shares on NASDAQ. Wackenhut Corrections close relationship with its parent corporation along with strong governmental connections has enabled the company to become the second largest developer and manager of privatized corrections and detention facilities in the US. Wackenhut Corrections shifted its listing from NASDAQ to the New York Stock Exchange in 1996 to gain greater access to capital.

Wackenhut Corrections Corporation is a world leader in the privatized ‘correctional management, medical and mental health rehabilitation services industry.’ WCC offers government agencies ‘a turnkey approach to the development of new correctional and mental health institutions that includes design, construction, financing and operations.

WCC has contracts/awards to manage 56 correctional, detention and mental health facilities representing 39,000 beds in North America, Europe, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. WCC also provides prisoner transportation services, electronic monitoring for home detainees and correctional health care facilities.

6. Wackenhut’s Record in Running Privatised Prisons and Detention Centres in the United States and Australia

6.1 Privatised Prisons

After a decade as a leading operator of privatised prisons, Wackenhut Corrections’ reputation was severely damaged following a series of scandals in five states.

6.1.1 New Mexico

At least four inmates have died in Wackenhut prisons in Santa Rosa and Hobbs since they opened in 1998. Three were stabbed to death and one beaten with a laundry bag filled with stones.

The relatives of one of the murdered men, Richard Garcia, have now filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Wackenhut. Garcia was in an isolation cell on 17 June 1999, when a guard opened the door to his cell in administrative segregation, allegedly allowing two inmates to enter and stab him 50 times in the back, chest, head, face and arms, officials said at the time of the murder.

According to the lawsuit, Wackenhut prison officials knew that the two men, Paul Payne and John Price, who attacked Garcia were violent offenders with a history of armed attacks on other prisoners. Paul Payne had been transferred out of a Utah prison system for killing an inmate. Despite both men’s violent histories, they were appointed as ‘trustees’ in the administrative segregation unit.

On 17 June 1999, Payne and Price, were distributing laundry and one of them yelled out to a prison guard to unlock Garcia’s cell. When the guard opened the cell, both men allegedly ran into Garcia’s cell and stabbed him with homemade knives. The guard later admitted that she shouldn’t have opened Garcia’s cell door at the direction of an inmate, but claimed she had been poorly trained and had to ‘short-cut a lot of things’, because of the severe staff shortage on the day of the murder, the lawsuit claims. (Albuquerque Journal, 19.6.01)

However, what focused attention on Santa Rosa was the murder on 31.8.99 of a guard, Ralph Garcia, following a riot in which an inmate also died. A 500-page legislative report called for a near-total overhaul of Wackenhut operations. Wackenhut was faulted for its building design, poor amenities and for inadequate staffing, inexperienced supervisors, low pay (Garcia himself had been on $7.98 an hour), high turnover, heavy overtime and a lack of knowledge about the gang culture of the inmates.

Low pay, particularly, was highlighted by one of the report’s authors, consultant Jerry O’Brien.

‘Faced with the prospect of working in a prison or a Wal-Mart for $8.50 an hour, many would judge the sales job better, despite the importance of the criminal justice system.’

Internal company documents and witnesses revealed that a chief guard had warned company executives that this penny-pinching and understaffing was ‘a death sentence’ for guards sent alone to cell blocks. It is recorded that a company executive responded just two weeks before Garcia was murdered, ‘Better to lose one guard than two.’ (Gregory Palast, The Observer, 3.9.200)

Wackenhut is also being sued by nine American Indian inmates of Lea County Correctional Facility, who contend that they are being denied religious freedom, and are being discriminated against on the basis of race. The nine inmates claim that after they formed a self-help group in 1998, Warden Joseph Williams began to dismantle the programmes and activities they had set up.

They also claim their religious ceremonies were interrupted or stooped on several occasions, and that some of their religious itms, including a ceremonial drum and eagle feathers, were confiscated. Prison authorities failed to respond to their complaints, ‘so that the abuses and racial harassment continued unabated’, the lawsuit claimed (The Santa Fe New Mexican, 17.2.01)

6.1.2 Texas

Wackenhut’s prisons in Texas have long been plagued by profound problems. In 1998 Travis County Community Justice Centre was found, in a state audit, to have barely the minimum number of guards required by contract, largely because pay rates were appallingly low – Wackenhut started its guards on $6.50 an hour. A notice of default was filed and Wackenhut was fined $625,000.

