BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Alabama legislators have put a temporary hold on a $10 million contract between the state Department of Corrections and a company that could analyze prison needs and design new facilities.
Al.com reports the Legislature’s contract committee paused the plan Thursday amid questions about its reliability, considering construction plans for new prisons failed in 2016 and 2017. Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn says planning for new prisons is a better use of tax dollars than putting more money into older prisons that need to be replaced.
He says it would cost about $1 billion to build three new regional prisons, including one that can accommodate inmates with high-need mental health issues.
One committee member said the Legislature is unlikely to pass a $1 billion prison plan.
We are living in boom times for the private prison industry. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest owner of private prisons, has seen its revenue climb by more than 500 percent in the last two decades. And CCA wants to get much, much bigger: Last year, the company made an offer to 48 governors to buy and operate their state-funded prisons. But what made CCA’s pitch to those governors so audacious and shocking was that it included a so-called occupancy requirement, a clause demanding the state keep those newly privatized prisons at least 90 percent full at all times, regardless of whether crime was rising or falling.
Occupancy requirements, as it turns out, are common practice within the private prison industry. A new report by In the Public Interest, an anti-privatization group, reviewed 62 contracts for private prisons operating around the country at the local and state level. In the Public Interest found that 41 of those contracts included occupancy requirements mandating that local or state government keep those facilities between 80 and 100 percent full. In other words, whether crime is rising or falling, the state must keep those beds full. (The report was funded by grants from the Open Society Institute and Public Welfare, according to a spokesman.)
All the big private prison companies—CCA, GEO Group, and the Management and Training Corporation—try to include occupancy requirements in their contracts, according to the report. States with the highest occupancy requirements include Arizona (three prison contracts with 100 percent occupancy guarantees), Oklahoma (three contracts with 98 percent occupancy guarantees), and Virginia (one contract with a 95 percent occupancy guarantee). At the same time, private prison companies have supported and helped write “three-strike” and “truth-in-sentencing” laws that drive up prison populations. Their livelihoods depend on towns, cities, and states sending more people to prison and keeping them there.
You might be wondering: What happens when crime drops and prison populations dwindle in states that agreed to keep their private prisons 80 percent or 90 percent full? Consider Colorado. The state’s crime rate has sunk by a third in the past decade, and since 2009, five state-run prisons have shuttered because they weren’t needed. Many more prison beds remain empty in other state facilities. Yet the state chose not to fill those beds because Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and CCA cut a deal to instead send 3,330 prisoners to CCA’s three Colorado prisons. Colorado taxpayers foot the bill for leaving those state-run prisons underused. In March, Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, estimated that the state wasted at least $2 million in taxpayer money using CCA’s prisons instead of its own.
That’s just one example of how private prison companies keep the dollars rolling in, whether crime is rising or waning. Not surprisingly, In the Public Interest’s report calls on local and state governments to refuse to include occupancy requirements and even ban such requirements with new legislation. “With governmental priorities pulling public funds in so many different directions, it makes no financial sense for taxpayers to fund empty prison beds,” the report says. Read the full report below:
On Monday December 3rd, Vaquerro Kinjuan Armstrong, was murdered at Holman Correctional Facility. It follows the stabbing death of James Lewis Kennedy at Elmore Correctional Facility on November 18, 2018. This violence reflects new findings which show that Alabama’s prisons are the most lethal in the nation. With 19 homicides in the last two years, and nine homicides in 2018, Alabama’s rate of over 34 homicides per 100,000 people incarcerated is more than 600 percent greater than the national average from 2001 to 2014.
Over the last decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the level of violence in Alabama state prisons. Serious understaffing, systemic classification failures, and official misconduct and corruption have left thousands of prisoners vulnerable to abuse, assaults and uncontrolled violence.
St. Clair Correctional Facility witnessed three homicides this year alone. In 2018, the homicide rate at St. Clair is set to exceed 300 homicides per 100,000 incarcerated people.
