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Atlanta, Georgia

August 27, 2002
An argument between two employees led to the stabbing death of a man at AmericaMart on Thursday, police said.  the body was discovered about 6 p.m. in a restroom at the exhibition facility on 250 Spring St.  The 53-year old man, whose name was not released, had been stabbed multiple times.  Atlanta police Sgt. John Quigley said the death resulted from a dispute between employees.  James L. Shaw, 37, of Atlanta was charged with murder in the incident.  (The Atlanta-Journal Constitution)

Atlanta Public Schools

July 9, 2002
Aramark-Gourmet Services, the private company that has handled Atlanta Public Schools' food service program since 1999, appears certain to hold onto the job for another year.   That's despite a string of controversies, from complaints of poor food quality to underuse of government surplus food that culminated last fall when more than $200,000 of surplus turkey, cheese, powdered milk and other items was tossed out by the company.  (The Atlanta Journal)

Augusta Youth Development Campus
Augusta, Georgia
Unique Solutions

March 30, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A former Juvenile justice manager has filed a civil rights lawsuit against two top officials, alleging they forced him to resign after he refused to destroy a memo citing problems at a youth prison. Frank Berry filed suit Friday against Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Albert Murray and Deputy Commissioner Thomas L. Coleman. Berry ran mental health services for the department for nearly three years. Seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages, Berry claims that Coleman ordered him in February 2004 to destroy a memo he had written, and that he refused. The memo cited mental health care shortfalls at the Augusta Youth Development Campus, which housed "the most vulnerable youth in our system," including some who were prone to suicide. The department's previous commissioner, Orlando Martinez, had put the troubled Augusta youth prison into the hands of a private company. Unique Solutions. But then Youth Services International of Sarasota, Fla., won the contract and was due to take over in February 2004. To ensure a smooth transition, Berry led an all-day meeting at the youth prison with officials and staff from the contractors and the Department of Juvenile Justice and uncovered problems. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. It states that in March 2004, Murray asked Berry if he had considered the consequences of his memo before drafting it and told Berry, "I don't like to be embarrassed." Murray also told Berry that if Murray were asked to destroy a document, he'd have two choices: destroy it or resign. A week later, Berry received a letter from Coleman. It informed him that his last day of employment would be that April 15. Murray was copied on the letter. Berry resigned. The February 2004 memo, which Berry wrote with another staff member, concluded that a private company poised to take over the youth prison wasn't prepared to manage it. It warned that the company's plans for providing medical and psychological care were inadequate. Just before the scheduled takeover, Murray abruptly closed the Augusta facility after Unique Solutions protested the bidding process. The youth prison reopened last November under state control.

July 7, 2004
A former juvenile justice manager says top officials forced him to resign for refusing to destroy a memo that cited shortfalls in mental health care at a youth prison.  Frank Berry, who ran mental health services for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice for nearly three years, says Deputy Commissioner Thomas Coleman told him in February to get rid of a memo that outlined Berry's concerns about the Augusta Youth Development Campus.  The memo concluded that a private company, which was about to take over the prison that houses the state's most disturbed youngsters, was unprepared to manage a facility that "serves the most vulnerable youth in our system."  The memo -- co-written by Berry and Dr. Shawn Allen, the agency's administrative psychiatrist -- warned that the company's plans for providing medical and psychological care were inadequate. "We were told to destroy the document by one of the deputy commissioners and ultimately the commissioner," Berry said. "I refused to destroy it.  It would have been unethical at best and illegal at worst."  One year ago, then-Commissioner Orlando Martinez put the troubled Augusta youth prison into private hands after a GBI probe into allegations of sex and drug sales between staff and inmates. Since August 2003, Unique Solutions ran the youth prison. But in February, Youth Services International of Sarasota, Fla., won the contract and was due to take over Feb. 15.  To ensure a smooth transition, Berry chaired an all-day meeting at the facility with officials and staff from the contractors and the Department of Juvenile Justice.  According to Berry, he and Allen left that meeting believing the contractor was not ready to take over the facility. The company's staff had not been adequately trained, it had retained only a part-time psychologist and it still lacked 24-hour nursing care for emergencies -- all in violation of the contract, Berry and Allen wrote in their memo.  "These were the sickest kids in the state, the kids who had significant mental health problems," Berry said. "We felt a strong obligation to the kids to report our concerns about their care."  Just before the scheduled takeover in February, Murray abruptly closed the Augusta youth prison after Unique Solutions protested the bidding process and threatened to seek a temporary restraining order to stop Youth Services International from taking over.  The governor recently announced the Augusta facility would reopen in the fall under state control.  (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

February 17, 2004
The threat of legal action prompted state officials to temporarily shut down the Augusta Youth Development Campus, a long-term detention center for mentally troubled boys.  The threat of litigation led to the state's decision, Albert Murray, commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice, said in a statement. "DJJ remains committed to the long-term viability of the Augusta YDC," Murray said. "Under consideration will be the return of the campus to state operations and bringing back staff as state employees.  "Florida-based Youth Services International was to take over operation of the campus this past weekend. But Unique Solutions Inc., the contractor running the campus, threatened legal action Friday to stop Youth Services from taking over, Vickers said.  Acting on advice from the state attorney general's office, the Department of Juvenile Justice decided to shut down the campus. "In effect, we ended up with no vendor at all," Vickers said. "The issue is, is the state going to operate it, or are we going to re-bid?"  (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

July 3, 2003
The state Department of Juvenile Justice has handed control of the Augusta Youth Development Campus to a private company on an emergency basis.  The transfer, done without bids for the $5.5 million contract, had been scheduled for Aug. 1 but was pushed up a month because of suspected criminal activity by the staff at the youth center, officials said.  About 120 employees have been suspended with pay until Aug. 1 while the Georgia Bureau of Investigation completes an inquiry. Its report is expected to be released later this month.  The GBI is looking into possible illegal behavior at the long-term prison for juvenile offenders -- children and teens who have been found guilty of crimes as minor as unruly behavior or as serious as murder.  The new contractor, Unique Solutions, will have a staff of 200. Some of the workers might be former facility employees, but they must have a background in mental health or education, according to the department.  "There are some serious problems" at the youth center, said state Sen. Don Cheeks (R-Augusta), who has been in several meetings between employees and agency officials. "But part of the problem is from management. Part of it is from employees. Part of the problem is from the top [in the department]. . . . They have serious problems [at the center] that need to be addressed."  Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Orlando Martinez picked the company that already was providing mental health services to run the entire facility.  The long-term detention center has "had continuing problems," agency spokeswoman Jaci Vickers said. "The commissioner . . . felt he had to act now, as opposed to later."  The department will choose a private provider to take over full time after it develops a request for proposals and solicits bids, Vickers said.  The center, one of nine long-term juvenile facilities in Georgia, has reported an increasing number of inmate assaults and suicide attempts, including one successful suicide in March. Five of the state's eight other youth facilities are run by private companies.  The Augusta facility is authorized to have a staff of 300 to deal with 150youths. Because of the various problems, the number of boys there has been reduced in recent months to about 50.  Serious problems at the Augusta facility have been noted in reports released as long ago as 1998 by monitors the U.S. Department of Justice sent to Georgia. The problems noted in those federal reports have been augmented by preliminary accounts of the GBI's findings.  GBI spokesman John Bankhead said Wednesday the bureau probe is "still an ongoing investigation" that will take two to three weeks to complete. Only then will the specifics of the findings, including any resulting criminal charges, become public.  But the problems at the Augusta center portray it as the worst of the nine long-term juvenile facilities in Georgia.  Before the wholesale suspensions this week, six youth correctional officers were suspended with pay in February and March, including one who was on duty when a teenager from Jonesboro committed suicide; four of the six eventually were fired.  Martinez said at a volatile meeting with staffers Monday that the ongoing GBI investigation was turning up evidence of criminal activity, including sexual contact between staffers and inmates and the use of marijuana.  Since the plan to change management was announced a month ago, Vickers said, security cameras in the units and radios used by officers have been damaged and agency officials allegedly have received harassing telephone calls at their homes.  "That's not true. That's an outright lie," said Ralph Williams, president of the State Employees Union, which has been trying to save the state jobs. He said workers turned in a nurse suspected of having a sexual relationship with one of the boys and reported the staffer who was bringing marijuana into the facility.  "Unique Solutions has been a part of the problem," he said. "They were on the campus when all these things were happening."  Brett Brannon, who founded Unique Solutions five years ago, is the new director at the campus. Telephone messages left for him were not answered.  Cheeks and other Augusta area legislators said they are upset with the changes at the Augusta facility and the way they came about.  Martinez made the decision to privatize the center and then got approval from Gov. Sonny Perdue's chief operating officer, Jim Lientz.  The governor found out after the fact, and legislators said they were not told 60 days in advance of the change, as the law requires.  "What was done was wrong," state Rep. Henry Howard (D-Augusta) said.  Howard said he asked the governor to delay the privatization until the GBI investigation is completed.  Derrick Dickey, a spokesman for Perdue, said the governor thinks "privatization is the right answer" at this time.  Cheeks said, "We think the people they are planning to give the contract to are part of the problem. . . . I'd rather see the U.S. Justice Department take over than see Unique Solutions take over."  (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Bridge Institute
Athens, Georgia
First Corrections Corporation

March 1, 2002
The Bridge Institute, an Athens facility for juvenile offenders with serious mental health problems, is under orders from the state to start providing ''proper care for our youth.''    In a letter written Tuesday, state Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Orlando Martinez gives the private Virginia-based First Corrections Corporation a Monday deadline to establish ''a firm timeline to become fully operational.'' First Corrections Corporation operates The Bridge Institute, on Mitchell Bridge Road in Athens ,
under contract with the state.  In the past few weeks, DJJ has become aware of operational problems at the facility, and over the weekend, four employees, including the director, resigned, according to DJJ spokeswoman Jaci Vickers.  Martinez 's letter asks the company to address five issues of concern: the physical plant, admission process, staffing, medical services, and communication and support from the corporate office.  The staffing problems, according to Vickers, stem at least in part from ''hiring kids straight from college.'' The Bridge Institute currently has 10 teachers, as well as at least one psychiatrist and 39 counselors who rotate through on a weekly basis.  Martinez 's concern over ''medical services'' stems from delays between the time a child reports a sickness and subsequently sees a doctor, according to Vickers.  (Online Athens)

Charlton County facility
Apr 24, 2019

'Large altercation' at private prison in Folkston contained

FOLKSTON, Ga. - Fighting between two large groups of inmates Monday night at a privately run prison for federal inmates prompted a lockdown and concern among people who live near the Charlton County facility. The D. Ray James Correctional Facility said two "geographic inmate groups" got into several physical altercations just after 8 p.m. Officials were able to contain the fighting, get all the inmates back into their cells and the institution remained secure. All staff and inmates were accounted for and there was never a threat to public safety or the community, according to Christopher Ferreira, manager of corporate relations for The GEO Group, which runs the facility. The prison is under contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service with a maximum capacity of 2,067 male inmates, according to The GEO Group's website.

Chatham County Detention Center
Savannah, GA
Jun 18, 2016
Corizon losing Georgia contract
Local prison health care provider Corizon will soon hand over the reins to a Georgia contract it's held since the early 1990s after its relationship with the sheriff there turned "hostile." Brentwood-based Corizon has been providing health services to inmates at the jail in Chatham County, which is home to Savannah, since 1993. The company's work with about 1,500 inmates there was earlier this year reaccredited by the Medical Association of Georgia but its contract will not be renewed after it expires July 31. County officials late last week authorized staff to being negotiating with Atlanta-based CorrectHealth for a deal that could be worth up to $7 million in its first year. Corizon's contract has been paying $5.1 million. WTVM-TV in Columbus, Georgia, reports that a big reason for Chatham officials' switch in providers is that Sheriff John Wilcher has been very critical of Corizon's record and has asked for numerous changes to the company's contract. A Corizon spokesperson told the station any requests were not formally made and that the company is on board with moving on. Corizon did have an answer to that question when we spoke to their representative on Friday. "As soon as possible" is their wish. They want out of what they consider a hostile relationship with the sheriff's office, as soon as Wilcher can get CorrectHealth's contract approved by his attorneys. Corizon [went] on to say, whenever that is, they will make sure the transition is a smooth one. Word of the pending end of the Chatham contract comes a few weeks after Corizon executives lost out in their bid to extend their contract with the New Mexico Corrections Department, a job they had done for almost a decade and one that is worth more than $40 million per year.

May 21, 2016
Deputy sues Chatham County jail's health care provider
A deputy sheriff is suing the Chatham County jail’s contract health care provider for what she alleges is negligence that led to a 2014 attack, which left her unable to work. In addition to seeking damages from Corizon Health, Chatham County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Wendy Smoot-Lee is suing Shena Danielle Burton, the inmate accused of attacking her on May 27, 2014. The lawsuit, filed Monday in Chatham County State Court, claims Smoot-Lee suffered “severe and permanent” injuries after the altercation with Burton. She is seeking a jury trial, compensation for more than $100,000 in medical bills and other, unspecified damages. Jail records show Burton, then 28, was arrested March 16, 2014, on a contempt of court charge. The lawsuit alleges Burton was tapped for psychiatric evaluation by a Corizon nurse, but that she needed medicine and did not receive further mental health treatment over the next two months despite the nurse “repeatedly” requesting it. That, according to the lawsuit, amounted to negligence and “created a dangerous and unsafe environment.” Corizon, the lawsuit reads, “knew, or with exercise of reasonable care, should have known of (Burton’s) psychiatric disorder and propensity for violent/aggressive behavior should she fail to receive her medications.” Smoot-Lee, who spoke to the Savannah Morning News by phone Wednesday, said she suffered a spinal injury in the struggle to subdue Burton, who had just tried to elbow her. Smoot-Lee fell to the ground in a way that caused a compression injury. Two days after the fall, Smoot-Lee said, the pain kept her from getting out of bed. That was the last time she worked a shift at the sheriff’s department, her employer for 14 years. The 50-year-old deputy, who has been walking with a cane since the incident, said she had to have back surgery and needs ongoing physical therapy. She still works for the sheriff’s department but is on long-term disability. “Every day I’m in excruciating pain,” Smoot-Lee said. Most of all, though, she said the incident left her unable to perform her job, which she calls a “passion.” “I miss work,” she said. “I miss my job.” Corizon spokeswoman Martha Harbin said she could not comment on care provided to Burton or “the merits of the complaint” due to patient privacy and pending litigation. Harbin, however, did say that lawsuits “by their nature are one-sided documents.” “While we are sympathetic to the difficulties this former sheriff’s deputy is experiencing from injuries sustained in the line of duty, we believe the facts of this case will not support her attorney’s claims,” Harbin said in an emailed statement. “We will vigorously defend the care provided by our Chatham County nurses, doctors and mid-level providers, who work every day in a particularly dangerous environment to provide compassionate care to some of the most vulnerable members of the community.” It was not immediately known if Burton, who is being sued for damages related to assault and battery, had an attorney. The incident marks at least the fourth time Corizon has been sued over its operations at the Chatham County jail. While the two most recent lawsuits arose after the deaths of inmates, attorney Will Claiborne said the incident involving Smoot-Lee shows that the company sometimes puts sheriff’s department employees at risk. Claiborne filed two other lawsuits this year in which family members of inmates who died in custody sought damages from Corizon, and he represented three of the company’s employees — a doctor, a physician’s assistant and a nurse — who claimed they were fired in 2014 for reporting perceived lack-of-care issues to sheriff’s department commanders. Currently, the sheriff’s department and Chatham County government officials are working on a new health care contract for the jail. County Manager Lee Smith says several companies have put in bids, and that county staffers are “doing due diligence” before making a recommendation to the sheriff’s department. The county provides the sheriff’s department with much of its funding, and Smith said he expects a recommendation will come in June as part of the budgetary process. Corizon is one of the companies that returned a proposal, but, Smith said, “we are negotiating with another company.” The county became more involved in the process last year after the high-profile death of an inmate led to a wave of firings, policy overhaul and consultants being brought in at the behest of then-Sheriff Al St Lawrence, who died in office in November. Ultimately, though, it will be up to newly elected Sheriff John Wilcher to decide who provides health care at the jail. Wilcher, a 40-year veteran of the department, said Wednesday that he could not comment on the lawsuit, Corizon or the future of health care at the jail because of ongoing litigation. He did, however, call Smoot-Lee “an excellent officer.”

Mar 26, 2016
Probation lifted for Chatham Co. Jail's health provider
CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - The health group contracted to serve the Chatham County Sheriff's Office has been on probation since last summer. The decision came down from the Medical Association of Georgia when they conducted an audit of the facility after a number of complaints and two inmate deaths since 2014. WTOC found out Wednesday that their probation period has now been lifted. They are once again fully accredited by the Medical Association of Georgia, but only after they were audited several times over the last couple of months. The probation issued by the Medical Association of Georgia cited issues with the jail's procedures relating to the death of an inmate - restraint and seclusion - and their continuous quality improvement.
The sheriff says being on probation meant that they could have lost their accreditation at any point but after months of making improvements. They are no longer on probation and the Medical Association of Georgia and is once again fully accredited. In a statement from the Corizon Health President Scott Bowers: "I have every confidence in our people, policies and practices in Chatham County. I want to acknowledge and thank our healthcare professionals for their steadfast dedication to the patients in our care throughout the challenges of the past year." Corizon has been serving Chatham County for more than 20 years, but that may all change. Chatham County Interim Sheriff Roy Harris announced Wednesday that the Chatham County Sheriff's Office is raising the bar higher than ever as they vet four companies to provide healthcare to inmates. Corizon Health is also bidding on this contract, like they've done every time they've had to renew it in the last 23 years. The difference now is they must prove they can meet these new standards that's been set by the county. "We had to change our intake system, our forms, to more readily identify mental health issues,” said Sheriff Harris. They were cited for several procedural issues, including how they handled the death of an inmate. But after eight months of audits, their accreditation has been reinstated. But Corizon's contract ends later this year which means this is the county's chance to revise what they expect from healthcare providers. "We are upping the ante on this RFP because we are providing different parameters of people we need in that jail,” said Sheriff Harris. Requiring more psychiatric nurses so that one can be available at all times and allotting more time for a doctor to be at the jail seeing patients. "We’re having several suicide attempts a week. We have to put them on a special watch, which means more staff is sitting there watching them. They have to be put in a place under total camera surveillance,” said Sheriff Harris. He believes being short staffed contributed to many of their issues and complaints over the last couple of years. He's not looking to go back so he hopes to find a group that will move forward with their new set of standards. A healthcare group will be recommended in a couple of weeks and the county commission will have to sign off on it.

Feb 1, 2015 PCWG watch

Family members of a Chatham County jail inmate who died last year after spending two weeks shackled to a hospital bed in a vegetative state are declaring their intent to take legal action against Chatham County. Savannah attorney Will Claiborne and the family of Matthew Loflin say the 32-year-old man would have lived longer had he been taken from jail to a hospital sooner, as he requested. In an ante litem notice submitted Thursday, which is the first step toward filing a lawsuit against the county, Claiborne alleges medical staff at the jail did not provide Loflin with adequate care when he was an inmate in February, March and April of last year. Despite a doctor’s insistence that Loflin should be admitted to a hospital for treatment of a heart condition, his supervisor at the private health care company that services the jail would not approve the transfer, Claiborne said. “The lack of care didn’t play a role in his death,” Claiborne said. “It caused his death.” Loflin, who had been kept alive by a ventilator for two weeks, died with his mother by his side April 24 at Memorial University Medical Center, two days after a judge ordered him released from custody. In the ante litem notice, Claiborne blames the sheriff’s office, the county and Corizon Health Inc., the private health care company at the jail, with Loflin’s death. The notice, which was sent to the sheriff, the county commission chairman and the county manager, states that Claiborne’s office and Loflin’s family are estimating damages of about $15 million. Loflin had been arrested by sheriff’s deputies on a drug charge Feb. 6. From that time until he arrived at Memorial on April 7, Claiborne said Loflin made repeated requests to be taken to a hospital and that some medical staff at the jail did not act on his symptoms of congestive heart failure. “While state and federal privacy laws prohibit us from discussing the details of an individual’s care or medical condition, we know many of the allegations made in the letter are untrue,” said a Corizon spokesperson Friday in an emailed statement. The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office deferred comment to county attorney Jon Hart, who said Friday that his office is reviewing the ante litem notice. Among the allegations raised in the ante litem notice:


• No medical action was taken at the jail after an ECG showed results consistent with congestive heart failure.

• A nurse scheduled Loflin for a mental health evaluation rather than a medical evaluation.

• Despite an elevated heart rate, swollen feet, “coughing up blood” and an X-ray that showed an enlarged heart and pneumonia, no medical action was taken.

• A doctor determined Loflin needed to be hospitalized, but the regional medical director in Florida overruled him, only allowing Loflin to receive an outpatient ECG that further showed results consistent with a diagnosis of congestive heart failure.

• The regional medical director once again refused to allow the doctor at the jail to send Loflin to the hospital after being advised of the outpatient ECG results.

• Every day from March 28-April 7, the jail doctor, a physician assistant and a registered nurse told their supervisor at the jail that Loflin needed to be admitted to a hospital but did not intervene.

• Before Jan. 1, 2014, the jail doctor would have been able to send Loflin to a hospital without the regional director’s approval, but Corizon changed its policies to require a supervisor’s OK “in an effort to save money.”


In medical records sent with the ante litem notice, nurses noted on several occasions that while treating Loflin, they noted no irregularities or acute distress, although he complained of chest pains.

Corizon did not directly answer a question about whether there were times when physicians at the jail would have to get approval to send a patient to a hospital. “Across Corizon Health, safety protocols are informed by an evidence-based medical plan,” the spokesperson said via email. “In emergency situations, on-site physicians at Chatham County jail have unfettered authority to refer a patient for hospital care.” The jail doctor got approval to send Loflin to a cardiologist for consultation April 7, but he called the specialist and informed him the incoming patient needed hospitalization, Claiborne said. In a death summary attached to the ante litem letter, the cardiologist noted that Loflin coughed up blood in his office and appeared to be in congestive heart failure. He sent Loflin to Memorial’s emergency room, where he coded several times, according to the letter. He remained at Memorial in a vegetative state until April 24, his mother and stepfather, Belinda and Joe Maley, said last year. The doctor and the two other medical staffers at the jail who reportedly told their supervisor Loflin needed to be hospitalized sued Corizon last year, claiming the company fired them in retaliation for reporting perceived lack-of-care issues to the sheriff and chief deputy. That lawsuit was filed by Claiborne and another local attorney last fall in Chatham County Superior Court.

Clarke County Jail
Athens, Georgia
Prison Health Services

December 6, 2004 Athens Banner Herald
The denial of medical care to a Clarke County Jail prisoner who later died from a heart attack was tantamount to the woman being "punished by death on a misdemeanor charge," according to a lawsuit filed by her husband in Clarke County Superior Court.
In the lawsuit, Muscogee County resident Stephan Lamar Hubbard Jr. claims his wife, 40-year-old Laverne Rose Hubbard, died two years ago after repeatedly pleading for jail personnel to take her to the hospital because she was suffering with chest pain. In the lawsuit, however, Clarke County Sheriff Ira Edwards, Athens-Clarke County and the jail's contracted health care provider, Tennessee-based Prison Health Systems Inc., are all alleged to have been negligent in the training of jail personnel on proper emergency medical response and treatment procedures. Eight hours after arriving at the jail, the lawsuit states, Mrs. Hubbard was taken to the hospital after being found unconscious on the floor of her cell. "Mrs. Hubbard died of a heart attack, which would have been avoided if (jail personnel) had not denied Mrs. Hubbard medical care," the lawsuit states. "(Their medical) policy violated contemporary standards of decency."

Clayton County Jail
Clayton County, Georgia

November 25, 2009 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Extra officers had to quell a small protest of Clayton County inmates upset about cold meals at the jail. About a dozen male inmates were eating lunch in a common area at the jail on Tuesday when they began complaining about the meal, which was cold. “They were upset about the potatoes being undercooked and initially didn’t return to their cells,” Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough told the AJC on Wednesday. Guards summoned more corrections officers who were able to calm the inmates and get them back in their cells. The ordeal took only “a matter of minutes,” Kimbrough said. No injuries were reported and there was no force used, the sheriff said. “Once the extra corrections officers entered the section, everyone went to their cells without any resistance,” Kimbrough said. The protest occurred the day after the AJC visited the Clayton jail and interviewed disgruntled inmates about the cold food. On Sunday, the AJC reported that the 1,900 Clayton inmates have been eating cold meals for five weeks because of broken kitchen equipment. Five weeks ago, officials deemed the jail’s three large kettles -- used to cook rice, pasta and potatoes -- unsafe to use because of broken equipment. Last week, the county commission allocated $60,000 to purchase new kettles, but they won’t be installed until mid-January. The jail has also been operating for about a year without four stoves and three large skillets, which all broke down, food services manager Ricky Jordan said. Georgia law requires inmates be served two hot meals a day. The sheriff said inmates are still getting three meals a day and the same portions. Despite the lack of hot meals, Kimbrough said there has not been an increase in illness or complaints from inmates. Food vendor Aramark, which runs the kitchen at the jail, is working to heat some food in the sheriff’s staff dining area, Jordan said.

Coffee County Correctional Facility
Nicholls, Georgia
Feb 2, 2022


The Georgia Department of Corrections and CoreCivic, the private company that owns and operates Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, are investigating four recent inmate deaths.

Over the last several weeks, four inmates at Coffee Correctional Facility have passed away. Neither the Department of Corrections nor CoreCivic released any statements regarding the deaths. However, DouglasNow reached out to both agencies seeking comment. Matthew Davio, Public Affairs Manager for CoreCivic, responded with the following statement: "We can confirm there have been four unrelated deaths at Coffee Correctional Facility in the time frame you shared.  The staff at Coffee are committed to the safety and well-being of every individual entrusted to their care -- in each case, medical staff attempted life-saving measures until EMS arrived.Per policy, in each of these incidents our government partner - the Georgia Department of Corrections - was immediately notified. Investigations are ongoing with full cooperation from facility management and staff. Further details are pending the conclusions of those investigations." DouglasNow can confirm that in at least two of the deaths, the individuals were in cells alone at the time of their deaths. DouglasNow will update this story pending the conclusion of the investigations.

Jul 24, 2021

A former prison guard has admitted participating in a drug trafficking operation in south Georgia that included smuggling contraband to inmates.

Jessica Azaelae Burnett, a/k/a "The Madam," 41, of Douglas, Ga., awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Methamphetamine and Marijuana, said David H. Estes, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Burnett's guilty plea exposes her to a statutory penalty of up to 20 years in prison and substantial financial penalties, followed by a minimum of three years of supervised release after completion of any prison sentence. There is no parole in the federal system. As part of her plea agreement, Burnett also agrees to the forfeiture of five firearms seized during the investigation. "Compromised corrections officers who breach prison security to provide contraband to inmates represent a significant danger not only to inmates and guards, but also to citizens outside prison walls who are within reach of unmonitored jail communications from smuggled cell phones," said Acting U.S.Attorney Estes. "Jessica Burnett is rightfully being held accountable for violating her oath and endangering the community." Burnett, who was a sergeant and a senior guard with CoreCivic, the private prison company that operates Coffee County Correctional Facility, admitted working with other conspirators in distribution of methamphetamine and marijuana. Her role in the conspiracy included smuggling cell phones, drugs and other contraband into the state prison. Burnett is one of 48 defendants indicted in Operation Sandy Bottom, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation centered in the Sand Ridge neighborhood on the east side of Douglas, Ga., in an area known as "the bottoms." The 57-count indictment, USA v. McMillan et. al,  was unsealed in January 2021 and alleges that the conspiracy, controlled by a subset of the violent Gangster Disciples street gang, used guns, violence and fear to control methamphetamine trafficking operations throughout the community and to enable contraband distribution inside Georgia prisons. Altogether, the indictment charged the 48 defendants with a total of 129 felonies. With Burnett, 20 of the defendants await sentencing after pleading guilty; that includes another former prison guard: Idalis Qua Dazia Harrell, 24, of Douglas, a former guard at Coffee County Correctional Facility, who pled guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Methamphetamine and Marijuana. The remaining defendants are awaiting trial, and are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty. The investigation began in 2018 when the Coffee County Sheriff's Office Drug Unit, responding to complaints about the increasing level of violence and drug activity in the Sand Ridge neighborhood of Douglas, enlisted the assistance of the FBI and the Coastal Georgia Violent Gang Task Force. The indictment alleges that the conspiracy controlled multiple "trap houses" to store and distribute illegal drugs, primarily methamphetamine, and was coordinated by leaders of the Gangster Disciples who distributed drugs throughout Coffee, Bacon, Emanuel, Jeff Davis, Pierce and Wheeler counties, along with other parts of Georgia. Investigators infiltrated the operation, intercepting multiple kilograms of drugs and nearly two dozen illegally possessed firearms, along with seven vehicles and more than $12,000 in cash identified as drug-trafficking proceeds. Cell phones were used by some of the conspirators in Operation Sandy Bottom to facilitate drug trafficking throughout south Georgia from inside the state prison system. "Not only did Burnett jeopardize the safety of staff and inmates at the Coffee County Correctional Facility, her actions fostered criminal activity inside and outside the facility," said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. "By violating her sworn oath she betrayed every honest, hard-working officer and she will be held accountable." "CoreCivic is committed to the safety and security of our employees, those in our care, and the communities we serve. The facility management team at Coffee Correctional Facility fully supported this investigation and appreciate the efforts of all agencies involved in preventing further introduction of contraband into correctional facilities," said Vance Laughlin, CoreCivic's Managing Director of Operations.  Operation Sandy Bottom is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. It is being investigated by the FBI and the FBI Coastal Georgia Safe Streets Violent Gang Task Force; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Coffee County Sheriff's Office and the Coffee County Drug Unit; the Georgia Department of Corrections; the Jeff Davis County Sheriff's Office; Pierce County Sheriff's Office; Bacon County Sheriff's Office; Emanuel County Sheriff's Office; Lanier County Sheriff's Office; the Blackshear Police Department; Nicholls Police Department; Douglas Police Department; Alma Police Department; the Glynn County Police Department; the Brunswick Police Department; the Swainsboro Police Department; and the Coffee County Department of Family and Children Services. The cases is being prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S.Attorneys Joseph McCool, Frank Pennington II and E. Greg Gilluly, with asset forfeitures coordinated by Xavier A. Cunningham, Section Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Recovery Unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Jan 23, 2021

NAACP files suit against department of corrections, CoreCivic over virus outbreak at Georgia prison

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The NAACP has filed suit against Georgia prison officials, blaming a lack of COVID-19 testing and insufficient safeguards for an outbreak that infected nearly 1-in-10 inmates with the coronavirus at one prison. The lawsuit asks a federal judge to order officials at Coffee Correctional Facility in rural southern Georgia to provide more robust testing, enforce social distancing inside the prison and ensure inmates have access to free masks, hand-sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. The NAACP's Georgia conference filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on behalf of three inmates at the medium-security prison in Coffee County, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) southwest of Savannah. They say the Georgia Department of Corrections and CoreCivic, a private company that operates the prison under a state contract, violated inmates' civil rights by failing to provide reasonable protection against the virus. The lawsuit says inmates in the prison's housing pods sleep 18 inches (0.5 meters) apart and problems with severe leaks and mold put them at a heightened risk of respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. The complaint also says Coffee Correctional Facility “has generally refused to offer COVID-19 tests to people who do not require medical attention,” even if those inmates have symptoms or have been exposed to infected inmates or staff. It says prison officials last year waited to test inmates in a housing pod for medically vulnerable inmates until they saw infections rise — then had 100 inmates test positive in a single round of contact tracing. “Because a person is locked up behind prison bars does not mean they should be subjected to that kind of treatment,” said the Rev. James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP. The NAACP says those conditions are behind the second-largest prison outbreak of the virus in Georgia. The Coffee County prison has reported 235 inmate infections and five deaths linked to the coronavirus since the pandemic began, according to the state Department of Corrections. The prison has capacity for roughly 2,600 total inmates. Joan Heath, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections, said Friday that the agency had not received the lawsuit and does not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for Tennessee-based CoreCivic, Ryan Gustin, said the company also doesn't comment on pending lawsuits. But Gustin said in an email that administrators at the Georgia prison have followed COVID-19 guidelines of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since the outbreak began. “We take very seriously our responsibility to care for the individuals in our facilities,” Gustin said, “and we work hard to ensure those entrusted to our care are treated respectfully and humanely.”