However, it was the biggest prison sex scandal in state history (also at Travis County) which gave the Wackenhut jail its notoriety. Twelve former guards were indicted in December 1999 on charges of sexually assaulting or harassing 16 female inmates at the Travis County Community Justice Centre in 1998 and 1999. Some of the inmates’ accounts are quite horrific.

One former inmate, in an interview with the American-Statesman, said sex was routinely traded for shampoo and underwear. She said she was doped up on psychiatric medication late one night when a guard entered her cell and raped her. Over the next three months, she said, guards hit her to keep her from reporting the crime. Only after she appeared in court heavily bruised and emaciated did an investigation begin. In the meantime, she tried to kill herself twice. (James McNair, Miami Herald, 16.4.00)

 ‘Some of these were outright rapes. I’ve been practicing law for about 30 years and I’ve never heard of anything like this in the state ‘ or county-run jails. This is pretty much off the charts.’ (Ron Weddington, Austin lawyer representing rape victim)

However, Travis County is not the only Wackenhut jail in Texas where allegations of sexual harassment have been made against guards. Worst of all was the treatment of inmates at Coke County Juvenile Justice Center.

Opened in 1994 with 200 beds, it was to be a place where disturbed girls as young as 12 would benefit from a number of innovative programmes of education, rehabilitation and care. According to a 1999 lawsuit filed by Dallas lawyer Penny Raney, the girls were forced to live in sub-human conditions.

‘The girls were made to live in an environment in which offensive sexual contact, deviant sexual intercourse and statutory rape were frequent, and which resulted in a hostile, permissive sexual environment, and where residents were physically injured to the point of being hospitalized with broken bones.’ (Lawsuit against Wackenhut, Miami Herald, 16.4.00)

The state filed criminal charges of sexual misconduct against two guards, who both pled guilty. Eventually further claims against Wackenhut were settled in mediation for the sum of $1.5 million, awarded to the abused inmates (Corrections Professional, 27.7.01).

A previous suit Raney filed against Wackenhut was settled out of court, although tragically the former inmate she represented killed herself the day the settlement was signed. These abuses of inmates by Wackenhut staff became the subject of a the prime-time CBS News show, ‘60 Minutes II’ aired on 9 May 2000.

6.1.3 Florida

In Fort Lauderdale, five guards at a Wackenhut work-release facility were fired or punished in summer 1999 for having sex with inmates. More recently further controversy in Florida has surrounded Wackenhut’s operation of the South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach County. Inmates at the prison allege that the state has failed to institute administrative rules for the facility, leaving Wackenhut personnel free to administer ‘cruel and unusual punishment, without due process of law’ (Broward Business Daily, 21.6.01). Ten separate petitions for writs of habeas corpus were filed by inmates in Palm Beach Court on 30 May 2001.

The prisoners’ allegations centre on two incidents at the prison in January 2001. In the first, the prisoners claim that Wackenhut guards, led by a shift captain, assaulted a group of three prisoners who refused to be relocated within the prison without a due process hearing. In the second, the prisoners allege that prison officials subjected a wing of 40 inmates to a full day of solitary confinement in retaliation for a fight between two prisoners which the inmates themselves quelled.

Public Defenders who are representing the inmates say that their goal is to restrict what they call Wackenhut’s indiscriminate use of solitary confinement at South Bay. Palm Beach County Public Defender, Ken Johnson, says that solitary confinement is used ‘whenever, wherever and indefinitely.’

6.1.4 Louisiana

On 5 April 2000, Wackenhut agreed to surrender control of its 15-month-old juvenile prison in Jena, after the U.S. Justice Department named Wackenhut in a lawsuit seeking to protect imprisoned boys from harm at the hands of guards and fellow inmates. The government accused Wackenhut of beating boys, throwing tear gas indoors, spraying them in the face with pepper spray, and not providing them with adequate education and counseling.

