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CONTRACTS

26 August 2008 No Comment
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San Diego, CA – In 2006, the CCA-run San Diego Correctional Facility was so crowded that three immigrant detainees lived in cells designed for two. So where did the third person sleep?

“They would put what they called a boat, a plastic unit, on the floor in the only floor space available in the room – beneath the toilet,” explained Tom Jawetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Prison Project.

The detainees soon became restless from living in cells where they could barely move around. When new detainees were brought in, they nearly broke out into a riot and had to be subdued with teargas. By the time Jawetz filed suit to stop the overcrowding, CCA was housing overflow population in the facility’s day rooms.

Over the years, ACLU has sued CCA for overcrowding and substandard medical treatment. ACLU lawyers say that CCA squeezes profit from immigrant detention contracts by scrimping on the already minimal services it is required to provide. Unlike prison contracts, immigrant detention contracts only provide for housing, food and medical services, not rehabilitation and education services.

CCA makes the most money from facilities that are full or beyond capacity. In San Diego, the ACLU lawsuit prompted Immigration and Customs Enforcement to move some of the detainees to other detention centers. It also prompted CCA to propose constructing a new facility nearby that would hold four times more detainees.

Thus, rather than being penalized for overcrowding, the company may even end up winning a new contract. “We have an existing relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal customers and we want to be able to maintain that relationship,” CCA spokesman, Steve Owen, told the San Diego Union Tribune.

CCA also got away with providing only substandard medical care. At the San Diego facility, conditions were so bad that the Department of Immigration Health Services was forced to take over.

“The DHS concluded CCA’s provision of medical care was deficient and that CCA was attempting to increase its profits by decreasing the medical services to detainees,” said Jawetz.

But even with DHS involved, detainees still need to request medical services through CCA staff. Detainees have charged that staff members often denied medical care both in order to reduce costs and to coerce detainees into voluntary deportation.

“For instance, a detainee filed a request for serious dental problems and response he received indicated this is the kind of care you can get if you go to your home country,” said Jawetz.

Similar problems were cited in a March 2007 Department of Justice audit of CCA’s Webb County Detention Center, a facility near Laredo, Texas that holds 600 US Marshal Service detainees for an average stay of 150 days. Most of the detainees were undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation hearings.

Among other things, the audit criticized CCA’s failure to provide or arrange for health care even in potentially life-threatening cases. The audit showed CCA had only nine health care staff in the facility even though its contract said it could employ 14. Despite this, the audit determined the Webb County detention center was in “acceptable” compliance with federal standards.

CCA conducts its own internal audits on the state of its facilities. However, in an interview for this report in February 2008, a former CCA senior quality assurance manager alleged he was asked to make violent incidents like riots or attacks on detainees as guards appear to be less serious that they were. These “cooked” audits, which could have led to the contracts’ non-renewal, were provided to CCA’s customers, including ICE and the USMS. The original reports remained in house, Ronald T. Jones said.

When outside audits are completed at congressional request – such as a 2005 Alien Detention Standards audit by US General Accounting Office that included three CCA detention facilities in a total of 23 – problems with telephone access were pervasive.

Telephone access is crucial for detainees to access lodge complaints with the Office of Inspector General about their conditions and to reach legal counsel. But at 12 of the 23 facilites visited, the number to the OIG was blocked. When they called the complaint line, they would get a voice prompt that “this is an invalid number,” or “a call to this number has been blocked by the telephone service provider.”

At CCA’s Elizabeth Detention Facility in New Jersey, the list of consulate numbers was six years old. When auditors called 30 of the consulate numbers on the posted listings, they found 9 were incorrect.

Back at the company’s San Diego Correctional Facility, ICE compliance inspection reports cited the facility officials for failing to monitor the pro-bono phone system. And when they tested the pro bono phone system at CCA’s T. Don Hutto Residential Center, they were unable to make most connections successfully.

Back at the company’s San Diego Correctional Facility, ICE compliance inspection reports cited the facility officials for failing to monitor the pro-bono phone system. And when they tested the pro bono phone system at CCA’s T. Don Hutto Residential Center, they were unable to make most connections successfully.

Recently introduced legislation would address such issues by making private prison operations more transparent to the public. The Private Prison Information Act of 2007 (H.R. 1889) and (S. 2020) would require private prisons and other correctional facilities holding Federal prisoners under a contract with the Federal Government to make the same information available to the public that Federal prisons and correctional facilities are required to do by law.

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