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MAY 08/01

A study was released Tuesday on the cost of incarcerating inmates in private prisons suggested that state officials are "creaming" inmates - that is, taking the healthiest and least dangerous individuals and sending them to private prisons to help bolster assertions that private prisons cost less to operate. A spokesman for the state corrections department dismissed the "creaming" charge, noting that inmates are assigned to a prison based on the availability of bed space.

The study was commissioned by Policy Matters Ohio, a non-profit research organization based in Cleveland, and co-authored by PMO Executive Director Amy Hanauer and Dr. Michael Hallett, a professor of criminal justice at the University of North Florida who has studied the prison privatization issue extensively.

Dr. Hallett said at a Statehouse press conference where the study was released that evidence suggests that state officials deliberately culled inmates who are among the least expensive to incarcerate and assigned them to the Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LECI) in Conneaut. LECI is managed by Management & Training Corporation of Ogden, Utah. The company this week was given a contract to manage Ohio's other state-owned private prison, the North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility near Grafton. The company got the contract after the state terminated its contract with CiviGenics, a Massachusetts-based private prison operator.

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The National Criminal Justice Reference Service

NCJRS is a federally sponsored information clearinghouse for people around the country and the world involved with research, policy, and practice related to criminal and juvenile justice and drug control.

The NCJRS partner agencies publish hundreds of reports and other information products each year to share with you and your colleagues. The types of reports and their content are designed to meet the broad range of interests in the field and the audiences who use them. Most of the titles are available online through the NCJRS Web site.

One of the most daunting challenges confronting our criminal justice system today is the overcrowding of our nation's prisons. One proposed solution that emerged was the privatizing of prisons and jails by contracting out, in part or in whole, their operations.

Go to their web page and download a comprehensive (90 pages) pdf file that studies jail privatization - the data is too large to place here.

Go there now!

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A night in the slammer

On May 13, 2001 the Toronto Sun ran a column written by Christina Blizzard entitled "What a night in the slammer costs".

The article does not appear to be archived on Canoe so it cannot be presented here, but CAPP presents the following scenario in its place:

It is 1.30 in the morning and you have left a houseparty somewhere close to Simcoe Ontario. You had a few too many drinks over the past few hours, but you only have ten miles to drive so you jump in your car, knowing you should not, and head off for home.

At 1.35 A.M. you are pulled over to the shoulder of the road by a police car - you were swerving across the white line and the OPP officer obviously knew he was dealing with a drinking driver.

At 1.45 A.M. you find yourself in the OPP detachment in Simcoe where you have been charged with driving while intoxicated - your blood was well over the .08 limit. Although intoxicated, you realize you made a stupid decision attempting that drive home.

At 2.35 A.M. you find yourself in a police car going to Hamilton where you will be taken into custody and presented to the court later in the morning.

At 3.15 A.M. you find yourself in the Admitting sallyport at Hamilton's Barton St. Jail where a correctional officer is telling your police escort officer that there is no room for you. It seems that Mike Harris might have left the area with too few beds having closed all the surrounding jails to make room for his new superjails.

At 3.59 A.M. the police car you have been in now for some time along with a very annoyed OPP officer (stationed out of the Simcoe detachment) arrive at Maplehurst - a ministry institution located on Highway 10 at Highway 401. You are released from the handcuffs that have been on you for some 2 1/2 hours and your circulation starts to recoup as you are admitted by a correctional officer who takes information from you, strip searches you, then orders you to take a shower. Once dressed in inmate clothing, you are escorted to a cell, hopefully you won't be placed in a cell with two other inmates who may or may not appreciate you coming into their cell at 4.20 A.M..

You collapse onto a well-worn mattress that smells of urine and vomit happy that you are finally lying down. You close your eyes, and.....

It's 7.00 A.M. and you are woken to find a correctional officer standing over you ordering you to get ready - you are being taken back to Simcoe for Bail Court.

