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Australia: Asylum seekers break out of Wackenhut detention center.
By Farah Farouque and Associated Press March 30 2002

About eight asylum seekers were being sheltered by protesters last night after escaping from the Woomera detention centre.

As a stand-off developed at a tent city near the compound, activists encircled one of the escapees, an Afghan woman, in an attempt to fend off police.

Other asylum seekers, who had breached a razor wire-topped fence during a day of rioting at the centre, were kept hidden after being given new clothes.

The detainees escaped when hundreds of human rights protesters entered the main Woomera compound around 6.30pm by breaking through a wire perimeter. As they were held back by internal fences, a number of asylum seekers managed to breach the barrier.

A police scanner broadcast suggested that some protesters had thrown bolt-cutters to detainees so they could cut and squeeze through metal fencing.

Some asylum seekers appeared to be bleeding after scrambling through the chain-link barriers around the South Australian camp.

Protesters immediately put new clothes on the escapees and whisked them away from police, who then began scuffling with rioters outside the centre.

Ten police on horseback rode into the crowd in an attempt to quell the escalating violence. But as they did, more refugees broke out.

One woman dashed through a hole in a fence with both arms raised yelling: "Freedom, freedom."

She was immediately tackled by a guard but protesters wrestled her free and she ran off. Another refugee ran out shouting: "After two years I'm free."

Linda Gale, a legal adviser to the protesters, said: "I was surprised by the structural weakness of the fences.

"The [protest] group went through several open gates at the detention centre and there was no organised attempt to stop us."

Police, initially passive and reluctant, became more aggressive as the riot intensified, and many protesters were seen with bloodied faces. One protester was spotted being thrown into a security van.

But shortly after the breakout, the violence subsided and protesters drifted away from the camp.

The riot came at the end of a day of protest outside the centre involving hundreds of human rights activists who had travelled from across Australia to protest at the Government's mandatory detention policy.

It is believed in anticipation of the weekend protest, the detention centre operators moved the detainees to a more secure area of the facility.

However, inside the camp, which now holds about 300 mainly Afghan and Iraqi refugees, asylum seekers had waved shirts and chanted: "Visa, visa, visa."

Riot police had a water cannon ready to hose down protesters but did not use it.

Authorities had said they were concerned that the protest, which had been confined outside a perimeter fence about one kilometre from the camp, would incite the asylum seekers to a riot.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration confirmed last night that a dozen asylum seekers had been recaptured by police after escaping, although it admitted that at least eight still remained at large.
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Passover Plea On Prisons

Lehman: Jewish protest against for-profit private prisons underwriter.
Lehman Brothers should make exodus from deal
bankrolling private firm, Jewish group asserts.
Adam Dickter - Staff Writer

Calling on Lehman Brothers to "invest in freedom" this Passover, a grassroots Jewish group is taking on the powerful investment banking firm for backing a private company that builds prisons.

Chanting “dayenu,” sporting frog masks to recall the plagues on Egypt, and sporting an oversized “Pharaoh” puppet, members of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice asserted that Lehman Brothers should pull out of a deal to refinance the $1 billion debt held by the nation’s largest private prison concern, the Corrections Corp. of America. Some two dozen JFREJ members made their plea last week outside the Lehman Brothers office on Seventh Avenue.

The private prison industry, which flourished during the 1990s, has been hard hit by lawsuits and allegations of abuse. According to a recent article in the journal American Prospect, “not a single state was soliciting new private prison contracts last year, and many existing contracts were rolled back or rescinded. The companies’ stock prices went through the floor.”

JFREJ believes in spending more government money on education and less on prisons, and that a majority of inmates are nonviolent nonwhites who have received disproportionate sentences. It also believes private prisons, which receive government funding, put profit ahead of rehabilitation.

“We are appalled that 2 million men and women — most of them young people of color convicted of nonviolent offenses — are locked up in our country,” Rabbi Valerie Lieber of JFREJ said in a statement. “As Jews it is incumbent upon us to oppose oppression at any time of year, but at Passover we are particularly compelled to speak out.”

Literature distributed by JFREJ and another group, Not With Our Money, a student organization opposed to what it calls prisons-for-profit, claimed that Lehman Brothers is “the No. 1 deal-maker for the private prison industry,” having helped another company, Cornell Corrections, raise $214 million in 2001.