One incident highlighted the regime at the institution. In March 1999 Judge Mark Doherty had ordered a 17-year old boy ‘ a shotgun victim – removed from the prison. The boy wrote the following in testimony,

‘A Sgt. came to me and said to put shirt in pants, and I told him that I couldn’t and he’put me to the ground and told me to lay face down on the ground. And I told the Sgt. that I couldn’t that I have on a (colostomy) bag, and he went put me on the ground. He came with his knee in my stomach’.

(The Pulse of America ‘ )

The nurse at the prison’s infirmary later noted that 5 to 6 inches of the body’s intestines were in the colostomy bag.

One of the Justice Department’s consultants, Nancy K. Ray wrote that Jena’s difficulties stemmed largely from operating problems. In Jena’s first 13 months, more than 600 people ‘drifted through 180 positions’, including 125 who were fired in 1999, a gross turnover rate of more than 300%. Ray also observed that recreation and rehabilitative programmes were ‘grossly inadequate’.

Almost every boy she interviewed, many with psychiatric disabilities or IQs lower than 70, complained about the lack of basic staples such as underwear, socks, shoes, bedsheets, or a lock to protect what they owned. Shortages often led to fights.

Reviewing infirmary logs from 28 November 1999 to 20 January 2000, Ray found more than 100 incidents of ‘serious traumatic physical injuries’, including five sexual assaults. During this period, eight children tried to kill or harm themselves.

Allegations of physical and sexual abuse against minors were also revealed in a TV documentary (CBS, ‘60 Minutes II’, 9 May 2000). A former inmate who worked as a clerk at the facility said in the broadcast that he watched security officers having sex with youths and smoking marijuana with them.

When he worked as a clerk, the inmate stated, he was ordered to shred documents containing complaints against the Jena staff.

6.1.5 Arkansas

Wackenhut had operated the Grimes Unit for men and the McPherson Unit for women in Newport since January 1996 but in July 2001 the Arkansas state prison board ‘decided it would be in the best interests of the state, based on the director’s recommendations, to take control of the management responsibilities’ (The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1.7.01).

The decision to terminate Wackenhut’s involvement in private prisons came after serious complaints by the authorities into the way that Wackenhut had been operating the two Newport prisons.

Arkansas’ state Board of Correction and Community Punishment unleashed a ‘barrage of complaints’ regarding serious staffing shortages, unsanitary living conditions, poor maintenance and a lack of eduacational and substance-abuse programmes for inmates (The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 21.10.00).

Mary Parker, Chairman of the Board, stated after a visit to the McPherson Unit, ‘It was not pretty’ It’s the closest I’ve been in a long time to being appalled.’

Max Mobley, the State Department’s Deputy Director for Health and Correctional Programmes, was equally horrified following a surprise visit to the Grimes’ Unit when he found ‘Just inmates sitting on their beds talking’, with no evidence of remedial and educational programmes.

Mobley had long-standing concerns regarding Wackenhut’s treatment of inmates, when he discovered in 1998 that 70% of women at McPherson were taking some kind of psychotropic medication, drugs designed for those with mental problems. By comparion, when the state was housing women at McPherson’s predecessor, the Tucker Unit, only 7-9% were on these types of medication at any one time.

6.2 Detention Centres

Wackenhut runs a 200-bed detention centre, on behalf of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), in Jamaica, Queens (New York) where asylum seekers who arrive without ‘proper documentation’ are held. WCC has a 5-year, $49m contract with the INS. Recently religious leaders from Queens toured the Jamaica facility and raised concerns about the conditions in which the asylum seekers were being detained.

 ‘The Jamaica detention centre is an unmarked structure of brown brick with video cameras perched on each corner. Slots 2 inches wide ventilate the centre, which has only a few windows atop one wall.’ Detainees live in open rooms of 20-30 beds, with communal showers and partially enclosed toilets. Men and women are housed in separate rooms. They eat food brought to them on trays, talk to their lawyers, play Ping-Pong, watch TV, sleep and bathe in the same locked area. There are few books in any language. Detainees get one hour of ‘outdoor recreation’ a day in a small courtyard. Visits with family and friends happen in guarded rooms through Plexiglass booths with telephones.’ (Newsday, New York [Queens Edition], 3.6.01)

Reports have emerged which have been highly critical of Wackenhut’s treatment of asylum seekers and, in interviews, inmates past and present portray a world filled with idleness and uncertainty. Philip Sesay a 54- year old refugee from Sierra Leone watched as his traumatized cell mate stuffed six tablets of pain-killers in his mouth, jumped from the adjoining bunk bed screaming ‘Let me die’ and then saw security guards and a nurse drag the detainee away in handcuffs.

