Private prison firms bidding on San Luis expansion are in hot water
Two private prison companies — GEO Group and Management and Training Corp. — involved in proposals for a prison expansion in San Luis, Ariz., are embroiled in legal battles.
GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the country, is currently a defendant in a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union for violations at its juvenile detention center in Walnut Grove, Miss.
The lawsuit contends the prison's management caused a culture of violence and exploitation by selling drugs inside the facility and entering into sexual relationships with the inmates.
According to the ACLU, inmates were beaten by staff members while handcuffed and defenseless or sprayed with chemicals while locked in their cells. Others were subjected to multiple stabbings and beatings, leaving one prisoner with permanent brain damage.
The case is still pending in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Miss.
“We are making good progress with settlement negotiations with the Mississippi Department of Corrections,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “But the very terrible conditions (there) still exist. GEO has done nothing significant yet to remedy them.”
In addition to the juvenile center, the ACLU is also monitoring another GEO managed site, the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, the only mental health prison in that state.
“We have found really atrocious conditions at EMCF,” Winter said. “(We found) really shocking deprivations of basic treatment for the mentally ill.”
Prisoners at the facility allegedly are subjected to extreme caloric restrictions, physical abuse and extensive lockdowns.
“We had a medical expert document that it was not uncommon for a person to lose between 20 and 50 pounds in the course of several months because the food is so inadequate,” Winter said. “We have seen in some cases prisoners physically abused for behaviors that are clearly triggered by untreated, serious mental illness.”
Winter said they are working closely with state officials to develop a corrective action plan to remedy the conditions at the prison.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division opened an investigation into some of the violations at the Walnut Grove facility. The DOJ declined to comment on the case.
Management and Training Corp., the third-largest private prison company in the country, operates the Kingman prison where three violent offenders escaped last July.
Two of the three inmates who escaped, John McCluskey and Tracy Province, are charged in New Mexico with killing Gary and Linda Haas, an Oklahoma couple, while the inmates were on the run, according to an Associated Press article.
A security review of the prison concluded there were multiple violations at the site.
The review mentioned a malfunctioning perimeter alarm system, guards not patrolling the fence, burned-out bulbs on a control panel showing the status of the fence, and a door to a dormitory that should have been locked was propped open with a rock, facilitating the inmates' escape, according to a previous Yuma Sun article.
Relatives of the Haases filed a wrongful death suit against MTC in March 2011. The case is still pending in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Arizona Department of Corrections revised and reissued its request for proposals in January after a review prompted by the Kingman escape.
“Part of the bid proposal was to include issues from the past,” said Barret Marson, DOC spokesman. “That information is weighed in our decision and is part of the evaluation.”
The new request includes detailed provisions on security, including ones requiring both random and scheduled perimeter checks of prisons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Darren DaRonco can be reached at email@example.com or 539-685 .
A public hearing on the proposed prison expansion will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesday at the City Council Chambers in San Luis.
“It will be an open hearing,” said Barret Marson, Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman. “The two companies will give their presentations, and then members of the audience can submit requests to speak and ask questions.”
In July, DOC announced that GEO Group and Management and Training Corp. were among the four finalists to receive the 2,000- to 3,000-bed project. The hearing will focus on the specifics of each proposal.
The San Luis City Council Chamber is located at 1090 E. Union St.