Glad tidings on VTDigger’s front page:
More than 200 Vermont inmates in a Kentucky prison have been on lockdown since Jan. 15 after a series of assaults and fights broke out, a Department of Corrections official told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon.
… “I’m concerned. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of this and find out who the culprits are and find out, if anything, how they’re operating,” Byrne said.
“Byrne” is Richard Byrne, out-of-state unit supervisor for the Vermont Department of Corrections. Which makes him the guy directly responsible for the inmates we’ve shipped to for-profit prisons in other states. And he doesn’t know what’s going on.
So he’s “concerned.”
And “hopes” he can get to the bottom of this.
It’s times like this that brought the phrase “WHAT THE F*CK” into our lexicon.
I mean, we the people of Vermont send people to prison. Shouldn’t we bear at least a little bit of responsibility for their wellbeing? Er, no: shouldn’t we have complete responsibility for their wellbeing? The lockdown happened on January 15 after a series of violent incidents; Byrne was still clueless as of January 20. Some oversight.
Byrne told lawmakers that Vermont’s contractor, Corrections Corporation of America, “is handling the situation.” Well, that’s reassuring.
CCA is a key player in the lock-’em-up industry, which tries to cash in on America’s rampant tough-on-crime sentiment. And helps fuel that sentiment with hefty campaign contributions to tough-talking politicians, mainly Republicans. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, CCA ponied up $2.2 million in political donations between 2003 and 2012. Other prison operators have been equally generous. In recent years, the industry has tried to cash in on anti-immigrant fervor by promoting harsh policies toward the undocumented.
(CCA has spent a relatively measly $38,000 in Vermont; the biggest beneficiaries are Jim Douglas at $2900 (three election cycles), Peter Shumlin at $1,000 (one cycle), and Senate Judicary Committee chair Dick Sears at $1,700 (four cycles). That’s a good example of the political savvy behind CCA’s high-priced advocacy: they couldn’t pick a better target than a well-connected veteran Senator from the ruling party who chairs the Senate committee directly concerned with law and justice.)
A few more tidbits from the Digger piece (by talented newbie Laura Krantz):
Only Vermonters are housed in the 816-bed prison after Kentucky did not renew its contract with CCA in July.
So. Kentucky, the progressive hotbed that gave us Rand Paul has cut its ties with CCA. More on that from the Nashville City Paper:
Kentucky has run into issues with CCA facilities in the past. Gov. Steve Beshear ordered all female inmates transferred from Otter Creek in 2010 after a sex scandal involving guards and allegations of sexual abuse of inmates at the facility.
… Hawaii also removed 168 female inmates in 2009, sending them to a prison in Arizona. Multiple lawsuits were filed over the sex accusations. Most were dismissed.
Inmates at Lee Adjustment Center rioted in 2004 after allegations of inmate abuse and mistreatment increased and visits from friends and family were cut back.
And, CCA is being sued by a group of shift supervisors Marion Adjustment Center who allege the company forced them to work extra hours and denied them overtime.
This is the corporation that, five days after a lockdown, is trying to “locate the source of the recent violence.” What kind of prison are they running, anyway? VTDigger’s Krantz:
“This is a tough period of time down there because we are seeing some things that we have not seen in the past,” Byrne said.
… During his hour of testimony Tuesday afternoon, Byrne made it clear that prisoners in Kentucky are less supervised than inmates in Vermont prisons.
Yeah, so CCA can offer rock-bottom prices, satisfy its shareholders, and fund a self-serving political action effort.
And even on the pure basis of the bottom line, without regard to the human cost, CCA is a questionable enterprise. Kentucky’s decision to pull out was partly based on past CCA transgressions, but state officials also calculated that they could actually save money by relying on public facilities. So maybe this whole industry is built more on political connections and free-market bullshit than on actual performance.
Y’know, I’ve always had doubts about the wisdom of for-profit prisons, and even more doubts about the idea of shipping inmates hundreds of miles away. If we want them to reform, wouldn’t it maybe help a little bit if they were within visiting distance of EVERYBODY THEY KNOW?
A little light at the end of this cold, dark tunnel:
Rep. Suzi Wizowaty, D-Burlington, clerk of the House Judiciary Committee, sat in on Byrne’s testimony Tuesday. Wizowaty for several years has filed an unsuccessful bill to stop sending prisoners out of state.
The public typically only finds out about a lockdown if word gets out from an inmate, Wizowaty said. She said she receives letters at least once a week from prisoners. Some report having seen a fight in a yard with no guard in sight, she said.
“There is a very low level of supervision,” she said.
Yeah, probably a whole lot lower since Kentucky pulled out,
leaving CCA with a couple hundred inmates in a facility designed for 800.
(Correction: There are a total of 460 Vermont inmates at the Kentucky facility. 205 are housed in the locked-down unit; the others are elsewhere, and are not in lockdown.)
I say we face up to our responsibilities. If we want to send people to prison, we ought to have direct responsibility for them, not depend on the bona fides of a for-profit corporation with a spotty track record. Vermont prisoners should stay in Vermont. For their own sake, for the sake of our consciences, and so we can do our part to put this parasitic industry out of our misery.