Thirty-five prisoners have been murdered in ADOC facilities in the past five years. Nine of the homicides occurred at St. Clair. Twenty-one of the homicides occurred at medium security facilities: seven at Elmore, four at Bullock, four at Bibb, and four at Staton, one at Ventress and one at Kilby. This week’s violence at Holman along with violent incidents at Elmore and St.Clair have created an unprecedented crisis in Alabama prisons with regard to the safety of prisoners and staff.
The mortality rate within Alabama prisons is at a record level. The number of deaths in Alabama prison, many of which are from non-natural causes including homicide, suicide, and drug overdoses greatly exceed what other states are seeing. The mortality rate in Alabama’s prisons has more than doubled over the past 10 years. Between 2008 and 2014, Alabama’s prison population decreased by 2 percent from 25,303 to 24,816 while mortality in Alabama prisons nearly doubled, going from 61 deaths in 2008 (241 per 100,000 people incarcerated) to 111 in 2014 (447 per 100,000 incarcerated). This trend continued in 2017 as the prison population fell 14 percent to 21,213 even as 120 people died in ADOC facilities, for a mortality rate of over 565 per 100,000 incarcerated people. This is more than double the national mortality rate of 275 deaths per 100,000 incarcerated people in 2014 (the most recent year in which data is available) and makes Alabama an outlier among its neighboring Southern states of Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi.
Data drawn from Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) statistical reports and the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Documented instances of abuse by correctional staff have aggravated the culture of violence within state prisons. EJI filed a complaint with the Department of Justice in 2013 after an investigation revealed a pattern of excessive physical violence at Elmore, where correctional staff at the highest levels have been found to have engaged in extreme and excessive violence against inmates. In multiple incidents, correctional officers at Elmore illegally stripped and beat inmates while they were handcuffed and shackled, and have punched, kicked, and struck them with batons and other objects.
“The conditions are getting worse, and state officials must act now,” said EJI Attorney Charlotte Morrison. “This epidemic of violence has once again created a crisis that requires a more committed and effective response from state leaders.”
EJI re-initiated its investigation at Elmore this year after receiving dozens of reports of stabbings, assaults, extortion and excessive use of force. Inadequate staffing has created serious security conditions where prisoners are at risk of unprecedented levels of violence. According to multiple sources, a single officer is typically assigned to a dorm of 198 prisoners and there are periods at the prison where a total of eight officers are responsible for managing the entire prison with a population of over 1200 men. As a result of the freedom of movement and absence of staff, stabbings, assaults, and extortion are regular features of daily life.
The data on violence in Alabama’s prisons makes clear that the security crisis in state correctional facilities is worsening and needs an urgent and immediate response from elected officials.
Ten months after a federal judge ordered Alabama Department of Corrections to increase its mental health staff numbers, the department may be held in contempt for failure to meet required staffing deadlines.
A contempt hearing regarding the matter is scheduled for Tuesday and is part of an extensive ongoing lawsuit regarding health care within Alabama prisons filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
A February order required ADOC to fulfill the required mental health staffing level (263.2 full-time equivalents or FTEs) by July 1.
ADOC currently has only 76 percent of the required level (201.1 FTEs).
“They (ADOC) have asked to amend, alter or vacate the order that says they have to reach this number of staff and have asked for specific ways of counting the number of staff they have,” said SPLC senior staff attorney Maria Morris. “We have opposed that. I think there are simple, straightforward ways of counting the number of staff hired, and they proposed this deadline so they should meet it. If they haven’t, they should be held in contempt.”
ADOC did not immediately reply to a request for comment or verification of its mental health staffing numbers.
ADOC Public Information Manager Bob Horton said last week ADOC has increased the department’s mental health staff by 24 percent since April.
Judge Thompson granted the motion and during a September contempt hearing, ADOC asked for clarification as to what the order required in terms of staffing.
The hearing was then postponed pending mediation between the two sides, and Thompson later clarified that ADOC was required to staff 263.2 FTEs, a number ADOC listed in its 2017 health care provider request-for-proposal as the minimum staffing requirement. That RFP eventually resulted in ADOC contracting with health care service vendor Wexford Health Sources.
At the time of Thompson’s initial ruling last year, 19 percent of Alabama’s inmates were diagnosed with mental illness.