May 10, 2012 AP
Corrections officials have placed parts of a south Georgia prison under lockdown after a fight involving several inmates. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan says authorities locked down parts of Coffee County Correctional Facility after a fight on Saturday left several inmates hospitalized. She says the inmates received non-life threatening injuries and were returned to the facility the same day after being treated at local hospitals. Hogan would not immediately say how many inmates were involved. A spokeswoman for the Corrections Corporation of America, the private firm that runs the prison, did not return calls and emails seeking comment. The prison is a medium-security facility with 2,628 beds.

College Park Jail
Atlanta, Georgia

June 19, 2004
Murder charges have been filed against a supermarket security guard in the shooting death of a College Park teenager the guard suspected of stealing her car.  Kathryn Smith, who had been charged with aggravated assault in the shooting of Courtney Wright, 16, officially was charged with murder at a hearing Saturday morning, hours after Wright was removed from hospital life support systems and declared dead.  In addition, Smith is charged with aggravated assault and carrying a pistol without a license.  Clayton County police Capt. Jeff Turner said Smith told detectives she had gotten off a bus and was walking to her job as a security guard at Wayfield Foods in College Park when she saw the Pontiac Grand Am that had been stolen Monday from her and her domestic partner. It was parked at an auto parts store.  Investigators say Smith, 30, confronted Wright and they began arguing.  When he tried to drive off, Smith shot him once with her .38-caliber revolver, said Turner.  Maureen McLeod, an attorney representing East Coast Security, Smith's employer, said the agency issued a gun to Smith and that she completed training to carry the firearm at the store.  (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

September 24, 2003
Sabrina Byrd's lack of money ultimately landed her a 17-day stay in the College Park Jail this summer.   Byrd, a 27-year-old single mother of three children, was cited by the south Fulton County city 11 times for allowing her three dogs to run the streets without a leash and for not having them vaccinated for rabies.  She couldn't afford to pay the $852 in misdemeanor fines she had accumulated, so Municipal Court Judge George Barron put Byrd on probation and allowed her to pay the fines in 10 monthly installments. Because Byrd also would have to pay a $39 monthly fee to a private probation company, her monthly tab reached $124, according to legal documents filed on her behalf.  Byrd, who is unemployed and receives food stamps and spotty child support payments, couldn't pay the fines, so she stopped showing up for her probation meetings. Eventually, she was arrested for violating her probation, and Barron sentenced her to 25 days in jail.  Palmer Singleton, a lawyer for the Southern Center for Human Rights, contends that Byrd -- a soft-spoken woman who has no criminal record -- wouldn't have spent one day in jail if she could have come up with the $39-a-month probation fee. Singleton challenged Byrd's jailing in Fulton County Superior Court and alleged that her imprisonment for inability to pay a fine violated her constitutional rights to equal protection. She was released the day of the court filing.  The center argues that the probation fees amount to unfair treatment for poor people: Someone with money would have paid the fines and fees and moved on, while poor people, such as Byrd, suffer great consequences, including jail.  The center is considering filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of such fines, Singleton said.  But Barron and others say that Byrd bears the responsibility of her predicament. The judge said this week that he jailed Byrd for her repeated flouting of the legal system, not for her failure to pay the probation fees. He said Byrd failed to appear for a court hearing to answer to the charges of violating the leash laws and also failed to appear for her probation meetings.  "She was not put in jail because she didn't pay a fine," Barron said. "She absconded from probation. She had 11 offenses. She also owned a particularly vicious chow. [Authorities] were very concerned about it attacking a child."  The judge said he would have held a hearing to determine whether Byrd was indigent but her court-appointed lawyer never asked for one.  'Taxed for being poor'  Even though Byrd is free, Singleton still maintains that the legal system focuses too much on punishing offenders, rather than helping them rectify the problems that got them in trouble. It wasn't until Singleton sought out the help of local pet stores and veterinarians that he was able to get Byrd's dogs spayed and vaccinated. One of the dogs was put to sleep while another was sent to a pet sanctuary in Utah. Byrd kept the mother of the two dogs, Ta-ta.  "The amazing thing is the probation company did nothing to help this woman with the dogs," Singleton said. "They just taxed her for being poor. Once we tapped into the right resources, we can help the dogs. We can't do that for Sabrina Byrd?"  Joseph Lowery, of the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, said he considers Byrd's punishment "medieval."  "I thought debtor's prison had been outlawed in this state," said Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that has put such probation fees on its agenda. "Poverty is no crime, and the court ought to find a way to let her work this situation out some kind of way."  People who violate the law in Georgia and are sentenced to probation must pay a monthly fee to be monitored. The Georgia Department of Corrections supervised probationers until 1997. But the state Legislature passed a law that year to place supervision of misdemeanor probationers in the hands of private companies. Now, 37 companies supervise about 200,000 misdemeanor state probationers.  Corrections still supervises felony probationers for fees ranging from $23 to $29 per month. Currently, there are about 130,000 convicted felons on probation in the state, according to Michael Nail, director of the department's probation division. Depending on the risk level, some probationers are visited at least three times a month at home or work by an officer. Low-risk offenders simply place a phone call or mail in a form once a month to an officer.  Probationers who cannot afford the monthly fee can apply for a hardship exemption. If the probationer is found to be legitimately indigent, the monthly fee is waived, said Nail, who recently became one of 11 members on the statewide County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council.  "It's a rarity that we return someone to the court solely based on their inability to pay," Nail said.  Clay Cox, chief executive officer of Professional Probation Services, the company that handled Byrd's probation, said it was difficult to offer Byrd any form of help, because she repeatedly failed to show up for her probation meetings.  Had Byrd worked with the company to prove her poverty, she could have appealed to the judge for an alternative sentence, such as community service, Cox said. His company even would have helped Byrd with a job search, he said.  "We love taking people's cases very seriously," he said. "But they've got to take their orders seriously and get it done."  'It went way too far'  Cox said about 9 percent of the cases his company supervises in the Atlanta Municipal Court system are considered indigent and that the monthly fees have been waived.  Byrd said she accepts responsibility for many of her problems. But she doesn't understand why someone such as herself spent 24 hours a day in a cell where she got two meals a day served to her through bars.  "At some point in life, we can sometimes just have a heart or a listening ear or a concerned spirit about a person, about their situation, rather than taking your job overly serious or passing too many unnecessary rules, where it disturbs or makes matters worse than they really have to be," Byrd said.  "I think a lot of things could've been resolved by caring about a person. I think it went way too far. I don't think the punishment fit the crime."  (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

D. Ray James Prison
Folkston, GA
Nov 22, 2017
Former D. Ray James prison guard in Folkston pleads guilty to taking bribe
BRUNSWICK, GA. | A former guard pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to accepting a bribe to smuggle tobacco into at D. Ray James prison in Folkston. Glynn Allen Sea Jr., 29, of Reidsville, Ga., entered his plea to a single count of accepting bribes as a public official before U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey. An indictment charged Sea with three counts of taking bribes between November 2016 and January, but he pleaded guilty only to taking $250 through a Western Union transaction in Jesup, Ga. One count charged him with taking $1,000 in 2016. Special Agent Eric Fehlman testified that he investigated reports that Sea was taking bribes and confirmed wire transfers through Western Union, which had a copy of Sea’s driver’s license on file. Fehlman told the court that Sea admitted he had taken the money and had cooperated during the investigation. Upon questioning by Wood, Fehlman said the contraband was tobacco. Sea told Wood he had worked previously as a corrections officer in state prisons, and had worked at D. Ray James about a year. D. Ray James is a private prison that houses federal inmates and has held immigration detainees. The charge is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years probation, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gilluly said the government has agreed to a lighter term under advisory sentencing guidelines in exchange for Sea’s guilty plea. Sea will be sentenced at a later date.

DeKalb County Children's Center


November 18, 2004 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Nearly two years ago, state child welfare officials closed the troubled DeKalb County emergency children's shelter and promised a new facility that would keep kids safe. Now an advocacy group says that promise has been broken. Lawyers at Children's Rights Inc. said children at the DeKalb County Children's Center face some of the same kinds of problems that plagued the previous shelter. Some children are not getting adequate medical care, clothing or education. And many languish there for long periods without proper treatment, the group said. "This is another frightening example of the Perdue administration's failure to address known dangers to children in the [state] foster care system," said Ira Lustbader, associate director of the New York-based advocacy group. Specifically, Lustbader said the center failed to do a required criminal background check on an employee who was a felon, and who later sexually assaulted a child at the center in May. Also, he said a school safety officer was so concerned about safety issues at the center that he refused to leave a child there in September.
WestCare spokesman Jeff Dickerson said the facility is still working out some problems. Lustbader said an independent consultant's review of the facility last June, performed at the state's request, said WestCare's "support of the DeKalb County Children's Center borders on neglect."

DeKalb County Jail

December 8, 2004 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
If Adams v. Dorsey were an old movie instead of a lawsuit, calendar pages might blow past the camera, stopping briefly at the turn of the years from 1999 to 2004. Now it appears the story will continue past one more New Year's Day, because some disputes remain in the long and costly battle over medical care at the DeKalb jail. By mid-December, Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller will receive written arguments on one aspect of what may be the final steps in the lawsuit. Lawyers for the Southern Center for Human Rights, representing jail inmates, want to send in their own expert to review the care provided by the jail's private medical contractor. Lawyers for the county government and Sheriff Thomas Brown oppose that request. Also this month, the inmates' lawyers are to meet with the jail's medical staff in the first of what a court-appointed monitor recommends should be monthly meetings to review any complaints. The case began in 1998, finally yielding a settlement in March 2001. At the time, Fuller said that inmates with life-threatening diseases weren't being treated and that the jail's failure to adequately protect against contagious diseases posed a hazard to guards and the public. Later, Fuller ruled the agreement wasn't being followed. He found the county government in contempt and said he would continue to oversee the jail medical program until the agreement's conditions were met. Since the settlement, the jail's annual medical bill has increased from about $7 million to about $11.5 million. The county's legal bills for the lifetime of the case total more than $700,000.

February 16, 2004
A new court-appointed inspector says medical care at the DeKalb County jail has improved enough that a costly six-year legal battle could end soon.   The county has spent more than $700,000 in legal expenses on the case that began when inmates sued over poor medical care. Meanwhile, county jail medical costs have jumped to about $11 million this year from $7 million in 2001.  (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

March 17, 2003
Georgia Philpot knows her complaints about her son's medical treatment by the DeKalb County sheriff's Department won't get the attention of many county residents.  Her youngest child, 21-year old Alan D. Philpot, has been held in the DeKalb jail since September for violating probation on a drug conviction.  He has a history of ear infections that required surgery, and began telling jail officials in October that he had a new infection, his mother said.  She said it took more than three months and at least 10 phone calls to various jail officials to find someone who made sure Philpot got the antibiotics he needed.  "The public is generally unconcerned about the medical care rendered to inmates," Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller wrote in a 2001 ruling in which he nonetheless tried to spell out reasons the public should care.  He cited society's moral duty to treat humanely and health risks to guards, jail visitors and the outside world.  Such charges and countercharges are part of an ongoing 3 1/2-year old battle over health care for the 2,700 men and women housed in Georgia's largest jail.  Tamara Serwer, lawyer representing inmates, insists inmates are still at risk and the public sector could be too, from inmates released with communicable diseases.  Failure to control communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, has been a frequent criticism in reports by Dr. Robert Greifinger, a former chief medical officer for the New York Department of Corrections.  He was appointed by Fuller to monitor the jail's compliance with its 2001 agreement to improve medical care at the jail.  Even as Greinger praised a new management team installed at the jail by private contractor Correctional Medical Services in his latest report in February, he said he found cases in  which there was not "timely and appropriate follow-up" for inmates whose chest X-rays showed a risk of TB.  (The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

February 25, 2003
Sheriff Thomas Brown on Monday said the DeKalb County Jail's much-criticized medical care system is close to earning national accreditation.  Brown called a recent positive review by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care a welcome counterpoint to a series of critical reports by a court-appointed inspector.  Brown described medical care at the jail as in a crisis when he took office two years ago. The jail has operated under a court-approved settlement of an inmate lawsuit over inadequate care since March 2001.  As recently as last week, the inspector appointed to monitor the settlement reported that minimum standards were not being met, though there were signs the jail's private medical contractor was trying to improve.  Brown said the reports by the inspector, Dr. Robert Greifinger, have focused on problems with individual inmates, while the accrediting commission review shows that the jail's overall approach to health care is sound. In a jail with 2,700 inmates, "you can miss one and not do something just right," the sheriff said. But, he said, "We think we're well on the way to solving this particular litigation."  That assessment was disputed by Tamara Serwer, a lawyer for the inmates who brought the medical care lawsuit. She said Greifinger reviews random cases and that the examples he has cited show "the system is not functioning."  She said the commission focuses on written policies. "It's a great thing to be accredited by the NCCHC, but it doesn't tell you anything about the way patients are actually treated." She said it was "amazing" that it took two years to get adequate policies in place. Actual improvement will take months more, she said.  (The Atlanta Journal)

January 24, 2003
A court-appointed inspector says some diabetics inmates haven't been getting proper doses of insulin at the DeKalb County Jail and the jail medical staff has been slow to react to potential tuberculosis and HIV cases.  Dr. Robert Greifinger, a former medical director of the New York State Department of Corrections, made the criticisms in a report after visiting the jail last week.  Greifinger visits the jail to monitor compliance with a 2001 settlement in a lawsuit over inmate medical care.  Greifinger said one diabetic inmate received no insulin for three days and "developed a life-threatening condition" that required emergency hospitalization.  He said he reviewed the records of four other inmates with diabetes that was "seriously out of control."  Two had foot ulcers and "none have had insulin adjustments to get them in control," according to the report.  Ken Fields, a spokesman for CMS, the company contracted to provide jail medical care, said it was not clear if some of the diabetic inmates Greifinger cited were recent arrivals.  Fields said CMS officials do not agree with Greifinger's assertion that no HIV tests had been ordered at the jail since Dec. 25.  He said he could not comment specifically on five cases in which Greifinger said CMS did not appropriately follow up on chest X-rays "suspicious for tuberculosis."  Tamara Serwer, staff attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights, which filed the original lawsuit, said Greifinger's report signaled a need for further action to improve conditions at the jail.  (The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

August 9, 2001
Earlier this month, the court-appointed monitor released a scathing report about medical care at the jail and said that Healing Touch was doing little to improve it. The lawyers for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have filed a motion to put the jail's medical care under control of the courts.  DeKalb County hopes its newest contractor finally will improve medical care at the jail and get the court system off its back.  The County Commission Tuesday hired Correctional Medical Services Inc. of St. Louis to provide medical care to inmates at the state's largest jail. The contract, which is for up to five years, is worth at least $8.16 million a year, an increase of $1 million over the last contract.  In 1998, a group of inmates sued the county over poor medical care. Under a settlement agreement signed in March, the county agreed to improve the care and the court appointed a monitor to oversee the progress.
  In April, the county's medical care provider ---Correctional Healthcare Solutions --- walked away from its $7 million contract. A local company, Healing Touch Inc., was given an interim contract.   Earlier this month, the court-appointed monitor released a scathing report about medical care at the jail and said that Healing Touch was doing little to improve it. The lawyers for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have filed a motion to put the jail's medical care under control of the courts.  (The Atlanta Journal and Constitution)

Department of Human Resources/Department of Youth Services
July 16, 2003
State officials with the Department of Human Resources and Department of Youth Services should be giving a for-profit Shelby County youth services center a very thorough review after Jefferson County Family Court stopped the transfers of three girls to the center.  While Family Court officials wouldn't say much, other than to question conditions at Oak Mountain Youth Services, that should be enough to raise flags with state officials. Certainly, there's enough smoke to justify an inquiry by state officials, just to be sure there's no fire.  (Birmingham News)

Devereux Center
Cobb County, Georgia
September 6, 2003
Two 16-year-old boys charged with raping a 25-year-old Kennesaw woman early Thursday are only the latest in a regular series of runaways from a private center for emotionally disturbed teenagers, police records show.  Since Jan. 1, police have received 12 calls reporting runaways from the co-educational north Cobb County campus of the Devereux Center on Stanley Road in Kennesaw. In the last three years, police have responded to the center at least 114 times, including two reports of sodomy, Cobb police records show.  (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Deyton Detention Facility
Clayton County, Georgia
GEO Group
Oct 2, 2019

Georgia Dignity Act, protecting incarcerated women, is now the law in Georgia

JONESBORO—Pamela Winn, like other Clayton County prisoners, was shackled hand and foot as she left the privately-run Robert A. Deyton Detention Center in Lovejoy for her court date in 2008. Unlike most others, she was pregnant. When she tried to step into the van, she slipped and landed hard on the ground, unable to break her own fall. She started bleeding that night and asked for a doctor. But it was days before Winn saw the prison doctor, and several more weeks before she got medical care on the outside. Finally, she miscarried in her cell, as two male guards fumbled around beneath her, then, according to Winn, said they'd thrown her fetus in the trash. Winn learned she was pregnant during intake at Deyton, as she began serving a five-year sentence for healthcare fraud. Although the federal Bureau of Prisons forbade shackling pregnant prisoners, Deyton did it anyway. The prison is run by the GEO Group, a federal contractor. When the miscarriage happened, Winn asked for the sheets, but said the guards told her they'd tossed them. When the Independent, a British news organization, asked for records of any grievances or complaints, GEO group said they didn't have any. Winn's story and others like it drew a bipartisan response from both the Georgia Assembly and the U.S. Congress. In Georgia, State Rep. Kim Schofield (D-60) coauthored House Bill 345, signed into law May 8 and in effect as of Oct. 1.

Under the new law:

• A pregnant woman shall not be required to squat and cough during strip searches in her second and third trimester;

• A pregnant woman shall not be required to undergo any vaginal exam unless prescribed and performed by a licensed health care professional;

• A custodian shall not use handcuffs, waist shackles, leg irons or restraints of any kind on a pregnant woman who is in her second or third trimester, in labor, in delivery or in the immediate postpartum period;

• In the first six weeks after delivery, a woman may only be cuffed in front "and only if there are compelling grounds to believe" she presents "an immediate and serious threat of harm to herself, staff or others" or "a substantial flight risk and cannot be reasonably contained by other means."

• If a woman suffers complications and a doctor extends the postpartum period, the cuffed-in-front law applies.

• A custodian must document such cuffing within two days, noting the nature of the circumstances and how long the woman was in restraints. The officer in charge shall review the documentation and the penal institution shall retain it for reporting purposes;

• Medical restraints by a licensed health care professional are allowed for a pregnant woman's medical safety;
• Pregnant or postpartum women shall not be placed in solitary confinement, administrative segregation or medical observation in solitary confinement. However, she can be placed by herself in a hospital room or cell. In addition, the law provides that "a pregnant woman who is temporarily held in a county jail pending transfer to a state penal institution be transferred as expeditiously as possible." The Department of Corrections and the county sheriff "shall make all reasonable efforts to facilitate such transfer." This transfer rule does not apply to a pregnant woman sentenced to jail by a county judge.

May 22, 2007 Business Wire
The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO : 53.08, +2.03, +4.0% ) ("GEO") announced today that it has signed an initial 20-year agreement, with two five-year renewal options by mutual agreement, with Clayton County, Georgia (the "County") for the leasing and utilization of the existing County-owned 576-bed Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility (the "Facility") with the ability to expand the Facility by an additional 192 beds, which GEO is currently considering. The Facility is expected to be used by Federal detention agencies with a targeted date of occupancy of year-end 2007 after the completion of an estimated $3.0 million renovation. GEO believes that the Facility could generate approximately $14.0 million in annual operating revenues at full occupancy of 576 beds.

D. Ray James Prison
Folkston, Georgia
GEO Group (bought Cornell)

Aug 16, 2020

Cigarettes Cost Former Georgia Correctional Officer 6 Months In Prison

U.S. Attorney Christine: “His crime endangered other prison guards and the security of the entire facility, and as a result he’ll now spend time on the wrong side of the prison bars.”

WAYCROSS, Ga. (CW69 News At 10) – The United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Georgia reports a former correctional officer has been sentenced to federal prison for accepting bribes in return for smuggling contraband to an inmate. Michael Eaddy, 25, of Blackshear, Ga., was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of Bribery, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. At the time of the offense, Eaddy was a correctional officer at D. Ray James Correctional Facility, a private prison operated under federal contract in Folkston, Ga. After completion of his prison term, Eaddy must serve three years of supervised release. “Michael Eaddy sold out his fellow corrections staff and forfeited his own freedom when he accepted money in return for smuggling contraband into the prison,” said U.S. Attorney Christine. “His crime endangered other prison guards and the security of the entire facility, and as a result he’ll now spend time on the wrong side of the prison bars.” In his guilty plea, Eaddy admitted accepting a bribe of $246.25 from inmate Jean Civil, 25, of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in return for smuggling cigarettes into the prison. Investigators discovered the activity after seizing a contraband phone from Civil and reading electronic conversations between Civil and Eaddy. After pleading guilty to Possession of Contraband, Civil received one month added to his current sentence of 78 months for Conspiracy to Distribute 500 Grams or More of Cocaine. “Eaddy put his own interests above his duties when he accepted bribes from an inmate and smuggled contraband into the prison he was supposed to secure,” said Special Agent in Charge James F. Boyersmith, Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, Miami Field Office. “He will rightly serve time for his actions, which put his fellow correctional officers, prison staff, and the entire institution at risk.” The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, and prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcela C. Mateo.

Aug 12, 2020

Georgia city faces massive job, revenue losses when federal prison closes

 (The Center Square) – One rural Georgia city is about to lose its biggest private employer after a Federal Bureau of Prisons’ decision to end its contract with a private prison. The D. Ray James Correctional Facility in Folkston, a town of about 4,000 residents between Waycross and Jacksonville, Fla., is scheduled to close at the end of September. Dr. Richard Smith has driven the "country roads" from his home in Fernandina Beach for the past nine years to the prison, where he works as a dentist. He is anxious because he and about 316 other employees at the prison are about to be unemployed. At 65 years old, Smith plans to retire early when the prison closes, but most workers at the facility have more at stake, he said. “It’s very devastating to the community,” Smith said. “There are [316] families that, in some cases, would lose the breadwinner of the family. Some who are single moms." Folkston Mayor Lee Gowen said the city will lose millions of dollars in revenue when the prison closes because of lost sewer-and-water fees. The prison facility makes up nearly half of Folkston's water-and-sewage system, Gowen said. Because of the closure announcement, the city also had to place a state-required system upgrade on hold. The upgrade could cost Folkston between $10 million to $12 million, Gowen said. GEO Group Inc., the company that owns D. Ray James, has sent a letter to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, giving notice of the mass layoff. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) said it decided to let its contract with GEO Group “naturally expire” because more bed space is available at BOP-managed prisons. Smith said he was told the space became available in the public federal prisons because vulnerable inmates were released in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. U.S. Attorney General William Barr in March directed BOP to transfer nonviolent inmates who were at higher risk for COVID-19 complications to home confinement. Since then, BOP has placed 7,400 federal offenders in home confinement. The 1,500 prisoners at the Folkston facility do not qualify because they are not U.S. citizens. D. Ray James is the only of a dozen private federal prisons that is scheduled to close. “No other contract expirations have been discussed to date,” BOP spokesman Justin Long said. The U.S. Justice Department in 2016, under the direction of Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, announced it would be phasing out the use of private contracted facilities. “They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs, and as noted in a recent report by the Department's Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote in an August 2016 memo. President Donald Trump's administration has since reversed the decision. Critics of privates prisons argue the corporations who own them cut corners to save money and pay staff less. Proponents argue privately managed facilities are less of a burden on taxpayers and the economy. Whatever the reason, Smith said the impact on the community, employees and residents of the facility is critical. Most of the businesses in the area are low-paying employers, such as fast food restaurants, he said. D. Ray opened in Folkston in 2010. Smith hopes another agency will step in and use the facility and save their jobs. “It’s just shocking because we have done such a good job,” he said. The state's Congressional leaders sent a letter to BOP Director Michael Carvajal in June and expressed concern over the closure's effect on the rural city and the rest of the federal prison population. "Phasing out a high-quality, cost-effective facility that will create significant job losses and likely result in furthering the public health crisis appears to be a very shortsighted decision," wrote U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and U.S. Reps. Earl "Buddy" Carter and Doug Collins.

Jul 12, 2020

Private Prison Is Lifeblood to Rural GA Town. Why Are Feds Shutting It Down?

There aren’t a lot of reasons to come to Folkston, Georgia, the rural community of 2,500 people about two hours south of Savannah. Perhaps to attend the annual Okefenokee Festival celebrating the swamp. Or maybe to visit the old Sardis Church where you can still see the bullet hole that was fired from the musket of a soldier defending the church from an American Indian attack. But most people who come to the tiny city of Folkston are sent there. It’s the home of the D Ray James Correctional Institution, the town’s largest employer, biggest utility customer and top taxpayer. And, unfortunately for the people of Folkston, it’s also slated to be shut down in September. The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) recently decided not to re-bid the contract on the facility. . The prisoners will be transferred to other facilities beginning this month. “There’s about 350 employees out there that will not have a job,” says Mayor Lee Gowen. “There is not a lot of industry in our county, so the prison was a good option for people if they want to work here locally.” Closing won’t just impact the town, locals argue. The prisoners themselves will suffer, too. The prison has been operated by the GEO Group, Inc., which runs 65 facilities, mostly in the South and the Southwest. They offer programs to help prisoners transition to life on the outside. In the case of D Ray James, the prison population is made up entirely of criminal aliens — citizens of other countries who’ve broken laws here in the U.S. Deanna Greenawalt, the prison’s programs manager, said she was “in shock” when she first heard of the closures. “Because I am the programs manager, I do data collection for programming, which includes education, vocations… and our numbers are awesome,” she told InsideSources. “I mean the amount of GEDs, high school diplomas and INEA — which is the Mexican high school diploma — and national certifications we turn out in the vocation area. We have outstanding numbers in performance ratings.” The prison also has outstanding statistics handling the challenge of COVID-19 in a crowded prison space. As of early July, the prison had only one case of COVID-19 — a transferred inmate — while BOP-managed facilities had seen more than 6,500 inmate cases and 89 inmate deaths. The 1,555 inmates currently held at the prison — which is consistently ranked one of the highest performing BOP facilities — will be transferred to other prisons across the country, which have higher rates of the coronavirus. According to Dr. Richard Smith, a dentist who is also on the prison’s medical staff, the facility has been extremely careful when it comes to the coronavirus and after it’s only case, it went into overdrive. “We started out pretty early — in fact when the CDC first started talking about [COVID-19 mitigation] — and we began to screen with a two-pronged approach: First the staff and then the inmates,” Smith told InsideSources. “The Bureau of Prisons put a total stop on sending us inmates at the beginning of March.” According to the BOP, many of its public facilities have empty beds because of early releases due to the pandemic, so it saw no need to keep the private D Ray James open. But because the inmates are criminal aliens, they cannot be released early. Mayor Gowen said the D Ray James facility and its management team have been good for the city. “They’re a great neighbor and friend to the community, when it comes to food drives and things of that nature,” he said. “A lot of people don’t like the idea of having a prison right next door to you, but I would say the GEO folks have been really good neighbors.” On June 23, two Georgia U.S. House representatives and both of the state’s senators wrote a letter to BOP’s Director Michael Carvajal questioning the wisdom of closing the facility — especially during the coronavirus pandemic. “We are deeply concerned about the repercussions of this closure that will result in the loss of nearly 350 jobs for the rural communities surrounding it during one of the most economically challenging times our country has experienced in a century,” according to the letter signed by Sens. David A. Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and Reps. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter and Doug Collins. Smith, who has worked at the prison for nine years, said the closure would be a great loss to Folkston. “This is devastating, I can’t tell you how devastating this is to the community,” he said. “We have the best run facility in the entire BOP… and it just happened that our contract was coming up. So, I guess you can call it bad luck.”

May 14, 2014
The GEO Group has other plans for the detention facility they’ve been sharing with the sheriff’s office — and that means the county will be without a jail again after the end of the month. The county and sheriff were informed in writing recently of the prison corporation’s intent to terminate a contract that’s been in place for six years and allows for the housing of Charlton County inmates in a separate detention facility at the D. Ray James Prison. “They’re looking for different partners now,” County Commissioner Jesse Crews said. The initial agreement to house county prisoners was with Cornell Corrections.When the GEO Group took over several years ago, they continued the arrangement. From 1995 to 2008, Charlton’s prisoners were housed in other counties after a federal judge threatened to shut down the old jail due to its deteriorated condition. For the complete story, see this week's Herald.

