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License to Abuse? Time for Bureau of Prisons to Sever Ties with CCA

Azadeh N. Shahshahani,
ACLU Foundation of Georgia
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August 19, 2011

In 2009, a 39-year-old detainee at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, died after a heart infection was allegedly allowed to go untreated. Stewart, the largest immigration detention center in the country, is owned by the Corrections Corporation of American (CCA), which also manages four other facilities in Georgia.

Unfortunately, this death was not an isolated incident. Indeed, CCA, the largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and immigration detention facilities in the U.S., has had a reputation for poor management, neglect, and turning a blind eye to abuses within its facilities for over 20 years. Since 2003, there have been at least 19 deaths in facilities operated by CCA, including three in Georgia.

Last week, the ACLU of Georgia submitted comments to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to ask that the agency not renew its contract with CCA for operation of one of its other detention centers, the McRae Correctional Facility.

McRae is located in Telfair County, Georgia. The prison is owned by CCA, which purchased it in 2000. McRae currently houses a population of low security, adult male, primarily noncitizen prisoners. The contract between CCA and the BOP is set to expire in November 2012.

CCA’s pattern of neglect and abuse is present at McRae. The lack of medical treatment and record of abusive disciplinary practices there, as demonstrated by letters received from the prisoners by the ACLU of Georgia, violate the Eighth Amendment and BOP standards.

One prisoner there was denied his epilepsy medication until a seizure forced him into the hospital. Even now, the McCrae guards only give him half the amount of medication prescribed by the hospital doctor.

Another prisoner being punished for his behavior spent 97 days in solitary confinement in a Special Housing Unit (SHU). He was denied a disciplinary hearing to explain his actions until days before his release into the general population.

Perhaps most disturbing is the pattern of McRae employees’ seemingly retaliatory conduct. Many prisoners placed in SHU have been subjected to discipline simply for exercising their right to pursue legal activities as provided for in federal regulations and BOP policy. They had previously filed grievance reports against the facility, provided legal assistance to other prisoners, or both. And they were all placed at the SHU for prolonged periods of time without the observance of procedural safeguards such as the periodic review process.

CCA has failed in its obligation to run the McRae Correctional Facility in a manner comporting with basic human dignity. Should the BOP choose to renew this contract, it will demonstrate the agency’s condoning of CCA’s failure to live up to its contractual and social obligations.

(A version of this was cross-posted to Huffington Post.)

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