Several hours later, this being your first 'Over 80' offence, you are standing outside the Simcoe courthouse thinking about your decision to drive home the previous night. You swear that this will never happen again. As you make your way home you start to thinking about the long process you had gone through and wonder to yourself, "Why in the hell did Mike Harris find it necessary to close all the local jails?"

Mike Harris has figured a way how to get around the problem of Bail Court! He is in the process of introducing electronic cameras so your bail can be reviewed from a distance - this, by the way, is contrary to your rights as a citizen of Ontario and Canada.

"11. Any person charged with an offence has the right (d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal; "

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Hi-tech eye on parolees

The Ontario government is pursuing global positioning technology to keep tabs on parolees and warn their victims if they get too close.

Correctional Services Minister Rob Sampson told The Toronto Sun yesterday that the government will soon be issuing a request for proposal on hi-tech monitoring devices for offenders released into the community.

"It would be an additional tool by probation and parole officers to help them with their monitoring job," Sampson said.

"It wouldn't be used for any other purpose than that."

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a network satellite-linked transmitters commonly used by boaters, hikers and the military for navigation.

"We would want to target it for those who we wanted to have close supervision of for a number of reasons, the least of which could be the nature of the crime," he said.

Sampson said he's seen the system used in various initiatives in U.S. jurisdictions.

One program included a beeper system that would warn victims of a crime if their assailant, once released from jail, came within a certain distance of their home or another restricted area, Sampson said.

"It actually paged the victim and said '(the perpetrator) is in the neighbourhood and get out,' " he said.

Sampson said the technology would be cheaper than the electronic monitoring devices that were introduced in Ontario five years ago. Participants in the program wear an electronic anklet that monitors their whereabouts. That program costs between $3 million and $4 million a year.

Wonder if this new system will be based out of Utah, USA - home of Management & Training Corp.
Hmmmm.....more jobs taken away from Ontario taxpayers.

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A week before a new law subjecting private prisons to stringent rules takes effect, state officials are questioning whether Texas has gone far enough in its effort to regulate the booming convict-trade business. Demands for better oversight of privately run prisons have been renewed since the exposure last week of a videotape showing guards using stun guns, dogs and kicks to subdue Missouri inmates at a Brazoria County facility last September. State lawmakers earlier this year approved the new law after they felt frustrated, embarrassed and angered by mishaps at for-profit jails. The law, however, doesn't require the jails to be licensed and leaves the state with the same manpower to enforce regulations. "It doesn't make sense that the state requires a barber to be licensed and not prison operators who are bringing out-of-state inmates into Texas," Allan Polunsky, chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, is quoted as saying in Sunday's editions of the San Antonio Express-News.

Some officials question whether the state is too shorthanded to catch problems.

"Once we get to the bottom of the situation ... I think we do need to assess whether (the Texas Commission on Jail Standards) has enough personnel to oversee the influx of private prisoners into the state," Gov. George W. Bush told the Houston Chronicle. Bush said beyond expanding the staff of the regulatory agency, he will seek the advice of experts before deciding whether even tougher restrictions should be passed. More than 5,000 out-of-state prisoners currently are housed in county and city jails across Texas. Analysts project the industry will continue to grow nationally by more than 30 percent a year. State Sen. John Whitmire, who helped spearhead efforts to rein in the for-profit operations, said he thinks the Brazoria County incident was an aberration and that most private-prison operators are conscientious.

"I'm waiting, like most people, to get all the facts," said Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The new law was written in response to a series of problems at privately run jails that began with the escape last year of two Oregon sex offenders from a Houston facility. Until local police were notified the inmates were on the loose, neither sta te nor local officials had any inkling that anyone other than illegal immigrants were being held there.

Since then, there have been escapes, riots and other uprisings, rape and even murder in privately run facilities across Texas. The new legislation requires private jails, for the first time, to meet the same regulations as county and state jails. They must undergo annual inspections by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, and private jail guards must have the same training as county and state guards and be certified by the state. Under current law, certification is optional. Convicted felons are prohibited from being licensed, but someone convicted of a misdemeanor is barred only for five years, said Charles Barrett, director of licensing for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education.