October 19, 2011 Florida Independent
John Edmonson, a businessman from Jacksonville, tells The Florida Independent that his HIV-positive partner has not received adequate medical treatment after being arrested in early April. Edmonson says his partner — whom he asked us to keep anonymous — was diagnosed with AIDS in 1998, and since then has had an average body weight of 185 pounds. ”During his first 30 to 45 days in lockup he lost six to eight pounds,” Edmonson says, and because of his HIV status, “we brought this to the court’s attention.” “The [facility] doctor testified that some body weight loss was normal because of the stress for someone who has never been incarcerated before,” he says. Since the man’s arrest on April 1, he has lost 61 pounds and the loss of body weight “still has not been explained,” Edmonson says, adding that staff doctors at the detention centers have promised to do something, but nothing positive has happened. According to Edmonson, his partner was arrested in Jacksonville, Fla., and indicted on eight counts of receipt, possession, advertising and distribution of child pornography. His partner has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Edmonson’s partner was first held at the D. Ray James Correctional Facility in Folkston, Ga., owned and operated by The GEO Group, “a world leader in the delivery of private correctional and detention management,” with facilities in the U.S., Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Edmondson says that, since late September, his partner has been detained at the Irwin County Detention Facility, owned and operated by Croft Michael Enterprises. Both are located in Ocilla, Ga.

July 11, 2011 The Province
Canada’s “Prince of Pot” has contracted a serious bacterial infection while serving a five-year prison sentence in the U.S. for selling marijuana seeds. Vancouver marijuana activist Marc Emery was diagnosed with MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureu — a painful infection that often appears on the skin — after he was transferred from a private prison in Georgia to Mississippi in late spring. According to Emery’s wife Jodie, the trouble first began when Emery was bitten by a brown recluse spider while serving time in Georgia and the bite took several months to heal. He was given antibiotics for the bite, but then developed a painful boil on his backside while transferring by bus to a Mississippi prison. Doctors tested the boil and discovered the skin infection, Jodie said. “I was worried sick to hear it,” she said, adding that he was forced to fight the antibiotic-resistant infection without medication. Jodie said the infection has since stabilized but the bug remains in his system. “I’m still very concerned. He has to be extra vigilant with any cuts or scrapes.” Emery, the founder of the B.C. Marijuana Party, was sentenced to five years in prison in September 2010 after being extradited from Canada.

July 27, 2010 Charlton County Herald
For years Charlton County Schools got well over $1 million annually in state funds to make up for the county's low tax base. Those dollars have fallen dramatically this year, however to just $27,000. Superintendent Steve McQueen believes local system funding has changed because of errors in the county tax digest. Because of the drop, the Charlton County Board of Education voted unanimously last week to appeal the digest to the state auditor’s office. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is get the equalization board to exercise their discretion and adjust our funding,” explained BOE
Attorney Kelly Brooks. “When the state auditor’s office receives our appeal, they will notify the state department of education to hold off on the final determination of our funding for 2011.” The lawyer says this will buy the school system 45 more days, time enough the school board hopes, for the Charlton County Tax Assessor’s office to come up with an accurate tax digest. “There have been substantial post-levy reductions in the digest through timber tax appeals and Cornell’s appeal [on the D. Ray James Prison valuation],” said Brooks. “Call me skeptical but for six years in a row the county’s certified digest has meant nothing.” Last year for example, Charlton County’s certified digest was $332 million but the county, school board and cities never collected taxes on that amount. After the state approved the digest, but before payments started coming in, the digest dropped by $16.5 million because of the prison appeal. That one reduction amounted to a loss in property tax revenues to the school system last year of $252,000.

January 22, 2010 Times-Union
The Charlton County Commission, the county school system and Folkston are all hastily adjusting their budgets after a single successful appeal of a property assessment. Commissioners are expected to approve an "error and relief" agreement in February to reduce the assessed value of privately owned D. Ray James Prison from $97 million to $55 million. The successful appeal by Cornell Companies, owners and operators of the prison, will cost the city, county and school system at least $730,000 in anticipated tax revenue. County Manager Steve Nance said Cornell appealed the assessed value of the prison after it nearly doubled in 2009. Two new structures - an addition that will house 700 inmates this year and another facility for 300 prisoners from both Charlton County and the U.S. Marshals Service - were on the tax rolls for the first time this year, likely leading to the increase in value, Nance said. During the appeal, Cornell officials didn't dispute the accuracy of the appraisal of the facility. Instead, they argued it would be impossible to sell the sprawling prison complex for what the company invested because the structures are for very specialized purposes - to securely house inmates. They also claimed the original part of the prison, more than a decade old, had depreciated in value, Nance said. "They contended the value did not equal the cost," he said. The property appraiser who determined the appraised value never visited the prison until after Cornell filed an appeal, Nance said. Instead, the appraiser determined the value from manuals, he said. "She did not actually tour the facility until the appeal was made," he said. "After the tour, she agreed the value was too high. It was a lot more austere than she thought." Despite the hardship losing an estimated $334,000 in anticipated tax revenue, Nance said county officials have no plans to contest the ruling by the Board of Assessors. "It would be difficult for us to appeal our own valuation," he said. Also, there is no appeal process unless the complaint is taken to the Board of Equalization by the property owner, Nance said. "Is there any recourse [for Folkston and the school district]?" Nance asked. "I don't think they have the right to challenge this." Now, the already cash-strapped county will maintain a "continuous evaluation process" to cut spending to make up for the shortfall, Nance said. Folkston City Manager Pender Lloyd said the appeal will cost his city at least $108,000 in anticipated tax revenue - nearly a 5 percent cut to the city's $2.4 million budget. "We knew Cornell was probably going to appeal," Lloyd said. "We certainly had no idea it [the prison's value] would drop by $42 million." Lloyd criticized the timing, saying one appeal should not have so much impact to local governments. An appeal of the magnitude of Cornell's should have been resolved before the county digest was completed to give local governments an accurate estimate of how much revenue would be generated in taxes. The city will delay some projects planned this year, including construction of a new park, he said. Travel to conferences and training is also canceled, unless it is required by law, Lloyd said. "We have some revenues built up, so we can handle it," he said. "We're all affected and we've got to work through this thing. We've got to deal with it."

May 20, 2009
Cornell Companies, Inc. (NYSE:CRN) today announced that it has been informed by the Georgia Department of Corrections that the Department will not start using the Company's recently completed expansion at its D. Ray James Prison in Georgia. The Company's previous guidance, included in the first quarter earnings release, provided a base case that assumed that the 700-bed expansion at D. Ray James Prison would begin to ramp at the beginning of the third quarter of 2009, and an alternate case that, if the expansion was to remain empty for all of 2009, earnings for the full year would be reduced by up to approximately $0.08 per share. Today's updated guidance assumes that the expansion will remain empty for the remainder of the year. As a result, the Company now expects earnings per share for the full year of $1.62 to $1.70. The Company also reaffirmed the earnings guidance range for the second quarter of $0.42 to $0.46 per share.

September 6, 2008 Savanna Now
A Savannah man serving a life sentence for a 1984 slaying recently helped save a prison counselor being assaulted by another inmate. Arthur Lee "Leechain" Scott, an inmate at D Ray James Correctional Facility in Folkston, rushed to the aid of a female mental health counselor on Aug. 24, officials said. Another inmate who had been working with the woman in a one-on-one session had her in a choke hold, said Charles Seigel, spokesman for Cornell Companies Inc., a private corporation in Houston that operates the medium-security prison for the state. Seigel said Scott got there first and "really helped." "He and others reacted well, and he was very gallant and deserves praise for what he did," Seigel said. The unidentified counselor was taken to a hospital but suffered no serious physical injuries, Seigel said. The attacking inmate has been transferred to another facility, he said. The incident remains under investigation.

March 24, 2008 News 4 Jax
Federal prisoners at the D. Ray James Prison near Folkston, Ga., were locked down on Monday after prisoners resisted orders to return to their cells, Channel 4 learned. Prison officials said there were no injuries. The Charlton County Sheriff's Office said the prison did not request assistance. A spokesman for Cornell Companies, the private firm that runs the prison, said the lockdown is only in a newly opened pod that houses federal prisoners and does not affect the entire prison. Only 50 to 60 inmates of the prison's capacity of 1,640 were involved. Since the prison opened in 1998, it has expanded to become the largest privately run prison in Georgia.

Folkston ICE Processing Center
Aug 3, 2022

Immigrant rights groups file complaints against Georgia ICE facility

Aug. 2—FOLKSTON — A group of immigrant rights organizations has filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Office of the Inspector General and Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman requesting an investigation into "excessive and retaliatory use of force, inhumane treatment, and rights violations" against individuals detained at the Folkston ICE Processing Center by guards employed by GEO Group, the for-profit prison company contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to run the facility. The complaint, which was signed by Innovation Law Lab, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Malaya Movement USA's Georgia Chapter, Project South and the Southern Poverty Law Center, comes as investigations continue into the sexual assault of detained immigrant women by a government contracted nurse at Stewart Detention Center, another immigration detention center in the state. "The people detained at this privately run, publicly funded immigration detention center are facing very serious abuses that put not only their legal cases, but also their lives and well-being at risk in so many ways," Allison Crennen-Dunlap, a staff attorney with Innovation Law Lab, said. "We're calling on the government to investigate these violations and to ensure that those directly impacted by them are truly part of that investigation. That means they must be released and they must not face any kind of threats or retaliation like they have at the hands of GEO Group staff inside this ICE facility." "We call on the government to do its job and investigate these credible allegations of abuse and dehumanization," Adelina Nichols, executive director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, said. "These are community members and loved ones who have been harmed, and our government owes them answers. We stand by these brave individuals and ask how many more must be denied their dignity before there is transparency and accountability?" According to multiple reports by individuals detained at FIPC since April 16, GEO Group staff have committed abuses that include unprovoked violent assault resulting in a jaw injury, retaliatory use of solitary confinement in one case for 54 consecutive days, shouting derogatory remarks and deliberate denial of medical attention, all of which are violations of basic rights, including the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and the Performance-Based National Detention Standards. Garsumo Dorley, who is currently detained at FIPC, has repeatedly denounced this retaliation and abuse, including by joining with rights groups to send a demand letter to ICE, yet he continues to face mistreatment and unjust detention. The organizations that filed the complaint requested that the DHS oversight agencies conduct a transparent formal investigation, provide Dorley's legal representative video footage of the dates of certain incidents, release all potential witnesses and survivors of undue use of force at FIPC and ensure they can freely participate in the investigation without fear of retaliation.

Apr 24, 2022
Protests at ICE detention center mount as expansion plans move forward From staff reports

FOLKSTON - The campaign to shut down the Folkston ICE Processing Center was alerted to an urgent issue regarding the launch of a hunger strike by immigrants imprisoned at FIPC, a GEO Group operated for-profit detention facility, while their immigration status goes through courts. At a protest launching the campaign to Shut Down FIPC, protesters spoke and chanted alongside dozens of people detained at FIPC who had successfully resisted the attempts of GEO guards threatening them with tear gas to force them out of the yard and back inside the ICE facility as the protest approached. From behind two chain link fences, the people in the yard shouted to the protesters gathered on the dirt road outside the detention center. They reported that guards had physically assaulted people for speaking out about insufficient and spoiled food. They also reported that many had been waiting for more than eight months for a decision or even a next step in their legal process, and that they wanted to be with their families, their loved ones, their children. The hunger strike began Monday when two people who allegedly tried to keep the door open to the prison yard on the day of the protest were sent to solitary confinement. Starting at lunch, the entire B4 unit of almost 60 people refused to eat any food. Their demands are that the people in solitary confinement are released and that people don't languish in detention while they fight their cases or after they have already been deported. "This hunger strike is being carried out to protest abuse, human rights violations, excessive delays in legal proceedings and retaliation many are facing for speaking out about their conditions," campaign organizer Nat Villasana said. In retaliation for speaking out on Saturday, GEO Group has also reportedly disabled video tablets in B4. One person reported that the phone lines were cut off. "We have been told that while in isolation, they are only served one meal a day, spoiled milk is the only thing provided for breakfast, and they are only let out once a day for time to shower," Villasana said. The hunger strike is taking place at the same time as the campaign to Shut Down FIPC ramps up. During a protest rally, several detained immigrants spoke from behind the fenced-in facility and shared their stories with campaign organizers. The campaign to Shut Down FIPC was launched to demand a halt to federal plans to expand Folkston prison into the nation's largest detention center for immigrants. This move comes after Charlton County and private prison giant GEO Group reached a deal in December 2021 to expand the existing facility by 1,800 beds to a record 3,000 total, making it the largest immigrant detention facility in the country. The deal was made as a prior contract was set to expire, and cannot take effect without a separate agreement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. If filled, the prison's population including staff would rival the city of Folkston's population of 6,000 residents. "We are also calling on Sens. Ossoff and Warnock to listen to their constituents and speak out against the FIPC expansion into the biggest ICE detention center in the country," campaign organizer Natalie Villasana said. "Instead of fighting for immigrant rights, Warnock opposed Biden's intention to end Title 42, the Trump-era restriction that Biden has used to deport millions of people at the border. We demand that Warnock denounce anti-immigrant policies and corporate deals like the FIPC expansion that furthers the suffering of immigrants in Georgia." Protesters say there is already a record of human rights abuses in Georgia's ICE facilities. Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths of any detention center in the country. Additionally, President Biden was forced to take action to close Irwin County Detention Center after a nurse whistleblower exposed dozens of medical abuses - including forced sterilizations - carried out against immigrant women detained in the facility.

Feb 4, 2022
Exclusive: Ga. immigration facility to become one of nation's largest By Jeremy Redmon - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A corrections company has reached an agreement with local officials that would greatly expand its immigration detention complex in South Georgia, creating one of the largest of its kind in the nation, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The document The GEO Group and Charlton County signed late last year nearly quadruples the number of beds for federal immigration detainees near the Florida-Georgia border, from 780 to 3,018. It does that by adding beds in two nearby buildings in the Folkston area, one of which served as a federal prison until last year. If all of those beds were filled, the number of ICE detainees held there would total more than half of Folkston's population of about 4,400. The next largest facility in Georgia, Stewart Detention Center near Lumpkin, has capacity for about 1,900 detainees. The changes in Folkston are simultaneously drawing fire from immigrant rights activists who want such detention centers shut down and praise from local officials who see the possibility of more jobs and tax revenue. Meanwhile, it's unknown whether ICE will begin sending more detainees to the Folkston area, where the existing Folkston ICE Processing Center was holding 544 of the agency's detainees on average each day last month, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group at Syracuse University. GEO, a publicly traded company headquartered in Florida, referred questions to ICE. The federal agency declined to comment on precisely what it will do, though it said it is "exploring options that will afford ICE the operational flexibility needed to house the full range of detainees in the agency's custody." Meanwhile, ICE's number of detainees has fallen in recent years. As of Jan. 16, the agency was holding 20,886 people across the nation, TRAC's data shows. That is down from 55,564 in August of 2019, when Donald Trump was president. Detainees are held until their Immigration Court cases are adjudicated and they are released or deported. The GEO Group and Charlton County signed an amendment to an agreement late last year that nearly quadruples the number of beds for federal immigration detainees near the Florida-Georgia border, from 780 to 3,018. It does that by adding beds in two nearby buildings in the Folkston area, one of which served as a federal prison until last year.

The Folkston ICE Processing Center: 780 beds

D. Ray James Correctional Facility: 1,900 beds

Folkston Annex: 338

ICE gave the AJC an exclusive tour of the Folkston ICE Processing Center in 2018, revealing that most of the detainees there were arrested along the U.S.-Mexican border and at ports of entry in California and Texas. Only men were held there. Many came from Mexico and Central America, while others traveled from Cameroon, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Nepal and Pakistan. They shared common rooms in the center and slept on blue bunk beds, used communal bathrooms and gathered around octagon-shaped tables topped with chess boards. GEO and Charlton signed their expansion agreement after the U.S. Bureau of Prisons decided not to renew its contract with GEO last year for holding federal prisoners at the D. Ray James Correctional Facility in the Folkston area. That decision prompted GEO to announce in July of 2020 that it was laying off 316 employees at the prison. The region's economy and finances suffered mightily when the prison closed last year, said Folkston City Manager Pender Lloyd. For example, Folkston lost more than $300,000 in water and sewer revenue after the prison shut down, said Lloyd, who is anxiously awaiting a decision from ICE about whether it will send more detainees to Folkston. "We certainly hope they do," Lloyd said. Folkston is Charlton's county seat. On Nov. 4, Charlton officials voted to extend for five years a contract with ICE for holding its detainees in the Folkston ICE Processing Center. The fixed-price contract costs ICE $1.9 million a month. Payments from ICE for holding the detainees pass through Charlton to GEO. Last month, Charlton Commission Chairman James Everett signed an amendment to a related contract with GEO for operating the the Folkston ICE Processing Center. That amendment adds the additional beds and increases the administrative fees GEO pays Charlton monthly, from $2,500 to as much as much as $21,500, depending on how many beds are filled by ICE detainees, according to records The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained through Georgia's Open Records Act. Everett could not be reached for comment. GEO and Charlton signed the contract amendment after ICE moved about 40 remaining detainees out of the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. ICE's decision in Ocilla followed a whistleblower complaint and a federal lawsuit alleging a high number of hysterectomies and other invasive gynecological procedures had been performed on Irwin detainees without their informed consent. Also last year, the Biden administration announced it would stop holding ICE detainees at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, citing mistreatment of detainees. As rumors about the Folkston-area expansion spread this month, dozens of activists rallied near the steps of the Georgia Capitol. They brought a banner that read: "Shut Down Folkston ICE Facility." For Lovette Kargbo Thompson, an Atlanta organizer with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the expansion amounts to "another broken promise by the Biden administration." In a visit to Georgia last year, President Joe Biden said, "There should be no private prisons, period, none, period." "Much has been done to shut down Irwin, but then to expand on another detention center, it's like a slap in the face," Kargbo Thompson said. Nilson Barahona-Marriaga was held for 13 months in two other Georgia immigration detention centers. "We still have open wounds," he said in a statement. Expanding capacity for ICE detainees in the Folkston area, he added, "is a shame the community will not allow."

Forrest Hill Academy

Douglas County, Georgia
Community Education Partners
May 7, 2008 Creative Loafing
Patti Welch was living in Douglasville when she went through a divorce last year. Atlanta was her chance to start over. Weary of her one-hour, 20-minute commute to the northside law office where she works as a paralegal, Welch found a duplex in the West End only 20 minutes from her job. But the move also was about her 15-year-old son, Patrick. He was a smart kid, a B student entering the 10th grade. But he'd gotten into fights. One took place just off school grounds and involved several kids, so officials labeled it "gang-related." That meant Patrick would be sent to Douglas County's alternative school. Even though she was confident her son wasn't in a gang, Welch didn't bother to appeal the school district's decision. She thought an alternative school might help him. And she hoped the 10 days Patrick spent in jail after his last fight would serve as a wake-up call. Welch knew her son would be sent to an alternative school when they moved to Atlanta. But she thought it would be temporary. Instead, officials told her that because Patrick had a gang-related fight on his record, he'd never be allowed to enroll in a regular school in Atlanta. She tried to make the best of it. When told he'd be sent to Forrest Hill Academy, she looked at her son and forced a smile. "Wow," she said hopefully. "They're putting you in an academy." Six months later, Patrick became one of eight student plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union's Racial Justice Program in New York City. The suit alleges that Forrest Hill – which is operated by a for-profit company called Community Education Partners – is little more than a pathway to prison for Atlanta's unwanted students. "It would be a stretch to even call this a school," says Reggie Shuford, an attorney with the ACLU's Racial Justice Program in New York. "There is little to no academic instruction, and its students are treated like criminals. It is nothing more than a warehouse, largely for poor children of color." The ACLU contends that Forrest Hill students, 97 percent of whom are African-American, spend most of their days filling out worksheets, for which they get no feedback. According to state figures, nine out of 10 students at the school are unable to pass the standardized state test for math proficiency. The figures also show that Forrest Hill is the most violent school in Atlanta. "It is a national disgrace that the Atlanta school system has handed over its constitutional responsibility to a private, for-profit corporation," says Emily Chiang, the case's lead lawyer. Forrest Hill wasn't quite the academy that Patti Welch had hoped for. The idea of putting problem children into an "alternative school" is a recent phenomenon in the world of education. Before a federal law that took effect in 1978, public schools had no legal requirement to provide education to special needs kids. If a child was violent, or continually disrupted the class, schools could kick him or her out. When the law took away that option, teachers and school systems faced the chore of trying to tame disruptive students. The trend of taking those kids out of regular classrooms and putting them into "alternative" schools began to take hold. That practice quickly led to allegations that some systems – under increasing pressure to churn out higher scores on standardized tests – were simply "warehousing" their undesirable students, out of sight and out of mind. "Those schools weren't about education, but just getting through the day," says Eric Freeman, assistant professor of educational policy studies at Georgia State University. "Those were the 'expendable kids.' It's no longer acceptable to have schools where kids are warehoused, but we still have a long way to go." When it was founded in 1996, Community Education Partners touted itself as a way to get expendable kids back into the mainstream. From the start, however, there were indications CEP's considerable political weight was as responsible for its rise as were its education programs. CEP was formed in Nashville by four men with heavy Republican connections.CEO Randle Richardson, was chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 1992 to 1995 and oversaw a 1994 electoral sweep in which Bill Frist and Fred Thompson won Senate seats and Don Sundquist was elected governor. Another co-founder, John Danielson, would become chief of staff for Education Secretary Rod Paige under George W. Bush. One of the initial investors, Tom Beasley, had chaired the Tennessee GOP before Richardson did. Beasley also founded the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs privatized prisons. Founded in 1984, CCA has grown to become the sixth-largest prison system in the country – trailing only the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and four states. But the company also has faced criticism for understaffing, high turnover and lax security. According to a 1999 state audit, neglect of medical care and security at CCA facilities in Georgia amounted to "borderline deliberate indifference." The two companies – CCA and CEP – have turned out to share some parallels. Both had business plans that relied on obtaining contracts to operate government services. Both were started in Nashville by major Republican Party players. And both went to Texas to make their mark. Texas was a natural entry point for CEP. In 1995, George W. Bush had become governor, and his administration was brimming with ideas to reform schools. The bundle of changes would be touted during Bush's 2000 presidential run as the "Texas Miracle." In that environment, George Scott, president of a Texas nonprofit education reform group, helped CEP gain a foothold. "I got pulled into it by the former superintendent for the Houston school department," Scott says. "It's a sinister manipulation of reality to say that public education is meeting its constitutional and moral obligation to these children; we throw at-risk kids into alternative centers and forget about them. Then along came a company that said it was going to do something different." Scott says he first used his political connections to help the company land a contract to take over the education services at a juvenile detention center. He was impressed by CEP's pitch that its methods could help problem children get up to speed academically so they go back to mainstream schools. "You have kids in the ninth grade who can't do fractions," Scott says. "If a kid is in the ninth grade but is at the fifth-grade level, giving them an algebra book is useless. Under this program, we would start them at the level where they are at, and build from there. CEP promised two years of academic growth for every year a student was in their school." In 1997, Scott says, he used his relationship with Paige, then Houston's school superintendent, to help CEP land its first public school contract. Under the future education secretary's stewardship, the Houston Independent School District was becoming a cradle of the so-called Texas Miracle. Paige had put a system in place that held individual principals accountable for dropout rates and test scores. Then, the district signed a $17.9 million contract to turn the education of as many as 2,500 children to CEP. Initially, the corporation hired Carl Shaw – who was the former chairman of the Texas Education Agency's assessment committee – to develop an independent test to grade the progress of the CEP students. "I will never forget the day the school board approved the CEP contract," Scott says. "Randle Richardson and I were walking out of the building and I told him that not all the kids in this are going to make two [years of progress] in one. But that is going to be your strength. You'll say that you're being held accountable for the program." Before CEP's contract with Houston took effect, however, the first test results from the juvenile detention facility came back. Scott recalls that they showed the students weren't making much progress – some had even regressed. CEP blamed the test, and fired Shaw. Richardson disputes that account. He says Scott let his friendship with Shaw intrude on his judgment and that the scores showed 20 student inmates had regressed in math but that most had made great progress. His own expert looked at the test and determined it was flawed, an opinion seconded by the Texas Education Agency. Whether it was over a principle or a friendship, the incident left Scott with strong feelings about CEP. He now says the one thing he's most ashamed of in his professional life is helping the company get into the Texas schools. The absence of Shaw's test, he says, left the company devoid of the very thing that had attracted him to the concept in the first place: accountability. Instead, Scott says, CEP began to cull its political connections. A sitting Houston school board member was hired as a consultant. Sandy Kress, who later authored Bush's No Child Left Behind program, was hired as a lobbyist. And when the company opened the campus of its first alternative school, in Houston in 1997, former President George H.W. Bush was at the opening ceremony to offer his endorsement. "They put together a very powerful, politically juiced operation in Texas," Scott says. CEP followed its Houston deal with a five-year, $10 million-a-year contract in Dallas. Then, it moved on to Florida and Philadelphia. And all along it followed a familiar pattern: It hired well-connected lobbyists to sell the program and courted elected officials with generous campaign contributions. CEP claimed it had found the key to educating a student population that was thought to be beyond help. The schools used a computer-based education program called PLATO that CEP said enables students to quickly catch up to their age level in reading and math skills. The company was swept up in the middle of what became a nationwide education reform movement. Bush campaigned for the presidency heralding his "Texas Miracle" of low dropout rates and high test scores. When he was elected, he named Paige to his Cabinet and pushed through Congress the No Child Left Behind Act, which instituted high achievement goals for the nation's public schools. But even as it rode the wave of its association with Bush's education changes, CEP became a target of criticism. Some parents complained of prison-like conditions inside CEP schools. Others claimed CEP was, in reality, doing little more than warehousing problem students. There were official rebukes as well. An internal evaluation in Dallas found that "the model of education provided by [CEP] was untenable." "The reliance on non-certified teachers for the bulk of the student- teacher interaction was useful for the company to save money, but was not a design in the best interest of the students," the report went on to say. "Students who attended Community Education Partners did not do very well academically." CEP had even refused to provide its budget data to the school district, the report said, which made it impossible to know just how it was spending the money it received. In 2002, the Dallas school system fired CEP. By then, however, the company was developing its relationship with a new customer: Atlanta. It's unclear exactly how CEP came to acquire a $6.9 million contract to open an alternative school in Atlanta. Richardson says the school system contacted the company in 2001. Citing the pending ACLU lawsuit, Atlanta school officials won't even talk about CEP. At the time the contract was signed, Atlanta officials brushed aside concerns already brewing in Dallas. They cited a "task force" report that supposedly recommended the district privatize its alternative schools; when the AJC requested a copy of that report, however, school officials said they couldn't find one. It didn't take long for concerns to crop up in Atlanta. In August 2002, CEP opened its alternative school in temporary quarters at the old Archer High School. Parents of some of the students attended the Rev. Darryl Winston's southeast Atlanta church. "We were hearing allegations of mistreatment and a prison environment," says Winston, president of the Greater American Ministerial Council. "We met with the staff, and they admitted that 90 percent of what we described had to do with the building. The Archer High School campus was extremely chaotic. They told us the building did not give us an accurate picture of what the program was about." CEP even flew Winston and other community leaders to Houston to tour their schools there. "We were impressed by what we saw," he says. The company assured Winston the problem was that the Atlanta school had yet to find a permanent location. The company prefers a specific design for its schools. Kids are segregated into male and female classes, and the classes are isolated inside pods within the building. "In school, kids get in trouble in the hallway or the cafeteria or going to the restrooms," says Anthony Edwards, a CEP vice president. "So we control that. There are restrooms and water fountains in each of the common areas. It eliminates movement. Kids get in trouble when they're moving." Three properties had already been identified, but each was scuttled by community opposition to an alternative school in the neighborhood. CEP asked for Winston's patience, and he was willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, the company did what it could to strengthen its political ties in Atlanta. When school board members faced re-election in 2005, CEP and its executives gave money in four races. According to Fulton County records, Randle Richardson made a $250 contribution to Mark Riley, who easily won re-election. He also contributed $500 to Brenda Muhammad, a former board member who ran successfully to regain a seat. CEP's chief financial officer, Phil Baggett, contributed another $250 to Muhammad. CEP was more generous in two other contests: Richardson and Baggett each made three separate contributions to incumbent Eric Wilson that totaled $2,000, and newcomer Yolanda Johnson received a total of $2,500. Although Georgia law requires candidates to list the occupations and employers of their contributors on their disclosure forms, none of the school board candidates did that for the CEP executives. Muhammad says she had no idea Richardson and Baggett were CEP executives until CL told her. "If they were standing in front of me, I wouldn't know them," she says. "No campaign contribution will influence me from making my decisions based on the best interest of the children of Atlanta." Riley also said he was unaware that Richardson led CEP. "That's a little embarrassing," he says. "I make a point of never accepting contributions from vendors. I've even returned checks before." Six months after the school board began its new term, it extended CEP's contract to 2009. When school opened in August, Patti Welch and her son got their first look at Forrest Hill. Welch went through a 90-minute orientation, where the rules of the school were laid out. Patrick wasn't to bring anything onto campus that was considered contraband. The list included watches, jewelry, purses, combs, brushes, keys and money in excess of $5. Paper and pens weren't allowed either; the school would provide everything that was needed, even tampons for female students. Patrick would go through a metal detector each morning and be patted down by a security guard to ensure he didn't have weapons or drugs. Backpacks weren't allowed, and books couldn't be taken home. In fact, there was no homework for Forrest Hill students. Patrick went through a weeklong orientation that included tests on the PLATO computer system to determine where he stood academically. On his first day, he sent his mother a text message: "This school is so bad." He found the lessons boring. He complained that the teacher would simply put an assignment on the board; then the kids would be expected to do it on their own. Once the students were finished, they were given crossword puzzles to fill out. "Patrick found it totally uninteresting and totally unmotivating," Welch says. "He kept sending me text messages, and I didn't believe him. He started missing days, so I went up there." What Welch saw alarmed her. The building was new and well-maintained, but the pods where students were segregated reminded her of a jail. "There's one steel door to the classroom, no windows. It looked like a mini-prison." Not long after that, she heard the ACLU wanted to interview parents with children at Forrest Hill Academy for a potential lawsuit. Welch decided to talk to the organization. Two years ago, a special education lawyer in Atlanta called the ACLU and suggested they investigate the CEP school in Atlanta. "As soon as we began to scratch the surface, we were so outraged by what we found," says the ACLU's Chiang. "The standardized test scores are really shocking. No one was passing." State statistics show the school has made few strides toward improving its students' academic standing. According to state Department of Education figures from the 2006-07 school year, 91 percent of CEP's students failed the state's assessment test in mathematics; 66 percent failed the reading portion. In its latest contract with Atlanta, CEP agreed to a performance goal of making measurable progress in 31 categories for the 2005-06 school year, based primarily on results from the state's Criterion Referenced Competency tests. Of those categories, six couldn't be measured because there were too few students enrolled to get a proper study group, and CEP students showed improvement in 11 from the previous year. But in 13 categories, the students tested worse. In the final category – ninth grade physical science – there was no change: 100 percent of the students failed both years. "They cannot deny their standardized test scores are abysmal," Chiang says. Shirley Kilgore, a former Washington High School principal in Atlanta who now consults for CEP, counters that it's unfair to evaluate the program based on state tests. "Students in an alternative program are transient," she says. "We had a girl come in here last week. She's been here a matter of days, but her score belongs to us. Some of these students taking the tests have not been with us for any length of time." Richardson, the company's CEO, points out that almost 90 percent of students sent to Forrest Hill are at least two grade levels behind in reading and mathematics: "You wouldn't pass it either, if you're reading at the fourth grade level and you're taking a ninth grade competency test." The ACLU claims the heart of the problem is that Forrest Hill cuts corners when it comes to academics. The teachers don't teach, Chiang says, but instead hand out worksheets for the students to fill out. She also notes that CEP has a practice of hiring inexperienced teachers. According to state figures, the average level of experience of the teaching staff at Forrest Hill is less than a year. Kilgore, the CEP consultant, argues that few quality teachers want to work at an alternative school. "They are either committed to making a difference," she says, "or else a new teacher starting out." But at least one other alternative school attracts far more senior teachers: The average level of experience at Fulton County's McClarin Alternative School is 19 years. The ACLU also alleges that students often are manhandled by the school's staff, that teachers have even thrown textbooks at the children in their rooms. CEP denies there is any student mistreatment. "Inexperienced teachers are a recipe for problems," says GSU's Freeman. "These kinds of schools are special places and full of a challenging population of kids." Most of CEP's teachers aren't instructing in their fields of expertise either. According to state records, of the 76 total core classes taught at Forrest Hill, only 45 percent are taught by "highly qualified" teachers – those who have majored in the subject they teach. The statewide average is 96 percent. "We're very deeply concerned, especially in an alternative school setting where you need highly-qualified educators to work with the children," says Georgia Association of Educators President Jeff Hubbard, whose group has lobbied against privatizing schools. "We don't think students should be put in a situation where a company is trying to make a profit off their education." CEP says it spends $9,300 per student compared with $12,406 per pupil for the rest of the students in Atlanta's public school system. The company contends the school saves money because it doesn't have to offer such activities as sports or music programs that are required in regular school programs. But Freeman's skeptical. While the savings sound efficient, he stresses that, in education, you generally get what you pay for: "These kids need a lot; they're needy kids. You need to spend more money on them than typical schools. If they are spending less, I'd want to know why it costs less to educate a student with exceptional needs. Where are they saving money? What are they subtracting and is it good? Are they saving money by hiring less experienced teachers who have no training in dealing with these kids?" Freeman is careful to say he hasn't studied Forrest Hill enough to make an ironclad assessment. But, he says, "I know people who teach in alternative schools. It's not an easy environment. It usually requires very special teachers who can work with those kids. It's a big challenge." The Rev. Darryl Winston is angry that he sees many of the same issues raised in the ACLU lawsuit that led him to confront CEP officials four years ago. And his anger isn't just directed at the company. "We need a statement from Superintendent Beverly Hall that she takes these allegations seriously and that the APS is looking into them," he says. "All we got was a statement from the press person that amounted to kind of 'dismissing' it. I've been told as recently as last week that the APS position is to wait and see what comes out in court." What especially frustrates him is that no one who isn't behind the walls at Forrest Hill can really know what's going on there. "CEP has denied every one of the charges, but there's no way to verify that," Winston says. "We need experts. I've called on the board of education to launch its own investigation and see if the charges are true. If they can't, they need a task force appointed by the governor to see what is going on at CEP." As far back as Houston, CEP officials have had to deal with complaints that the company's performance needed to be evaluated by independent parties. "We want to be held accountable for attendance and behavior and academics," insists CEP's Anthony Edwards. "It's very important to us that we are a standards-based program." CEP claims students who attended Forrest Hill in the 2006-07 school year were, on average, performing math and reading on the third-grade level when they arrived. The school claims that students who were at the school for at least 150 days made remarkable progress: an increase of 3.2 grade levels in reading and four years in math. Under its Atlanta contract, however, CEP both administers and grades those tests. There's no independent verification of the results, but longtime educators say making those kinds of academic strides in one year is virtually impossible. For a certain percentage of students who are highly motivated, yes, it can be done; for an entire student population, unlikely. "Kids with emotional and behavioral problems don't do well in school," Freeman says. "And kids aren't just going to snap to and start learning." Chiang says lack of progress on standardized tests make it clear the PLATO test scores are skewed. Students have told the ACLU that they take the PLATO tests unsupervised and can ask each other for the answers they don't know. "CEP claims a pronounced spike in the test scores, but we believe it is because of PLATO," she says. "In reality, there's no teaching going on." Edwards downplays PLATO's results. "We are not judged by these," he says. "It's just a mechanism, a diagnostic tool. The student is given a grade level of functionality." But the contract with the Atlanta school system says that Forrest Hill's success or failure will be measured by a combination of results from PLATO tests and state standardized tests. In addition, if a student who attends CEP for at least 120 days doesn't show growth in reading and mathematics of at least one year on the PLATO system, the contract mandates that CEP must educate that student at no additional cost to the school district until he or she has reached that level. Patti Welch says her son continues to struggle at Forrest Hill, and has missed extended stretches of school because he doesn't want to be there. But she says his disciplinary problems now seem to be behind him. She plans to take him out of the alternative school at the end of the year; she wants to home-school him. But ACLU lawyers say the federal lawsuit – which names the school system, board members and CEP as defendants – is about more than just eight kids in one school. It cuts to the heart of a public school's responsibilities to kids who are in the margins, and it raises questions about the risks of privatizing public education. "We see it as a broader national problem, the trend of privatization of government functions and warehousing kids in a school-to-prison pipeline," Chiang says. For the students at Forrest Hill, it's also about not being forgotten by the officials who sent them there. "The problem is that Atlanta didn't build in an adequate system for oversight and evaluation," Freeman says. "You want it written into the contract to have a good program evaluation. It's got to be done by people who know how to do it, people not connected to the school department or CEP so there's no conflict of interest." Freeman says there should be an annual independent review of Forrest Hill. Evaluators would go into the school, see the teaching methods, and interview students and teachers and the administrators. "I hope the CEP school is investigated by people who know what they're doing," he says. "There are good questions to ask, and they deserve good answers. The school can't answer those question, they can only provide the information. Somebody else has to be the evaluator."