“When you invest in private prison companies, they have an incentive to push for more prisons being built,” said Sarah Eisenstein, a community organizer for JFREJ. She says corporations like Corrections Corp. of America lobby for tougher sentencing laws, like the so-called “three-strikes and you’re out” law, which mandates lengthy sentences for repeat offenders.

“It is in their interests to fill prisons,” said Eisenstein.

According to its Web site, the Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA was formed in 1983 and now houses and cares for more than 55,000 inmates for federal, state and local government in 64 facilities in 21 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. That makes CCA the sixth largest corrections system in the country, behind large states such as New York, California and Texas.

The site says the corporation helps lower the inmate population under state and federal auspices while providing “more services to inmates at a lower cost to government.”

A CCA spokesman, Steve Owen, said the company “is not involved with lobbying or the determination of public policy with regard to sentencing laws or other justice policies.”

Lehman Brothers spokesman Bill Ahearn stressed that neither his firm nor its client had the jurisdiction to incarcerate criminals. JFREJ “ought to be protesting the criminal justice system,” he said, adding that Lehman Brothers was “seven or eight levels removed from the issue.”

Ahearn said his firm “doesn’t have a specific business plan to look for underwriting prison companies.”

Eisenstein said JFREJ was engaged in the issue “on multiple fronts” and was also planning protests in Albany against the Rockefeller Laws, which mandate lengthy sentences for drug-related crimes such as possession.

The protesters cited research suggesting that private prisons are more violent, have fewer rehabilitative programs and are as expensive as public prisons.

One flier targeted Henry Kaufman, a noted Wall Street strategist and member of the Lehman Brothers board of directors. JFREJ, calling on Kaufman to end Lehman’s involvement in “the for-profit prison industry,” noted that he is “a prominent member of the Jewish community” and that “Jews were once strangers and slaves in Egypt.”

Reached by phone, Kaufman said he had just returned from Zurich and was not familiar with the protest and that he had no immediate comment.
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Prison guards union gives Governor more money

By DAN MORAIN, Times Staff Writer - March 30, 2002

Politics: Latest $251,000 comes after he raises their pay and seeks to close private institutions.

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Gray Davis received an additional $251,000 from California's prison guards union earlier this month, only weeks after the governor granted the officers a pay hike of as much as $1 billion and fulfilled their wish by proposing to close five private prisons.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn.'s donation, dated March 13, is the largest single check Davis has received since taking office in 1999, though three other donors have given lump sums of $250,000.

With the latest check, the union has contributed $306,000 directly to the Democratic governor, plus $356,000 through the union's "Governor's Cup" golf fund-raisers at Pebble Beach.

Davis has brought in more than $1 million a month since taking office, and has roughly $30 million available for his November election campaign against Republican Bill Simon Jr. The governor defends his constant push to raise money, saying it's required to compete against independently wealthy candidates such as Simon.

In an interview Thursday, Davis made no mention of the prison guards' March 13 donation, but said there is no connection between his official actions and campaign donations.

On Jan. 16, he signed legislation that will grant prison guards a 33.76% pay hike by 2006, giving them virtual parity with California Highway Patrol officers and police in Los Angeles, San Diego and other big cities. He included the proposal to close the privately operated prisons as part of his budget, released on Jan. 10.

Union President Don Novey said that despite the donation, the guards haven't decided whether to endorse Davis or Simon in this year's campaign. He would not specify why the union made the latest donation, except to say there was no connection between the money and the governor's recent actions.

"That had nothing to do with it, but I guess it would be good cannon fodder," Novey said, adding that though Davis often inquires about donations, the union's executive board made the decision about the amount and timing.

Novey said the union will spend addition sums in the coming election: "I put notice to my Republican friends that we will not determine the money we're putting into the governor's race until we've done the interviews with the two final candidates for governor."

The union gave a single check for $425,000 to Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in October 1994. Like Davis, Wilson signed labor pacts giving guards bigger raises than most other state employees.

Simon spokesman Jamie Fisfis said the Republican candidate holds out hope that he can win the union's endorsement.

Fisfis also criticized Davis for accepting the donation after taking actions that benefited the donor: "The governor has a duty to avoid the appearance of impropriety or that he is bullying donors by holding special chits or legislation over their heads. In this case, he has failed that duty."

In the Thursday interview, Davis defended his decision to shut five of the state's nine corporate-run prisons when their contracts expire on June 30, saying private firms should not be involved in public safety matters. He twice noted that he has not discussed the issue with the union leadership since he took office. The issue was among those the union asked Davis about when he was running for governor in 1998, however.

