More Free Market Justice

As I suggested earlier, private prisons are bad public policy. This stuff about the GEO group, which is NOT the private prison outfit that was bribing the judges I wrote about earlier (See Raygun Style Free Market Justice), is symptomatic of the kind of bad public policy that the Raygunners have been selling.

I got curious enough from reading Brady’s post about Kenneth Keith Kallenbach to Google up the GEO people, and was surprised at the lack of press coverage I found. Most of what we know about them comes from Bloggers. (I am not surprised. Shows about prisons and how tough they are and how cool it is to be a hard ass are the staple of cable television. Why would any one want to raise issues about how they are managed?)

Geo Group is happy to brag on itself and is traded on the stock exchange. It operates 49 prisons in the USA, and five “care” facilities, all of them in Florida. It had one facility in Australia (although one blog seems to say that they got fired by the Aussies), one in South Africa and one in the UK. A former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House (a GOPer, of course) is on their Board of Directors.

There is a guy in Texas who covers prison issues generally, and wrote a piece on Geo Group that is pretty interesting:

Wikipedia has a note. Here is what they say:

Since 2005, at least eight people have died at the Geo Group-operated George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, the state’s only privately run jail. Several of those deaths resulted in lawsuits by family members who say the facility did not provide adequate medical care or proper supervision for inmates.

Kenneth Keith Kallenback Incident
On April 25th, 2008, Kenneth Keith Kallenbach died. He suffered from cystic fibrosis, an inherited chronic disease and was denied his medication. He had been housed at the jail since mid-March and was dead a month later.

Kallenbach’s mother, Fay, said her son called her a week before his death, asking her to intervene and help him receive better treatment. He said he didn’t think he would “make it” out of the jail alive, she said.

The prison had no comment on Kallenbach’s death. At the same facility last year, a woman who suffered from a thyroid condition died at the jail where she had been held for six weeks. Family members said she did not receive her medication during her incarceration.

“There is an awful lot of deliberate indifference to the medical needs” in the prison, said Harold I. Goodman, a lawyer currently suing the company that operates the jail on behalf of the woman’s family.

GEO did not comment on this case.

Other Incidents
In 2005, five inmates died within a five-month span, drawing scrutiny from Delaware County District Attorney Michael Green. Two men apparently committed suicide, one died after a fist fight, another died of a heroin overdose, and another man was found dead in his bed.

No criminal charges were filed, but GEO Group has settled lawsuits with several families who sued on behalf of their relatives. In 2006, GEO paid $100,000 to the family of Rosalyn Atkinson, 25, who died in 2002 because of a fatal overdose of a high-blood pressure drug administered by jail medical staff. Atkinson had been at the jail for only 18 days.

GEO also agreed in 2005 to pay $125,000 to the family of John Focht, 43, who used his boot strings to hang himself in 2002.

GEO, based in Florida, also has been under fire in Texas, where it operates more than a dozen correctional facilities.

Last fall, the Texas Youth Commission abruptly canceled its $8 million contract with GEO after investigators found unsanitary living conditions at its juvenile facility. Several of the teens said they were sexually assaulted by a guard who was a convicted sex offender, according to lawsuits.

GEO lost its contract at an adult facility in west Texas last year after an inspector reportedly characterized the prison as “the worst correctional facility I have ever visited.” The inspection was sparked by an inmate’s suicide.

Texas legislators have called for a review of all of GEO’s contracts with state and local agencies.”

Finally, there is a web site focused on the private prison issue. Here it is:

5 thoughts on “More Free Market Justice”

  1. A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)


    The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.
    We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

    Prior to the past month, and the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. Although, we remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

    Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

    John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

    There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
    It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

    Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

    The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
    These new slave plantations are not the answer!

    For more information please visit: or email:
    To sign the petition please visit:


    William Thomas
    National Community Outreach Facilitator
    The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons
    P.O. Box 156423
    San Francisco, California 94115

  2. Private prisons would not exist if there was enough money for jurisdictions to afford the bed space they need. Private prison operators exist because of a need. It is not the private operators’ fault the need exists.

    Several things could be done to eliminate private prisons: a re-evaluation of sentencing guidelines; repeal of the “three strikes” law; faster movement of detainees through the legal system; removing illegal immigrants from the country instead of having them serve US-imposed sentences; faster appeals processes; reduction or elimination of prison time for lesser drug crimes. There are thousands of people serving decades-to-life sentences for mere possession. That is too expensive for government to manage over the long term.

    You can’t blame private prisons for America’s insatiable desire for incarceration of wrongdoers. These attacks on private prisons are stupid. What are alternative solutions? Detractors never offer one. Complain all you want, but right now private prisons are a necessary evil. Provide solutions!

    Remember when you read negative reports about events at private prisons that the same things happen in public prisons, but there is less transparency there. Oh, and by the way – people die, in prison or out, for many reasons. Being in a private prison does not make you more likely to die, and because of the high level of scrutiny and demand for accountability by the agency, incarceration probably extends the lives of many who otherwise would not receive care.

    Mr. Thomas says it all in the last paragraph above. “We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform.” Then why are you talking? We don’t need talk. “No additional agendas? Pure harassment seems like an agenda to me. If you want to get rid of private operators, come up with some ideas.

    PS I do not work in a prison, private or otherwise.

  3. Private prisons make their money by selling space to public agencies (like state and local corrections departments). The business is profitable enough in one Pennsylvania operation for them to justify paying out more than $2.6 million in bribes to keep the beds filled. So it is clear that the local governments do have enough money in their budgets to operate prison systems. They chose to pay someone else to build them because they are cowards who do not want to put the real cost of government… particularly the real cost of draconian criminal laws… on the books. Raygun and his minions encouraged this behavior, while they also encouraged the passage of crazier and crazier criminal laws. Perhaps if states had to account for the prisons, they would think twice about criminalizing drug use.

    Accountability is everything. Local governments want prisons, local governments should put prisons in their budget. I think Mr. Martin does have a solution to the problem. Require that prisons be operated by responsible public agencies.

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