Fulton County Jail 
Fulton, Georgia
Trinity Services Group (formerly run by Aramark)

July 18, 2007 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Fulton County can't seem to resolve a $4 million deal to provide food service to county jail inmates, a contract marked by allegations of corruption and employee misconduct. The board failed to end the controversy again Wednesday with a deadlocked 3-3 vote on a proposal to keep the current company, Trinity Services Group, for another year. Commissioners, who have discussed the deal at length half a dozen times in the past several months, didn't bother Wednesday. They simply took the latest vote with no discussion. The deal has gone through several attempts to bid and rebid with three main groups seeking the work all being ranked No. 1 at different times. The controversy has generated bid complaints and lawsuits from spurned bidders that continue. Evaluators recommended Trinity in the latest round of bids completed June 15 over teams from Gourmet/Aramark and Meat Masters. Meat Masters has filed suit challenging the bids and the process and seeking award of the deal. The company's lawyer, Charles Mathis, accused county staff of improperly manipulating bid results to keep Meat Masters from winning the bid. County attorney O.V. Brantley said he looked into the allegations but found no reason to call in criminal investigators. The third bidder, Gourmet-Aramark Correctional Services, also says it was cheated out of the contract. The company filed a formal bid protest with the county. The firm also alleged collusion involving the other two bidders because Meat Masters filed a bid but also was included as a subcontractor on the winning bid by Trinity.

March 22, 2007 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Fulton County will take a step back and ask more companies to bid on a contract to feed inmates at the Fulton County Jail. Fulton's County Commission voted unanimously Wednesday for a 90-day deferral on a vote to hire a food service provider for the jail and satellite facilities. County purchasing officials are to use the delay to advertise the contract in national publications that cater to the corrections industry. Commissioners weren't pleased by a staff recommendation to hire Gourmet-ARAMARK Correctional Services, which the county fired two years ago. Some commissioners drilled into the county's purchasing guidelines because they give a big bonus to companies that have an office in Fulton County. Commissioner Robb Pitts said Gourmet-ARAMARK would have won the contract even if all three bidders had scored the same in every category but one — location. For the sole reason that it was the only company with a physical address in Fulton County, the company outscored its competition and won the staff's recommendation, Pitts said. Chairman John Eaves said he didn't understand why Gourmet-ARAMARK got the nod when its $4 million bid was the highest of the three that were submitted. It was about $1 million higher than the low bidder. Eaves made the motion to defer the vote. Felicia Strong-Whitaker, a deputy director of the county's purchasing department, said the county's purchasing guidelines state that cost makes up 25 points of the formula used to recommend a company for this type of contract. A company gets an automatic 10 points if it has an office in Fulton County, she said.

February 21, 2007 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Amid allegations of bid rigging and corruption, Fulton County commissioners agreed Wednesday to rebid a lucrative food service contract at the county jail. County Attorney O.V. Brantley said Wednesday she's launched a probe into the allegations, but Commissioner Robb Pitts said any investigation should be turned over to state or federal agents. "Someone seems hell bent on giving the contract to this firm," Pitts said. "I'm going to find out why.... This is serious stuff...This needs to be investigated, not in house but by someone outside." The Trinity Services Group won the original contract in 2005, but it expired more than a year ago. When it was rebid in December, Trinity received the recommendation, even though it was the highest bidder of the three, according to county records. One of the firms that was rejected filed a formal protest with the county, and the other filed a letter, also with the county, claiming employees were pressured to change bid evaluations to ensure that the deal stayed with Trinity. Charles Mathis Jr. said his client, Meat Masters Inc., was the rightful winner of the contract with a bid that was $850,000 lower than Trinity's $4.1 million offer. They only failed, Mathis said in his letter, because county employees were pressured to doctor the bid evaluations. "Meat Masters should legitimately be awarded the contract," Mathis wrote. Two county employees, Sgt. Chandra Hall and former Chief Jailer Charles Felton, provided written statements to Meat Masters that they had been directed to change the contract evaluations to boost the results for Trinity. The Board of Commissioners has copies of the letters, which were also obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Both said they were threatened that if they went before commissioners with Meat Masters as the bidder they would be hammered. The other bidder, Gourmet-Aramark Correctional Services, has alleged collusion involving the other two bidders since Meat Masters was included as a subcontractor on the winning bid by Trinity. Lawyer Michael Coleman, who served as hearing officer for the complaint, issued a ruling on Feb. 16 that recommended Fulton rebid the deal. "Due to the questions raised by the county's rejection of Gourmet-ARAMARK's proposal and the collusion claims involving Trinity and Meat Masters, the appropriate remedy is to cancel the current RFP and re-issue a new RFP," Coleman found.

August 4, 2004
A company accused of serving bad food to senior citizens is moving on.  Aramark has voluntarily given up a $700,000 contract to prepare food for seniors and the homebound in Fulton County.  An 11Alive News investigation last month revealed numerous complaints about the company’s services ranging from spoiled and outdated milk to deliveries of fish that were not fully cooked, clumps of grease on food and one report of a roach found embedded in meat.  Earnestine Yarborough, a senior citizen, said she got chicken that was badly undercooked. "It was pink water running out of it and pink next to the bone,” Yarborough said.  (

Gainesville Jail (North Georgia Detention Center)
Gainesville, GA
Jun 19, 2014

The fallout from Gainesville’s purchase of the old Hall County jail in 2012, and the subsequent exodus of the Corrections Corp. of America the following year, has left the city treading water on the debt payments it owes. Of the $7.2 million purchase price, the city’s debt on the jail currently stands at $6.945 million. In approving the 2015 fiscal year budget Tuesday night, city officials agreed to spend about $594,000 on this debt. The city’s total debt entering the new fiscal year, which also includes payments owed on the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center and downtown parking deck, is $19.9 million. “The income from CCA offsets that,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said. “We are not having to take any money out of the taxpayers’ pocket to pay for that note this year and next year.” CCA’s upfront rent payments will help the city cover annual debt costs on the jail through the 2015 calendar year. But this also means the money cannot be used to fund other city services. Moreover, City Manager Kip Padgett has said upkeep of the jail costs between $120,000 and $150,000 annually. Unless another business occupies the jail, the debt could fall on the backs of city taxpayers come 2016, a prospect no one in local government cares to consider. In an executive summary outlining the budget, Padgett wrote, “With the departure of CCA, the city must replace the revenue stream in order to make debt obligation payments for the property. Afterwards, the city will have to identify other funding sources to cover this gap.” Councilman George Wangemann was the only council member to vote against the city’s purchase of the jail. He said he would not support tax increases to cover this debt. “So I have concerns about paying that debt down unless we get another tenant to take over the jail,” Wangemann said. “That’s the goal.” Padgett told The Times officials have been negotiating since February with two private companies that provide jail services. He would not elaborate nor specify a timeline for hatching a deal. “We’ll just have to see,” Dunagan said.

Dec 16, 2013

Gainesville must continue paying for a bond used to buy the old Hall County jail on Main Street, but the income it expected to receive from the tenant of the facility will dry up in 2015. And the 14-year lease agreement between the city and the Corrections Corp. of America shows there is no penalty to the CCA for pulling out of the facility early. The private prison has operated at the 622 Main St. building since 2009, originally through an agreement with Hall County and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Re-named the North Georgia Detention Center, the facility largely holds those detained for immigration violations. In October 2012, Gainesville financed the purchase of the facility from Hall County for $7.2 million. The bond has a 2.5 percent interest rate. The CCA entered into a lease agreement with Gainesville with yearly rent payments through 2026 in the amount of $1 million the first year and $825,000 in subsequent years. Danny Dunagan, mayor at the time of the purchase, said those payments would more than cover the expense of the purchase and CCA could not get out of the agreement unless ICE decided not to use the property anymore. CCA cited a continued vacancy problem in its Dec. 2 announcement that the company was shuttering operations at the building. CCA representative Tommy Alsup told the Gainesville City Council in August that the 502-bed facility was housing 189 inmates, hurting the prison’s bottom line. City Attorney Bubba Palmour said he didn’t have the lease in front of him but did not recall any terms subjecting the CCA to a financial penalty for terminating the lease early. “I don’t recall — like I said I don’t have it in front me — I don’t recall a penalty in this lease other than they would have to pay whatever they were obligated to pay in the time they had the building,” he said. The lease reads: “(The) Tenant shall have the right to terminate the Lease at any time, for any reason or no reason, by giving the Landlord at least ninety (90) days’ prior written notice of such termination.” Palmour said any lease agreement is a negotiation for both parties. “Of course there’s negations that go on, certainly, about the terms and provisions in the lease,” Palmour said. “Any lease is whatever you agree to do. Some leases have a penalty for leaving early, some don’t.” “Everything was discussed out in the open. We had a lease. The lease was terminated,” he added. Cale Rogers, a Gainesville real estate attorney, said terms of commercial lease agreements vary widely. “It’s pretty much whatever the parties negotiate, especially in a commercial setting,” Rogers said. “There’s nothing that’s really commonplace or standard.” Although, he said, “very few” commercial leases don’t explicitly address possible termination consequences, which are by default minimal. “If the lease is silent, then once the lessee — or tenant — vacates the property, the landlord has no other remedy against them,” he said, citing state law. “Once they leave the property, whether they breach the lease or not, then generally Georgia law provides that the landlord has no damages because they have the property back.” “If they have the property, they can lease it to somebody else, and so there’s no damages,” he added. A penalty could be in the form of rent until the landlord leases the property or some set dollar amount, he said. “It’s typically written in as some sort of liquidated damages clause, which says something to the effect of — if the lessee breaches the lease, then they’re still responsible for x-number of dollars,” he said. Barring the facility is occupied soon by new tenants, the city will have to tackle how to make up for the lost revenue. The CCA said it will make a rent payment for 2014, which gives officials some time to mull their options. “The payment CCA is making in January will be applied to our bond payment due in the fall of 2014,” City Manager Kip Padgett said. “We will have to look at other revenue options for the bond payment beginning in the fall of 2015.” Padgett said the city is open to all options. One possibility is leasing the facility back to the county, which is now considering the detention center as a potential home for the Hall County Correctional Institute. The Hall County Board of Commissioners is temporarily shelving a proposal to build a new $3 to $4 million facility next door to the aging Barber Road building in order to consider the soon-to-be-vacant Main Street building. The feasibility of that arrangement has yet to be explored, Padgett said. “The county does not yet know if that facility and its layout is suitable for its needs,” Padgett said. County officials will be touring the building in the near future, he said.

Dec 5, 2013

Immigration attorneys are welcoming the shuttering of a Gainesville immigration detention center, owned by the city and operated by the Corrections Corp. of America. “For us, any time they close a detention center, that’s good news,” Atlanta immigration attorney Charles Kuck said. “We shouldn’t profit from detaining people.” Gainesville immigration attorney David Kennedy agreed enthusiastically. “I’m thrilled that unholy place is closing,” he said. “CCA is an evil corporation that represents the worst aspects of corporate greed as a justification for misanthropy.” Arturo Corso, an immigration attorney in Gainesville, said he had more mixed feelings to the Monday announcement by CCA, which cited a continuous decline in population at the facility. “My initial reaction to the facility closing: I was glad because it’s really kind of an eyesore as a resident of Gainesville,” Corso said. “I don’t want a prison in the middle of our downtown area.” However, he said, it won’t improve the lives of immigrants detained, or the larger effort to achieve legal status for immigrants. “I think closing that awful prison is a great thing for the city of Gainesville, but it doesn’t really change the lives of people seeking to change their immigration status,” Corso said. Kuck said he wasn’t surprised that the Gainesville facility, which seemed to be intended for short-term stays, didn’t thrive like the Stewart facility in South Georgia, also owned by CCA. Clients detained in Gainesville originated anywhere from neighboring counties to neighboring states, he said, and most ultimately ended up at Stewart. “From our perspective, it seemed to be a transitory place. I’ve had people in Stewart eight, 12, 15 months — it was much more long term,” Kuck said. “ICE wasn’t filling it up; obviously it was more expensive to run,” Kuck added. Vincent Picard, Eastern Seaboard spokesman for ICE, said ICE employees at the detention center will move to other offices. “Corrections Corp. of America has decided to withdraw from the intergovernmental service agreement to house ICE detainees at the North Georgia Detention Center in Gainesville,” Picard said in a statement. “In accordance with that decision, ICE will relocate remaining detainees currently housed at the facility to other detention centers within Georgia prior to the end of 2013.” Lawyer and family visits will be a bit tougher, Corso said. “The only upside was that if you were from Gainesville, your family could visit you, or your lawyer could go and see you, and now we’re going to have to drive about three hours to the Stewart detention center,” Corso said. “That’s the only thing we’ve lost — the convenience.” For the city, the closure may mean the loss of millions of dollars. The CCA paid the city rent for the space, bought from the county as part of a plan to control future midtown development. Gainesville financed the purchase of the North Georgia Detention Center from Hall County for $7.2 million in October 2012. The city projected to get $825,000 in rent from the company for the 2014 fiscal year. The bond has a 2.5 percent interest rate. City Manager Kip Padgett didn’t respond to questions about the lease. The Times has requested the contract through the Open Records Act. Another group impacted by the closure is about 125 employees of the center. CCA spokesman Steven Owen said the company will help them find other positions. “We will be offering all of them the opportunity to transfer to other CCA facilities,” he said. “For employees unable to transfer, our team will coordinate opportunities to help them find jobs in the local area.” Kuck said the benefits of the closing pale in comparison to any drawbacks in the end. “Any time a jail is closed down, it should be good news for everybody — it means you don’t need it,” Kuck said. He also dismissed the notion that fewer detainees were the result of ICE easing immigration enforcement. “Trust me, ICE is doing their job,” he said, with a laugh. “I’ve been witness to that.” ICE still makes citations, but is detaining fewer people, he said, exercising more discretion to release people on bond. “About six months ago, ICE started using a new computer program that helps them determine what a bond should be for somebody. They put in all the response data, and the program spits out, ‘This is what the bond shall be,’” he said. “It went from being subjective to a computer program, and my understanding is that if the program set less than $10,000, they would simply release them.” Corso agreed, and said law enforcement measures have not changed — simply detainment policy. “People shouldn’t get the idea that the sheriff has gone soft on crime, or gone soft on undocumented immigrants,” Corso said. In Hall County, detainees can be referred to ICE based on a criminal accusation in a program called 287(g). Currently, ICE has 287(g) agreements with 36 law enforcement agencies in 19 states. “If you were pulled over and you got arrested, that was it. They wouldn’t agree to a bond in any circumstances,” Corso said. “They had this hard and fast rule until they were completely overwhelmed with detainees.” He said backlogs piled up, with some detainees being held for a year or longer. “What they’ve started to do is for really low-risk people, they’re granting bonds,” he said. “It’s just a cost savings measure from ICE — the taxpayers don’t want to pay to clothe and feed you day after day.” Kuck estimated it costs ICE about $75 dollars a day to detain a person. There are harsh consequences for missing an immigration court hearing, Corso said. “If you don’t come to court on the day of your notice to appear, the judge issues a removal order, and they do that in absentia,” he said. “The next time you come to immigration court, or the next time you get pulled over driving without a license at a roadblock, they’re going to know.” The government proceeds with what Corso said is essentially “an expedited deportation hearing.” “You can’t talk to your lawyer, no questions asked — you’re gone,” Corso said. Corso said the immigration detention and deportation model in general has been a “cruel, one-size-fits-all dragnet,” in particular for more technical violations. “I know the post on some blog will say ‘What part of criminal don’t you understand?’ but really a lot of people come here on a student visa, and then return on a student visa not knowing they needed a different type of visa,” he said. Like both Kuck and Kennedy, Corso denounced the larger moral implications of the facility, and what it represented. “In the bigger picture, we should never have privatized immigration detention facilities — the government should not be in the habit of making a profit from the incarceration of human beings,” he said.

Dec 3, 2013

The city of Gainesville may lose millions of dollars it was expecting to generate from the downtown jail it bought last year after Corrections Corp. of America announced Monday it was pulling out. CCA spokesman Steven Owen said the company had decided to close the facility before the end of the year because of a continuous decline in population at the facility, which houses mostly immigration detainees. Gainesville financed the purchase of the North Georgia Detention Center from Hall County for $7.2 million in October 2012. The city projected to get $825,000 in rent from the company for the 2014 fiscal year. The bond has a 2.5 percent interest rate. Owen, CCA senior director of public affairs, said the center employed about 125 people who the company will help find other positions. “We will be offering all of them the opportunity to transfer to other CCA facilities,” he said. “For employees unable to transfer, our team will coordinate opportunities to help them find jobs in the local area.” Gainesville and CCA had a 14-year lease agreement on the building at 622 Main St. City Manager Kip Padgett said the jail firm told the city of the closing Monday morning. He didn’t respond to questions about the lease. The Times has requested the contract through the Open Records Act. “We will be exploring all options for future use of the facility,” he said in an emailed response. Owen said the company gave the city a 90-day notice of its plans to end the lease agreement. Gainesville had been looking to control the future of the property, located in the heart of midtown redevelopment plans. In August, CCA sought to fill more beds at the facility by housing those in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. A CCA representative, Tommy Alsup, told the Gainesville City Council at the time that 189 people were being housed there. The facility has 502 beds. Alsup said CCA thrives on its facilities being at capacity. “It is our understanding that (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will soon begin transitioning the detainees out of this location to other detention facilities,” Owen said. Vincent Picard, Eastern Seaboard spokesman for ICE, declined to provide the current number of detainees, saying “they are in flux.” ICE employees working at the detention center will move to other offices. “Corrections Corp. of America has decided to withdraw from the intergovernmental service agreement to house ICE detainees at the North Georgia Detention Center in Gainesville,” Picard said in an statement. “In accordance with that decision, ICE will relocate remaining detainees currently housed at the facility to other detention centers within Georgia prior to the end of 2013.”

April 9, 2012 Gainesville Times
After weeks of silence about the future of the old Hall County Jail in Gainesville, the Hall County Board of Commissioners moved to put the ball in the Gainesville City Council’s court. The Times acquired a draft letter Monday from Hall County Chairman Tom Oliver to Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan saying that the county would not consider Gainesville’s offer to buy the jail unless the city agreed to assume all liability if a lawsuit were brought by the current tenant, Corrections Corp. of America. CCA has been using the facility to house detainees of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Concerns have been raised that if ownership of the detention center switched from Hall County to Gainesville, then ICE may temporarily close the facility and CCA would lose revenue. Monday’s draft letter, which county officials indicated would change before it was sent, sets an April 20 deadline for response from the city. However, Dunagan said Monday night that the city is currently in negotiations with CCA on lease modifications if Gainesville took ownership of the jail.

March 22, 2012 Gainesville Times
Elected officials are spending nearly as much time in back-door discussion as they are in front of the public lately at meetings of Hall County Board of Commissioners and the Gainesville City Council. Executive sessions, which legally allow the officials to hold private meetings to discuss some items (such as real estate sales and purchases), are being held fairly frequently as Hall County government attempts to negotiate the sale of the old county jail to the city of Gainesville. So far, stakeholders in the sale of the old county jail — Hall County, the city of Gainesville and the building's current lessee Corrections Corp. of America — are saying little about the progress of the behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place this week. The Hall County Commission met in its second executive session this week to discuss real estate issues before its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday. However, commissioners did not discuss or vote on matters involving the jail at the meeting. Commissioner Ashley Bell said negotiations involving the sale of the jail are still under way with an effort to involve all of the stakeholders. CCA has leased the midtown Gainesville building since 2008 to house detainees of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. CCA operates at the detention center under a contract Hall County has with ICE. Before these recent negotiations between the city and county, it was CCA that was close to a deal to buy the jail, now called the North Georgia Detention Center. A lease-for-purchase agreement approved by the commission last month would have given CCA full ownership after seven years for $7.2 million. But Gainesville officials, who have said they would like to get rid of the old jail to make way for their midtown redevelopment plans, pushed to purchase the facility instead. Last week, CCA's deal with Hall County was put on hold by the Gainesville-Hall Development Authority to give the city enough time to make its own written offer. On Tuesday, the city matched CCA's $7.2 million offer, according to a Hall County government source. But hang-ups do remain. For now, Bell and Commissioner Billy Powell have been designated to help foster a deal between the three parties: Hall County, the city of Gainesville and CCA. "We'll move along to pull together a deal," Bell said. "We've got to put all the options on the table and see what we can get resolved." One stumbling block in a deal between the city and county is the question of liability if CCA chooses to sue. The county is seeking to avoid liability if it cancels the previous deal with CCA. If the county sells the jail, it would have to transfer the current agreement with ICE. "If the ownership of the facility housing the North Georgia Detention Center changes, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the new owners would have to renegotiate the Intergovernmental Service Agreement that forms the basis of the current contract," wrote ICE spokesman Vincent Picard in a statement. That means if Gainesville purchased the facility and decided to allow CCA to remain in the facility, city officials would have to come to an agreement with federal immigration officials. CCA senior director Tommy Alsup said last week the change could mean that ICE would suspend its operations at the detention center until the new agreement is reached, meaning the company could lose at least two months of revenue and about 145 jobs would be in jeopardy. ICE officials would not speculate on what conditions could cause the detention center to temporarily suspend operations. But if that occurred, Commissioner Scott Gibbs said CCA could sue the county for lost income. As a precaution, the county wants the city to assume liability if the county breaks its existing agreement with CCA. This week, as city and county officials have negotiated a possible deal, CCA has been publicly silent. A CCA representative said on Thursday the corporation has not been in contact with Gainesville city officials and said it was "premature to comment to the media." However, county officials said CCA has made its position clear to them. "CCA has been very adamant about what they want and this (sale to Gainesville) is not what they want, so we assume there would be repercussions ..." Bell said earlier this week.

March 20, 2012 Gainesville Times
A source with Hall County has confirmed that Gainesville offered $7.2 million for the old county jail on Main Street that is currently leased by Corrections Corp. of America. Commissioner Scott Gibbs wouldn't confirm that number but said the county's attorneys must review the offer further to determine the county's liability. He said it is possible CCA could sue the county for loss of income if the county sells the property to the city. "I would like to see them get it, but it's got to be a competitive offer for the good of all the taxpayers," Gibbs said.CCA

March 16, 2012 Gainesville Times
The old Hall County jail doesn't belong to a private corrections company just yet. The Gainesville-Hall Development Authority put on hold Friday one of the final steps in the sale of the midtown jail to Corrections Corporation of America, giving Gainesville some time to make its own offer to purchase the property. Verbally, Gainesville has offered to pay $6.5 million for the property. City officials have been given a flexible deadline to come up with a written offer. That deadline is at noon Tuesday, but Hall Commission Chairman Tom Oliver said if the city asks for an extension, the county would grant it. The development authority originally met Friday morning to consider CCA's offer to purchase the jail from the county in a $7.2 million lease-purchase agreement. County tax records show the property is worth about $8.76 million. Friday's decision was the first public demonstration of cooperation between the city and the county government on the issue of the midtown jail since the county leased it to CCA in 2008. CCA houses detainees for the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in the old jail, a use the city sees as an impediment to the future of midtown's redevelopment.

February 22, 2012 Gainesville Times
Officials with Hall County and a private company charged with housing immigration detainees in Gainesville say the market conditions have changed. Four years ago, the two made a 20-year deal: Corrections Corp. of America would rent the county's old jail, housing detainees for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and pay about $2 million a year for it. Today, the Hall County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to decide whether to just give the property, now called the North Georgia Detention Center, over indefinitely for $7.2 million. County tax records show the property is worth about $8.76 million. Commission Chairman Tom Oliver calls it a county "business decision." And while it seems the county might lose millions of dollars by changing the deal, Oliver said private jails housing immigration detainees were experiencing a "soft market." And the county's 2008 agreement with the private prison company gave CCA an out if its financial conditions changed, said Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix. Originally, CCA expected to be at full capacity most of the time, but Nix said the jail keeps about 350 inmates on average. A spokesman for Corrections Corp. of America confirmed that the population in the jail has declined in the last year for reasons he left to ICE to explain. ICE did not respond to requests for information on the detention center's population by press time Wednesday. "For that reason ... they're able to come to us and say ‘we're going to close this place down unless we renegotiate a new lease,'" Nix said. The county and CCA have been negotiating since fall on a new agreement; until they reach one, CCA will not pay its rent for 2012.