The mental health care concerns being litigated were made real during the trial by the suicide of Jamie Wallace, a mentally ill inmate who committed suicide 10 days after testifying to the lack of care in Alabama prisons in December 2016.
According to court filings, Wallace went on suicide watch five days after his testimony. After his death, plaintiffs’ attorneys said “records produced thus far” showed no counseling was provided to Wallace during or after his time on suicide watch. Wallace was left unattended “most of the day of his death,” according to the filing.
“Without question, Wallace’s testimony and the tragic event that followed darkly draped all the subsequent testimony like a pall,” Thompson wrote in his decision.
In Fiscal Year 2018, which the Alabama Department of Corrections uses to report its data, seven people were killed and six committed suicide. Nearly 40 inmates attempted suicide.
SPLC attorneys have acknowledged that ADOC faces a difficult road to address due to the costs associated with hiring more staff, but Morris said ADOC has no choice but to provide adequate health care in prisons.
“One thing we don’t have a choice about is providing constitutional conditions, and if we want to have the size of prisons system that we currently have, we have to pay more for it,” Morris said. “We have to pay to have more guards and pay to have more mental health staff. If we can’t decide to pay more for it we need to downsize the system because we need the guards and we need the mental health staff.”
Reporter Melissa Brown contributed to this report.
For most moms, Mother’s Day is a time to be celebrated. But for nearly 80 percent of the women currently incarcerated in the United States, Mother’s Day won’t mean flowers, pedicures, breakfast in bed, or even a day spent with their children. Instead it will mean another day behind bars, separated from family, and struggling with feelings of isolation and guilt. This Mother’s Day, however, advocates are working to raise awareness about the plights of incarcerated moms across the country.
In the last couple of decades, women have become the fastest growing group of people to be thrown behind bars, according to a 2016 report from the Vera Institute of Justice. Nearly 80 percent of incarcerated women in America are mothers with dependent children — a staggering statistic by any measure. And, more often than not, those mothers are single parents, the report found. That means that their children may be especially affected by the devastating consequences that can come along with having a mother incarcerated.
“When moms are jailed, the consequences for children can be devastating, from being shunted into the foster care system, to remaining home alone to fend for themselves,” Human Rights Watch has reported.
The rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be somewhere between 2% to 10%. That may sound low, but when applied to a prison population of 2.3 million, the numbers become staggering. Can there really be 46,000 to 230,000 innocent people locked away? Those of us who are involved in exoneration work firmly believe so.
Millions of defendants are processed through our courts each year. It’s nearly impossible to determine how many of them are actually innocent once they’ve been convicted. There are few resources for examining the cases and backgrounds of those claiming to be wrongfully convicted.
Once an innocent person is convicted, it is next to impossible to get them out of prison.
Once an innocent person is convicted, it is next to impossible to get them out of prison. Over the past 25 years, the Innocence Project, where I serve on the board of directors, has secured through DNA testing the release of 349 innocent men and women, 20 of whom had been sent to death row. All told, there have been more than 2,000 exonerations, including 200 from death row, in the U.S. during that same period. But we’ve only scratched the surface.
Wrongful convictions happen for several reasons. In no particular order, these causes are:
Bad police work
Most cops are honest, hard-working professionals. But some have been known to hide, alter or fabricate evidence, lie on the witness stand, cut deals with snitches in return for bogus testimony, intimidate and threaten witnesses, coerce confessions or manipulate eyewitness identifications.
Most prosecutors are also honest, hard-working professionals. But some have been known to hide exculpatory evidence, encourage witnesses to commit perjury, lie to jurors, judges and defense lawyers, use the testimony of bogus experts or ignore relevant evidence beneficial to the accused.
Most jurors find it impossible to believe that a suspect would confess to a serious crime he didn’t commit. Yet the average citizen, if taken to a basement room and subjected to 10 consecutive hours of abusive interrogation tactics by experienced cops, might be surprised at what they would say. Of the 330 people who were exonerated by DNA evidence between 1989 to 2015, about 25% gave bogus confessions after lengthy interrogations. Almost every one recanted soon after.