Two men working for Capital Correctional Resources Inc., the company that manages part of the Brazoria County Detention Center, pleaded guilty in 1983 to federal charges of beating state prison inmates while they were guards with the Texas Departme nt of Corrections.

State records show that Wilton David Wallace and Daryl French were certified as jailers last year. Current rules would not have barred them based on a 14-year-old misdemeanor record. Barrett said the agency still is in the process of drafting new rules in anticipation of the new law. Polunsky, the criminal justice board chairman, said the law is adequate but ultimately will be ineffective because the Legislature did not provide money for more inspectors or set up a way to license the jails. "The (Commission on Jail Standards) doesn't have the manpower to regulate these privately run facilities," he said. "To give them additional authority without sufficient personnel to properly enforce the statute really doesn't accomplish much." Jail regulators say they can handle the additional load.

"Obviously, more people, more monies and more appropriations are better," Jack Crump, executive director of the jail commission, told the Express-News. "But I still do feel confident that we can adequately perform those duties outlined in the statu tes."

HOUSTON - A former Texas jailer captured on a videotape assaulting a Missouri inmate in 1996 was arrested and charged Monday for an off-camera attack on another prisoner the same year. The early Monday morning arrest of Wilton David Wallace at his home in Angleton is the first to be made nearly a year after the FBI began its investigation into suspected abuses at the Brazoria County Detention Center. Those abuses, caught on a Sept. 18, 1996 training tape obtained by the county's daily newspaper, The Facts, and televised last summer, sparked outrage among both law enforcement authorities and prisoner advocates. In the June 3 indictment, unsealed on Monday, Wallace, 50, was charged with violating the civil rights of Clarence Fisher on Nov. 7, 1996 when he slammed Fisher's face into a wall at the Brazoria facility. Fisher suffered broken teeth and other facial injuries in the attack.

"Civil rights violations are very serious. They'll be aggressively investigated and they'll be appropriately prosecuted, even when it involves the civil rights of an individual serving a prison sentence," said U.S. Attorney James DeAtley. On the Sept. 18, 1996 videotape, CCRI employees and others were videotaped kicking inmates, submitting others to stun guns and allowing police dogs to bite the Missouri prisoners. Wallace, a CCRI guard in 1996, was seen on the videotape pushing down an inmate with his foot. If convicted, Wallace could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Wallace did not immediately return a call for comment to The Associated Press on Monday. In 1996, Fisher was one of hundreds of Missouri inmates housed at the Brazoria County Detention Center through a contract with Groesbeck, Texas-based Capital Correctional Resources Inc., a private prison company.

After the videotape surfaced last summer, Missouri canceled its contract and 215 remaining inmates returned to Missouri. Wallace and other CCRI staffers subsequently were laid off. Fisher, who is now serving his 10-year robbery sentence in Sikeston, Mo., is one of about 500 inmates suing CCRI in federal court over possible civil rights violations suffered in company facilities in Brazoria, Limestone and Gregg counties. "It's evidently consistent with a lot of the complaints a lot of the inmates had and I trust we haven't heard the last from the grand jury in Texas," said Gary Sarachan, Fisher's Missouri attorney. FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Don K. Clark said the investigation into the alleged abuse is continuing. "We anticipate that there may be further charges in the future," Clark said.

Fifteen years ago, Wallace pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating a prisoner's rights and served six months in a federal jail in the Sept. 14, 1983 beating of Texas prison inmate Frank Navarro Cervantes. Cervantes was beaten so badly he was transferred from the Darrington Unit, south of Houston in Rosharon, to Galveston for medical attention. While it is CCRI's policy to perform background checks on employees, it is not known if CCRI performed a background check when presented with Wallace's job application or if Wallace's history failed to catch the company's attention.

CCRI's attorney, Corinne Corley of Kansas City, referred specific questions about the company to Jim Brewer, once listed as CCRI's chief executive officer. A Monday call to the Jackson, Miss. office of Jim Brewer, was not immediately returned.