February 21, 2012 AccessNorthGA
Hall County Commissioners Tuesday agreed to approve a lease amendment that allows Corrections Corporation of America to buy the old county jail. Commissioners said they would vote yes during Thursday’s voting session on the six year installment sale agreement for the old jail at 622 Main Street in Gainesville. CCA leased the jail as a holding facility for illegal aliens in 2008; Assistant County administrator Marty Nix said selling instead of leasing is a better deal for the county. “Hall County would receive a more stable source of income for the next six years,” Nix said. Nix added the sale eliminates capital funds and contingency cost and Hall County holds title until the entire $7.2-million is paid by CCA.

May 10, 2011 AccessNorthGA
About 30 people attended a candlelight vigil Monday night outside the immigrant detention center in Gainesville for a Salvadoran immigrant who died there last week. Georgia Detention Watch sponsored the vigil. Organizers say 54-year-old Miguel Hernandez collapsed and died after being returned to the North Georgia Detention Center on Main Street after being treated for a blood clot. A spokesman said the group is calling for "accountability" from the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which operates the detention center. Georgia Detention Watch says Hernandez is the second death it is aware of in recent years at a CCA-operated facility in Georgia. The group said ICE and CCA have yet to provide answers about the death of 39-year-old Roberto Martinez Medina at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin which happened more than two years ago.

July 31, 2009 Gainesville Times
Attorney David Kennedy says clients of his who have been held in immigration detention centers in South Georgia and eastern Alabama routinely are denied fundamental rights. "I have had clients who have had no access to phones for extended periods of time. I have had clients being questioned and induced into signing things they did not understand," said Kennedy, a Gainesville immigration lawyer. "I have had clients complain they were stuck in their cells for 23 hours a day. There’s definitely a problem with immigration detention in this country." On the eve of a new immigration detention center opening in Gainesville, a report issued this week by National Immigration Law Center appears to validate Kennedy’s complaints. The report, based on confidential Immigration and Customs Enforcement documents obtained in litigation, alleges there are pervasive problems throughout the country’s immigration detention facilities, many of which are operated by private contractors. Detainees are routinely denied visitation with family members, access to legal materials and regular recreation, according to the report. Many never get an explanation of their rights while being detained, the report claims. "The conditions are much more harsh than they ought to be," said the report’s co-author, Ranjana Natarajan. "This is a civil detention, and these folks are being treated like hardened criminals." The Corrections Corporation of America could begin boarding immigration detainees at its new North Georgia Detention Center on Main Street as soon as next week. The site of the old county jail adjoining the Hall County Sheriff’s office underwent $4 million in renovations and is being leased from Hall County for $2 million a year. CCA operates the detention center through an agreement with ICE and the county. This week, ICE officials did not deny the allegations contained in the report, vowing to continue to improve conditions. But Department of Homeland Security officials recently decided against creating uniform detention center standards that the National Immigration Law Center wants. ICE is supposed to conduct yearly evaluations of every detention center, but has no enforceable, binding legal rules on how inmates are treated, according to the report. "It creates a lot of gray area," Natarajan said. "Because (detention centers) are not expected to follow the rules, they’re all over the map." ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said agency officials "feel the NILC put together a very thoughtful report, and we will carefully review and take seriously this report, as we would any report. We are committed to continuously improving our immigration detention system." Gonzalez noted that within 10 days of taking office, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano ordered all immigration enforcement policies to undergo a review, "including detention." In February, Napolitano appointed former Arizona Department of Corrections director Dora Schriro as a special advisor for detention and removal. "Her position was created to focus exclusively on the significant growth in detention and detainment in the last few years," Gonzalez said. On any given day, ICE holds about 33,000 immigration detainees in facilities across the country, and supervises another 17,000 people facing deportation through electronic monitoring and other means. The National Immigration Law Center estimates that in 2008 about 220,000 people were held in detention centers prior to deportation. The typical stay is 30 to 90 days. The Gainesville facility operated by CCA is expected to hold about 500 low- and medium-security immigration detainees, many of them from North Carolina. CCA spokeswoman Louise Grant referred questions on this week’s report to ICE officials, but noted that "CCA does adhere in every one of our ICE detention facilities to the detention standards set by our customer." The company also has ICE officials on site for detainee access, Grant said. This week’s report prompted two U.S. senators to call for a change to the system. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on Thursday introduced the "Strong Standards Act," a proposed bill that would set minimum detention standards and require the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that laws concerning the treatment of detainees are enforced. "These legislative initiatives will help reinforce what our great country has always stood for: liberty, the rule of law and basic human rights," Menendez said in a statement. To Kennedy, anything would be an improvement. "If we’re comparing these (detention centers) to their Turkish counterparts, they’re pretty good," Kennedy said. "But by U.S. standards, they’re pretty poor."

May 14, 2009 Gainesville Times
The private entity that soon will run the North Georgia Detention Center in Midtown Gainesville has asked the Gainesville Police Department to provide police assistance when the facility opens this summer. It doesn’t appear that city officials have any intentions of doing so. Police Chief Frank Hooper told the City Council Thursday that Corrections Corporation of America sent him a memorandum of understanding that requests assistance from the police department. The agreement would call for the police department’s assistance in quelling riots and other criminal activity at the immigration detention center, he said. City Council members opposed the idea. City Attorney James E. "Bubba" Palmour also advised them against entering into the agreement, which offered the city police department indemnification from any wrongdoing, Hooper said. Palmour said no amount of indemnification would protect the city if a "full-blown problem" arose at the facility, which will be housed in the old Hall County Jail on Main Street. "Once you have a death or a serious injury in a jail, it will take you five or six years to get through the litigation," Palmour said. Hooper said the city police department is not equipped with the training or equipment to deal with jail riots. "We shouldn’t be, because we’re a municipal police department," City Manager Kip Padgett said. Most council members said that any police protection should be the responsibility of the Hall County government, which is leasing the facility to CCA. "It sounds like the county commission needs to step up and accept full responsibility for that facility," said Councilman George Wangemann. Councilman Danny Dunagan also said any security responsibilities at the facility should fall on the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. He said the county should use the $2 million in annual revenue it receives from leasing the facility to CCA on providing police assistance. But sheriff’s Col. Jeff Strickland said the county agency this week signed a similar agreement with CCA and a separate agreement to house the North Georgia Detention Facility’s inmates in an emergency if there is room at the Hall County Jail. The agreement the county signed states that the Gainesville Police Department will be the agency that is primarily responsible to respond to incidents at the facility, Strickland said. "These (memorandums of understanding) are basically for emergency situations, which of course, the Gainesville Police Department does have the primary responsibility for," Strickland said. "However, if the Gainesville Police Department requested our assistance, then, of course, we would respond accordingly." Steve Owen, director of marketing and communications for the private jail operator, said if the city does not sign the agreement, it will not cause any problems for the North Georgia Detention Center. He said the memorandum of understanding sent to Gainesville officials was an effort to "get a working relationship" with local law enforcement agencies. Although Owen would not comment on specific concerns city officials cited Thursday, he said CCA officials were "more than happy to continue to have dialogue" with the city. "We want to be good neighbors," Owen said. The road to a working relationship between the city and CCA has been a rough one thus far. CCA’s plans to start operating the detention facility on Main Street conflict with the city’s dreams of a redevelopment in Midtown chock full of high-rise hotels, office buildings and walking trails — dreams that don’t include razor wire. Many of the problems between the city and CCA spring from a conflict the city has with the county over the future of the jail property. City officials announced their intentions to buy the property in late 2007. The deal never went through and both the city and county disagree on why the contract allowing the city to purchase the property was never signed. In the last round, city officials halted inspections and refused to issue building permit for renovations on the Main Street Jail, but later reneged "in the spirit of moving forward." However, Thursday, there still seemed to be some kinks in the relationship between city, county and CCA officials as Dunagan commented that the corporation taking over the Main Street jail is "notorious for mistreatment" of inmates — an allegation to which Owen responded that the fact that CCA operates in nearly half the states in the country, many of which have increased their utilization of CCA services, should speak for the company’s track record, he said. "I hope the county commission is real happy with what they’ve done," Dunagan said.

April 2, 2009 Gainesville Times
Gainesville City Council members met Thursday with the operators of the North Georgia Detention Center, and some say they still aren’t impressed with the efforts the jail operators are making to dress up the building’s exterior. The facility sits in the heart of Gainesville’s Midtown — an area where city officials have their sights set on beautification projects and redevelopment. Razor wire isn’t in those plans. The City Council has expressed its disappointment that Corrections Corporation of America, the private jail operator that soon will house immigration detainees in the old Hall County Jail, has no plans to take down the razor wire surrounding the facility. A CCA spokeswoman told The Times last week that razor wire is standard for all the company’s facilities. The company met with council members separately Thursday, showing them efforts to beautify the property. Councilman Robert "Bob" Hamrick said the company had plans to lower the razor wire, paint the fence surrounding the facility and plant junipers around it. "Well, it’s not exactly what we wanted," Hamrick said. "We were laboring under the thought that the fencing and the razor wire, this sort of thing, would be taken down." Councilman Danny Dunagan said he was not impressed, either. Dunagan and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Bruner met with CCA officials together. He said CCA officials told him of plans to plant Leyland cypress trees around the fence to eventually help cover the appearance of a jail. "In my eyes, that’s not enough," Dunagan said. "I don’t want to wait two or three or four years for the cypress to get big enough to hide it. I want it hid right now." Bruner and Councilman George Wangemann did not return calls requesting comment Thursday night, but Dunagan said Bruner "didn’t seem to think it was enough for her, either."

March 28, 2009 Gainesville Times
The Gainesville City Council is refuting comments made by Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver to The Times regarding an agreement for the city to purchase the old county jail on Main Street. Oliver told The Times on Thursday that a 2007 contract securing the city’s purchase of the jail property expired in February 2008 and the city never signed it. But city officials said in a statement Friday that Hall County Attorney Bill Blalock instructed them not to sign the contract, which Blalock denies. In December 2007, the city announced plans to buy the jail from the county for $4 million with the understanding that the county could lease the facility to Corrections Corporation of America for seven years. The city would then have the option of razing the facility to make way for new development. Oliver said Thursday the contract for the purchase was hand-delivered to the city. "I don’t know what they did with it once they got it," he said. But city officials say they were told to hold off on signing the agreement until further notice from the county. "As the agreement was being finalized, (Blalock) told the city not to sign it because they were still working out some issues," according to the statement. "Blalock said if the city signed the agreement first, the city’s portion would be null and void. Blalock further commented that he would let the city know when the county had worked out the issues." Blalock denied the statement Friday, however, and said there would have been no reason for him to tell city officials not to sign the contract. Oliver also said he was unaware of any instructions against signing the contract. "That’s absolutely not true," Blalock said. "I don’t give city advice. I represent the county; they’ve (city officials) got their own lawyer." Blalock said, according to his records, the arrangement with CCA was finalized Jan. 24, 2008, and the final draft of the contract was delivered to the city’s former manager, Bryan Shuler, on Jan. 30. "I sent it to Bryan Shuler," Blalock said. "It was hand-carried to his office, and there were no instructions about not signing it. It was for them to consider whether or not they wanted to go forward with it. I never heard another word from them." Late last year, the county announced a 20-year lease for the jail property with CCA at a rate of $2 million a year. The newly renamed North Georgia Detention Center is expected to open in April or May. City officials said they knew nothing about the county’s agreement with the private prison operator until they read it in The Times. City Manager Kip Padgett said city attorney James E. "Bubba" Palmour and Shuler handled the deal. When CCA officials met with city officials, they indicated they had no prior knowledge of an agreement between the county and the city, Padgett said. The statement city officials released Friday said Palmour is "evaluating the situation of CCA and says the city will act accordingly based on local ordinances involving zoning, building and a business license."

March 27, 2009 Gainesville Times
Hall County officials say Gainesville City Council members who are unhappy about a private prison company’s long-term plans for the old county jail were given a chance to buy the property in a formal contract but never followed through. This week, council members Ruth Bruner and Danny Dunagan and City Manager Kip Padgett made public their disappointment in future plans for the jail adjacent to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office on Main Street. The building will house about 500 immigration detainees through an agreement between Hall County and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and a county contract with private corrections company Corrections Corporation of America. Padgett and Gainesville Planning Director Rusty Ligon met Tuesday with CCA officials. They referred questions about the meeting to City Attorney James “Bubba” Palmour, who said he was unavailable to comment Thursday. Council members said after the meeting they had hoped that the company would take down the razor wire surrounding the facility, and that they had believed the facility would hold low-risk, minimum security detainees. City officials said the razor wire creates an aesthetic eyesore in an area of midtown the city plans to revitalize. Dunagan also said city officials were under the impression that when county officials signed a lease agreement with CCA, they also would finalize a purchase agreement with the city. That plan, as first made public in December 2007, called for the city to buy the jail for $4 million, with the agreement that the county could lease the facility to CCA for seven years. The city would then have the option of razing the facility to make way for new development. Late last year, the county finalized a 20-year lease for the property with CCA at a rate of $2 million a year. The newly-renamed North Georgia Detention Center is expected to open in April or May. “The county went ahead and signed the contract with CCA with no communication with the city as to what was going on and what their intentions are,” Dunagan said. “We had to find out the hard way that they’d already signed the agreement.” Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver on Thursday pointed to a contract prepared late in 2007 that was hand-delivered to city hall. The purchase agreement negotiated between the city and county had an expiration date of February 2008. It was never signed. “It was couriered to them,” said Oliver, who provided a copy of the 25-page contract to The Times. “I don’t know what they did with it once they got it.” Louise Grant, a spokeswoman for CCA, said Thursday that the company will house low and medium-security detainees, but no maximum-security detainees. Certain security measures, including razor wire, are standard for all CCA facilities, she said. “When we operate a facility, we operate it at a certain level, period, because we’re one of the safest, most secure correctional systems in the United States, and we’re very proud of our record,” she said. “Razor wire is part of our security protocol, and ICE has come to expect that.” Grant said she believes there may be a misunderstanding as to the type of detainees to be housed at the old jail. “Using the term ‘maximum security’ would be completely inaccurate,” she said. Most of the immigration detainees at the facility will have not been convicted of a crime, she said. Those that have would have already served out their jail sentences at sites such as Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County Jail, she said. “If ICE wasn’t detaining them for their administrative (deportation) process, they would already be out on the street,” she said. “They’re going to be held in our facility for a short duration of time while they’re being processed.” The average detainee will stay at the facility between 30 and 90 days, she said. Grant said CCA officials are sensitive to the concerns of local leaders.

March 25, 2009 Access North GA
Gainesville City officials said Wednesday Nashville, Tennessee based Corrections Corporation of America plans to house maximum-security convicted felons in addition to illegal immigrants awaiting deportation at its leased facility in the former Hall County Jail on Main Street downtown. CCA announced March 9th under a five-year Inter-Governmental Service Agreement between Hall County and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ( ICE),CCA will house up to 500 detainees at the facility. CCA said it would lease the site from the county for an initial term of 20 years with two five-year renewal options; The company currently anticipates opening the facility possibly the end of April and expects it to be fully occupied year’s end. “We found out yesterday (Tuesday) they’re going to house convicted felons and that we’ll have to have maximum security so the razor wire will not be going way,” Councilman Danny Dunagan said. “That’s not what we were told in the beginning.” “Also we were told in the beginning we’d be able to buy the property and the jail would go away in eight years and evidently that went by the wayside also.” Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Bruner said she had hoped Midtown would eventually be rid of the jail with its fence and razor wire in the heart of Midtown. “Now it’s a security issue,” Bruner said. “And it seems to me a blatant lack of concern on the county’s part about the citizens of Gainesville to want a corrections facility with maximum security prisoners right in downtown Gainesville in the part we’re trying to beautify right next to a park and where a hotel could look down on razor wire.” City Manager Kip Padgett said it was Council’s understanding CCA would be running a minimum-security facility for illegal aliens. “The understanding Council had was that it would a minimum security type facility house people awaiting deportation,” Padgett said. “Now we’re not so sure.”

March 23, 2009 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A new detention facility planned for the heart of its Midtown district has some Gainesville officials wringing their hands. The city, in talks with Hall County and Corrections Corporation of America, wants to insure that the new prison, which will house up to 502 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, meets its idea of urban revitalization. The city began a project 10 years ago to clean up the rundown area and invested $250,000 in a study to map out a revitalization strategy, said City Councilman Danny Dunagan. That strategy did not include razor wire. Nashville-based CCA signed a five-year agreement to lease the old county jail from Hall County to operate the center on Main Street. The 20-year lease, with two 5-year renewals, will pay Hall County $2 million annually. “The last thing we want in downtown for 20 years is a prison,” Dunagan said. The city has invested a lot in its Midtown revitalization, including a new police/fire station. Plans also call for a 13-story hotel and two nine-story office buildings. The city had even worked out a verbal agreement with the county to buy the old jail, Dunagan said. The plan called for the city to then lease the facility back to the county so it could sub-lease it to CCA, he said. But that deal would have run for eight years, Dunagan said, then the city would have the option of shutting it down. Councilman George Wangemann said the city is behind the economic boost the prison could bring to the city, but he wants it to fit in with the aesthetics. Louise Grant, CCA marketing and communications director, said that while the company is in the business of operating prisons, it is working to resolve the aesthetics issue with the city. “Safety and security is our first and foremost priority,” she said. “We’re making a $4 million investment to upgrade the facility.” Grant said razor wire is common at all its 60 facilities, but alternative fencing is being discussed. Since last week’s announcement of the prison opening, CCA has received some 500 applications for the approximately 120 jobs available, Grant said. Since last week’s announcement of the prison opening, CCA has received some 500 applications for the approximately 120 jobs available, Grant said. Officials with Hall County did not return phone calls.

Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles
Jan 21, 2014

Largely lost with a Sunday posting during a holiday weekend were two pieces of excellent reporting by Rhonda Cook in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Cook shone a light on private probation companies and the damage they have wrought in Georgia. Both pieces, sadly, are still hidden behind the Journal-Constitution's paywall (I've asked the good folks there to "tear down those walls!") but this is a national scandal—other states have tried to privatize their probation services—and it deserves national attention. The main piece from Cook is titled "Spotlight Falls on Private Probation Companies Over Fees, Supervision," and it tells the story of how one state has outsourced its probation services to private companies, the executives of which have huge financial incentives for charging as many people as much as possible for "services" that would keep them out of jail. The result is a form of  the statewide "debtors' prison" you've probably read about in Dickens (whose father, incidentally, spent time in such a prison). Cook's story begins with this: In 2000, Georgia cleared the way for private companies to supervise low-level offenders, claiming it freed up overburdened state probation workers while costing taxpayers nothing. But records reviewed by the Atlanta Journal Constitution show some in the industry have pocketed large fees while, in at least some cases, doing little to supervise those under their watch. And despite promises that taxpayers would pay nothing to supervise the offenders, they have footed the bill when the probationers are arrested and jailed because they owe money to the company, not the courts. A string of lawsuits argue the system effectively criminalizes poverty and that some companies have illegally forced offenders to pay for things, such as electronic monitoring and drug testing, beyond what was ordered by the courts. Siding with that argument, a Georgia judge last year temporarily stopped the state's largest private probation company from doing business in east Georgia. the Georgia Bureau of Investigations is also looking into whether another company has illegally tacked on fees. This is not exactly a new development and Georgia officials can hardly claim to be surprised by what the Journal-Constitution has found. In November 2012, for example, the Southern Center for Human Rights, based in Atlanta, issued a report warning of the dangers of the state's move to privatize its prisons and probation services. "There are 35 private probation companies in Georgia operating in over 600 courts that enjoy minimal oversight because of a state statue that excludes them from open records requests," the SCHR report noted. When you have a lack of transparency and public accountability, when you have perverse profit motives, you get optics like these. Cook writes: "For example in Cobb County State Court, which supervises its own probationers, charges $22 a month to supervise felony probationers. The private companies, however, charge nearly double—$39. There are also add-on fees, and probationers can be required to pay even more for drug testing, electronic monitoring and classes." Probationers like Kathleen Hucks: Hucks was walking her dog early on Memorial Day 2013 when an officer stopped to question her in an unrelated case and discovered an outstanding warrant from a $156 debt to Sentinel from years earlier. Hucks had completed 24 months on probation for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and traffic offenses in 2008 She had also paid more than $3,200 in fines and restitution, and then continued to pay Sentinel a monthly supervision fee and for drug testing through the end of the year even though that was not part of the judge's sentence, according to documents. Hucks said she thought she owed Sentinel nothing until she was picked up more than 4 1/2  years later. The 58-year-old woman was in jail for 20 days—at a cost to taxpayers of more than $1,000 plus medical care—until her husband could raise the $156 to resolve her debt to Sentinel. "Georgia's gone back to being a debtor's prison state," said attorney John Bell, who represents more than a dozen people who were jailed because the private companies said they still owed supervision fees. In some ways, Cook's sidebar piece, titled "Connections Matter in Private Probation Industry," may be even more disturbing than the main story for in it she explains precisely how all of this happened. It's the eternal story of American politics: money, lobbying and special interests all combining to make life more difficult and unfair for the poor and the dispossessed-- those who most need the law's protections. Cook writes: Politics have figured in the private probation movement from the beginning. Two of the most powerful allies of the idea were Board of Pardons and Paroles Chairman Walter Ray and board member Bobby Whitworth, also once the commissioner of the Department of Corrections. Whitworth and Ray were accused of taking money from a company founded by two former Department of Corrections officials. Whitworth said the $75,000 that Detention Management Services paid him was for consulting and not lobbying, but he was still convicted and sentenced to six months in prison, but he was sentenced as a first offender so he has been cleared of the conviction. Ray was forced to resign. DMS, headed by two former prison officials, Lanson Newsome and Bud Black, was then sold to Sentinel Offender Services for $8.2 million just a few months after the law took effect. Another official who left his government job to start a private probation business was former Deputy Corrections Commissioner Walter Zant, who died in 2009. He secured contracts for ZSI Probation Services with several small towns just south Atlanta—Barnesville, Hampton, Jackson, Locust Grove and Molena to name a few. And so on. There is the Private Probation Association of Georgia, which plans a legislative "presence" this session to try to fight back against these doubts. There are beleaguered state court judges, who have begun to express skepticism about Georgia's experiment even as they note there is nothing unconstitutional about a state outsourcing one of the key functions of its criminal justice systems (the Georgia Supreme Court is expected this year to wade into the dispute). And then, from Cook, there is this wonderful passage: Tony Moreland, the co-owner of Georgia Probation Services, said the industry is filling a need yet has an image problem. "We have become the big, bad bogey man," he said. In response to allegations that some companies have used the threat of jail to get more money out of probationers by requiring extra services, Moreland said, "It doesn't mean the whole industry is crooks and thugs." America's new love-affair with private prisons is bad enough. But here we have private entities, acting under color of law, protected by law from having to be transparent or accountable, preying on people who traditionally have had little access to the courts or political power. Georgia's lawmakers should end this experiment now, before it gets worse and before the state judiciary, or the federal courts, put an end to this grim business.  Public probation has never been perfect. But private probation, and debtors' prisons, went out with Oliver Twist.   Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, 60 Minutes' first-ever legal analyst, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. He is also chief analyst for CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal journalists.

June 2, 2006 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Former prisons chief and parole board member Bobby Whitworth has been ordered by a Fulton County judge to begin a six-month sentence June 12 on a felony conviction for taking illegal payoffs. Whitworth, convicted in December 2003, had asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville that he be allowed to serve the six months in the Gwinnett County jail — about two miles from his Lawrenceville home. Glanville's order, which was signed Tuesday, was made public Friday. The Department of Corrections, which Whitworth headed from 1990 to 1993, has made arrangements for Whitworth to serve his time in a federal prison in Florida. Peggy Chapman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said officials will move forward to place Whitworth in federal custody. "We do have a contract with the Federal prison system to place high-profile prisoners," Chapman said in a statement. "We will continue work with them to decide placement." Whitworth was convicted of taking a $75,000 payoff to influence legislation that could financially benefit a private probation company while he was on the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. In addition to the six month sentence, Whitworth must serve the remainder of a five-year sentence on probation and pay a $50,000 fine.

October 12, 2005 Atlanta Journal Constitution
Former state prisons chief Bobby Whitworth seemed upbeat in June as he appeared before the state Court of Appeals to ask that his felony conviction for illegally influencing legislation be tossed out. But the appellate court recently affirmed his conviction. A jury convicted Whitworth in December 2003 of taking a $75,000 payoff while he was a member of the state parole board to initiate and push through 2000 legislation that financially benefited his friend's private probation company. He was ordered to serve six months behind bars but remains out on bond while appealing the sentence and conviction.

June 3, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Former state prisons chief Bobby Whitworth seemed upbeat Thursday as he appeared before the state Court of Appeals to ask that his felony conviction for illegally influencing legislation be tossed out. More than a dozen relatives and friends came to support Whitworth as defense attorney Jack Martin argued that the prosecution appeared to be tainted from the outset. A jury convicted Whitworth in December 2003 of taking a $75,000 payoff while he was a member of the state parole board to initiate and push through 2000 legislation that financially benefited his friend's private probation company. He was ordered to serve six months behind bars but remains out on bond while appealing the sentence and conviction. Martin said special prosecutor J. Tom Morgan, who had been appointed to the case by Gov. Sonny Perdue, had a hidden agenda to secure a criminal conviction against Whitworth, once one of Georgia's most influential state officials. "Mr. Morgan had a bias, an interest, a stake in the case," Martin argued. Morgan, then-DeKalb district attorney, was in negotiations for a lucrative job with Balch & Bingham, a law firm that once had represented Lisa Thompson, the whistle-blower in the case who testified against Whitworth.

June 2, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Former state prisons chief Bobby Whitworth, once one of Georgia's most influential state officials, will be back in court today to ask the state Court of Appeals to toss out his conviction for illegally influencing legislation. A jury convicted Whitworth in December 2003 of taking a $75,000 payoff while he was a member of the state parole board to initiate and push through a 2000 bill that financially benefited a friend's private probation company. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner sentenced Whitworth, 56, to serve six months in the prison system he once oversaw.
Whitworth also was ordered to remain on probation for 4 1/2 years, to perform 100 hours of community service, and to pay a $50,000 fine and $50 a month in probation service fees. Whitworth's was the first known conviction in Georgia under a rare statute that makes it a felony to accept anything of value in exchange for influencing the passage or defeat of legislation. Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed then-DeKalb District Attorney J. Tom Morgan as special attorney general to handle the Whitworth case. Martin alleges that Morgan had a conflict of interest because he was in negotiations for a "lucrative job" with Balch & Bingham, a law firm that once had represented Lisa Thompson, the whistle-blower in the case. Morgan, now in private practice, accepted a job with the firm after Whitworth's trial. Whitworth has acknowledged accepting $75,000 from DMS, the private probation company formerly co-owned by his close friend, Lanson Newsome. But Whitworth insists the money was for providing guidance and connections to help Newsome expand DMS into Gwinnett, Clayton and other counties. Prosecutors allege that the money was a reward for initiating and ensuring the passage of a 2000 bill that removed misdemeanor offenders from state prison and probation systems and returned them to individual counties to complete their jail time or probation stints. Prosecutors contend that the bill was a financial windfall for private probation companies — like DMS — that would seek contracts with counties to provide those services.

