Coalition Files FOIA Request on Private Prison Company Accused of Sexual Abuse in Mississippi
GEO, lobbying to re-open shuttered Michigan facility,also hit with $1.4 million in fines and penalties for understaffing in New Mexico
Lansing: We Are The People Michigan, a citizen coalition, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Michigan Department of Corrections today, seeking any and all communications related to the GEO Group Inc., the controversial private prison company currently lobbying to re-open a shuttered facility in Baldwin, Michigan.
“The U.S. Department of Justice investigated a GEO youth prison in Mississippi, and found documented evidence of guards having sex with inmates, inmates raping other inmates, guards routinely beating inmates and using pepper spray without justification,” said Todd Cook, director of We Are the People, Michigan.
“The state of Mississippi fired GEO, and the state of New Mexico has just imposed $1.4 million in fines and penalties for understaffing.
“Is this what we’re telling companies with a record of negligence and abuse – if you’re kicked out of Mississippi and fined in New Mexico, you can come do business in Michigan? We need to get to the bottom of this, and that’s why we’re filing a FOIA request today.”
In November 2011, Rep. John Bumstead (R-Newaygo) received an out-of-state campaign contribution from Cloid Shuler, vice president of Business Development for GEO Group. Days later, he introduced HB 5174, which could allow the Florida-based private prison corporation to re-open a shuttered facility it owns in Bumstead’s district in Baldwin, Michigan.
Michigan ended its contract with GEO in 2006, after a Michigan Auditor General’s report found GEO’s private Baldwin facility was more expensive than state-run prisons, costing taxpayers as much as $7.5 million a year.
HB 5174 is still before the legislature. According to a recent report from Gongwer News Service, it is yet to be determined whether the bill will allow any private prison company to bid on a new contract with the state, or be exclusive to the GEO Group facility in Bumstead’s district. An omnibus state budget bill, passed by the House, provides for closure of the Ionia Reformatory and potential transfer of inmates to a private facility.
“It makes no sense to close a public facility and transfer prisoners to a more expensive private prison,” said Cook. “Especially a company like the GEO Group.”
A federal judge described the GEO Group’s Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi as a “cesspool.” A March, 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Justice documents horrific conditions in the facility, including:
Prison staff having sex with incarcerated youth, and inmates being raped by other inmates.
- “The sexual misconduct we found,” DOJ investigators wrote, was among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation.”
- Guards beat youth and used excessive pepper spray as a first response.
- “[D]eliberate indifference” to prisoners possessing homemade knives, which were used in gang fights and inmate rapes.
- Some guards had gang affiliations.
- No functioning alarm system in large areas of the prison.
Also in March, inmates at Walnut Grove settled a class action lawsuit against GEO Group and the state of Mississippi, providing that children and teens would no longer be housed in the GEO-run facility. In April, according a report on National Public Radio, the state of Mississippi announced it would seek new management for three GEO-run prisons in the state “in hopes of gaining better performance and prices.”
GEO has also been hit with $1.4 million in fines and penalties for failure to provide enough correction officers to maintain secure operations in a facility it runs in Hobbs, New Mexico.
“If we give another prison contract to a private company with a record as bad as GEO, it looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen,” said Cook. “Why would we expose Michigan taxpayers to that kind of potential liability?”
We Are the People is a statewide coalition of students, seniors and workers fighting to protect Michigan’s middle class families.