DMI Blog

Ezekiel Edwards

Publicizing Private Prisons

The suicide of inmate Scot Noble Payne in a Texas private prison is a tragic example of the dangers of privately run prisons, prisons upon which America is increasingly relying to handle its ever-expanding prison population.

According to the Department of Justice's latest statistics, there are now 84,867 state prisoners held in private prisons, an increase of 12.9% between mid-2005 and mid-2006. Federal prisoners in private facilities increased by 2.1% to reach 27,108. Despite states' growing use of private prisons, the Federal system still houses a larger share of its prisoners in private facilities (14.2%) than the states (6.2%).

One of the major problems with private prisons is that, like any for-profit entity, the main objective is to make money, and one of the ways of increasing profits is by cutting costs (and one way to cut costs is to cut corners). Consequently, the conditions in many private prisons are terrible, and oversight is limited.

Mr. Payne was originally incarcerated in Idaho, which, despite having a free population of less than 1.5 million, like many states is struggling with inmate overcrowding. To ease its burden, the Gem State sent Mr. Payne to a privately-run Texas prison run by a Florida-based company called the GEO Group. GEO, which operates more than 50 prisons across the United States as well as in Australia and South Africa, has received frequent complaints of abusive guards and terrible sanitation. Nonetheless, once Idaho shipped Mr. Payne hundreds of miles away across numerous state lines to a GEO squalid private prison, it turned its back on him.

After obtaining hundreds of pages of documents through an open-records request, the Associated Press discovered that Idaho barely monitored its out-of-state inmates, even in the face of repeated complaints from prisoners, their families and a prison inspector.

According to the Associated Press, following Payne's suicide, the Idaho Department of Correction's health care director inspected the prison and declared it the worst facility he had ever seen, calling Payne's cell unacceptable and the Dickens County Correctional Center "beyond repair," describing the warden at Dickens as ruling through verbal and physical intimidation, and alleging that guards showed no concern for the inmates' living conditions.

Apparently, Idaho had only sent an inspector to Texas on one previous occasion. That inspection revealed glaring problems, such as the lack of substance-abuse treatment as well as the absence of Idaho-sanctioned anger-management classes and pre-release programs.

Inexcusably, the inspector's recommendations were never followed, and Idaho failed to perform a subsequent inspection until after Payne's suicide, choosing instead to handle matters via telephone and e-mail. Idaho's only explanation is that they could not afford to conduct further monitoring.

Payne's predicament is not an anomaly for GEO prisons, but rather part of a disturbing pattern of neglect and abuse.

Despite the numerous complaints, GEO has no incentive to remedy the situation: in 2006, it reported profits of $30 million, four times the amount reported in 2005. GEO is not alone, as other private prison companies have experienced a similar rise in profits.

America must take the profit out of the incarceration of its citizens. Until it does, companies and CEOs and shareholders will continue getting rich off of the imprisonment of mostly poor people of color, and prison conditions will be only as good as greed allows.

Ezekiel Edwards: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:55 AM, Jul 17, 2007 in Criminal Justice | Fiscal Responsibility | Prisons
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