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Tool for escape was - key

St. Petersburg Times - May 06, 2001

Three inmates escape from Cypress Creek Detention Facility using a key given to them by a staff member. All are quickly caught.

When three inmates at Cypress Creek Detention Facility decided to escape Friday night, they didn't have to come up with an elaborate plan. One of them already had the key which unlocked an exterior door.

The trio bolted out the door, ran across an exercise yard and climbed the first of two security fences. Two were chased down in the area between the fences. The third inmate managed to scale the second fence and ran into the woods nearby. He was talked into surrendering by a waiter who was just leaving his shift at the Rusty Duck Restaurant.

The escape incident began when inmate Anthony Valazquez, 18, was given a key to the shower room by Cypress Creek staff members at about 6 p.m. Friday, according to a report filed by the Citrus County Sheriff's Office. Somehow, Valazquez knew the key was a master key which would also open the door leading to the exercise yard.

Valazquez waited until 10:15 p.m. to make his move. He used the key to unlock the door leading to the exercise yard and bolted toward the first of two security fences. He was joined by fellow inmate Darious L. White, 18, and an unidentified juvenile inmate.

Valazquez was prepared. He had a blanket to lay over the coils of razor wire and strands of barbed wire on top of the fences and was able to climb over both. He headed north, toward State Road 44, through a patch of woods.

Around 10:20 p.m., waiter Kevin McCurdy was getting off work. He went to the parking lot to fire up his Harley Davidson motorcycle so the engine could warm up.

"This guy comes out of the woods, with blue jail clothes on. He was bleeding from his arm and leg. He told me "Hey man, you've got to get me out of here, I just escaped from prison,' " McCurdy said.

McCurdy said he told the escapee that he wasn't going to help him.

"We started talking, some of the other employees came out, and then finally we told him: "You've got two options: run and possibly get killed or just give it up.' "

Just as a sheriff's cruiser pulled into a corner of the restaurant, McCurdy said Valazquez agreed to surrender.

"He just walked over with me to the cop car, put his hands on the hood on surrendered. There was no trouble."

Both McCurdy and White were charged with escape. They were booked into the adjacent Citrus County Jail, and bail was set at $ 15,000. The juvenile inmate was removed from Cypress Creek and taken to another facility.

Cypress Creek is a maximum security facility that Correctional Services Corp. , a private company, runs on behalf of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Cypress Creek takes Level 10 offenders, those convicted of serious crimes. Valazquez told McCurdy he had already served about four years of a seven-year sentence. Information on the trio's prison sentences was unavailable.

An official with Cypress Creek said an investigation into the escape is under way.

Carolyn Floyd, regional director for the residential programs in northeast Florida, said she couldn't explain why Valazquez was given the key and still had it four hours later.

"That's totally against regulations. The staffer who gave him the keys has been removed from his job," Floyd said.

She said criminal charges against the staffer might be initiated after all the facts are presented to the state attorney's office.

The escape Friday night was another in the long series of problems at Cypress Creek.

Three other inmates escaped in October. Juvenile Justice concluded that poor supervision allowed the inmates to sneak into an office undetected and then shimmy through air vents.

They were captured quickly.

After that escape, Cypress Creek officials fired a shift supervisor and took several measures to increase security.

Friday's incident had neighbors on the alert.

William Bryant lives on Nutmeg Terrace, just off State Road 44 and east of County Road 491. He returned home about 10 p.m. Friday to find a Sheriff's Office patrol car zooming through his neighborhood.

He called 911. The operator told him about the escape.

"They were very forthcoming with information, and I appreciate that," Bryant said.

"I gathered my family into the living room. We got our ball bat from the closet and we basically sat in the living room in fear," he said. "We called our neighbors and told them what was going on and we waited. I felt like a prisoner in my own home."

A 911 operator called the Bryant home later to report deputies had caught who they thought was the last escapee. She called a second time to confirm authorities had gotten their man.

"The sheriff's department did a wonderful job," Bryant said. "I just wonder if the people who made it possible for this place to be here, if they slept good last night. How would they feel if they were in my shoes?"

