Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Update on last week's inmate deaths at Val Verde Jail


While we wait for the results
of the CDC and State Health Services Department investigation into the deaths of two inmates who died last month at the GEO Group-run Val Verde Jail, here is something interesting to ponder: The GEO Group Rap Sheet at the Private Corrections Institute website.

Of four detainees who fell sick in late July with a "mystery illness" at the jail in Del Rio, two died. Three of the four were foreign nationals. They were being held under an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract when they reportedly experienced the onset of symptoms that included a change in personality, incontinence and dehydration.

Tuberculoses and assault have been ruled out. Despite rumors that staff members at the facility have become ill, a spokesman for GEO denies the report.

The CDC/Health Services report was expected to be announced early this week, possibly today, but thus far today there has been no announcement.

Exacerbating these concerns, The GEO Group also had a food contamination crisis at its Tacoma, Washington immigration facility on August 15:

By Lornet Turnbull
Seattle Times staff reporter

About 300 immigrants being held at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma spent the early part of this week recovering from suspected food poisoning.

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department officials said they were contacted Saturday night after about 180 detainees were treated for diarrhea, nausea and vomiting at the detention-center clinic.

They had been served three meals that day that included hamburger-potato casserole for lunch and beef sausage and coleslaw for dinner.

Most began showing symptoms late Saturday, Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said, adding that detention-center staff, who sometimes eat there, also got ill.

Joby Winans, public health-information officer, said Tacoma-Pierce County health officials were at the detention center Sunday, Monday and again Tuesday to try to determine what made so many people sick.

"It's a scientific mystery at this point," Winans said. "The good news is that no one was seriously ill. They were uncomfortable, yes, but not seriously ill." -- Lornet Turnbull, Seattle Times

The chief concern over private management of prisons is whether and how often profit motive preempts the responsible, focused care of human beings who are incarcerated. Too often, incarcerated people become "economic units" occupying "bedspace" at a cost of "dollars per bed-days occupied." This is a dangerous materialist perspective when it preempts the consciousness that it is human beings who are under the care and control of the state.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed this concern succinctly in their 2000 ethical statement on "Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice":

“We bishops question whether private, for-profit corporations can effectively run prisons. The profit motive may lead to reduced efforts to change behaviors, treat substance abuse, and offer skills necessary for reintegration into the community.”
Indeed, in Pecos over the last six-months, the RCDC complex suddenly experienced the gutting of substance abuse education programming. Curriculum prescribed by B.O.P. policy on order for a number of classes was canceled, reportedly under the provisions of a local BOP contract that amount to a set-aside. Curricula funding for Life-skills, GED and English as a Second Language (ELS) classes has been curbed as well.

According to inside sources, counselor continuing education training was canceled, forcing counselors to pay their own way if they expected to remain licensed, a situation that violates industry-wide standards of practice.

The required state license for designation as a Counselor Training Institution (CTI) was allowed to expire by GEO's national headquarters in Boca Raton -- no longer required now that GEO is under BOP contract guidelines -- followed by the local administration's denial for re-licensure funds requested by its own department of substance abuse services. A counselor intern who had completed the entire 2-year curriculum of training has reportedly been denied application for licensure as a chemical dependency counselor by State Health Services as a result. His appeals have been denied by GEO despite his proven loyalty and value to the company. They simply do not care that his career goal of obtaining an LCDC has been thwarted at its very threshold.

Employee requests to restore these valuable resources have been denied by regional company heads with a demonstrably callous apathy despite dual appeals for employer loyalty and ethical responsibility to the populations these counselors and instructors serve.

The appeals for restoration of these vital substance abuse and education resources are currently before county officials, according to anonymous sources within the facility. As of the time of this posting, Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez has been made aware of the situation but has not yet rendered an authoritative recommendation to the County Commissioners' Court, who has the authority to overrule the GEO Group and, for starters, restore the affected employee's due career status before renegotiating the responsible revitalization of Department of Education services.

Loyalty is a one-way street with The GEO Group. Employee loyalty is expected; employer loyalty -- when profit is the bottom line -- is a throw-away. The American Bishops were obviously justified in their concerns for the rehabilitation programs affected by current trends in corporatist budgeting restraint. Programs that have been proven over and again to reduce recidivism are not a concern for private contractors with an eye for profits expanded exponentially by recidivism. As the state of California recently discovered to the chagrin of all concerned, when the dollar is the bottom line and rehabilitation programs are cut, the recidivism rate skyrockets and while the costs are enormous to the state, the private prison industry luxuriates in the recent performance of its stocks despite a volatile market. In fact, on August 8th, The GEO Group announced a 94% second quarter increase in profits just over the first quarter of 2007. All the while, California now has the highest recidivism rates in the county at 70%. Federal district courts are forcing compliance with jail standards which ultimately will mean the expenditure of hundreds of millions more than were saved in the short-term. They are currently stacking inmates three-bunks high and setting up tent cities while private prison corporations circle for the kill.

When will American corporatists such as The GEO Group be held accountable to the people they serve and to the people they employ while they chase the Almighty Dollar? The corporatists administrators who are responsible for this unrestrained exploitation can no longer rationalize their "amorality" -- the ideological claim of classic laissez- faire capitalists since the days of Adam Smith -- by deferring responsibility to "the corporation," "the market" or simply explaining it away as, "It's my job." No, it's time to TAKE BACK AMERICA!

--progress

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