As a conservative, I do believe in law and order. In as much as the law should be upheld and applied in an orderly fashion. Yesterday the news agencies reported ” The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.” At first it was surprising since I know some of the people involved in this industry, and second I thought that they filled a niche that was not being met by the Federal Government. For years I would hear that they were more efficient, cleaner and better than the government facilities……
On a personal note, about 3 years ago, a couple of students from Florida Atlantic University let themselves into my office after hours and demanded some pretty crazy things from me – crazy because I really had no control over what they demanded and also crazy because I really did not know the cause of their “beef” against the company owners who wanted to donate money to have the name of their company “GEO Group” on the new stadium at the school.
So, with the actions of the DOJ yesterday as well as my reflection regarding the actions of the students……I finally decided to look into this company ….better late than never.
To be clear, the GEO Group is a company that makes money off of incarcerating people. This is their primary business and a miserable and sad one at that. Incarceration is sometimes a necessary evil to provide for the safety and order in a civilized society. People who violate the laws or pose a threat to the safety of our citizens should not be allowed to roam the streets as predators. Those that can be rehabilitated should be rehabilitated and returned to society.
However, this company has drawn criticism within that industry for several alleged incidents of widespread inmate mistreatment. Some of the court complaints I have read paint a picture of a modern day Bastille.
For example, in May 2013, inmates at East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF), sued the state in U.S. District Court alleging “barbaric and horrific conditions” at the facility. GEO ran the facility from 1999 to 2012, but as of September 2013 it is run by Management and Training Corporation. Prisoners are underfed and routinely held in cells that are infested with rats and have no working toilets or lights. Although designated as a facility to care for prisoners with special needs and serious psychiatric disabilities, inmates at East Mississippi Correctional Facility were denied even the most rudimentary mental health care services. Many prisoners have attempted to commit suicide; some have succeeded.
In 1999, the AP reported that the state of Texas terminated GEO Group’s (then known as Wackenhut) $12 million a year contract to run a jail in Travis County due to mismanagement that eventually led to eleven guards and one case manager being charged with sexually assaulting female inmates. Over a period of two years, the state levied $625,000 in penalties due to chronic staffing shortages at the facility. A state audit showed that the jail barely kept the minimum number of guards required in the contract.
The GEO-operated Walnut Grove Correctional Facility (WGYCF) juvenile prison in Mississippi was the subject of a legal complaint (PDF) filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) alleging that the “for-profit entities that manage WCGYF perpetuate violence and corruption.” According to the complaint, some juveniles were “kicked and punched while handcuffed, and others have been stripped naked and placed in solitary confinement for weeks;” one inmate claimed to have been “held hostage in his cell for almost 24 hours, brutally raped and physically assaulted after prison staff failed to heed his plea for protection,” according to news reports.
To be sure, the GEO Group business model has been very successful and in turn made the owners and people at the top of the organization very, very wealthy. GEO Group has profited from federal and state policies that have led to a dramatic rise in incarceration and detention in the United States–an increase of more than 500 percent over the past thirty years.
GEO Group is now a multi-billion-dollar corporation whose for-profit prison operations have become increasingly controversial. The two primary critiques are that (1) GEO Group’s lobbying and campaign contributions have led to federal and state policies and government contracts that expand its profit margins, but in many cases at the expense of the public interest; (2) the company’s profit-increasing and cost-cutting strategies lead to a vicious cycle where lower wages and benefits for workers, high employee turnover, insufficient training, and under-staffing results in poor oversight and mistreatment of detained persons, increased violence, and riots. Other profit-focused measures that affect inmates, such as withholding medical care or inadequate nutrition, add to the volatility of the situation. This, in turn, has led to dangerous working conditions for correctional staff, as well as the communities where GEO Group’s prisons operate.
So, what is the problem with this? You might as….. this is the American way – you see a need and then you create a product or a business in order to fill that need and thus you become wealthy by satisfying that need…….
The question here is, should a business profiteer off of the caging or incarceration of other human beings or is the job of rehabilitation and incarceration that of the Federal Government? If the choice is the former, as in the case of any other business, the goal is to “stay in business”. It would go against the interests of an “incarceration profiteer” to ….. say….. “reduce crime”, “rehabilitate juvenile offenders” or even “produce functioning citizens”, just as cigarette companies would not be in the business of getting the public to “stop smoking”.
In its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, GEO Group cites some of the following as “risk factors” that may affect its business and future prospects – one in particular caught my attention:
- “Reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.”
That’s right……. The GEO Group would lose their high profits if ANYTHING interfered with their ability to “incarcerate”.
And finally, another line:
“[M]ost of our revenues are generated under facility management contracts which provide for per diem payments based upon daily occupancy…. Under a per diem rate structure, a decrease in our occupancy rates could cause a decrease in revenues and profitability.”
On a grand scale, the private incarceration facilities were profit motivated for “increased incarceration”. Even the rehabilitation of juveniles would run counter to the need for “repeat customers”. In other words, caging the child during his/her time in the juvenile facility without schooling or counselling, would thus produce an adult criminal or mental patient – this person would also be characterized as “repeat business”.
John Burnett, Private Prison Promises Leave Texas Towns In Trouble, National Public Radio, March 28, 2011.