Private prison outfit bails E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

According to recent news articles, after a federal court ordered sweeping changes at a troubled juvenile prison in rural Mississippi, the private company managing the prison, GEO Group, is pulling out of the state entirely. A report by the Justice Department describes "systemic, egregious and dangerous practices" at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility.

The official report pulls no punches.

According to Federal Judge Carlton Reeves, the youth prison "has allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk."

Walnut Grove is a 1,450-bed prison that houses inmates ages 13 to 22 who are minors convicted as adults. GEO Group of Boca Raton, Florida is the nation's second-largest for-profit prison corporation and posted a profit of $284 million last year.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections pays GEO to run the prison.

The Justice Department, which spent two years looking into conditions at Walnut Grove.

"To have a prison that's chaotic, poorly run, dangerous, didn't provide services, highly sexualized and highly violent really limits the ability of the state to turn those folks around, and to ensure public safety upon their release from prison," the DOJ determined.

Here are some of the conditions described in the report.

* Prison staff had sex with incarcerated youth, which investigators called "among the worst that we've seen in any facility anywhere in the nation."

 * Poorly trained guards brutally beat youth and used excessive pepper spray as a first response.

* The prison showed "deliberate indifference" to prisoners possessing homemade knives, which were used in gang fights and inmate rapes.

Some guards had gang affiliations according to former inmate Justin Bowling.

"A lot of times, the guards are in the same gang," Bowling said. "If an inmate wanted something done, they got it. If they wanted a cell popped open to handle some business about some fighting or something like that, it just pretty much happened."

In a recent interview, Mississippi State Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps had nothing but praise for GEO.

"Since GEO took over August 2010, have there been incidents? The answer is yes," he said. "Will there be more? The answer is yes. But they're doing better, and I'm pleased with it."

But shortly thereafter the news broke that GEO was pulling out of all three prisons in Mississippi that it manages.
GEO did not give any indications as to why it was closing shop in Mississippi.

Just recently, CEO George Zoley said the company was discontinuing its contract at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility that houses inmates with mental illness because “the facility had been financially underperforming."

Epps, the state corrections commissioner said they'll be looking for a new operator for the three GEO-run prisons despite the problems with GEO Group.

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