January 8, 2004
Former state parole board member Bobby Whitworth was sentenced Thursday to serve six months in jail and to pay a $50,000 fine. Whitworth was convicted last month under a corruption statute that makes it a felony crime for a state employee to accept anything of value in exchange for influencing the passage or defeat of a bill.  Whitworth, 56, a former state corrections commissioner, was convicted of accepting a $75,000 payoff in March 2000 from a private probation company to initiate and ensure the adoption of legislative that could financially benefit the company.  (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

December 19, 2003
Former Gov. Roy Barnes testified Monday he would not have signed legislation had he known of a business relationship two state officials had with a company that could benefit from its passage.  In a rare court appearance by a sitting or former Georgia governor, Barnes told Fulton County jurors that he had a policy against even the appearance of a conflict of interest. He testified in the public corruption trial of Bobby Whitworth, a former member of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.  (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

December 11, 2003
Prosecutors delivered their final blow Friday to a former state parole board official on trial for public corruption -- and it was a wallop.  The surprising testimony of the state's final witness prompted defense attorneys to make repeated requests for a mistrial.  Tracy Masters, director of legal services for the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, testified that defendant Bobby Whitworth, a former influential parole board member, wasn't forthright about his business dealings with a private probation company.  Masters told jurors that if he had known all of Whitworth's financial dealings, he would have told him "it was improper, a direct conflict of interest and was unlawful."  Whitworth, also a former state corrections commissioner, is charged with accepting money while a state employee in exchange for influencing legislation. A conviction could bring up to five years in prison.  Prosecutors allege that Whitworth accepted a $75,000 check in March 2000 from Detention Management Services, a private probation services company co-owned by a close friend of Whitworth, Lanson Newsome. Legislation that was considered a windfall for private probation companies such as DMS passed that same month.  On Thursday, a California businessman testified that Newsome told him Whitworth received $75,000 from DMS to help with the legislation.  On Friday, Masters testified that he drafted the bill at the request of Whitworth. He also said Newsome sat in on parole board staff meetings about the bill during the legislative session.  Whitworth maintains he is innocent. He acknowledges taking the $75,000 from DMS but claims the money was for consultation work unrelated to the legislation.  Whitworth, considered an expert on the corrections system, helped Newsome's firm grow by giving him guidance and contacts, his attorney, Jack Martin, told jurors.  Masters said then-parole board Chairman Walter Ray and Whitworth came to him for legal advice in 1999. Ray asked if there was an ethical problem with his helping a private probation company expand into South Georgia.  "I said: 'If you have been offered this position because of your position on the parole board . . . I know that is improper and unethical,' " Masters testified.  Masters said Ray assured him that wasn't the case. Masters said he still cautioned Ray and Whitworth that the arrangement gave the appearance of a conflict of interest and that such an appearance alone violated an executive order by the governor.  Whitworth asked Masters for legal advice in 2001, after several news reports questioned why he and Ray were paid consultants for a private company when they were state employees.  Whitworth told Masters he had been on a retainer to advise DMS and he was supposed to get paid $25,000 a year, the lawyer testified. Payments stopped when Newsome's business slowed.  Whitworth "told me he wouldn't be paid until the business sold or the business improved," Masters told jurors. The legislation brought more business, and Newsome soon sold DMS for $8.2 million.  Whitworth initially said he needed the money to pay his income tax bill, Masters testified. Whitworth later claimed that Newsome might transfer a lakeside lot to Whitworth as payment for his services to avoid income taxes, Masters testified.  "He [Whitworth] immediately said: 'I guess from now on I need to say I was paid the money with intent to use it to purchase a lot,' and from then on, that was the story," Masters testified.  Claiming he had been "blindsided" by the testimony, Whitworth's attorney bolted from his seat and asked for a mistrial. Martin claimed prosecutors were accusing Whitworth of possible income tax evasion or at least "a bad act" unrelated to this case.  Fulton Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner told the jurors to disregard that portion of Masters' testimony, but she didn't declare a mistrial.  The defense will begin calling witnesses Monday.  (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

January 5, 2003
If the former head of Georgia's prison system is sentenced to do time, he probably won't spend it behind the bars of a state institution.  Bobby Whitworth was convicted Wednesday by a Fulton County jury of using his position as a member of the state parole board to influence the passage of legislation in exchange for $75,000. Whitworth's sentencing on the felony charge is scheduled for Jan. 8. He could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.  Whitworth worked for the Corrections Department for 20 years, and was commissioner from 1990 to 1993.  (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

September 26, 2003
A Gwinnett County grand jury indicted former state parole board member Bobby Whitworth on Thursday on two felony counts of influencing another state official in exchange for money, according to court records.  Whitworth is accused of attempting to influence action by Orlando Martinez and Ronnie Lane, who in 1999 were, respectively, commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Whitworth -- who was then a member of the Board of Pardons and Paroles -- allegedly tried to get Martinez and Lane to prevent a juvenile detention facility in Ocilla from closing. Whitworth was a paid consultant for the Bobby Ross Group, a company that had a contract to operate the South Georgia facility.  The Ocilla center was eventually turned into a facility for adult parolees, and was closed in 2002.  Jack Martin, Whitworth's attorney, said Thursday his client expected the indictments. "We're anxious to get in court and present our case, and we believe the charges are totally unfounded and when all the facts are considered he will be cleared."  Whitworth also faces one felony count in Fulton County. On Thursday, he pleaded not guilty to attempting to influence legislation in exchange for money.  In that case, Whitworth is accused of using his position on the parole board to influence passage of legislation in 2000 that financially benefited Detention Management Services, a company from which Whitworth had accepted consulting fees.  (The Atlanta-Journal Constitution)

July 27, 2003
Bobby Whitworth, who spent nearly three decades keeping Georgia's convicted criminals behind bars order deciding which ones could go home early, was indicted Friday on a felony charge of public corruption.  Whitworth, as commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections and later a member of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, earned a reputation as one of the most powerful and knowledgeable figures in the corrections industry.  It is the first time a parole board member or Corrections commissioner has been charged with a felony related to his duties, according to spokesmen for each agency.  Whitworth, 56, turned himself in and was booked into the Fulton County Jail at 2:41 p.m. Friday, just a few hours after special prosecutor J. Tom Morgan secured an indictment from a county grand jury. Whitworth was released about 5 p.m. on $5,000 bond, according to Lt. Clarence Huber of the Fulton Sheriff's Office.  If convicted, Whitworth could spend as long as five years in the prison system he once oversaw.  Whitworth's attorney, Jack Martin, said the charge against his client is "false" and that Whitworth is looking forward to a trial to be cleared.  The felony charge follows a lengthy corruption investigation into the actions of Whitworth and former Board of Pardons and Paroles Chairman Walter Ray.  Both resigned in June 2002 after widespread publicity about the investigation. Morgan did not seek an indictment against Ray, a former state senator from Coffee County. Ray cooperated in the case and will testify for the prosecution in Whitworth's trial, Morgan said.  The prosecutor said he determined that Ray broke no laws. "We did not find any evidence that Walter Ray was guilty of a crime," Morgan said.  The prosecutor also said the investigation of Whitworth is continuing. "There could be charges pending in other counties as well," he said.  Fees questioned  Whitworth, whose career in state government spanned almost 30 years, is accused of violating a Georgia statute related to the conduct of state employees, said Morgan, who is DeKalb County district attorney. He was appointed in April by Gov. Sonny Perdueto investigate the case.  The law prohibits state employees and state officials from taking money to influence the approval or defeat of legislation.  Morgan told the grand jury that Whitworth used his position to illegally influence the adoption of a bill that could have financially benefited Detention Management Services, a company from which Whitworth accepted consulting fees.  Whitworth accepted $75,000 from DMS the day before the state Senate passed the bill, Morgan said. The company was owned by Lanson Newsome, a friend and former Corrections deputy commissioner under Whitworth. Newsome is not under investigation because making such payments is not illegal, Morgan said.  The legislation "did nothing for the Pardons and Paroles Board, but DMS profited tremendously from the passage of this," Morgan said. He noted the company was sold later for $8.2 million.  The legislation turned over supervision of thousands of probationers to private companies, such as DMS. Whitworth allegedly had instructed parole staffers to lobby for it.  "Bobby has never accepted a dime in order to influence anyone in state government," said Martin, his attorney. "All he ever did was urge what he thought was best for the state, and more often than not he was right."  Martin said Whitworth has acknowledged accepting consulting fees from DMS and the Bobby Ross Group, a private prison company based in Texas. But the payments were for Whitworth's vast knowledge of the state's corrections system, not for help in winning enactment of laws favorable to the companies, Martin said.  "Bobby Whitworth is recognized nationally as an expert in corrections and prisons," Martin said. "Private companies have retained him to get his expertise and to have the credibility of his experience on their letterhead."  Martin said prosecutors offered Whitworth a plea deal but that Whitworth turned it down because he felt strongly he had not committed any crime.  Martin would not discuss details of the offer but characterized it as a "more than acceptable deal" if Whitworth had committed the crime.  According to several persons familiar with the deal, it would have allowed Whitworth to avoid a prison sentence by paying a $50,000 fine and serving five years' probation.  Arrangement defended  Martin said Whitworth had checked with parole board attorneys before entering into the consulting arrangement and that they had advised him it was legal, because the two companies had no contracts with the parole board. In an interview last year, Tracy Masters, director of legal services for the parole board, said, "I did not know which companies they were working for and who the managers of those companies were. I had no idea Lanson Newsome was involved in it."  Martin described Whitworth on Friday as "upset, confused, angry and ready to have his day in court."  Allegations of corruption at Pardons and Paroles arose in the summer of 2001, when the board's legislative liaison, Lisa Phillips Thompson, told then-Gov. Roy Barnes of possible wrongdoing. The parole board decides which of Georgia's 47,000 prison inmates are released early. The board also is the sole authority in Georgia that can commute a death sentence.  Thompson was married at the time to Barnes' Senate floor leader and childhood friend, Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Powder Springs).  She told Barnes that Ray had accepted thousands of dollars from Newsome shortly after she and other parole board staff members were instructed to lobby for a bill that was a potential windfall for private probation companies, including Newsome's.  'Whistle-blower' lauded  Whitworth eventually acknowledged receiving $75,000 from DMS and $135,000 over five years from the Bobby Ross Group, while Ray said he got $24,500 from Newsome over four years.  On Friday, Morgan commended Thompson for being the "whistle-blower" who started the investigation. "If she had not come forward with information, state officials would never have known about this," he said.  Thompson said Friday she had mixed feelings about the indictment.  "I was damaged by this, both personally and professionally," she said. "While I'm fine now, I'm very sad to see this happen, especially to someone I've known for so many years. But I did my legal constitutional duty in reporting what I knew to Governor Barnes and his chief of staff, Bobby Kahn. At that point, it was out of my hands."  Kahn said Friday the government had done what it had to do. "Our goal from the start was to make sure this was handled in a proper manner," Kahn said. "I hate to see anybody undergo legal troubles, but if that's what's required, that's what's required."  Attorney General Thurbert Baker declined comment Friday. "It would be inappropriate for us to comment because our office has recused itself from this investigation," his spokesman said. Baker stepped aside last year after it was alleged that his office had sought to destroy evidence of improper contact with the parole board on behalf of an inmate.  Barnes then appointed Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Pete Skandalakis as special prosecutor to take over the investigation. Skandalakis eventually cleared Baker of any wrongdoing.  Pension not at risk  Whitworth began his corrections career in 1973 with the department's Farm Services division. He became commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections in 1990, but then-Gov. Zell Miller removed him from that job in 1993 over the handling of a women's prison sex scandal. Miller appointed him to the paroles board.  Whitworth recently started drawing an annual pension of $104,400. State law terminates pension payments to any employee hired after July 1, 1985, who commits a felony related to his duties. Whitworth's service began in 1973, according to the state retirement system, so his pension would be unaffected if he were convicted.  In an interview in April 2002, Miller praised Whitworth for how he dealt with prison overcrowding during a budget-breaking recession.  "Bobby Whitworth had the knowledge and the ability that no one else had at that time to figure future prison space accurately," said Miller, now a U.S. senator. "He had a very good ability to figure exactly what you could do with the space you had. It helped me, it helped Georgia, and it helped the system over some very rough spots."  (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)  

June 14, 2002
The two most influential members of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles resigned Thursday as Gov. Roy Barnes appointed a special prosecutor to investigate them -- as well as Attorney General Thurbert Baker.   Barnes named Coweta County District Attorney Pete Skandalakis the special prosecutor whose job will be to untangle a budding -- and complicated -- election year scandal that includes allegations of trading influence for money.   Parole board Chairman Walter Ray and member Bobby Whitworth are under investigation for allegedly lobbying the Legislature on behalf of a private probation company that had paid them tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees.  Ray and Whitworth have acknowledged they were paid consultants for Detention Management Services, which supervises offenders sentenced to probation for misdemeanors.   Two years ago, the Legislature enacted a law shifting responsibility for managing misdemeanor offenders from the state to local governments, a step some said would help companies such as Detention Management Services. Ray and Whitworth deny they personally pressed legislators for the change.   Ray was appointed to the board by Gov. Zell Miller in 1996 and had been chairman since 1997. A former state trooper, Ray was a state senator for 12 years and had risen to president pro tem of the state Senate.   Whitworth, said to have the most influence on the board, was appointed in 1993 by Miller. Before that, he had been head of the state prison system.  (The Atlanta Journal)

June 14, 2002
The state's investigation of two top parole officials began last August following reports that a firm in the corrections business paid the men tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees.  Parole board member Bobby Whitworth and Chairman Walter Ray. Both men acknowledge they were paid nearly $100,000 between them as consultants to a private probation company, Detention Management Services. Whitworth said he received a lump-sum payment of $75,000, and Ray said he was paid $24,500 over a four-year period. Whitworth and Ray said they were paid to help Detention Management drum up business to supervise minor offenders sentenced to probation in city and county court systems around the state. They say they had no conflict of interest because DMS was working with probationers and not parolees. But, during the same period that the two men were working for DMS, lobbyists for the parole board were pushing a bill in the state Legislature that shifted responsibility for supervising all misdemeanor offenders in Georgia to those same city and county courts. The 2000 law reduced state probation officers' caseloads and created a windfall of business opportunities for DMS and other private probation companies. (The Atlanta Journal)

April 12, 2002
One day after a newspaper series reported allegations of corruption at Georgia's parole board, two Athens parole officers showed up at the home of James "Tommy" Morris with a "message" for the former board chairman. Morris, quoted in the articles as saying the board should be "cleaned up or abolished," was no longer welcome to stop by the parole office near his home outside Athens. The order had come down through a chain of command that started with top parole officials in Atlanta. "I guess it was just to show their displeasure with him," said David McCranie, chief of the Athens district parole office, who was ordered Tuesday to deliver the message. Morris, who retired in 1995, had served 22 years on the parole board and was elected chairman three times. He called the move "childish" and a "knee-jerk reaction by some emotional people." "It just gave me a feeling that they're sending a Scud missile out and they're directing it to me," he said. "They blame me for picking up where Lisa Thompson left off." Last summer, Thompson, a former member of the parole agency's inner circle, went to the governor with allegations of wrongdoing by board members Bobby Whitworth and Chairman Walter Ray. The five-member board decides which inmates can leave prison early. Thompson's allegations, which surfaced during an employee dispute, have led to an eight-month criminal investigation by the attorney general. Investigators are looking into whether Whitworth and Ray illegally influenced legislation for payment or broke the law when they accepted tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from private companies doing criminal justice business. Whitworth and Ray deny doing anything wrong. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

April 8, 2002
Eleven years ago, Gov. Zell Miller publicly berated Bobby Whitworth for hiring his son Chris to work in the Department of Corrections. "Nepotism should be stopped, and it should be stopped by department heads," Miller said in 1991, railing against "family trees" and threatening to fire anyone who hired relatives. Commissioner Whitworth promptly fired his boy. But with no laws against nepotism in Georgia and few other restrictions on hiring, Whitworth and other members of the Georgia parole board continue to dole out jobs and contracts to friends, relatives and legislators. Whitworth may have fired his son Chris a decade ago, but today his son Kenny earns more than $62,000 a year managing the unit that oversees parole's electronic monitoring program. Just as the Department of Corrections under Whitworth was called the "department of connections," the Board of Pardons and Paroles could become known as "pardons and payrolls." Among those on the board's payroll have been the House speaker's grandson, the son of a secretary for Gov. Roy Barnes, the daughter of the former House Rules Committee chairman, the wife of a state agency head, former parole board members, former legislators, a gospel singer and a wrestler. "It's a conflict of interest, pure and simple," said Emmet Bondurant, a prominent Atlanta attorney on the board of Common Cause of Georgia, a government watchdog group. "The public can never have confidence that contracts or jobs are being awarded on merit if they're going out to friends and relatives of those in the position to influence the decision-making process." In 1983, as lieutenant governor, Miller tried to pass an anti-nepotism law. But no such law exists today, nor does the state's merit system have guidelines prohibiting nepotism. Georgia is one of seven state governments without restrictions on nepotism, according to a study published in the State and Local Government Review. The hiring of friends and relatives is so ingrained in Georgia's political landscape that lawmakers have resisted change, Bondurant said. "It's hard to think there would be many states worse than here." (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

April 7, 2002
Charges of corruption and cronyism have enveloped Georgia's parole board. Critics accuse some board members of lining their pockets through private contracts and turning the agency into a political dumping ground. At the center of an eight-month criminal investigation is Bobby Whitworth, a member of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. He was also a commissioner of Georgia's Department of Corrections for four years. In 1993 Gov. Zell Miller forced him out of his corrections job over his handling of a prison sex scandal, then immediately appointed him to the five-member parole board. Also under investigation is Walter Ray, the parole board's current chairman. Although Ray holds the top title, Whitworth runs the board, observers say. Whitworth and Ray admit they accepted tens of thousands of dollars from Lanson Newsome, a former Corrections deputy commissioner and friend of Whitworth's who made millions in the sale of his private probation business. Investigators want to know whether the two board members were paid to influence passage of a law that would benefit Newsome's company. If they were, they could face up to five years in prison. Under the 2000 law, the state turned over supervision of thousands of misdemeanor probationers to private companies, creating a potential windfall for companies such as Newsome's Detention Management Services Inc. The attorney general and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation also are looking into: Whitworth's contract with the Bobby Ross Group, a Texas-based private prison company that paid him more than $135,000 in consulting fees between 1996 and 2001. Whitworth also earns a state salary of $111,509 a year. A $26,000 contract awarded by the board to the wife of the lobbyist for the Bobby Ross Group. It was given to the wife's company while Whitworth was being paid consulting fees by the Bobby Ross Group. The contract was awarded with no competitive bids. Another part of the state's investigation has been devoted to unraveling a proposal championed by Whitworth and Ray to create a new agency that would combine probation and parole. The governor's chief of staff and others say the new agency is Whitworth's brainchild. Given the trend toward privatizing, a new superagency could be a gold mine for private companies able to secure contracts with the state. It all started to unravel with a woman scorned. Few couples in Georgia politics were as powerful and connected as Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Powder Springs) and his wife, Lisa Phillips Thompson. He's the governor's Senate floor leader and Barnes' childhood friend. She ascended to the parole board's inner circle as its legislative liaison for the last six years. Barnes was in their wedding. The Thompsons spent Christmas Eves with the first couple. Until last year. That's when Lisa Thompson went from golden girl to whistle-blower. She told her story to the governor, news reporters and ultimately the deputy attorney general. According to Bowers, her lawyer, Thompson believed she was being pushed out of her job because she and her husband were planning to divorce. She hired Bowers to fight for her job. "They were trying to capitalize on her relationship with a prominent legislator to do her duties as the legislative liaison for the board," Bowers says. But the employee dispute also prompted her to tell the governor and his staff of alleged wrongdoing at the parole board, stemming from lobbying work the year before. During the 2000 session, Thompson had lobbied hard for the private probation bill --- a top priority of Whitworth's and Ray's, she has said. The idea was to reduce state probation officers' caseloads by shifting supervision of misdemeanor offenders to private companies contracted by cities and counties. But probation is under the control of the Department of Corrections, not the parole board, so Thompson questioned why the board was pushing the bill with such determination. Tracy Masters, attorney for the parole board, says that in early 2000, Whitworth asked him to draft a bill to remove misdemeanor offenders from state probation and from prison beds. Whitworth told Masters to consult with a former Corrections staff member who was experienced in writing legislation. "I initiated the call because Bobby Whitworth had asked me to draft a bill to that extent," Masters says. Shortly afterward, Bowers says, Thompson learned Newsome had been paying Ray while she and other parole board staff had been lobbying for a bill that opened new markets to Newsome's company. In interviews last summer with WSB-TV and WAGA-TV, Ray admitted Newsome had paid him $11,000 over two years to drum up business for his probation company with local officials. Ray now says he received $24,500 over four years. Whitworth acknowledged he had received a lump sum of $75,000 from Newsome for the same services. Both argue there was no conflict because Newsome's business had nothing to do with parole. And they point to a 1997 law that made it legal for parole board members to hold outside jobs that don't conflict with their official duties. That law was Whitworth's idea. He says he pushed for it to protect board members and parole officers who held outside jobs. But he also says that by fall 1996, he had begun accepting $1,000-a-month payments from Newsome and $3,000 a month from the Bobby Ross Group --- months before the new law passed.   Personal relationships have always been the mainstay of Georgia politics. With no nepotism laws, friends or relatives often work in high places, courtesy of their father the legislator or their friend the governor. And because of weak ethics laws, doing business in Georgia often means steering lucrative state contracts to friends. After helping Orlando Martinez get appointed to run Juvenile Justice, Whitworth lobbied hard to get him to continue doing business with the Bobby Ross Group. At the time Martinez took over, the Bobby Ross Group had a sizable contract to run a juvenile detention facility in Ocilla. Martinez had decided to cancel it for a number of reasons. Whitworth was then a consultant for Bobby Ross. But whether or not Whitworth broke the law, his actions were unethical, says Robert Pastor, chairman of Common Cause of Georgia, a government watchdog group. And if they're not illegal, "the law should be changed," Pastor says. "That kind of activity is completely inappropriate, even if his private activities only indirectly related to his official role," Pastor says. Whitworth should have known better, says Morris, a board member for more than 22 years. "What's legal and what's right isn't always in concert," he says, "but . . .any logical human being would know that what he was doing was wrong." Both Whitworth and Ray say they cleared all their consulting contracts with their department's lawyer. Masters, director of legal services, says he discussed with them the types of arrangements that would be legal, but not specific contracts. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

September 5, 2001
An investigation into alleged improprieties at the state Board of Pardons and Paroles has expanded to include a review of a contract for testing services.  Officials are looking into whether the deal --- a one-year pilot program that was not extended --- benefited the wife of a business associate and friend of board member Bobby Whitworth.  Career Mappers Inc. sold the testing program to the parole board after Dotty Edwards of Spartanburg, S.C., introduced the company's executive to state officials, Browning said.  Edward's husband, former South Carolina state Rep. T.W. Edwards Jr., is registered to lobby the Georgia General Assembly for the Bobby Ross Group or BRG, a company that operates private prisons.  The company also has employed Whitworth as a consultant.  Whitworth's connections to BRG are under investigation by the attorney general's office and the Georgia Bureau of investigation.  Authorities are looking into $100,000 that Whitworth reportedly accepted from the firm for monitoring its privately run prisons in Texas.  The investigation also centers on payments that Whitworth and Walter Ray, parole board chairman, accepted from Detention Management Services, which had a contract to supervise people sentenced to probation for misdemeanors.  Whitworth has said he received $75,000 for three years of work for DMS; Ray said his fees totaled $11,000 for two years of work.  Both Whitworth and Ray have denied wrongdoing.  (The Atlanta Journal and Constitution)

July 26, 2001
Georgia's attorney general is looking into consulting contracts two state Pardons and Parole Board members had with private security companies to determine if there was a conflict of interest or ethics laws were broken, officials said Wednesday. Russell Willard, a spokesman for Attorney General Thurbert Baker, would not characterize the inquiry as an investigation. "There are a number of allegations out there and we are looking at those allegations," he said.  In a case that has prompted calls for stronger state ethics laws, Parole Board Chairman Walter Ray and board member Bobby Whitworth acknowledged this month that they had been paid consultants for the probation company Detention Management Services, which was sold last year to a firm with state contracts.  Ray, paid $11,000 over two years, and Whitworth, paid $75,000 for three years of work, said their job was to introduce DMS owner Lanson Newsome to local government officials in hopes they would hire the company to supervise misdemeanor offenders sentenced to probation. Criticism centered on allegations Ray and Whitworth pushed for a change in state law that could help companies like DMS. Last year, the Legislature shifted supervision of misdemeanor offenders on probation from the state to local governments. Ray and Whitworth said they never personally lobbied for the change --- though employees of their agency did. Parole Board lobbyists said the change would reduce the agency's supervisory caseload.  But critics noted the change would provide business for private security companies like DMS and the national firm that bought it, which were securing contracts with Georgia cities and counties that became responsible for incarcerating the prisoners.  (The Atlanta Journal and Constitution)

July 10, 2001
A state official admitted to receiving more than $200, 000 from two government contractors who do business in the criminal justice arena.  Bobby Whitworth, a member of Georgia's Board of Pardons and Paroles, told WSB-TV on Monday he was within the law when he was hired as a consultant by Detention Management Services and the Bobby Ross Group.  The board of Pardons and Paroles decides when to release certain offenders from confinement after they have served part of a prison sentence.  Whitworth said the company did no state business, but he acknowledged lobbying as a board member for a law that might have created more work for companies like DMS.  The Bobby Ross Group operates three juvenile facilities in Georgia.  The mission of the company is changing to a parole revocation center.  Walter Ray, the chair of the state board of Pardons and Paroles, acknowledged on WSB-TV Tuesday that he too, received money from the government contractors.  However, Jeff Davis, executive director of Georgia Common Cause, said he has a problem with it.  "When public officials accept money from private companies and then use their political power to lobby for action or legislation that ends up benefiting those companies - that raises the appearance of propriety," Davis said.  (AP)

Georgia Department of Corrections
Jul 9, 2019

Georgia’s largest bank to sever ties with private prison industry

SunTrust Banks, the Atlanta-based banking giant that is set to merge with rival BB&T, announced Monday that it would no longer provide financing to companies that operate prisons and immigration detention centers, becoming the latest lender to cut ties with the private corrections industry.The announcement came amid reports that migrant children have been held in overcrowded and unhealthy federal detention facilities. President Donald Trump denied those reports Sunday on Twitter, calling them “phony and exaggerated.” “First of all, people should not be entering our Country illegally, only for us to then have to care for them. We should be allowed to focus on … United States Citizens first,” he tweeted. “Border Patrol, and others in Law Enforcement, have been doing a great job.” The corrections companies affected by the bank’s decision defended themselves, accusing SunTrust of bending to political pressure and not examining the facts. SunTrust did not specify what prompted its move, though its decision followed an online petition drive from various activist groups opposing the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies. Bank of America staked out a similar position last month, just days after Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced her plans for banning private prisons. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. made similar commitments earlier this year. “Following an ongoing and deliberate process, SunTrust has decided not to provide future financing to companies that manage private prisons and immigration holding facilities,” SunTrust said in a prepared statement. “This decision was made after extensive consideration of the views of our stakeholders on this deeply complex issue.” The largest bank in Georgia, SunTrust is also No. 1 in metro Atlanta in terms of deposits and has about 8,000 employees in the state. It plans to combine this year with BB&T, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based lender that has a regional hub in Atlantic Station and ranks fourth in total deposits and retail locations in the metro area. The $66 billion all-stock combination will create the sixth-largest bank in the U.S. A BB&T spokesman said the bank does not provide financing to the private prison industry. The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to requests for comment Monday. The federal Bureau of Prisons declined to comment. Some of the Peach State’s largest industries are routinely pulled into fiery debates over public policy. For example, Hollywood studios have warned of economic consequences since Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law new abortion restrictions this year. But the powerful Georgia companies that have fiercely opposed a “religious liberty” measure for Georgia have stayed mum about the anti-abortion law. Businesses face risks weighing in on hot-button issues. Last year, Delta Air Lines severed marketing ties with the National Rifle Association, which infuriated some conservatives and prompted each of the leading Republican candidates for governor to oppose a tax exemption for jet fuel that was worth tens of millions of dollars to the Atlanta-based airline. Wall Street banks, including SunTrust, have credit arrangements totaling $2.6 billion with two large corrections companies, Nashville-based CoreCivic and Boca Raton, Fla.-based GEO Group, according to a report released in April by In the Public Interest, the Public Accountability Initiative, and the Center for Popular Democracy. CoreCivic, which has 1,581 employees in Georgia, operates the sprawling Stewart Detention Center, a federal immigration holding facility in South Georgia. GEO Group has 1,200 workers in Georgia and operates the Folkston ICE Processing Center, an immigration detention facility near the Georgia-Florida border. It also runs the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility in Lovejoy, where ICE began holding some of its detainees last year. Both companies criticized SunTrust’s decision and underscored that they do not detain children. “Like others before it, this decision is about caving to political pressure based on false and misleading statements about our company,” CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist said. “Despite claims of a thorough review process, these banks have kowtowed to a small group of activists rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue about the facts.” Gilchrist added that SunTrust has “a contractual obligation to continue working with our company through the expiration of our mutual agreement in 2023. We fully expect SunTrust and others to honor their commitments.” Suntrust declined to comment on that. GEO released a prepared statement saying, “misleading political activism has been allowed to impact a decade-long banking relationship.” “The divestment efforts against our company are based on a false narrative,” GEO said, “and a deliberate mischaracterization of our role as a long-standing government services provider.” Monday, the Families Belong Together Corporate Accountability Committee, made up of more than 100 organizations, called on other banks to follow SunTrust’s lead.“ SunTrust’s decision to stop new financing to the private prison industry and immigrant detention companies is a testament to the growing strength of our movement and the power of everyday people standing up for what’s right,” the committee said in a statement. “Millions of people and more than 100 organizations have made their voices heard, signed petitions, as well as protested bank branches and headquarters to demand an end to financing an industry profiting from the caging of people of color and immigrants.”

Mar 26, 2014

In the past few years, private firms in Georgia that profit from holding poor residents criminally responsible for failure to pay fines have faced rebuke after rebuke in court rulings and lawsuits. In one, Sentinel Offender Services held open an arrest warrant that had expired two years earlier. In another, a court found that the same notorious firm had illegally extended the probation sentences of potentially thousands of Georgians. And even when they’re not found in violation of the law, they are testing its limits by profiting on the backs of individuals too poor to pay probation fines for offenses as minor as traffic violations. To rein in the industry, critics have called for increased oversight. But instead, the Georgia legislature passed a bill last week to give private probation firms even more power, and to make most information surrounding the firms a state secret. “This bill is a gift to the private probation firms,” said Southern Center for Human Rights attorney Sarah Geraghty. Private probation firms take on the role of supervising probation sentences for misdemeanor cases in some counties. But probation terms that often begin because an individual doesn’t have the means to pay a fine in the first place become the source for a cycle of criminal debt, as companies impose monthly “supervision” fees, even where the only supervision mandated by the court is collection of a fee, as well as hefty charges for electronic monitoring and drug tests. Unlike debt collection agencies, these firms use the threat of arrests, jail time, and electronic monitoring to extract these funds from low-level offenders. In Georgia, traffic offenses are considered criminal. So even individuals charged with running a stop sign have landed in jail for allegedly not paying fees, even over claims that they already paid. In one Georgia incident documented in a recent Human Rights Watch report, a man who stole a $2 can of beer ended up in jail for failure to pay a $200 fine that ballooned into more than $1,000 under the supervision of a private probation firm. And Georgia’s private probation companies charge twice as much per month to supervise individuals with misdemeanor convictions ($39 to $44) as the state charges to supervise individuals for felonies ($23), according to the Southern Center for Human Rights. The bill passed by both houses this week is a direct response to a court ruling last year that found private probation services could neither unilaterally extend probationers’ sentences, nor supervise electronic monitoring services under existing state law, according to the Southern Center for Human Rights’ Kathryn Hamoudah. The bill aims to change that law so the firms can do what they were told not to by a judge. It authorizes probation firms to seek electronic monitoring for any misdemeanor, including traffic offenses, and to get permission from a judge to extend a probation sentence before the individual gets a hearing to contest the extension. It also makes explicit a probationer’s obligation to pay fees and that a probationer may be jailed for failure to pay. Some legislators attempted to include provisions that increase oversight of the industry, but those provisions were “stripped from the bill” as it moved through committee, according to the Augusta Chronicle. Instead, provisions to make every element of private probation secret were left intact. The bill would eliminate public access to information about how much these firms are being paid, how much they are charging in fees, who is under supervision, and even how many people are on probation. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has not said whether he will sign the bill. Private probation firms are a growing industry that, like private prisons, stand to profit from criminalizing more conduct, and have an incentive to lobby for policies that send more individuals to probation and/or jail. In Georgia, an existing law that expanded the role of private prison companies passed after a private probation firm paid the head of the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles $75,000 to lobby for the law. That official was eventually convicted of public corruption, but the law he backed remains on the books. Jailing individuals who can’t afford to pay — so-called “debtors’ prisons” was deemed unconstitutional more than 30 years ago. Judges are required to assess ability to pay before imposing any criminal sanctions, but lawsuits and investigations allege they frequently either skip that step entirely, or use insufficient measures to deem even those who are homeless or on public assistance capable of paying.