‘It’s like a hell here. Humiliating’ said Sesay.

‘They talk to you like a dog, no respect, no consideration for you. Only difference here than in my country there are no beatings [here].’ (Jean Pierre Kamwa from the Cameroon, a former detainee now granted asylum, Daily News, New York 16.2.01)

 ‘They tell me we send you to a place like hotel for approximately seven days. But this is not a hotel, it is more like prison, but much worse. At least in prison you have a sentence. In prison you can move around, go to library ’you can get fresh air.’ (Oleskly Galushaka, from the Ukraine, who has been at Wackenhut for two years fighting his deportation order, Daily News op cit)

Other reports tell of grown men scrawling words on the walls with their own feces, and of people staging hunger strikes. They also tell stories of detainees trying unsuccessfully to take their own lives by hanging with threadbare sheets or swallowing liquid detergent.

One detainee, —- —-, who had fled from Albasra in southern Iraq, after his father, two brothers and an uncle were captured, tortured and killed for their Shiite beliefs and opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime, described his experiences in Jamaica.

‘I arrived expecting it would be a refugee camp where I would be free to come and go while applying for asylum. Instead it was a prison. I couldn’t believe it. I thought my eyes were seeing wrong. It was very sad, silent and hopeless.’ (Quoted in Newsday, op cit)

6.3 Australia

All of Australia’s detention centres for asylum seekers are run by Australasian Correctional Management (ACM), a subsidiary of Wackenhut Corporation.

In a documentary screened on SBS in 2000, George Wackenhut welcomed Australia’s policies favouring privatized prisons and detention centres, saying ‘[Australia is] really starting to punish people, as they should have done all along’, adding, ‘This year we are going to make US$400 million’.

In February 2001 the Australian government ordered an inquiry into claims that employees of ACM attempted to cover up the rape of a 12-year old boy at a detention centre for immigrants. Two nurses from the Woomera Detention Centre told the authorities that management deliberately suppressed evidence of an attack on the 12-year old boy by his father and that other inmates had sex with the boy in return for cigarettes. Also there had been abuse of other children (Scotland on Sunday, 10 December 2000).

One ACM worker has described the company’s Woomera Immigration Detention Centre, built on the site of a former missile testing range west of Sydney, as ‘like a concentration camp’.

Complete with razor wire, barbed wire, steel fences and patrolling officers, the comparison is easy to make. The detainees are treated as criminals and dehumanized. They are assigned numbers corresponding to the prefix of the boat they arrived on, such as ‘Don 27’ or ‘Rap 180’.

Conditions such as these drove inmates to stage, in August 1999, a desperate protest at Woomera, waving signs saying ‘save us from ACM’ (

Other detainees are used as cheap labour by ACM. According to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, inmates work in kitchens and clean toilets, often working for 12 hours a week in return for a $15 or $20 phone card.

7. A Brief History of a Controversial Company

Much of the information in this section comes from an article, which appeared in SPY Magazine in September 1992, Inside the Shadow CIA, by John Connolly.

Founded in 1954 by George Wackenhut, a former FBI agent, Wackenhut Corporation was originally called Special Agent Investigators Inc.

George Wackenhut had two personal attributes that were instrumental in the company’s growth. First, he got along exceptionally well with important politicians, including Florida governor, Claude Kirk, who hired him to combat organized crime in the state.

He was friends with Senator George Smathers, an intimate of John F. Kennedy, who provided Wackenhut with his first big break, when the senator’s law firm helped the company find a loophole in the Pinkerton Law. This was a federal statute that had made it a crime for an employee of a private detective agency to do work for the government. Smather’s firm set up a wholly owned subsidiary of Wackenhut that provided only guards, not detectives.

