Behind the barbed wire around our prisons is a cesspool, a word Federal Judge Carlton Reeves used to describe conditions in the Walnut Grove Youth Detention Facility (WGYDF), in Mississippi. NPR reports he stated:
the youth prison "has allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk."
Behind those wires, children as young as 13 are kept in a state of fear. Rape; beatings; sexual abuse from guards, staff and older inmates; asphyxiation with toxic chemical sprays; stabbings; and death is the daily portion of "rehabilitation" meted out to any child unfortunate enough to wind up in Walnut Grove.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit C.B., et al. v. Walnut Grove Correctional Authority, et al. with co-counsel Robert B. McDuff and The National Prison Project of the ACLU Foundation, on behalf of young men incarcerated in Walnut Grove, which sparked a full investigation by the Department of Justice in 2010. Settled in March of this year, the DOJ stated in its report:
WGYCF is deliberately indifferent to staff sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior with youth. The sexual misconduct we found was among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation. Further, staff fails to report allegations of staff sexual abuse to supervisors and State officials, as required by law.
Evidence reveals systematic, egregious and dangerous practices at WGYCF exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls. The Justice Department found reasonable cause to believe that a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct exists in several areas, including:
Deliberate indifference to staff sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior with youth;
Use of excessive use of force by WGYCF staff on youth;
Inadequate protection of youth from youth-on-youth violence;
Deliberate indifference to youth at risk of self-injurious and suicidal behaviors; and
Deliberate indifference to the medical needs of youth.
"Our findings show that due to the unconstitutional operation of WGYCF, youth were sexually preyed upon by staff and all too frequently suffered grievous harm, including death,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The widespread and significant deficiencies at the facility violate the Eighth Amendment’s mandate that imprisoned youth be protected from harm and provided with adequate medical and mental health care. "
Now the cesspool operators are slinking out of Mississippi, leaving death and damage behind them.
This is one small victory for those of us who are paying attention to what is going on behind the barbed wire and walls of our nations prisons—no matter who controls them.
Do you have children? Brothers, sisters, cousins, who are teens? Imagine them in one of these places.
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There has been a massive outcry around the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, since he was innocently walking home from the store with his iced tea and Skittles, but just suppose that he didn't die, and had been thrown into a "youth facility." Doubtful if he had been killed in one of these places or raped daily, any of us would have heard about the story, much less give a damn, except for his parents.
As a nation, we have turned a blind eye to those we have locked away. Those with mental illness. Those who have been "convicted" of something— smoking a joint. We consign them to hell, and stick a "rehabilitation" label on it.
Meanwhile, also in Florida, the profits for abuse roll in.
Take a look at the money.
The CEO of GEO George C. Zoley earned a salary of $1,145,000, got a bonus of $1,334,498 and with other compensations like stock options, the total for him is $5,734,949. The company he heads up, the GEO Group, is raking in the blood money by the barrel full.
This isn't the first investigation into the private for-profit prison empire, and it won't be the last. SPLC has sent an open letter of appeal to the Louisiana legislature regarding House Bill 850, which would allow the state to accept offers for the private purchase and operation of the Avoyelles Correctional Center.
Louisiana has 12 adult state prisons including Angola
, which is the largest maximum security prison in the U.S., and conditions in them will worsen if the mega-hucksters move in.
SPLC documents the ugly recent histories of for-profit prison cesspits:
Examples of violence and human rights abuses at CCA and GEO facilities include the following:
In 2011, our neighbors in Mississippi were sued because of deficiencies in the GEO Group's administration of Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, a 1,500-bed facility plagued with dangerous conditions due to the private operator's cost-saving measures. Countless youth sustained serious injury, and one child will live with permanent brain damage as a result of the deficiencies in care there. Because of ensuing litigation, the State of Mississippi now must take costly remedial measures to bring the facility back in line with correctional standards. We in Louisiana cannot afford this type of crisis in our prisons.
In October 2011, prisoner fights in several locations throughout a CCA prison in Oklahoma left 46 prisoners injured and required 16 inmates to be sent to the hospital, some of them in critical condition.
Between October 2011 and February 2012 five preventable deaths occurred in the GEO-operated East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a prison for people living with mental illness.
At least eight people died between 2005 and 2009 at the GEO Group-operated George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the state's only privately run jail. In January 2009, GEO pulled out of operations at this facility, citing "underperformance and frequent litigations" as the reasons.
Pray that no child (or adult) you know or love winds up in one of these hellholes.
Pray that children you don't know, but should care about even if you don't know them, don't meet this fate.
Pray that no adult has to do time to turn more dollars into the pockets of the industry that is flourishing during these hard times for the rest of us.
But prayer won't stop it—only action, legislation, an end to the war on drugs and a complete overhaul of our criminal injustice system will do the job.
They are coming to your state next, if they aren't already there (see map).
This revealing two-part documentary ties together our history of slavery, slave patrols, Black Codes, the development of police forces, ALEC, anti-immigration laws, the War on Drugs, the massive increase in incarcerations since Ronald Reagan and the huge new prison profit making system.
GEO is not the largest private for-profit prison group. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is. It owns and manages over 60 facilities here in the U.S. and rakes in the cash while doing so. These corporations and their officers are part of the 1 percent. Damon T. Hininger, CEO of CCA, will certainly never have to worry about being poor.
Check to see if your mutual or pension fund owns stock in any of them. They are openly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. They have a massive well-funded lobby.
Read about the efforts being made by one shareholder to stop rape in for profit prisons.
Stop ALEC. They fund voter suppression and voter incarceration. If they can't stop us from voting while on the outside, they want us locked up to ensure we can't vote, and in many cases will never be able to vote.
Just Detention International
The Engaged Zen Foundation