Jul 5, 2013

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation used a warrant Thursday to search the Porterdale office of East Georgia Correctional Services, the former probation company for the city of Covington, which previously had questions raised about whether it underpaid required money to the state and city of Covington. GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang said Monday, the investigation is “to determine if EGCS (East Georgia Correctional Services) was charging probationers more than the contract stated.” Lang said the investigation is ongoing and no more information can be released. Before 2012, EGCS handled probation services for Covington and was responsible for overseeing payment of fines and community service for people charged with some crimes, traffic offenses or ordinance violations in the city. The company was allowed to charge probationers a certain amount of money above the city’s fine. It’s unclear if the GBI is only investigating whether probationers were charged more than they were supposed to be or is also investigating potential underpayment of money to the state and city. In April 2012, former municipal court judge David Strickland, a local attorney, gave the city more than 150 pages of documents showing EGCS paid nearly $21,000 less in fees to the state and city than the company was required to pay by law. Probation companies are legally required to send $9 per active probationer each month to the state’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Documents from 2010 and 2011 showed EGCS did not send the required money or reports for eight of the 24 months. From the records that the company did send in, it reported $20,946 less in payments than it said it paid to the city and state. Documents also led to questions about why the number of probationers in the EGCS system inexplicably changed from the end of one month to the beginning of the next. Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said Monday his department contacted the GBI to handle the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest. EGCS offices used to be located on Gordy Street in Covington, but the company now has offices in downtown Porterdale at 2018 Main St. When Covington bid out its probation services last year, EGCS did not put in a bid. According to the company’s website, it provides probation services for the Porterdale and Oxford municipal courts, as well as drug screening services to local courts, companies and individuals. An email sent to the company late Tuesday was not immediately answered. Previous private audits ordered by the city did not clear up the matter of whether EGCS ever mishandled funds, because the company’s files were not examined, city officials said. However, more guidelines and a more intense reporting structure for the municipal court were recommended as a result of the audits.

Nov 8, 2012 WSB TV
ATLANTA — Several probation companies that operate in Georgia recently gained national attention for the mounting lawsuits against them. After seeing them, Channel 2 Action News launched their own investigation into the companies. Private probation accounts for about 40 percent of all probation in the state. Channel 2's Erin Coleman looked into the problems with the system and spoke with attorneys who said taxpayers are actually the ones losing out. Attorneys who are now suing some of these private companies said more people are ending up in jail for minor offense like shoplifting, running a stop sign or driving on a suspended license. They told Coleman that taxpayers are the ones who end up paying for it. "I did about 13 days in there," said Hills McGee, a disabled veteran arrested four years ago for being drunk in public and thrown in jail for 13 days after he couldn't pay his probation fee of $180 to his privately owned probation company. McGee's attorney, John Bell, said he is like so many others who end up in jail for minor infractions because they can't pay a debt. "The only focus appears to be how can we make him pay some money, even if it means locking him up at a far greater cost than the money he owed," Bell said. Bell told Coleman that taxpayers are the ones who are paying for it. Bell has taken McGee's case all the way to Federal Court. "All the incentives are backwards," Bell said. Sandy Springs Judge James Anderson III said in his view, private probation works well. "I will not revoke probation because someone cannot pay a fee, ever," Anderson said. When Sandy Springs started up, Anderson said they contracted out most of their services, including probation. "As long as it is run in an ethical manner, I have no problems with it whatsoever," Anderson said. Bell argues many companies aren't operating ethically. Channel 2 Action News filed an open records request and received hundreds of complaints filed against private probation companies. "It was horrible," said Tomoria Wells. Wells spent 18 days in a Ware County Jail for stealing a $20 outfit from JC Penney. Her total bill from her private probation company was more than $1,300. Much of that bill was for supervision fees, just like in McGee's case. "He spent 13 nights in our county jail for failure to pay their fee of $180. Those 13 nights probably cost Richmond county close to $1,000," Bell said. "I think you have a potential conflict because it's a for-profit business. That's how they make their money is off the supervision fees," said Dale Allen, who used to work for a private probation company. Allen is now the chief probation officer in Athens-Clarke County. After judges ordered an audit in 2007, the county switched from private probation back to government probation and hired Allen to run it. "They wanted accountability," Allen said. "Because they were unhappy?" Coleman asked. "They were unhappy. Judges don't care about money," Allen said. Allen said he is saving money by offering more services to help probationers without throwing them in jail. "Saved this county $700,000 in jail costs," Allen said. "We can't afford to keep putting people in jail, it's not working." Coleman contacted several private probation companies, all of them either did not respond or declined to comment on our story. Coleman found some counties that apparently liked the system but did not like the company they had. They switched from one company to another.

December 1, 2005 Cedartown Standard
At a meeting with state Sen. Bill Heath and state Rep. Bill Cummings, county commissioners expressed concerns over proposed legislation that would expand the power of inverse condemnation. Commissioners also voiced their concerns over state funding for prisoners housed in county jails. A number of state prisoners are held in county jails while waiting transfer to state facilities. Currently, the state reimburses counties $20 per day per prisoner. Chairman Croker said that the state pays private prisons $45 per day per prisoner. He also said the cost per day for the county is more than the $20 reimbursed. He suggested the state increase reimbursement for the counties.

February 14, 2005 Macon Telegraph
The Georgia Department of Corrections plans to cut the number of its employees monitoring the state's three private prisons on site from three to one.  State prison officials said the move will be made in a couple of weeks to cut costs. They said experience with the prisons has led them to believe that monitoring levels can be safely cut.
A single contract monitor, a mid-level managerial position, will monitor the three prisons in the future to ensure that sanitation, safety and security are up to state contract standards. Monitors' logs were compiled in a 2000 state report that documented a number of problems at the three prisons. Company officials at the time described the problems as routine startup difficulties.

September 6, 2003
A top Georgia prison executive resigned Friday after making disparaging remarks about another public safety official at a meeting of wardens.  James Doctor worked for the Department of Corrections for 29 years. As director of the department's facilities division, Doctor supervised about two-thirds of the department's employees, including all wardens and officers at the state's 39 prisons.  Bud Black, a member of the state Public Safety Board -- which oversees the Georgia State Patrol and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation -- said he was told Doctor made disparaging remarks about him Wednesday during a monthly meeting of the state's prison wardens.  Doctor acknowledged Thursday that he told the wardens he had no respect for Black, but he said he felt he had nothing to apologize for. Doctor could not be reached for comment Friday.  Joe Ferrero, acting commissioner of the Corrections Department, said he accepted Doctor's resignation Friday morning.  The resignation "stems from comments at a managers' meeting I find unacceptable for a senior manager of our department," Ferrero said.  Acting Assistant Commissioner Alan Adams has been placed in charge of the department's facilities division, Ferrero said.  Black said Friday that he thinks the department was right to accept Doctor's resignation. "You hate to see something like that happen," he said. "But I don't think they had any other choice."  Before Doctor convened the meeting with the wardens in Forsyth, Black, who once worked for the Corrections Department, went in to greet some of the people he had once worked with. After Black left, Doctor questioned Black's ethics and made other disparaging remarks about him, Black said.  After leaving Corrections, Black started a private probation company with Lanson Newsome, also a former Corrections executive.  Bobby Whitworth, as a member of the state parole board and former Corrections commissioner, has been indicted for allegedly taking money to influence legislation that would have been a major financial windfall for companies such as Newsome's and Black's Detention Management Services. Neither Newsome nor Black has been accused of wrongdoing.  (The Atlanta-Constitution)

Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice

The state of Georgia will close a juvenile jail where a federal report found an extremely high rate of youth alleging sexual misconduct by staff, ending a nearly 15-year contract with the facility's troubled private prison operator. A spokesman for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice wrote in an email that the decision not to renew the contract with Florida-based Youth Services International at the end of this year was about cutting costs, not a June report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that uncovered allegations of rampant sexual misconduct. Department spokesman Jim Shuler pointed to a news release that described the closure of the company's Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center as an "economics-based option" meant to save the state more than $6 million. In a report released this summer, the Bureau of Justice Statistics surveyed more than 300 juvenile institutions across the country and found that YSI's Paulding youth jail, northwest of Atlanta, had the highest reported rate of sexual victimization among all facilities surveyed. More than 30 percent of youth surveyed at Paulding alleged inappropriate sexual contact with staff, according to the report. Youth Services International did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice did not make staff available for interviews, responding only to emailed questions. Shuler wrote that state officials reviewed "every 2012 incident report" at Paulding since the federal government released its report in June and have "been in regular communication" with the Bureau of Justice Statistics. YSI still operates two other facilities in Georgia. The Paulding facility is the only state juvenile jail scheduled to close this year, according to state news releases. Shuler also cited a "reduced number of youth" coming from the area served by the Paulding detention center as a reason for the closure. YSI was the subject of a recent Huffington Post investigation that documented a more than two-decade history of abuse at the company's juvenile and adult facilities across the country. Despite that record, HuffPost found that the company has continued to win multi-million-dollar juvenile prison contracts -- particularly in Florida -- by cultivating political connections. Shuler said the HuffPost articles were not a factor in the state's decision to close the facility. In a statement, Georgia DJJ Commissioner Avery Niles said the department "continues its longstanding relationship with YSI." A major riot occurred at the Paulding detention center in December 2011. Staff lost control of the facility and youth were "using fire extinguishers as weapons," according to a local police report on the incident obtained through a state public records request. Police responding to the scene found "extensive damage", including broken windows and a broken, spraying water fountain that left six inches of water standing throughout the jail. Shuler wrote that the riot occurred during a prior administration, and that current DJJ staff are developing new policies intended to "focus new attention on safety and security." Another disturbance recently erupted at a YSI facility in Minnesota. According to local news reports, two youths climbed out of a window at a facility called Elmore Academy in August and stole a pickup truck from a nearby home. Local sheriff's deputies pursued the escapees, resulting in a car chase across two counties that left three police cars damaged. The Paulding detention center was built in 1998, and was one of the company's longest-running contracts. It will close at the end of the year and juvenile inmates will be transferred to other state detention centers. For more on Youth Services International, read HuffPost's two-part investigation, "Prisoners of Profit":

Georgia Legislature

Feb 27, 2019

Bill Seeks to Prohibit Private Prisons in Georgia
Private corporations would not be able to operate correctional facilities in Georgia under a new bill proposed by a number of state representatives. House Bill 403 would eliminate private contracts for detention facilities in Georgia, which would include jails and prisons alike. The measure was filed last week by State Representatives Scott Holcomb, Carl Gilliard, Gregg Kennard, Miriam Paris, Carolyn Hugley, and Bee Nguyen.  Specifically, the definition of detention center would include “prisons, jails, immigration detention centers, parole revocation centers, long-term and short-term youth detention centers, boot camps, and probation detention centers” that are operated by the Georgia Department of Corrections. It would not cover federal facilities in Georgia.  The language of the bill does not cancel any current contracts in place but would bar the renewal of any contracts once they expire.  Private prisons have been under fire for a number of years by justice reform advocates as they argue that the prisons should not be for-profit entities and across the United States, the private prison industry is a multi-billion industry. But supporters of privatization have long held that it’s cheaper for taxpayers if the prisons are contracted out. An audit requested by House Appropriations Chairman Terry England found in December of 2018 that private prisons are actually not cheaper to operate than state-run prisons. “The audit says it costs the state more to house comparable inmates in private prisons than state facilities, which is contrary to long-held beliefs of lawmakers supportive of increased privatization of government,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.  Currently, the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) has four prisons run by two private companies, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and The GEO Group. The four prisons house almost 7,800 inmates – or 15% of the total population – and the state pays the companies a collective $140 million annually. The audit reported that, when controlling for an offender’s sex, facility size and risk classification, state prisons run about $44.56 per offender per day and private prisons run around $49.07 per day per offender. The GDOC contracted with both companies more than a two decades ago and the contracts renew annually, with little-to-no negotiations and no bidding process for other services or companies. The contracts require a minimum capacity for the privately run prisons, which include Coffee County Correctional Facility, Jenkins Correctional Facility in Millen, Wheeler Correctional Facility in Alamo, and Riverbend Correctional Facility in Milledgeville. Additionally, private correctional facilities are not subject to public record laws and don’t have to report how money is being spent, despite the funneling of tax dollars to the businesses to conduct state business. These facilities also have the ability to accept or decline an offender based on medical conditions and mental health concerns, which drives down costs. Private Prisons have a heavy hand in campaign donations in Georgia. (See full list here) The companies donated more than $100,000 to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in 2017 and 2018.  The bill has been assigned to the House Public Safety & Homeland Security members here.

Jan 3, 2019
Private Prison Companies Paid More than $174k to Georgia Politicians, PACS in 2017-18
Amid a recent audit report released by the state which indicates private prisons in Georgia are costing more per inmate per day, AllOnGeorgia examined the influence private prison companies have on Georgia’s legislators. The GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) both have automatically renewing contracts with the State of Georgia that are not negotiated annually and have been in place for over two decades. The contracts require that the four facilities under private supervision maintain a certain occupancy rate or the state faces a penalty. Information from the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission shows that the nation’s two largest private prison companies donated more than $174,000 to elected officials over the last two years. Lawmakers on any particular side of the aisle were not exclusive recipients of donations from either company. Among the top recipients were Democrat Minority Leader Bob Trammell and Republican Speaker of the House David Ralston. Newly-elected Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan received $3,000 during the election cycle in 2018 from the GEO Group.  Also of note, soon-to-be former Governor Nathan Deal, who has prided his administration on criminal justice reform, received $6,100 from the GEO Group when he was first elected and the Georgia Republican Party received $70,000 from the GEO Group during the 2018 election cycle. Corecivic provided $1,500 to the Georgia Senatorial Committee as well and $2,000 to The Democratic Party of Georgia. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr also received $3,000 from the GEO Group in the General Election cycle while Governor-elect Brian Kemp brought in $6,600 from the GEO Group and $9,100 in from CoreCivic. Additionally, House Appropriations Chairman Terry England received $2,500 from the GEO Group in 2017 and $2,600 in 2018. He was recently quoted in an AJC article regarding the legitimacy of the audit released citing private prisons as less cost-effective, saying it’s possible the report is not all-inclusive. $15,000 was also donated to ‘Changing Georgia’s Future’, which was said to be a pro-Cagle PAC. Numbers illustrate 2017 and 2018 donations per the Georgia Campaign Finance website. The numbers do not include the last quarter of 2018.

Democrat lawmakers:
Sen. Gail Davenport                   $1,000
Rep. Calvin Smyre                      $1,000
Rep. Bob Trammell                    $1,500
Sen. Valencia Seay                     $1,000
Sen Freddie Powell Sims             $750
Sen. Stephen Henson                $1,000
Total                                                  $6250

Republican lawmakers
2017-18 donations
Lt. Gov Casey Cagle         $13,500
Rep. Terry England          $7,600
Sen. Butch Miller              $5,100
Sen. Jack Hill                      $4,500
Rep. John Burns                $4,000
Sen. Tyler Harper             $3,500
Sen. David Shafer             $3,500
Sen. John Albers               $3,000
Rep. Jan Jones                    $3,000
Rep. David Ralston           $2,700
Sen. Bill Cowsert               $2,000
Rep. Matt Hatchett           $2,000
Rep. Alan Powell               $2,000
Sen. Jesse Stone                $2,000
Rep. Terry Rogers              $1,500
Sen. Blake tillery                $1,500
The Georgia House Republican Trust        $1,500
Georgia Senatorial Comm             $1,500
Rep. John Corbett              $1,000
Sen. Michael Dugan          $1,000
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler      $1,000
Sen. Burt Jones                   $1,000
Sen. John Kennedy           $1,000
Rep. John Meadows         $1,000
Rep. Rick Williams            $1,000
Rep. Barry Fleming              $750
Rep. Jimmy Pruett               $750
Rep. Mandi Ballinger          $500
Rep. Geoff Cauble               $500
Rep. Geralde Greene         $500
Sen. Jeff Mullis                     $500
Rep. Emory Dunahoo         $250
Total                                      $75,150

In April 2018,  the Corrections Accountability Project released the names of over 3,100 corporations—including over 2,500 privately traded companies—that profit from the United States prison system. (That report is here) The information detailed above only includes that of the two largest companies in the nation and the two with active contracts with the state of Georgia.

Dec 31, 2018

Audit stirs debate about costs of private and state prisons in Georgia
While the growth in Georgia’s prison population has slowed after years of changes in the state’s criminal justice system, the inmate count is still expected to rise by more than 1,200 inmates in the next half-decade, according to a new state audit. “Had we not been doing criminal justice reform, that 1,200 number would probably be 7,500 or so,” said House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, whose panel requested the audit. But the report also raises a broader question about who should house those new inmates. The audit says it costs the state more to house comparable inmates in private prisons than state facilities, which is contrary to long-held beliefs of lawmakers supportive of increased privatization of government. The state already pays two private prison companies almost $140 million a year to house 15 percent of its inmate population. That’s about double what the state spent on private prisons 12 years ago. The companies — Florida-based GEO Group and Nashville, Tenn.-based CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America — are active political players at the Capitol. They’re contributions to state candidates and political action committees during the most recent election cycle totaled more than $300,000, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of campaign finance records. Like England, the companies have questions about the cost comparisons reached by state officials. Georgia spends about $1.2 billion a year housing prisoners. In fiscal 2018, which ended June 30, the Georgia Department of Corrections averaged just over 50,000 inmates a day in prisons, including those in private facilities and county correctional institutions. When Gov. Nathan Deal took office in 2011, Georgia led the nation in criminal supervision, with 1 in 13 people either locked up, on probation or on parole. The state was spending about what it is now on its prison system. If nothing changed, two new adult prisons would have had to have been built at a cost of $264 million. Deal, with support from lawmakers, began a years-long effort to alter that trend, reducing certain nonviolent felonies to misdemeanor offenses. For example, lawmakers raised the threshold for felony shoplifting from $500 in stolen merchandise to $1,500. They also created new categories of punishment for drug possession, with less severe penalties for offenders found with small quantities. The changes diverted hundreds of nonviolent offenders away from prison, where it costs about $20,000 a year to house an inmate. The governor also greatly expanded accountability courts in Georgia that take in drug addicts, the mentally ill, veterans and juveniles who’ve committed nonviolent offenses. A state study said that recidivism rates for graduates of accountability courts are about 10 to 15 percentage points lower than those of similarly situated defendants who did not participate. England said his committee asked for the audit to see what impact the criminal justice changes had on long-term projections for Georgia’s prison population. “We do stuff all the time and never really look at what the impact is,” England said. The audit estimated an increase of 1,277 inmates over the next five years. The increase, auditors said, will result in more than 97.5 percent of standard prison beds being filled in most facilities. “For some offender populations, the utilization rates may come close to, or exceed, 100 percent,” the report said. The corrections agency told auditors it will likely try to expand capacity in state facilities. Six facilities have been identified as potential expansion sites. In addition, private prison officials estimated they have 400 additional beds available for contract. The cost of housing an offender averaged about $65.58 per day across all types of state prison facilities, including maximum and medical units. But auditors said when controlling for an offender’s sex, facility size and risk classification, state prisons cost $44.56 per day, per similar offender, as opposed to $49.07 in private prisons. The four private prisons the state uses averaged about 7,800 inmates in medium-security facilities, according to the state. England said it’s not clear to him whether the comparisons take into account the full cost for state facilities, such as pensions for the thousands of corrections officers who work for the Department of Corrections. He said he wants to dig into the numbers further before coming to any conclusion about whether it’s cheaper for the state to expand its facilities or spend more leasing beds from private facilities. In a statement, the GEO Group said: “Over the past three years, we’ve invested additional financial resources to improve offender rehabilitation services and outcomes which are not included in our per diem rate, therefore, we believe our cost would be lower if the auditors had compared all of the services and programs we offer at the Riverbend Correctional Facility. “We hope to have a meeting with the auditors sometime early next year to better understand their methodology and analysis and to provide them additional data for inclusion in future studies.” Rodney E. King, public affairs manager at CoreCivic, said: “CoreCivic is grateful for our partnership with the Georgia Department of Corrections and is committed to meet and exceed their expectations. GDC’s contract with CoreCivic empowers the state with the flexibility to adjust inmate populations as needed and also provides the budgetary certitude of knowing the total costs of incarceration for a defined period of time.” WHY IT MATTERS: Georgia has made a number of changes in its criminal justice system under Gov. Nathan Deal’s watch, keeping more nonviolent offenders out of prison and sparing the state the expense of housing them at an average cost of about $20,000 a year. A state audit, however, projects an increase of more than 1,200 inmates in Georgia’s prison system over the next half-decade, and it also raises questions about the costs of private and state prisons.

Nov 2, 2018
Private Prison Companies Spend Big to Boost Republican Brian Kemp in Georgia Governor’s Race
In May, Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp told the Marietta Daily Journal that when it comes to private prisons, “It’s good to have some competition out there.” The State of Georgia contracts with the two largest American private prison companies, GEO Group and CoreCivic, which operate four private facilities there. Both companies face lawsuits over alleged neglect and abuse of immigrant detainees, including from plaintiffs from a Georgia CoreCivic detention center. GEO Group and CoreCivic have a clear favorite in the race for Georgia governor. According to state campaign finance records and federal IRS reports, the two private prison giants have combined to donate nearly $24,000 directly to Kemp’s campaign and close to $480,000 to independent and party groups that have spent millions of dollars backing Kemp. On the other side of the governor’s race is Democrat Stacey Abrams, whose campaign has accepted no money from GEO Group, CoreCivic, or individuals who work for these companies. Abrams is campaigning to end private prisons and cash bail in the state. The ACLU recently launched an $800,000 ad campaign backing Abrams and promoting her criminal justice reform platform. “Stacy Abrams will end dependence on private prisons, saving millions that could instead be used for [drug] treatment,” states the ad. In an interview with Marietta Daily Herald, Abrams said she would end state co ntracts with private prison companies, which currently detain nearly 8,000 inmates. “I do not believe in the privatization of justice,” Abrams said. “There is a profit motive behind private prisons that is anathema to the core of who we are as Americans.” Abrams’ brother resides in a state prison, she says, and prison issues are “very personal” for her. GEO Group has donated the maximum allowed amount of $6,600 to the Kemp campaign. The company’s CEO George Zoley gave an additional $6,600 to the campaign, and GEO Group’s CFO donated $1,500. GEO gave $45,000 to the Georgia Republican Party—which has spent heavily to aid Kemp, including an ad attacking Abrams for “coddling criminals”—while giving no money to the state’s Democratic Party. CoreCivic has donated $9,100 to Kemp’s campaign. This election cycle, GEO Group has given $200,000 to the national Republican Governors Association (RGA), a 527 political organization which had spent over $2 million on TV, radio and digital ads benefiting Kemp as of Wednesday. The RGA also donated $750,000 to the Georgia Republican Party. CoreCivic has given $201,000 to the RGA. GEO Group has given $5,400 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, a 527 group mainly focused on state legislatures, state supreme courts and redistricting efforts, which has spent close to $1 million on mailers opposing Abrams and state Democrats. CoreCivic has committed $26,000 to the RSLC. Both companies are major political donors in both state and federal elections, giving mostly to Republican candidates and committees. This year CoreCivic has donated $110,000 to the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), which has donated close to $3.9 million to the Georgia Democratic Party and has spent roughly $147,000 on research. GEO Group hasn’t given to the DGA this year but contributed $10,350 in 2017. Neither company gave to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “Historically, CoreCivic has contributed to both Democratic and Republican candidates and organizations,” Amanda S. Gilchrist, director of public affairs at CoreCivic, told Sludge. “Our company generally supports those who are supportive of—or at least open minded—about public-private partnerships and the flexibility and cost-effectiveness we provide.” Gilchrist did not answer specific questions about why the company donated to Kemp and what it may want from the candidate should he become governor. GEO Group, the ACLU of Georgia and the Abrams and Kemp campaigns did not respond to a requests for comment. The Georgia Department of Corrections began contracting with GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America) in 2010. The Department says that inmates at the four private facilities “work on full-time details.” In 2017, a CoreCivic-operated prison in the state put an an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) inmate in solitary confinement for encouraging other inmates to stop working, according to a report from The Intercept. The International Covenant on Civil Rights considers forced or compulsory labor in prisons akin to slavery. In her Marietta Daily Herald interview, Abrams said forced prison labor diminishes inmates’ humanity. “People who are in prison have committed crimes and should be held accountable. But that accountability does not diminish their humanity, and private prisons allows us to diminish their humanity by treating them as commodities instead of treating them as people,” Abrams said. Plaintiffs sued GEO Group earlier this year for forcing inmates to work for $1 per day or less. A group of 18 Republican members of Congress, including some of the caucus’ most far-right members such as Matt Gaetz, Steve King, and Paul Gosar, wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions supporting GEO Group and claiming the work program’s purpose was to “enhance detention operations and services through detainee productivity” and to “reduce the negative impact of confinement through decreased idleness, improved morale, and fewer disciplinary incidents.” According to, GEO Group has two ongoing federal contracts with the U.S. Department of Justice for detention services totaling nearly $312 million. Sludge has filed an information request regarding the two companies’ contracts with the State of Georgia.

January 20, 2012 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Rep. Kip Smith spent the hours before his DUI arrest last week with two other state lawmakers being entertained by three lobbyists, including one for brewer Anheuser-Busch, state records show Lobbyist spending disclosures for Jan. 12 show Smith, R-Columbus, and fellow House members Ben Harbin and Jason Shaw had dinner at Alfredo’s Italian Restaurant in Midtown. Smith was arrested hours later by Atlanta police on charges of driving under the influence. According to the police report, Smith recorded a .091 blood alcohol level on a Breathalyzer test. The officer reported that Smith said he had been at Hal’s, a Buckhead bistro, and claimed to have had “a single beer.” The arrest report does not mention Alfredo’s, but one of the lobbyists at the dinner said Thursday that the meal included wine. Smith, 29, was pulled over after running a red light on Peachtree Road, the police report said. The arresting officer, who was following the lawmaker’s 1998 gold Jaguar, said the light had just turned red when Smith went through the intersection at Pharr Road. Smith has not publicly discussed the events of the night leading up to his arrest, telling the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer he had admitted his mistake and was “moving forward.” He did not return a call or email from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The reported tab came to $60 per lawmaker. Entrees at the restaurant run from $14.50 to $23.95. In an e-mail, Shaw said, “I did have dinner that night at Alfredo’s with some good friends and I took a cab home.” In a separate e-mail, McMullen said the dinner ended around 9 p.m. and the six men “parted ways.” Smith was arrested several hours later. The lobbyists who paid the tab at Alfredo’s were Georgia EMC lobbyist Travis Bussey; Georgia Chamber of Commerce lobbyist David Raynor; and Chuck McMullen, a managing director of the Atlanta office of McKenna, Long and Aldridge. McMullen is lobbyist for a number of clients, including Anheuser-Busch and private prison operator Corrections Corp. of America.

May 26, 2011 Atlanta Progressive News
Earlier this month, Georgia became the third state to enact some of the most anti-immigrant legislation in recent U.S. history, when Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, signed the bill, HB 87. Among other things, the bill allows law enforcement officials to ask suspicious individuals to prove that they are U.S. citizens. In practice, critics say, "suspicious looking" is another way of saying "Hispanic", raising concerns that the law encourages racial profiling. The law is modeled on Arizona's anti-immigrant law, passed last summer. Utah became the second state earlier this year. Both state's laws are currently held up in the courts, where federal judicial circuits in the Western U.S. have not been favourable on the grounds that the laws are state or local interference with federal immigration policy. The laws have already led to statewide boycotts in Georgia and are expected to bring legal challenges as well. In part, national lobbyists targeted Georgia because they wanted to set up a court battle in a more conservative eastern U.S. federal judicial circuit. Meanwhile, supporters of the bill are celebrating, including the right-wing Republican base that supported the bill, as well as the for-profit prison corporations which stand to profit from the massive influx of suspected undocumented immigrants through the private prison system. "Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), we know they have lobbyists here [at the legislature]," said Larry Pellegrini of Georgia Rural Urban Summit. CCA is one of the largest for-profit prison corporations in the U.S. "They [CCA] will benefit by the legislation. They have a corporate stake in it around the country," Pellegrini told IPS. Pellegrini also noted that the lobbying effort to pass anti- immigration laws in Georgia was part of a national effort. One national lobbying group that was instrumental in bringing together business interests and lawmakers was the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It was an ALEC task force, which included a representative from a private prison - along with lawmakers from Arizona and other states - who helped draft Arizona's immigration bill, which became a template for Georgia's law as well. According to CCA reports obtained by National Public Radio, the corporation believes that immigration detention is its next big growth market. CCA's earnings were up 15 percent in the first quarter compared to the same period a year ago. CCA reported earnings of 40.3 million dollars, or 37 cents per share, on revenue of 428 million dollars in first quarter of 2011, according to the Nashville Business Journal newspaper. CCA's revenue for 2009 was 1.7 billion dollars. The federal government pays over 60 dollars per detainee per day to house men at CCA's Stewart Detention Center, the largest immigration detention centre in the U.S., located in Lumpkin, Georgia. CCA's top management in Tennessee contributed the largest block of out-of-state campaign contributions received by Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer. Brewer employs two former CCA lobbyists as aides who assisted with signing Arizona's SB 1070 into law. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, CCA spent 770,000 dollars lobbying at the federal level in 2009 and has spent as much as 3.4 million since 2005. Georgia State Sen. Donald Balfour, a key Republican supporter of Georgia's HB 87, in 2006, 2007, and 2008 received 2,000 dollars each year in donations from CCA; in 2009 he received 1,000; and in 2010, 750. Governor Deal received from CCA 5,000 dollars in 2010 for the General Election. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has received at least 7,000 dollars from CCA since 2006. Georgia Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers has received at least 3,500 dollars from CCA since 2008.

June 14, 2010 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
As lawmakers returned from the coast last week, we picked up word of some serious, hand-to-hand competition between two lobbyists down at St. Simons Island. The occasion was the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual summer retreat. We’re told by very reliable state Capitol sources that, last Tuesday night, a pair of lobbyists treated several lawmakers and clients in the drinking section of the Village Inn and Pub, famous for its wild orchid martinis. One lobbyist was stuck at a table with the clients. The other lobbyist landed the table with the legislators. When bill-paying time came, the lobbyist stuck at the children’s table refused to pay. Insults were exchanged, and the two lobbyists ended up rolling on the restaurant floor. The fight was broken up before law enforcement became formally involved. The two lobbyists: Graham Thompson, whose clients in the last session included the Georgia Association of Health Plans, Sprint, and Satellite Tracking of People, a Texas organization; and John Clayton, whose clients in the last session included several physician and emergency response groups, Imperial Sugar, and the Corrections Corporation of America. We’ve attempted to contact both gentlemen, and haven’t heard back. But we await their June disclosures, which should tell us who ultimately paid the bill. And who was there. Clayton, many in the state Capitol will recall, was identified by police as the victim in a fracas with a fellow lobbyist at a 2007 sine die party, also attended by many lawmakers. Clayton took a beer bottle to the right side of his head.

