Writings and observations

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Last week’s column on a possible bidding contest among private corporations for managing one of Idaho’s prisons drew two complaints. Let’s deal with them here.

One came from Gallatin Public Affairs at Boise, which said its client Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a Utah-based private prison operator mentioned briefly in the column, had a beef. I wrote that MTC “is considered one of the comers in the business” (not disputed), and: “On May 30, news reports surfaced about a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at its East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, alleging ‘barbaric’ conditions and denial of health and other basic care.”

The representative said that “MTC is not connected with this lawsuit and your readers are led to believe it is. … We would like MTC to be taken out of the column that mentions the lawsuit against Geo.”

I didn’t say MTC was a party to the lawsuit, even that it was “connected.” Still, surely MTC would prefer greater clarity to erasure or cover-up. An editor of mine often said that when a writer opens a door, he should walk through it; especially, as here, given MTC’s interest in Idaho (it operates the Idaho Correctional Alternative Placement Program). So, is MTC “connected” to the lawsuit?

The East Mississippi Correction Facility is a 1,500-bed prison mainly for mentally ill men, opened in 1999. In that state the Department of Corrections is responsible for all prisons, but it contracted operation of this one to the private GEO Group. Problems emerged, a state official said “MDOC was not satisfied,” and prisoners complained. MTC, self-described as “the third largest private operator of adult correctional facilities in the world,” was hired to replace it, and has run EMCF since July 2012.

On May 30 this year, a lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union for a group of prisoners at EMCF. The complaint, which is gritty reading, is online: www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/case/complaint.pdf. The defendants are not MTC, or for that matter GEO, but rather state corrections officials, since they are “vested with the exclusive responsibility for management and control of the correctional system …”

Much of the complaint deals with the GEO years, but it includes events since July 2012. “In September 2012, prisoners on Unit 5C had no showers for three weeks” (page 9); “In May 2013, there was no electrical power on the top tier of Plaintiff Covington’s zone for several days” (page 9); in late 2012, a prisoner who hanged himself was cut down, locked in an isolation cell and not seen by a psychiatrist (page 12). A legally blind prisoner, robbed in July 2012, was robbed again in January and April this year (page 36). It cites guard abuses of prisoners in late 2012 and this year (pages 46-48). And more.

MTC and GEO are lightly mentioned by name (some unfavorable references do turn up), but the filing generally is written in the present, not the past, tense. In the opening paragraph: “Today, EMCF is an extremely dangerous facility operating in a perpetual state of crisis, where prisoners live in barbaric and horrific conditions and their basic human rights are violated daily.” Present tense. The area director of the SPLC said early in June, “We were there two weeks ago … This is happening right now.”

Allegations are not proof, of course, and opinions on conditions and improvements vary. State prison officials have said East Mississippi is “a much better place” since MTC took over, and MTC’s spokesman notes decreased numbers of assaults and other incidents, and hiring of new social and education professionals: “MTC has made significant improvements since taking over the facility less than a year ago.”

Is MTC “not connected with this lawsuit”? You decide.

The second column complaint was from a reader irritated no mention was made of the Kingman, Arizona prison operated by MTC, where in the summer of 2010 three prisoners, two of them convicted murderers, escaped. The prison agency’s detailed report is available at afsc.org/sites/afsc.civicactions.net/files/documents/kingman-assessment.pdf.

Consider it mentioned.

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