"I do believe philosophically--although I didn't have a conversation on this in the three years and three months that I've been governor--there are some things a state should do," Davis said. "If we learned anything from this energy debacle, it is that private companies will do what's in the interest of their shareholders, and sometimes those interests are antithetical to the public. I see no reason why private companies should be in the business of building prisons."

Davis said the decision to shut the private prisons will save the state $5 million, although the facilities' advocates say the decision could cost the state money. Davis said a recent decline in prison population to 156,000 from a high of 162,000 played a role in the decision.

Recent state audits have given high marks to the five targeted private prisons. The facilities house a combined 1,400 low-security inmates, most of whom have been convicted of drug-related crimes. The prisons' owners, who range from publicly traded corporations that operate in several states to a firm founded by two men in Bakersfield, have mounted a letter-writing and lobbying campaign.

"Good Lord," Gary White, co-founder of Mesa Verde, a private prison in Bakersfield, said upon hearing of the $251,000 donation. "What we're doing is planning for the worst and hoping for the best. . . . The only thing that would change his mind is an overwhelming public response. It doesn't look very good."

The union, which doesn't represent private prison employees, argues that public safety should be the government's domain.

As reported by The Times on March 15, a union lobbyist who has since left the organization hailed the governor's decision to close the private prisons in a telephone recording intended for union members. He extolled the labor contract, citing a legislative analysis estimating that the richer salaries and benefits "conservatively" would cost the state $500 million to $1 billion annually by 2006, the contract's final year.

Under legislation by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), candidates must post donations of $5,000 or more on the California secretary of state's Web site within two weeks of receiving them. The $251,000 donation, though received on March 13, became public late Wednesday.

Six-figure donations are not unusual for Davis. He has received 53 donations of $100,000 or more since 1999; several donors have given cumulative sums of $100,000 or more.

The biggest single donation to Davis' 1998 campaign was $500,000 from the Southern California District Council of Carpenters. The prison guards union spent $2.3 million directly and indirectly in so-called independent expenditures on Davis' behalf in the 1998 election after it endorsed him over then-Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren.

Current law imposes no cap on donations to candidates for statewide office, but limits will take effect after the November election.
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Wackenhut guards sue for overtime. Lawyers seek to expand Wackenhut suit

By FRED LUDWIG, Californian staff writer
Sunday March 31, 2002, 10:30:01 PM

Attorneys for a group of current and former Wackenhut Corporation workers want to expand an overtime-pay lawsuit against the private prison company to hundreds of workers.

The company, which runs several Kern County prisons, has made employees work overtime without paying them for it, a lawsuit alleges.

Ten people filed the suit in December in Kern Superior Court. But attorneys are seeking to certify the suit as a class-action complaint on behalf of large numbers of current and former company workers in California.

Attorneys estimate that group could number between 800 and 2,400 people, said plaintiff's attorney Philip Ganong.

However, such a move requires judge approval, and Kern judges allow few, if any, such class-action lawsuits, Ganong said. Ganong said he is not aware of any class-action suits ever being litigated here.

The decision is based on a series of factors, such as whether there is a readily definable group and whether the members of that group have circumstances in common, Ganong said.

Ganong said the current group of plaintiffs includes workers from all of Wackenhut's six California prisons -- in Taft, Adelanto, San Diego and three in McFarland.

Practices vary from one prison to another, Ganong said.

Wackenhut misclassified some of its workers, telling them they didn't qualify for overtime because they are paid on a salary basis, rather than hourly, Ganong said. But he said companies cannot just call someone a manager and then deny overtime pay. The law allows such a designation only for workers who perform supervisory duties more than half the time, Ganong said.

Other hourly employees were classified properly but at times were not paid for overtime they had worked, Ganong said.

For example, the routine for correctional officers checking out at the end of a shift -- such as turning in keys -- at times lasts beyond the end of the eight-hour period, Ganong said. But, in at least some such cases, no overtime was allowed, Ganong said.

In other violations, employees at times were not given proper rest and meal breaks, the suit alleges.

In many cases, the unpaid overtime was only for a half-hour a day, Ganong said. But he said it amounts to substantial time, given the number of workers affected over long time periods.

"They need to follow the law," Ganong said.

The company could try to structure shifts differently to avoid overtime if possible, Ganong said. If not, he said it should pay the overtime.

The suit seeks unspecified back wages and a judge's order barring improper practices.

Margaret Pearson, Wackenhut corporate communications vice president, declined to comment.

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