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Judges decide to close facility

May 17, 2001 - Fort Worth, Texas

A privately operated prison that was the subject of a Texas Rangers investigation over prisoners' treatment will now be shuttered.

The 370-bed Tarrant Community Corrections Facility will close in less than three months due to a $2.8 million budget shortfall.

Criminal court judges unanimously voted Wednesday to close the facility, which includes the Mansfield boot camp. Officials said it could be converted to a juvenile detention center or jail.

The facility houses a 120-bed boot camp and three residential drug treatment programs. The judges, who oversee the probation department, said they were forced to close the facility because of indications from state lawmakers and corrections officials that more funding is unavailable.

The closure will limit judges' options in sentencing criminals with chemical dependencies, likely resulting in overburdened local drug treatment programs and increased jail and prison populations, officials said.

"Right now we are spending a lot of money in Mansfield to serve a small population, compared with the nearly 20,000 probationers we have to supervise," said Tom Plumlee, director of the Tarrant County Community Corrections Department.

"It makes more sense to spend that money at the front end than on high-end programs like Mansfield."

The facility's 30 employees will fill positions left vacant in the probation department during a yearlong hiring freeze.

Sheriff Dee Anderson said the Mansfield facility, which is owned by the county, would be a good place to expand jail services.

"There have been several discussions about different possibilities for that facility, including juvenile services," he said. "No decision has been made. But we anticipated if they closed it down, we would talk about ideas for the facility."

The 19 criminal court judges were hoping to get at least $7.5 million from lawmakers and corrections officials to keep the boot camp and drug treatment programs open.

Earlier this year, the judges voted to not renew a contract with Florida-based Correctional Services Corp. to operate the facility. The company, which has run the center since 1992, has been criticized because of escapes, sexual assaults by employees and questions about the health care inmates have received.

Earlier this month, a Tarrant County grand jury indicted a nurse who provided medical treatment for a boot camp probationer until two days before he died of pneumonia.

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Hobbs Prison Cover-Up Alleged

May 18, 2001 - Albuquerque
Four Ex-Employees Facing Charges

LAS CRUCES Four former employees of Wackenhut Corrections Corp. have been charged with crimes in connection with a Dec. 21, 1998, incident at a privately run prison in Hobbs.

Two have been charged with using excessive force against an inmate and then covering up the incident, according to indictments returned Thursday by a federal grand jury here.

The charges stem from the incident at the 1,200-bed Lea County Correctional Facility, run by Wackenhut, in which a guard and a supervisory lieutenant allegedly assaulted inmate Eric Duran and kicked the inmate repeatedly in the head.

Later, the corrections officers and two other employees met in a conference room and allegedly agreed on a common cover story that the inmate struck one of the guards twice in the face with his fist and tried to bite the guard. Then, according to an allegedly fabricated story, a struggle with the guards followed and Duran fell and hit the back of his head on a window sill.

The case was investigated by the FBI and pursued by prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division after a complaint was filed by Santa Fe attorney Mark Donatelli, who has represented inmates in long-running federal litigation over prison conditions.

The incident was reviewed and reported in December 1998 to Wackenhut officials by a Hobbs security warden who noted what appeared to be a black scuff mark behind Duran's right ear.

"He (Duran) could have easily died from being kicked in the head so many times, and he almost did," said Donatelli, noting the inmate was flown to an Albuquerque hospital after the beating for treatment of his head injuries.

Donatelli said Duran suffered permanent injuries that contributed to chronic headaches and impaired vision.

"I think this will be a major step in preventing beatings of New Mexico prisoners in the future," Donatelli said.

Lea County Correctional Facility Warden Joe Williams confirmed that the four men indicted Thursday are no longer Wackenhut employees but declined to comment specifically on the case because of the potential for future litigation.

The indictment charges William Fuller, 37, of Floresville, Texas, and Gary Butler, 28, of Hobbs with deprivation of rights under color of law and conspiracy against rights for, respectively, assaulting and injuring Duran, then fabricating evidence that led to assault charges being filed against Duran. Charges of assault against Duran were later dropped, Donatelli said.

