By Shelia Bedi/Southern Poverty Law Center
Before Michigan legislators send inmates to a GEO Group operated prison, I urge them to consider Mississippi’s experience with the nation’s second largest private prison operator.
Mississippi’s Walnut Grove Youth Facility was known for its violent and corrupt culture – a culture perpetuated by facility management and staff. As a result, the GEO Group operated facility was sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU and attorney Robert McDuff. Among the challenges made in the lawsuit: The youth at Walnut Grove suffered unbelievable cruelties. Staffers peddled drugs to them. Guards engaged in sexual relationships with teenagers, and subjected them to extreme periods of isolation. One youth suffered permanent brain damage during an attack in which staff was complicit.
The lawsuit was settled last week with a consent decree prohibiting children under the supervision of the Department of Corrections from being housed at Walnut Grove. Still, other states continue to deal with the havoc of for-profit prisons: Oklahoma, Ohio, Hawaii and Kentucky have reported similar incidents of staff misconduct.
Privately run prisons have a strong financial incentive to imprison as many people as possible for as cheaply as possible. The GEO Group netted $1.2 billion in profits in 2011—with $14 million of that from Mississippi taxpayers for the operation of Walnut Grove.
The United States imprisons more people per capita than in any other nation. Profit incentives will only intensify the mass incarceration problem, and expose more people to the gross inhumanities that occurred at the GEO operated Walnut Grove, and that continue to occur at private prisons across the country.