Saturday, November 21, 2009

Private Corrections: Cutting Corners to Increase Profits

The Indianapolis Star today raises a fuss about the Department of Corrections' pilot program in which they have decided to not serve lunch for three days a week. Meal service in Indiana's prisons is provided by a private contractor, Aramark under a 10 year, $258 million deal signed in 2005. At the time, Aramark bragged in a press release about saving Indiana $11.5 million dollars:

May 2005: Through a new program to manage food service operations at 30 correctional facilities statewide with ARAMARK Correctional Services (ACS), the Indiana Department of Correction will save an estimated $11.5 million a year. Department of Correction and the Department of Administration partnered to aggressively review the Request For Proposal (RFP) to promote cost-effectiveness, efficiency and to ensure opportunities for Indiana-based, minority and women-owned businesses.

“Operational excellence, cost-effective solutions and innovative opportunities for offenders are three elements I look for in defining the success of this business,” said J. David Donahue, Commissioner of the Department.
The Star's angle on the story is misplaced. The DOC for cutting lunch out three days a week is not in itself a huge deal. If the Star wants a much bigger story it might take a closer look at the whole idea of correctional privatization, both in Indiana prisons and jails. The latter is even more important because most inmates in Indiana jails have yet to be convicted and are often sitting in jail awaiting trial because they simply can't afford bail.

During the last two years, I have had a chance to learn about how private correctional companies are constantly cutting corners, endangering not only the lives of inmates, but also the general public. In Marion County, Correctional Corporation of America, out of Tennessee, runs Jail #2. Another private company, Correctional Medical Services provides medical at most of the other Marion County jails.

Some examples of problems that we have observed include:

  • At Marion County Jail #2, the private jail's physician admitted cutting out a round of medication because the company was "short-staffed." For inmates who were supposed to get medication three times a day, most would only receive their medication two times a day. The practice has apparently now been stopped.
  • Also at Jail #2, a CCA correctional officer reported numerous TV monitors at the jail that did not work leaving the area exposed.
  • Radios at Jail #2 were reported as not working.
  • Untrained, unarmed nurses have been ordered by CCA supervisors to escort dangerous inmates throughout Jail #2, again to save money on hiring and training more correctional officers.
  • Numerous HIPAA violations have been reported at Jail #2, including medical intakes being done in the presence of other inmates and Spanish-speaking inmates being called in to translate for other inmates going through medical.
  • Delays in inmates receiving medication in both Jail #1 and Jail #2 are common. Inmates who have prescriptions for expensive medication (like medication for HIV) often don't receive their medication in jail because it is too expensive. Private correctional nurses at Jail #2 report that they have been ordered to provide inmates with expired prescription medication or medication of other inmates who have left the facility.
  • Neither CMS or CCA are made to comply with Indiana jail regulations which require that jails continue to provide inmates with their prescribed medication when they are incarcerated. Inmates are often switched to cheaper medication than what they've been prescribed.
  • Razor blades at Jail #2 have been left out in open wastebaskets where they are fished out and made into weapons by inmates.
  • Inmates at Jail #2 burn holes in glass windows then lower string to friends on the ground. The friends attach contraband that is then pulled into the jail.
  • Contrary to the claims of Sheriff Anderson, I have confirmed that numerous violent inmates are being sent by the Sheriff's Department to lower security Jail #2, which jail houses inmates in a dormitory type fashion. This includes inmates who have already been convicted of violent felonies and others who are charged with serious felonies like rape. Inmate attacks at Jail #2 are not uncommon.

As with any private contractor, it is essential that we have public officials who will force private contractors to comply with their contracts and the law. Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson has demonstrated time and time again that he has no intention of making private contractors comply with their contracts or the law. Considering the safety problems at Jail #2, a hostage situation there is inevitable. The only question is when.

What the Star is missing in its report is that this appears to be another failed privatization effort involving a long-term (10 years) given to a vendor. Aramark entered into a contract to provide meal services to inmates. If the company is not living up to its contract, it should be cancelled. Taxpayers and inmates should not have to bear the brunt of the failure of a private vendor to deliver services as promised.

1 comment:

Terry said...

Is a pity, we have lost that which makes us human.....humanity.