Matias Serrata Jr., 29, of Beeville, Texas, was charged with deprivation of rights under color of law, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Serrata is accused of failing to prevent Fuller and Butler from assaulting Duran.

Fuller, Butler, Serrata and 25-year-old Kendall Lipscomb of Odessa, Texas, were all charged with conspiracy to tamper with a witness and witness tampering for preparing false reports and testimony to cover up the assault.

These reports were provided to officials with the Lea County Correctional Facility and New Mexico State Police.

To back up his story that Duran struck the guard in the face, Butler allegedly struck himself several times on the side of the face and then photographed his self-inflicted injuries, the indictment states.

Lipscomb lied by saying that he tried to videotape the altercation with Duran but that a video camera malfunctioned, the indictment states.

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Men's facility may soon house women

May 18, 2001 - Salt Lake City, UT

With limited funds to house its burgeoning inmate population, the Department of Corrections is looking for a private company to operate a 400-bed women's prison at the Promontory Correctional Facility in Draper.

The facility, located on the northwest side of the Draper prison site, is currently a 400-bed halfway house for men.

Corrections officials came up with the idea of converting the facility to a women's prison in late March and early April, after the Legislature rejected a proposal for the state to buy Oxbow Jail from Salt Lake County.

"The likelihood is, that's where we're going," Corrections Deputy Director Jesse Gallegos said of the state's proposal to move female inmates into Promontory. "I can say that is our plan as of now."

Bids are due Tuesday.

The new facility would house medium- to minimum-security women. The state currently has 394 female inmates and expects those numbers to increase by an average of 36 women a year.

"The facility will basically be full when we move in," Gallegos said.

Corrections officials had hoped the Legislature would approve the $16.7 million purchase of the 552-bed jail from the county so the state could convert it into a 500-bed facility for women.

"We could get all the women into one area and provide more programs," Gallegos said.

But the deal stalled after the county refused to go below the $16.7 million price tag.

Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman was unaware of the state's proposal to convert Promontory into a women's prison, mayoral spokesman Jim Braden said. The mayor's office has still not ruled out selling Oxbow, though.

"For the right price we would consider an offer," Braden said. "But our asking price is $16.7 million and I think that's probably close to the bottom line, if not the bottom line."

For now, prison officials aren't commenting on the possibilities of purchasing Oxbow to ease bed space in the future.

Promontory Correctional Facility was built in 1994 as a halfway house for men and women. Corrections ran into a bed space crunch a few years later and converted the facility into a minimum-security prison.

When Pete Haun took over as Corrections executive director three years ago, he turned Promontory back into a halfway house.

Ogden-based Management Training Corp. currently runs Promontory, and prison officials say they'd prefer a private company continue to run the facility when it becomes a women's prison.

"We have to be innovative and come up with ways of handling our population with the existing facilities that we have," Gallegos said. "We've concluded that the private sector best meets our needs when we're dealing with a minimum-security population."

But the conversion worries some opponents of private sector prison contracts.

Steve Erickson heads a group opposed to privatizing prisons called Citizens Education Project.

Erickson called the conversion of Promontory to a women's prison an "end run on the Legislature."

"I've talked to a couple of legislators who have no idea this is happening," Erickson said. "It's our opinion that at the very least we ought to have a lively public debate about the funding here. Do we want to be privatizing?"

Just last August Corrections officials scrapped plans to contract with Cornell Corrections to build and run a 500-bed medium-security prison 12 miles outside Grantsville. The state found it was cheaper to house inmates in county jails.

But Corrections officials say using private companies to house minimum security inmates is an option they will continue to pursue.

"I don't know why it comes as a surprise because we've been doing it for years," Gallegos said. "This isn't anything new. . . . I am personally not aware of anything that prohibits the executive director from that type of discretion of who they're going to house in a facility."

The Department of Corrections would requiring the private company to pay for POST-certified officers to man the facility, as well as all communication and computer equipment. The private company must also provide a commissary, food, laundry, sanitation, hygiene, mail, religious and recreational programs for inmates as well as set up an work program for offenders. Corrections will provide all medical services to inmates.

