Mother Jones Magazine
By Shane Bauer

No, of course not.  Obviously Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is not a crime organization like the Mafia or a Mexican Drug Cartel.  Not that kind of criminal organization.  But their practices, as Bauer’s four month long stint as a security guard in CCA’s Winnfield, Louisiana prison reveals, certainly makes one pause and consider why they are not classified as such.   The entire article (a long one) is here  MY PRISON EXPERIMENT and in reading through its page after page of actions, policies, processes and prisoner treatment that cross so many red lines both in terms of professionalism and common sense as to be nearly incredible.  It reads like one of those exposes about the cruel treatment of animals in food processing plants. But Bauer’s piece is real and it is the kind of journalist realism and first hand investigative reportage that we don’t see very much of today. It is a remarkable story of just how badly we need to reform our entire judicial system and how the privatization of prison management is incompatible with basic human decency when the profit motive is inserted into the world of prisons and prisoner management.    

Corrections Corporation of America receives $34 per day for each prisoner housed at Winn Correctional Center and this is the driving force behind virtually every action CCA takes.  It means that there is insufficient staff so that prisoners cannot be taken outdoors.  It means that medical care is not provided when it should be even to the point of one prisoner, Robert Scott, first losing fingers and then his legs from gangrene (he is suing CCA).  Scott had made nine requests for medical help over a four month period.   Where records are routinely falsified, where there is no work program, no education or training not even to the level of a basic GED course, and where stabbings are routine – one inspection revealed 75 shanks in a single dorm – and where shareholder demands are paramount. 

A few highlights from the piece:

Guards told Bauer that there was a rash of stabbings over the summer that CCA didn’t report to the Louisiana Department of Corrections (CCA’s contractual overseer).

“The company spokesman says it reported all assaults.”

One security officer was reprimanded for refusing to report security checks that never occurred.  Security Officers routinely record fictitious security checks that are required on a 30 minute basis.

“CCA’s spokesman says the company had no knowledge of security checks being skipped or logbooks being falsified.” 

Louisiana Department of Corrections data reveal that twice as many “immediate use of force” incidents occurred at Winn than at all eight other Louisiana prisons combine.

“CCA expressly forbids retaliatory force” it’s spokesperson says.  

DOC records show that for the first ten months of 2015, CCA reported only five stabbings.  During the first two months of Bauer’s employ, he recorded at least 12 stabbings. 

“CCA says that it reports all assaults and that the DOC may have classified incidents differently.”  

In anticipation of an audit by the American Correctional Association (a trade organization who represents private prison companies) three weeks of painting, cleaning, fixing and  sprucing up takes place at Winn.  On the morning of the audit, two well-dressed white men enter the unit and do a slow lap around the floor.  The do not examine log books, they do not check to see if CCTV cameras work, do not check doors to see if they function properly, do not check the fire alarm, they do not speak to any inmates.  They do a single walking loop and then they leave. 

As Bauer discovered during his four month stint, CCA may not be great at medical care for prisoners, correctional officer staffing, maintaining security or stemming the flow of drugs and shanks into Winn, but they were excellent in the practice of lying, dissembling and disregarding.  This they have down to a science.  And this is problematic when $34 a day is what CCA is paid for each prisoner in its charge and when shareholder concerns trump prisoner health care.  It used to be that – back in the old days – prisons were not only dumping grounds to keep criminals off the streets and out of our communities, but were also designed to rehabilitate prisoners, teach them how to read and write, give them a skill that they could use to support themselves once they were released.  Many state and Federal prisons continue to provide such ameliorative supports for prisoners even though this model has been much demonized over the past decades.  But private prison operators have zero incentive to provide such services.  It’s is simply not in their interests since, in their view, all such programs do is subtract from their bottom line profits. 

I urge you to read Bauer's piece.  It's a chilling expose of how the drive for profits can result in abject inhumanity.  

The treatment of prisoners in Winn is inhumane, cruel and criminally negligent.  The management of prisons by the private sector is inherently antithetical to what one could reasonably call ethical treatment of people who have been convicted of crimes and are serving out their required punishments.  They need not be subjected to further punishment at the hands of a private corporation interested only in how much profit can be squeezed out of the $34 dollars a day out of Prisoner X.

It must be stopped.   


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