The Prison-Industrial Complex Redux: Mississipi Youth Prison Horror Story

I’ve been tracking the corrupt Prison-Industrial Complex for awhile now.  Earlier posts alleged a catastrophic conflict of interest that permits private companies to run public prisons.  Well, it turns out that this conflict of interest is not the worst part.  The worst part is the supervisory failure by GEO prison administrators.  (h/t to Denise Oliver Velez at DailyKos)

What was happening at he Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, a 1,500 bed facility in Mississippi was the stuff of prison nightmares.  Following a 2010 lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center which alleged

Staff members at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi abused their authority by selling drugs to the youths in their care, brutally beating them and even engaging in sexual relationships with them. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against the for-profit prison operators on behalf of the teenagers and young men held at the facility.

The lawsuit described a facility known for a culture of violence and corruption – a culture perpetuated by Walnut Grove’s management. In addition to the sexual relationships and selling of drugs, handcuffed youths were kicked, punched and beaten. Youths secure in their cells were blinded with chemicals. Other youths suffered multiple stabbings and beatings — including one who will live with permanent brain damage as a result of an attack in which prison staffers were complicit. The facility is operated by GEO Group Inc., the nation’s second largest private prison corporation.

the DOJ investigation confirmed most of the allegations in the lawsuit.

The United States conducted an in-depth investigation, including an on-site inspection of WGYCF, accompanied by expert consultants in the areas of corrections, medical care and mental health care.  Evidence reveals systematic, egregious and dangerous practices at WGYCF exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls.  The Justice Department found reasonable cause to believe that a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct exists in several areas, including:

  • Deliberate indifference to staff sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior with youth;
  • Use of excessive use of force by WGYCF staff on youth;
  • Inadequate protection of youth from youth-on-youth violence;
  • Deliberate indifference to youth at risk of self-injurious and suicidal behaviors; and
  • Deliberate indifference to the medical needs of youth.

“Our findings show that due to the unconstitutional operation of WGYCF, youth were sexually preyed upon by staff and all too frequently suffered grievous harm, including death,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “The widespread and significant deficiencies at the facility violate the Eighth Amendment’s mandate that imprisoned youth be protected from harm and provided with adequate medical and mental health care.  The department looks forward to working with the state and its officials to address the constitutional violations by developing and implementing comprehensive remedial measures.”

After all the lawsuits are settled, I wonder if the people of the State of Mississippi will find their decision to oustsource a primary public function to a for-profit company a net fiscal positive?  We already know that GEO operates their facility in a grosly unconstitutional manner.

The full DOJ finding can be found here.

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