A off-site Corrections liaison will also work to ensure the contractor is complying with regulations. The contractor must pay the salary and benefits of the liaison, totalling $75,365. A medical liaison will also monitor dental and health care for offenders as well. The contractor must also pay that person's salary and benefits at a cost of $69,167.

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California's prison break

After years of growth the inmate numbers fall

The numbers were small, but the symbolism was powerful. Last week, California officials reported a drop in the state's inmate population after more than two decades of nonstop growth that powered an unprecedented prison-building boom. The decline was tiny–the late June total of 161,401 was just 360 fewer than a year ago–but its ripple effects could be large. California has more prisons–33–and incarcerates more people than any other state. Growth in the prison population there averaged 14.5 percent annually in the 1980s and 6.3 percent in the 1990s. California has spent $5.6 billion on prison construction since 1980, and experts had been predicting the need for $6 billion more in the next decade. But if the inmate numbers keep falling, prisons on the drawing board won't be needed, freeing up money for other spending. "We're pleased that [more] steel and concrete mistakes" may not be built, says Corey Weinstein, a board member of California Prison Focus, an advocacy group.

Penal experts say California's decrease is due to a fall in both crime and arrests, as well as a slight reduction in recidivism among parolees. Experts cautioned against reading too much into the numbers. "Any slowing is significant, but no state has had . . . a sustained period of decline," said Allen Beck of the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. But others wondered whether the figures indicated that America's relentless increase in incarceration might at least be slowing. The overall inmate population in the nation's prisons and jails grew an average of 5.8 percent yearly between 1990 and 1999, and is slated to reach 2 million around the end of next year. But the 4.4 percent growth in the prison numbers between mid-1998 and mid-1999 was the smallest annual hike since 1979.

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Private prisons are real culprits

Santa Fe, New Mexican - May 21, 2001

The defendants may be former guards, but the latest case of private-prison atrocity should put the whole notion of mercenary corrections in the dock.

Four guys in the hire of Wackenhut Corrections Corp. face federal indictments in the beating and kicking of a Hobbs inmate. For good measure, they're also charged with trying to cover up their brutality.

The victim's name: Duran -- Eric, not Dwight, whose 1970s class action against the New Mexico Corrections Department put our state's prisons under federal-court strictures for two decades.

New Mexico emerged from the Duran consent decree just last year. This latest Duran case, combined with uprisings at the privately-run prison in Grants, the sloppy operation of the Santa Fe County jail and the chaotic conditions in which a guard was killed at Santa Rosa, could prompt a whole new federal takeover. Duran II?

Masterminding New Mexico's foray into prisons for profits is Gov. Gary Johnson's corrections secretary, Rob Perry. But he's had plenty of help -- notably from legislative powerhouse Manny Aragon, "the senator from Wackenhut," as he was known during his years on the payroll of that Florida-based private prison contractor.

What neither Perry nor Aragon would admit is this: Even if Wackenhut and other prison companies weren't committing dangerous, sometimes deadly, errors, they make their money squeezing a profit margin out of warehoused human beings. By their very nature, private prisons create a demand for convicts. That demand can skew criminal-justice proceedings -- against defendants, who, under the American system are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

Bad enough that the Bill of Rights takes a beating while corporate executives and shareholders count their money. But allowing prison guards to gang up on some poor schlub and kick him in the head over and over, until he's nearly dead, then hit themselves a few times to make it look good?

That's what the U.S. Attorney says happened down in Hobbs.

Whether or not the guys in uniform are convicted, New Mexicans -- and especially our state's senators and representatives -- should be asking what the four were doing in Wackenhut uniforms. They should have been in state uniforms, directly responsible to a state prison system professionally training and disciplining its corrections personnel.

Handing off prison-running responsibility to the for-profit sector has had predictable results. The governor, his corrections secretary and the New Mexico Legislature, with Sen. Aragon in decline, must take it back.

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