Any national campaign to eliminate hepatitis C, an insidious virus that kills tens of thousands of Americans a year, would almost certainly involve prisons.
One in seven state inmates are believed to be infected, and the regimented environment of a prison has its advantages when it comes to screening and treatment.
The problem is, the drugs that effectively cure the disease are priced in the tens of thousands of dollars — far more than prisons can pay. In 2015, state corrections departments were treating less than 1 percent of those inmates known to be infected, a survey found.
Now courts have begun ordering states to provide the drugs regardless of cost, prompting an unusual showdown over how pharmaceutical companies set prices for the treatments.
In at least nine states, prisoners have filed lawsuits arguing that withholding drugs constitutes deliberate indifference to their dire medical needs, violating a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Last week, Massachusetts settled a lawsuit by agreeing to give all prisoners in advanced stages of the disease access to drugs.
In November, a federal district judge in Florida was the first to order a state prison to begin treating sick inmates. The state must now provide drugs to all inmates with severe liver damage by the end of this year and those with significant damage in 2019.
“This Court will not tolerate further foot dragging,” Judge Mark E. Walker wrote. “One can only wonder how long Defendant would have kicked the can down the road had Plaintiffs not filed this case.”
Dr. Anne Spaulding, an associate professor of public health at Emory University and the former medical director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, called the order an unfunded mandate. “It’s an impossible situation that the prison administrators are put in,” she said. “You can’t buy something you don’t have any money for.”
Prisons would be a logical linchpin in a campaign to eliminate hepatitis C: some studies suggest that one in three Americans with the disease pass through a correctional facility in any given year.
Delaying treatment has grave consequences. A leading cause of cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease, hepatitis C wreaks irreversible but invisible damage for years; when symptoms become apparent, it is too late to treat. The disease is blood-borne and usually acquired from unsafe transfusions or injection drug use, but perhaps only half of those infected know they have it. It can also be transmitted through tattooing using nonsterile equipment.
Early therapies for hepatitis C induced fatigue and depression in many patients and cleared the infection in less than half of them. But four years ago drugmakers began to introduce new medicines that do not have the same debilitating side effects and cure nearly all patients, revolutionizing treatment.
In return, the companies demanded high prices — Gilead Science debuted the first of the new class of hepatitis C drugs, Sovaldi, at $84,000 per course of therapy — and private insurers proved willing to pay.
Gov. Kay Ivey has signed a contract with a Pittsburgh-based company to provide medical care and mental health care in Alabama prisons after a short delay related to a lawsuit filed against the company by the state of Mississippi.
The Department of Corrections will pay Wexford Health Sources Inc., $360 million over 30 months, beginning April 1.
Williams said he released the contract last week because he did not want to hinder Alabama’s efforts to reach an agreement in a federal lawsuit over mental health care for prisoners. The contract review committee cannot block legislation but can hold it for up to 45 days.
“The governor had the ultimate say-so on this. My intention was to give the governor’s office further time to evaluate the situation,” Williams said.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled last year that Alabama’s mental health care for inmates was “horrendously inadequate.” The state has proposed increasing mental health staff in prisons as part of an effort to come up with a plan that would satisfy the court.
The contract with Wexford calls for increased mental health staffing. The Legislature is close to approving a total of about $80 million in additional funding for prisons over two years. Most of that is intended to pay for increased medical and mental health care costs.
The Department of Corrections chose Wexford over two other final bidders, Centurion and Corizon Health. Centurion includes MHM Services, which is DOC’s current mental health provider. Corizon Health is DOC’s current medical care provider.
The department has not released the bid amounts. Spokesman Bob Horton said they would be released after the Tuesday deadline for the other bidders to file a challenge. Horton said no protest has been filed as of today.
The state of Mississippi sued Wexford and other companies alleging they had a role in a scheme to pay consultants to bribe state officials. Mississippi’s former prison commissioner was sentenced to prison. Wexford has denied any wrongdoing.
Williams said the Department of Corrections contract includes a provision that Wexford could forfeit a $15 million bond if it turns out the company has not been truthful in its assertions about the Mississippi case.