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Coali­tion Files FOIA Request on Pri­vate Prison Com­pany Accused of Sex­ual Abuse in Mississippi

GEO, lob­by­ing to re-open shut­tered Michi­gan facility,also hit with $1.4 mil­lion in fines and penal­ties for under­staffing in New Mexico

Lans­ing:  We Are The Peo­ple Michi­gan, a cit­i­zen coali­tion, filed a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act request with the Michi­gan Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions today, seek­ing any and all com­mu­ni­ca­tions related to the GEO Group Inc., the con­tro­ver­sial pri­vate prison com­pany cur­rently lob­by­ing to re-open a shut­tered facil­ity in Bald­win, Michigan.

“The U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice inves­ti­gated a GEO youth prison in Mis­sis­sippi, and found doc­u­mented evi­dence of guards hav­ing sex with inmates, inmates rap­ing other inmates, guards rou­tinely beat­ing inmates and using pep­per spray with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion,” said Todd Cook, direc­tor of We Are the Peo­ple, Michigan.

“The state of Mis­sis­sippi fired GEO, and the state of New Mex­ico has just imposed $1.4 mil­lion in fines and penal­ties for understaffing.

“Is this what we’re telling com­pa­nies with a record of neg­li­gence and abuse – if you’re kicked out of Mis­sis­sippi and fined in New Mex­ico, you can come do busi­ness in Michi­gan?  We need to get to the bot­tom of this, and that’s why we’re fil­ing a FOIA request today.”

In Novem­ber 2011, Rep. John Bum­stead (R-Newaygo) received an out-of-state cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion from Cloid Shuler, vice pres­i­dent of Busi­ness Devel­op­ment for GEO Group. Days later, he intro­duced HB 5174, which could allow the Florida-based pri­vate prison cor­po­ra­tion to re-open a shut­tered facil­ity it owns in Bumstead’s dis­trict in Bald­win, Michigan.

Michi­gan ended its con­tract with GEO in 2006, after a Michi­gan Audi­tor General’s report found GEO’s pri­vate Bald­win facil­ity was more expen­sive than state-run pris­ons, cost­ing tax­pay­ers as much as $7.5 mil­lion a year.

HB 5174 is still before the leg­is­la­ture.  Accord­ing to a recent report from Gong­wer News Ser­vice, it is yet to be deter­mined whether the bill will allow any pri­vate prison com­pany to bid on a new con­tract with the state, or be exclu­sive to the GEO Group facil­ity in Bumstead’s dis­trict.  An omnibus state bud­get bill, passed by the House, pro­vides for clo­sure of the Ionia Refor­ma­tory and poten­tial trans­fer of inmates to a pri­vate facility.

“It makes no sense to close a pub­lic facil­ity and trans­fer pris­on­ers to a more expen­sive pri­vate prison,” said Cook.  “Espe­cially a com­pany like the GEO Group.”

A fed­eral judge described the GEO Group’s Wal­nut Grove Youth Cor­rec­tional Facil­ity in Mis­sis­sippi as a “cesspool.”  A March, 2012 report by the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice doc­u­ments hor­rific con­di­tions in the facil­ity, including:

Prison staff hav­ing sex with incar­cer­ated youth, and inmates being raped by other inmates.

  • “The sex­ual mis­con­duct we found,” DOJ inves­ti­ga­tors wrote, was among the worst that we have seen in any facil­ity any­where in the nation.”
  • Guards beat youth and used exces­sive pep­per spray as a first response.
  • “[D]eliberate indif­fer­ence” to pris­on­ers pos­sess­ing home­made knives, which were used in gang fights and inmate rapes.
  • Some guards had gang affiliations.
  • No func­tion­ing alarm sys­tem in large areas of the prison.

Also in March, inmates at Wal­nut Grove set­tled a class action law­suit against GEO Group and the state of Mis­sis­sippi, pro­vid­ing that chil­dren and teens would no longer be housed in the GEO-run facil­ity. In April, accord­ing a report on National Pub­lic Radio, the state of Mis­sis­sippi announced it would seek new man­age­ment for three GEO-run pris­ons in the state “in hopes of gain­ing bet­ter per­for­mance and prices.”

GEO has also been hit with $1.4 mil­lion in fines and penal­ties for fail­ure to pro­vide enough cor­rec­tion offi­cers to main­tain secure oper­a­tions in a facil­ity it runs in Hobbs, New Mexico.

“If we give another prison con­tract to a pri­vate com­pany with a record as bad as GEO, it looks like a law­suit wait­ing to hap­pen,” said Cook.  “Why would we expose Michi­gan tax­pay­ers to that kind of poten­tial liability?”

 We Are the Peo­ple is a statewide coali­tion of stu­dents, seniors and work­ers fight­ing to pro­tect Michigan’s mid­dle class families.

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