Shortly afterwards Wackenhut received multi-million dollar contracts from the government to guard Cape Canaveral and the Nevada nuclear bomb test site, the first of many extremely lucrative federal contracts that have sustained the company to this day.

7.1 Abusing Human Rights ‘ Spying on ‘Dissidents’

The second thing that helped make George Wackenhut successful was that he was, and remains, a hard-line, right-winger. He profited from his beliefs by building up dossiers on Americans suspected of being Communists, or merely left-leaning ‘subversives and sympathisers’, as Wackenhut put it, and selling the information to interested parties.

According to Frank Donner, author of the Age of Surveillance, the Wackenhut Corporation updated its files after the McCartyism hysteria had ebbed, adding the names of anti-war protesters and civil rights demonstrators to its lists of ‘derogatory types’.

By 1965 Wackenhut was boasting to potential investors that the company maintained files on 2.5 million ‘suspected’ dissidents. In 1966, after acquiring the private files of Karl Barslaag, a former staff member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Wackenhut was claiming he maintained files on 4 million Americans.

In 1975, after Congress investigated companies that had private files, Wackenhut gave its files to the now-defunct anti-Communist Church League of America of Wheaton, Illinois, although Wackenhut reserved the right to use them for its clients.

7.2 Wackenhut’s Special Relationship with the United States Government

The relationship between Wackenhut and the federal government has always been close. According to Connolly, when it comes to security matters, Wackenhut in many respects is the government.

In 1991, a third of Waceknhut’s revenues came from the federal government, and another large chunk from companies that themselves work for the government. At the time of the SPY article in 1992, Wackenhut was the largest single company supplying security to U.S. embassies overseas. Several of the 13 embassies it guarded have been in ‘important hotbeds of espionage’, such as Chile, Greece and El Salvador.

It also guards nearly all the most strategic government facilities in the United States, including the Alaskan oil pipeline, the Hanford nuclear-waste facility, the Savannah River plutonium plant and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Wackenhut’s close relationship with the federal government also involves shared personnel.

While early boards of directors included such prominent extreme right figures as Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, General Mark Clark and Ralph E. Davis, a leader of the white supremacist John Birch Society, recent board members have included much of the USA’s former national security directorate; former FBI director Clarence Kelley; former Defense Secretary and ex-CIA Deputy Director, Frank Carlucci; former Defense Intelligence Agency Director, General Joseph Carroll; former U.S. Secret Service Director, James J. Rowley; former Marine Commandment, P.X. Kelley; former Chairman of President George Bush’s (senior) Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board; former CIA Deputy Director, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman.

Before his appointment as Reagan’s CIA Director, William Casey had been Wackenhut’s outside legal counsel.

7.2 Wackenhut and the CIA

Thus, several CIA operatives have become Wackenhut executives upon retirement, but some claim that the relationship between the Agency and Wackenhut has been even closer. SPY magazine claimed to have spoken to numerous experts, including current and former CIA agents, Drug Enforcement Agency agents and former Wackenhut executives and employees, all of whom have said that: ‘‘in the mid 1970s, after the Senate Intelligence Committee’s revelations of the CIA’s covert and sometimes illegal overseas operations, the agency and Wackenhut grew very, very close’ (SPY Magazine, September 1992).

SPY Magazine’s sources confirmed that Wackenhut’s longstanding relationship with the CIA deepened from the late 1970s into the 1980s. SPY cites the evidence of Bruce Berckmans, who was assigned to the CIA station in Mexico City and left the agency in January 1975 to become a Wackenhut international operations vice president.

Berckmans, who left Wackenhut in 1981, told SPY that he had seen a formal proposal George Wackenhut submitted to the CIA to allow the agency to use Wackenhut offices throughout the world as fronts for CIA activities.

Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, was said to have rebuffed Wackenhut’s attempt in the 1980s to purchase a weapons propellant manufacturer in Quebec with the comment, ‘We got rid of the CIA ‘ we don’t want them back.’

Phillip Agee, the former CIA agent who wrote an expose of the agency in 1975, told SPY, ‘I don’t have the slightest doubt that the CIA and Wackenhut overlap’. (Phillip Agee, quoted in SPY Magazine, September 1992)

Testimony also comes from William Corbett, a terrorism expert, who worked for the CIA for 18 years:

‘For years Wackenhut has been involved with the CIA and other intelligence organizations, including the Drugs Enforcement Administration. Wackenhut would allow the CIA to occupy positions within the company [in order to carry out] clandestine operations’ (William Corbett, Spy Magazine, 1992).

He also said that Wackenhut would supply intelligence agencies with information, and that it was compensated for this ‘in a quid pro quo’ arrangement with government contracts worth billions of dollars over the years.

Retired FBI agent William Hinshaw also told SPY about Wackenhut’s ease in snaring lucrative governmental contracts as being the government’s way of ‘paying Wackenhut for their clandestine help. It is know throughout the industry that if you want a dirty job done, call Wackenhut’.

SPY magazine uncovered considerable evidence that Wackenhut acted on behalf of the CIA in fighting Communist influence in Central America, during the 1980s when Reagan was President and the CIA Director was former Wackenhut lawyer, William Casey.

7.3 Questionable Minority Contracting

In 1981 Berckmans joined with other senior Wackenhut executives to form the company’s Special Projects Division. The SPD entered a joint venture with the Cabazons, a small native American tribe, whose administrator was John Nicholas, a former CIA agent.

Together they pursued a scheme to convert the Californian reservation into an arms factory, manufacturing explosives, poison gas and biological weapons.

Then, by virtue of the tribe’s status as a sovereign nation, the aim was to export the weapons to the contras.

(American Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO, Center on Privatization, SPY Magazine, September 1992)

7.3 Abusing Human Rights ‘ Surveillance of Environmental Activist

In the 1990s Wackenhut was hired by Alyeska, an oil consortium that controls the oil flow from Alaska, to investigate environmental activist, Charles Hamel. Mr. Hamel was a whistle blower who released damaging information about Aleyska’s environmental practices.

Wackenhut was the subject of Congressional hearings and fined $10,000 by the state of Virginia for its role in the investigation.

7.4 Wackenhut Operating a ‘Cyber-Terrorism Team’ on the Web’

In a press release dated 25 April 1997, the American Computer Company (ACC) accused Wackenhut of conducting a ‘pre-planned, well-organized harassment of ACC by wire fraud, email fraud and telephonic threatening’.

After discovering digital signatures it couldn’t identify on its web server in bulletin board messages and access records, ACC installed updated remote host detection code in an effort to determine who or what was behind a concerted effort to undermine its operations.

In particular hackers had interfered with ACC’s Publication Department’s On-Line Investigation into the science of space travel, a light, satiric investigation of scientific issues including discussion topics such as the alleged 1947 Roswell (New Mexico) crash of a UFO, and theories about the tragic Kennedy, King and Rabin assassinations.

Round the clock surveillance of its own equipment for three months finally paid off when, after isolating the pattern of fraudulent access to its servers, a message left by a member of the group of hackers revealed the original digital signature of that user’s web host, and what is believed to be the origins of the entire group hacking ACC’s equipment.

The message originated on the servers maintained by Wackenhut International Corporation’s ‘Mail 1’ server, part of the Gateway used by Wackenhut to gain access to the internet. Wackenhut’s equipment has extensive security, precluding the possibility that the hackers had hacked into Wackenhut’s equipment to use it as a shield.

ACC President Jack Schulman explained the reasons why the company requested federal agencies to investigate Wackenhut’s activities:

‘We have asked the Justice Department and the National Security Agency to look into the hacking and intrusion for the possibility that Wackenhut should have its ‘sensitive top secret’ security clearance revoked until we get to the bottom of this, as security violations also included one breach into our passwords file by what appears to be a security operative directed by Wackenhut, along with depictions of our executives on the Internet with rifle sight cross hairs added to their images, filing of false registrations with the Internic, and sending of threatening audio transmissions to our voice mail.’

‘We commenced a lengthy criminal investigation of the harassment when the individuals started posting the telephone numbers and names of family members of ACC’s executives, encouraging others to harass what turned out to be 80 year old senior citizens, spouses and children. At that point we decided to catch the harassers and seek punitive damages.’ (Jack Schulman, American Computer Company Press Release, 25.4.97, Cranford, New Jersey)

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Last update February 20, 2006 by The Catbird