April 7, 2010 AP
In the 3 1/2 weeks following his selection as the Republican nominee for House speaker, David Ralston raked in $137,550 in campaign contributions — more than four times what he raised throughout all of 2009 combined. Campaign finance reports reviewed by The Associated Press on Wednesday show that donations to the speaker-in-waiting poured in from the health care, banking and insurance industries as well as Georgia business stalwarts like Coca-Cola, Delta and Aflac. Ralston ran for House speaker as a reformer, aiming to clean up the ethics mess at the state Capitol left by his predecessor Glenn Richardson, who stepped down after allegations of an affair with a lobbyist. Ralston pledged to keep lobbyists at arm's length. But a number of well-connected lobbyists and lobbying firms donated to the new speaker, including Massey and Bowers and Georgia Link, which has a long list of well-heeled corporate clients. The GOP caucus chose Ralston on Dec. 17. He was installed as speaker after a vote by the full House on Jan. 11, the first day of the legislative session. State officials and lawmakers are banned from raising campaign cash while the state Legislature is meeting so heavy-hitters at the state Capitol hurried to get their checks in before the deadline. In an interview, Ralston acknowledged that his bank account is fatter even without an announced challenger for his north Georgia legislative seat. But he said the contributions aren't influencing his decision-making and added many of the funds arrived unsolicited. "I really couldn't tell you many of the people who gave me contributions," Ralston said in an a telephone interview. "Frankly, I'm not focused on fundraising or politics, I really have been focused on what the General Assembly needs to get done. We've been here working on the budget this week." A number of the donations — $131,300 — came during the first 10 days of January. Ralston held a packed fundraiser in Atlanta on Jan. 7, just a few days before he was installed as speaker. The Blue Ridge Republican raised just $33,475 for all of 2009, according to campaign reports. Out-of-state companies with business in Georgia were on the roster of donors. Among them are Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America, an operator of private prisons in the state and Illinois-based Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

January 18, 2006 Savanna Morning News
The state should be able to remove all its prisoners from county jails within the next six months, Corrections Commissioner James Donald said Wednesday during the last day of budget hearings at the Capitol. It wasn't clear whether Donald's comments would defuse the issue of county jails housing a backlog of state prisoners, or even if he would be able to meet the goal. And Donald conceded that new measures, such as a proposal to toughen penalties on sexual predators, could complicate his plan. But Sen. Regina Thomas, a Savannah Democrat who has introduced a bill to raise the fees paid to counties, said Donald's plan wouldn't solve the current problem. "It's not going to happen tomorrow, and the counties are still suffering," she said. Thomas also blasted the governor's budget for including increases in the amount the state pays to private prisons to cover inflation. During Donald's presentation to members of a joint meeting of the House and Senate budget-writing committees, Thomas pointed out that the private prisons already receive larger payments than county jails even without the increases.

February 13, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A year ago they would have made a formidable legislative caucus: the chairman of the House Budget Committee, the House majority leader, a floor leader for Gov. Sonny Perdue and two Senate committee chairmen. But weeks after leaving office, they're now on the lobbyist side of the velvet rope that separates lawmakers and the people paid to influence them at the Capitol. They represent cities, hospitals, gas companies, high-tech firms, bikers and pay-day loan businesses. The revolving door of ex-lawmakers immediately becoming lobbyists has long been criticized in Atlanta, as it has been in Washington, where former Georgia Sen. Zell Miller announced even before he left office that he was joining a law firm with extensive lobbying interests. But this year, with his fellow Republicans in charge of the Legislature, Perdue is convinced that the climate is finally right to require a cooling-off period for lawmakers wanting to become lobbyists. The governor is pushing an ethics bill that would make legislators wait at least a year before returning to the Capitol as lobbyists.
Government watchdog groups such as Common Cause prefer two years. "The transition from legislator to lobbyist is just too cozy right now," said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur, who has authored several Democratic ethics-in-government bills this year. "To use your public service job to further your post-legislative opportunities for financial gain is not in the public's interest." The revolving door has been spinning for years, and it was no different after last November's elections. Former Sen. Dan Lee of LaGrange, who pushed Perdue's ethics package last year as his Senate floor leader, was invited to become a lobbyist about a month after losing his Republican primary race in July. Now Lee and the law firm he joined represent Corrections Corporation of America, which builds and leases prisons to government; the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians; Infrastructure Corporation of America, which maintains highways; Motorola; and MHM Services, which provides mental health services to Georgia prison inmates. "I personally don't see anything wrong with it," said Lee, who added that most of his law practice over the years has involved doing work for governments.

January 14, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Republican revolution is sweeping the third-floor hallways of the state Capitol, where big-money lobbyists compete for the minds, hearts and ears of the General Assembly.
With Republicans in power, more ex-lawmakers and staffers from that side of the aisle have signed up to peddle their clients' positions, to help pass or kill bills and to snag a piece of the state's $17 billion pie. This comes at a time when Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue is calling for a one-year waiting period before legislators can become lobbyists, and disclosure of how much special interests pay lobbyists. Perdue's former Senate floor leader, Dan Lee of LaGrange, lost his bid for re-election last year, but he won't be missing from the Capitol. He has returned as a lobbyist, joining Chuck McMullen, a former aide to Tom Price, the former majority leader newly elected to the U.S. House.In little time, McMullen said, his group has gone from zero to more than 20 clients, including Corrections Corporation of America, which builds and operates private prisons, Motorola, a major supplier of electronic equipment to governments, and several health care concerns.

January 7, 2004
Gov. Sonny Perdue is recommending that the Legislature, which convenes Monday, make substantial changes in the state's $16 billion budget for the current 2004 fiscal year that runs through June 30.  • $3.1 million cut in payments to private prisons.  (

April 14, 2003
A dispute over the price the state will pay for a 1,600-bed private prison in Stewart County led lawmakers Monday to delete $40 million in bonds that could be used to buy the facility.  The House-passed $16 billion budget approved by a 114-63 vote goes to the Senate without funding for the purchase of the prison near Lumpkin from Corrections Corp. of America.  "We just can't agree on a purchase price right now," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Buck, D-Columbus, told colleagues as he explained details of the proposed state budget for the year beginning July 1.  "The state thinks the price ought to be 'X,' and those that started construction think it ought to be 'Y,' " Buck said. "We're just going to have to take another look at that next year."  Corrections Corp. of America, a Nashville, Tenn.-based company, reports it has invested about $35 million in the prison. It stopped construction after the state announced it was no longer interested in using privately operated prisons to accommodate the burgeoning prison population.  (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)

January 19, 2003
Gov. Sonny Perdue included $40 million in bond money in his budget to buy and complete a 1,524-bed private prison near Lumpkin in west Georgia.  The prison has lain dormant and unfinished since June2000 when the state told CCA of Nashville, Tenn., it was no longer interested in using a privately run prison facility.  A state assessment Dec. 2 estimated construction is only about 50 percent complete.  (AP)

May 11, 2002
Private companies that build speculative prisons gave $72,150 to Georgia lawmakers and political parties in 2000, a year before the state Legislature buried a proposal that would have put severe restrictions on the prison industry, a research group said in a new report.   Some of that money went to Middle Georgia lawmakers who defeated legislation in 2000 that would have barred private prisons in Georgia from accepting convicts from other states. At the time, McRae Correctional Facility, a new, private prison in Telfair County, was shopping for inmates.   The prison is still vacant and is seeking a federal contract to house criminal aliens, many of whom would be transported to Georgia from other states.   In 2000, private prison companies gave more than $1.2 million to the campaign funds of state lawmakers in 14 Southeastern states, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics, the Montana-based think tank that issued the report.   A large portion of those donations went to senior lawmakers who sat on committees with oversight of prisons.  The report also showed that private prison contributions given directly to Georgia lawmakers in 2000 increased 15 percent from 1998 - going from $48,000 to $56,650 two years later.  The $45 million, 1,500-bed McRae jail has sat vacant since its completion.  (The Macon Telegraph)

Gwinnett County Detention Center
Lawrenceville, Georgia
Prison Health Services

July 24, 2008 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The widow of a Lawrenceville man who died after struggling with Gwinnett deputies and being stunned with a Taser has dropped a lawsuit against the county. The wife of Frederick Jerome Williams abandoned all claims in the wrongful death lawsuit against Gwinnett County and several deputies involved in the scuffle with Williams, the Sheriff's department announced late Thursday afternoon. The federal lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning the Williams family cannot refile it at a later date, said Thomas Mitchell, the attorney who represented Gwinnett County. Williams' death drew a firestorm of criticism from civil rights groups such as the Gwinnett NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who led three marches outside the Gwinnett County courthouse calling for a moratorium on Taser use by law enforcement. Yanga Williams, Frederick Williams' widow, did not return messages left on her home or cellphone Thursday evening. A receptionist at the office of her attorney, Keenan R.S. Nix, said he was out of the office. Yanga Williams' attorney is going forward with the lawsuit against Taser International and the contracted healthcare provider for the jail, Prison Health Services, Mitchell said. The suit alleges that a nurse working at the jail gave inadequate and lackadaisical medical care to Williams in the critical moments after he lost consciousness. On the night of Williams' arrest in May 2004, police were called to his Lawrenceville home to settle a domestic dispute. Williams fought with officers before his arrest. Later at the jail, Williams started to fight with deputies. A videotape shows deputies shocking Williams five times with the stun gun and then placing him in a restraint chair. He lost consciousness and died in a hospital two days later. Williams, 31, a native of Liberia, died of brain damage from a heart attack, according to the final autopsy report, although officials were unable to say what caused the heart attack.

September 25, 2007 Atlanta Journal Constitution
The death of an inmate who fell ill while being held at the Gwinnett County Jail awaiting transfer to another jurisdiction has spurred a lawsuit against the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department and its contracted health care provider. It is the fourth wrongful death lawsuit to be filed against the two parties within the past four years. According to the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, William Hargrove was suffering from abdominal pains on March 5, 2006, when a doctor ordered that he be sent to a hospital emergency room. However, a supervising deputy told medical staff not to send Hargrove to the hospital and instead attempted to transfer him to Newton County, the lawsuit states. He died two hours later, before the transport had been arranged. An autopsy revealed the cause of death was a perforated ulcer of the small intestine. Police had picked up Hargrove March 4 for failing to appear in court in Newton County on a speeding violation. Representatives from both the Sheriff's Department and Prison Health Services declined comment. The lawsuit follows on the heels of another filed Sept. 7 in federal court on behalf of deceased inmate Harriett Washington. Washington died of leukemia on Oct. 17, 2005. Lawyers for Washington have criticized Prison Health Services staffers for repeatedly rebuffing her requests to be hospitalized during the days leading up to her death. Both PHS and the Sheriff's Department also were named in two Taser-related wrongful death suits. Earlier this year, county officials agreed to pay the family of Ray Charles Austin $100,000 to dismiss a lawsuit arising from Austin's death during a 2003 scuffle with deputies. A lawsuit is still pending in the 2004 death of Frederick Jerome Williams at the jail.

October 6, 2006 Gwinnett Daily Post
The president of the NAACP's Gwinnett branch wants county leaders to reconsider their decision to bestow a multimillion dollar contract for inmate health care services on a provider that faces multiple wrongful death lawsuits. County commissioners voted Tuesday to award a one-year contract to Prison Health Services for $6.15 million. John Stewart, the local chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, on Monday plans to review six bids submitted by other health care providers to determine if there were other viable options. "I understand the reason why PHS won a contract again was because of their financial stability and experience," Stewart said. "I am going to be looking to see if the other vendors have a track record of providing medical services and see if one of those vendors should be given the opportunity to have the contract." Stewart views PHS as "an enormous liability" to county residents and says negligent care is putting the lives of more inmates at risk. The private company has provided inmate medical, dental and mental health care in Gwinnett since 1997. It was recommended by officials from both the sheriff's and corrections departments who looked at cost, experience, references and financial stability before making their decision. Prison Health Services has been targeted in lawsuits filed by two inmates who died after struggling with deputies at the Gwinnett County Detention Center and being stunned with a Taser. Both inmates were black. The lawsuits claimed that medical staff at the jail were lackadaisical in their attempts to resuscitate one inmate, Frederick Williams, and failed to document a fear of needles in the medical file of the other inmate, Ray Austin. A third lawsuit is pending by the family of a black female inmate, 43-year-old Harriett Washington, who died of leukemia on Oct. 17, 2005. An attorney for Washington's family criticized PHS for repeatedly ignoring her requests to be hospitalized. District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said Tuesday he was concerned PHS had been targeted by the recent lawsuits in Gwinnett, but "we aren't going to let lawsuits dictate how we do the business of the people." Stewart is also scheduling a town hall meeting for people who have been incarcerated in the Gwinnett County Detention Center to give public testimony about their experiences with Prison Health Services. "I am not sure if the county has all the information available as to the inadequate services provided by this provider," Stewart said.

October 4, 2006 Gwinnett Daily Post
Gwinnett County commissioners have signed on with an embattled inmate health care provider for another year. Six other companies submitted proposals to provide health care services for the Gwinnett County Department of Corrections and the Sheriff’s Department. However, the current provider, Prison Health Services, was granted the $6.15 million contract. The commissioners did not discuss the contract during Tuesday’s public meeting, but afterward said they supported the decision of a committee who evaluated the seven bids. PHS, a private company that has provided inmate medical, dental and mental health care in Gwinnett since 1997, had been recommended by officials from both the sheriff’s and corrections departments. A committee composed of officials from both departments looked at cost, experience, references and financial stability in making its recommendation. District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau expressed concern that PHS had been targeted by two lawsuits in Gwinnett within the past 13 months, but said, “We aren’t going to let lawsuits dictate how we do the business of the people.”Joan Crumpler, one of the attorneys representing the Williams family in the lawsuit, warned that in voting for PHS on Monday, county commissioners were overlooking problems at the jail that could lead to more deaths. “If the Gwinnett decision-makers limited their criteria to cost, experience, references and financial stability, then they can easily justify contracting with PHS, since PHS owns 25 percent of the national marketshare for outsourced inmate medical care,” Crumpler said. “However, Gwinnett County must never ignore very real problems at the jail, including PHS’s failure to adequately respond to medical crises. It is this kind of problem that has resulted in unnecessary deaths.”

October 3, 2006 Gwinnett Daily Post
Several pending lawsuits against the company contracted to provide health care for Gwinnett County inmates has apparently done little to influence its chances of renewing a multimillion dollar contract. Six other companies have submitted proposals to provide health care services for the Gwinnett County Department of Corrections and the Sheriff’s Department, but Prison Health Services seems to be the front-runner. Its current contract expires Oct. 31. PHS was recommended by officials from both the Sheriff’s and Corrections departments again this year. Gwinnett County Commissioners will consider that recommendation today while reviewing proposals in a public meeting. If approved, the contract awarded to PHS to provide medical, dental and mental health care for inmates would be worth more than $6.1 million. PHS had the highest-scoring proposal of all those submitted for consideration, according to a county memo. But not all the feedback on PHS has been positive. The company was targeted by two lawsuits in Gwinnett within the past 13 months. It also came under harsh criticism in January following the release of an internal investigation by the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department into the death of a terminally ill inmate. Several deputies and inmates blasted PHS for its handling of the woman, who died of leukemia on Oct. 17, 2005. Harriett Washington, 43, repeatedly asked to be taken to a hospital in the days leading up to her death, but her requests were rebuffed by staff members who instead sent her back to her cell. Washington’s two cellmates and several deputies reported that she was sent to the infirmary three times in a two-day period only to be returned to her cell in the same condition — vomiting, experiencing high fevers and having difficulty breathing. Jonathan P. Sexton, an attorney for Washington’s family, said he plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against PHS and Gwinnett County in the next six weeks. He was dismayed to hear that PHS’ contract may be renewed. “I hope they don’t use them again,” Sexton said Monday.

May 2, 2006 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Nearly 175 inmates and employees at the Gwinnett County Detention Center were put on antibiotics after the weekend death of an inmate, officials said Monday. Detainee Zachary Harris, 20, died from an infection in his bloodstream at Gwinnett Medical Center on Saturday after being admitted three days earlier, jail officials said. A Detention Center physician said Harris' blood contained a bacterium that commonly causes meningitis. Harris, who had been at the jail a year, complained of a sore throat April 18 and was taken to the hospital Thursday when his blood pressure dropped dangerously low. He had been awaiting trial on multiple charges, including impersonating a police officer and drug possession. Detention Center doctor Lee Grose — who works for the jail's contract medical provider, Prison Health Services — said the bacterium can be spread through sneezing and coughing. Jail officials don't know how he contracted the bacterium but discounted that a visitor could have passed it on. Medical services at the jail have been under scrutiny since the October 2005 death of inmate Harriet Washington, 43, who had myeloid leukemia. Washington, who died in her jail cell, had asked to be hospitalized numerous times in the days before her death but was turned away by the Prison Health Services staff, internal jail reports said. At least four of the health provider's employees were fired, resigned or were transferred as a result of Washington's death.

April 21, 2006 Gwinnett Daily Post
After nine years, the woman tasked with supervising health care for Gwinnett County inmates has been reassigned to another post. The departure of Dwana Gebhardt, health system administrator for Prison Health Services, comes four months after allegations of inadequate health care at the Gwinnett County Detention Center surfaced following the death of a female inmate. Prison Health Services, based in Nashville, Tenn., is the nation’s largest private provider of correctional health care. The company has a contract with Gwinnett to provide medical services for both the detention center and Gwinnett County Comprehensive Correctional Complex. Officials at the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department say Gebhardt’s reassignment is not related to the recent hubbub over jail health care. “I don’t think it is,” said Maj. J.J. Hogan, who was appointed last month as the sheriff’s liaison and supervisor to Prison Health Services. Both the Sheriff’s Department and PHS came under scrutiny following the Oct. 17, 2005, death of a 43-year-old female inmate who was awaiting trial on a cocaine possession charge. Harriett Washington had previously been diagnosed with myeloid leukemia. An internal investigation at the Sheriff’s Department revealed Washington asked several times to be hospitalized in the days leading up to her death, but her pleadings were rebuffed by medical staff. Washington’s cellmates and deputies who were in the housing unit said they witnessed Washington vomiting repeatedly, experiencing dizziness, acting delirious and having difficulty breathing. She was taken to the jail’s medical unit at least three times in the two days before her death, but none of her visits were documented as required, according to the internal investigation. Each time Washington was sent back to her cell as her health deteriorated. After Washington died, five other inmates and a former PHS mental health counselor came forward to the Gwinnett Daily Post with other complaints about botched medications, lapses in medical documentation, patient neglect and staff indifference. In the months that followed, at least four PHS employees that were on duty that night or were in supervisory positions have been fired, resigned, retired or transferred. PHS officials have said none of the staffing changes were a result of Washington’s death or the subsequent complaints.

March 21, 2006 Gwinnett Daily Post
In the wake of a highly publicized inmate death and complaints about poor health care at the Gwinnett County Detention Center, a high-ranking deputy has been tasked with overseeing the jail’s contracted medical staff. Maj. Jim Hogan will supervise employees of Prison Health Services, the contracted medical provider for the jail, on a full-time basis beginning Monday. Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway said his department pays Prison Health Services (PHS) about $6 million a year to provide health care for inmates. “I think we should have had a medical monitor before now,” Conway said. “I think with the size of that contract that it’s prudent for us to have someone on staff monitor the quality of the work.” Hogan will serve as the primary point of contact for PHS management, monitoring medical service issues, meeting daily with staffers, making policy recommendations, reviewing grievances and providing regular reports to the sheriff. Hogan is a 26-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department. He has been second in command over jail administration since 1999. Both the Sheriff’s Department and PHS came under scrutiny following the death of a 43-year-old female inmate who was awaiting trial on a cocaine possession charge on Oct. 17. Harriett Washington had previously been diagnosed with myeloid leukemia. An internal investigation at the Sheriff’s Department revealed Washington asked several times to be hospitalized in the days leading up to her death, but her pleadings were rebuffed by medical staff. Washington’s cellmates and deputies who were in the housing unit said they witnessed Washington vomiting repeatedly, experiencing dizziness, acting delirious and having difficulty breathing. She was taken to the jail’s medical unit at least three times in the two days before her death, but none of her visits were documented as required, according to the internal investigation. Each time Washington was sent back to her cell as her health continued to deteriorate. After Washington died, at least five other inmates and a former PHS mental health counselor came forward with complaints about botched medications, lapses in medical documentation, patient neglect and staff indifference. Hogan said Monday he is up to the challenge of overseeing PHS.

January 22, 2006 Gwinnett Daily Post
A review of the personnel files of more than 60 employees of Prison Health Services, the contracted medical provider for the Gwinnett County Detention Center, reveals several employees have something in common with the inmates they treat — six have been arrested in the past. The six employees, including the jail’s medical director, were arrested as long ago as 1981 and as recently as this year for a range of offenses. In addition, a nurse and a certified medical assistant were accused of criminal behavior while they were still working at the jail less than three months ago. One has since been fired and the other resigned amid an internal investigation. While his resume lists an impressive amount of supervisory experience in the field, his personnel file reveals staff psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Howard Flatlow had his medical license put on probation by the Composite Board of Medical Examiners in 1985. The sanctions were lifted in 1993. The reason why Flatlow was on probation is not said, but the file does say Flatlow was in an “impaired physician’s program” or designated as a “recovering physician.” A pattern of supervisors tolerating mistakes also emerges from a study of the PHS files. Employees who were found to be sleeping on the job, providing inmates with the wrong medication, forgetting to document patient treatments or allowing an inmate to administer their own medication were given a verbal or written reprimand. However, some employees, such as Kessie, racked up as many as seven written reprimands in less than two years without losing their jobs. Kessie was finally fired in October upon being arrested and charged with providing an inmate with a cell phone. A high turnover of medical staff at the jail is also evident in the documentation PHS produces. The jail is staffed with 30 full-time health care employees and seven mental health professionals, according to Stacey Kelley, spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Detention Center. A records request for the personnel files of staff currently employed and any staff members who left after Sept. 1, 2005, because of resignation or termination resulted in 63 employee files, thus 26 people left within that time frame. Stacey Kelley, spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department, issued a statement on behalf of Sheriff Butch Conway this week saying he is weighing his options regarding PHS’ contract with the county, which expires this year on Oct. 31. No serious talks have occurred regarding termination of the contract, Kelley said. “I am in the process of determining what my options are regarding Prison Health Services,” Conway says in the statement. “When I do, I will make a decision that is in the best interest of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department, the inmates and our personnel.”

January 20, 2006 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gwinnett Sheriff Butch Conway is trying to decide whether to fire the county jail's medical provider. The sheriff could decide to opt out of the county's $4.8 million annual contract with Prison Health Services. The company's performance was called into question in a scathing internal report on the 2005 death of a detainee. Harriet Washington, 43, who had been in the jail since June on a cocaine possession charge, died early on Oct. 17. She suffered from leukemia. The report states that jail deputies and Washington's cellmates urged that she be taken to a hospital, but that their pleas were ignored by employees of the Tennessee- based health provider. A letter from Washington's cellmates to Conway alleged that multiple requests that Washington be treated were ignored in the two days before her death. Washington had not seen an outside doctor since July, according to jail records. "Either party can opt out of the contract" with at least 10 days' notice, Conway said Thursday. The contract states that any violation of its provisions or stipulations is grounds for termination. Conway said he believes it would be possible to switch providers with a minimum of disruption, if that's what he decides to do. The report particularly questions the actions of Brian Woodard, a licensed practical nurse for Prison Health Services who treated Washington over a two-day span that ended with her death. Woodard could not be reached for comment Thursday. He has been a licensed practical nurse since at least 1994, according to state professional license information. Woodard resigned a week after Washington's death as a result of a separate, unrelated internal investigation into narcotics missing from the medical unit, the report says. The company already is named in at least two federal suits filed after Gwinnett inmates died in custody.

January 20, 2006 AP
Gwinnett County attorneys are blaming Taser International and Prison Health Services in the death of a jail inmate, who died after being repeatedly shocked with a stun gun. The county, which has been sued by the family of Frederick Williams, filed a cross claim this week blaming Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International for providing false training documents and not warning users that their stun guns could be lethal if used repeatedly. Taser International and Brentwood, Tenn.-based Prison Health Services, which provides medical care at the jail, should be held accountable, the county says, especially if a court finds that Williams died from the Taser or because of improper medical care.

January 19, 2006 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jail inmate Harriet Washington was the victim of a confused and clumsy medical response when she died in front of her cellmates, concluded a Gwinnett Sheriff's Department investigation released Wednesday. Washington, of Norcross, died on Oct. 17. Jailed at the Gwinnett County Detention Center since June for possession of cocaine, Washington suffered from leukemia. She was 43. The internal affairs investigation clears Sheriff's Department deputies of any culpability, stating they "adhered to existing policy and acted in a manner consistent with the needs of the situation." The report raises questions, however, about the performance of Prison Health Services, the Tennessee-based company contracted to care for Gwinnett inmates. Deputies had urged that Washington be taken to the hospital, to no avail, the report states. "If the medical staff had ordered outside treatment at Gwinnett Medical Center, as sworn staff [deputies] had urged, instead of allowing the inmate to remain in the housing unit, the end result very well may have been the same," the report's conclusion states. "Had the inmate been transferred to the hospital, however, it would have eliminated the doubt surrounding the appropriateness of the treatment provided." Sheriff Butch Conway declined an interview on the report, but issued a prepared statement: "I am in the process of determining what my options are regarding Prison Health Services," it read. "When I do, I'll make a decision that is in the best interest of the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department, the inmates and our personnel." According to the internal affairs report, Washington was briefly taken to the medical unit at least once the day before she died but was returned to her cell a short time later. The report accuses the company of failing to adequately document her care. Records even conflicted on how many times she was taken to the medical unit. Inmate Cheryl Horstman, who was in the medical unit at the time, told investigators that nurse Brian Woodard and Deputy Benita Smallwood seemed "bothered" by Washington's presence. At one point, Woodard told Washington, "only one problem per visit," according to Horstman. In a subsequent debriefing with his superior in the medical unit, Woodard said, "I know I [messed] up" by failing to document Washington's treatment. Woodard submitted his resignation on Oct. 24 as a result of a separate internal investigation into narcotics missing from the medical unit, the report says without elaboration. Woodard could not be reached for comment Wednesday. On Oct. 16, as Washington was trying to move from her wheelchair to a "boat" — a plastic tub that serves as a bed in the detention center — she passed out, the report said. The nurse and deputy asked her why she had tried to move at all. "I don't feel right. ... I need to go the the hospital, something doesn't feel right," the report quoted Washington as saying. Horstman said Smallwood then told Washington, "There isn't even a doctor here on weekends. The whole jail is in lockdown, and you can't stay in medical. What do you think this is, the Hyatt?" In interviews with investigators, Smallwood denied making the comment. Washington was sent back to her cell but apparently received no assistance from medical personnel until midnight, when she received crackers and Pepto-Bismol during "pill call." At 2:41 a.m. Oct. 17, the "I" pod deputy pressed the panic button to summon help after Washington screamed in pain and collapsed. According to the report, a nurse and a medical assistant from the jail intake area — neither of whom was qualified as a first responder — arrived three minutes later but could not get a response from Washington. The report noted that no "progress notes" were kept of her vital signs or treatment, which violated Prison Health Services internal protocols.

December 11, 2005 Gwinnett Daily Post
The death of a cancer patient at the Gwinnett County Detention Center has touched off an avalanche of complaints by other inmates about substandard health care. The allegations paint a disturbing portrait of botched medications, patient neglect and staff indifference by the county's contracted medical provider at the jail, Prison Health Services. Before she died, 43-year-old Harriett Washington was known affectionately as "Sparkles" among her fellow female inmates. In and out of prison several times for cocaine possession, theft and forgery, friends said Washington was nonetheless an extremely likable woman who had been diagnosed with myeloid leukemia, a rapidly progressing cancer of the blood. The autopsy conducted by the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's Office shows Washington's cancer was in remission prior to being jailed in June, but she died of leukemia in her jail cell just five months later. While she was incarcerated, the only documented medical complaint in her file was on Oct. 16, when she complained of knee pain, according to the autopsy. Washington died before daybreak on Oct. 17. Her cellmates, Kimberly Holmes and Carla Dotson, say Washington begged repeatedly to be taken to the hospital the week before she died. There are no records of this alluded to in the Medical Examiner's Report. Holmes and Dotson claim their pleadings to hospitalize Washington were repeatedly rebuffed by PHS staff. A spokeswoman for Prison Health Services would not release Washington's medical records, citing right to privacy laws which they believe still remain in effect despite Washington's death. One former PHS worker said she became furious with the company over their lack of concern for inmates' well being. Diane Yociss, a former Prison Health Services mental health counselor, was fired in October. Yociss said her supervisors told her it was because she had been written up for going to physical therapy appointments for an on-the-job injury and for giving blood during work hours. Yociss believes the real reason for her firing was that she was becoming too vocal about lapses in health care at the jail. Her claim couldn't be verified because Prison Health Services did not make her personnel records available by press time. Yociss said she couldn't discuss Washington's case or cite specific examples of inmate health care because it would violate a code of ethics for her profession. However, Yociss said she wasn't surprised to hear about Washington's death. "Turnover there is horrific," Yociss said. "A lot of times people's follow-up care gets dropped. Other times they do the right thing and send them out (to a hospital)." Yociss said she confronted supervisors several times about mistakes - severely neglected patients, medication mix-ups and poor medical documentation, but her complaints were largely ignored. Instead, supervisors made excuses for employee mishaps, Yociss said. "The whole attitude toward inmates when they came in was they are either faking, they're malingering, they want to get out of their cells, or they want medicine," Yociss said. "In a lot of cases, yes they are. But in other cases, no, they're not. They are genuinely sick." In a series of jailhouse and telephone interviews last week, several inmates talked about their encounters with nurses and doctors employed by Prison Health Services. The following inmates' stories couldn't be verified because PHS would not provide their medical records, citing privacy laws as the reason for their exemption from Open Records law. Natalie Horne, 20, in jail on a felony drug possession charge, said she had to be hospitalized after a nurse gave her the wrong medication in August. Horne was supposed to get medicine to treat pain in her ankle when the nurse came into the pod for daily "pill call." Horne, who is hearing impaired, couldn't hear the names being called, but she got in line to receive her usual dose. The nurse was supposed to check the identification on Horne's arm band before dispensing the appropriate medication, but she didn't, Horne said. Instead, the nurse gave her someone else's medication. Horne doesn't even know what it was, but it made her cough and her lungs hurt. "I was dizzy and weak and I didn't feel like eating for three days," Horne scribbled on a piece of paper during her interview. When Horne told the nurse she had been given the wrong medicine, she alleges the woman seemed indifferent and replied "Oh well, just throw up." Tina Thompson told a similar story. Jailed in June for allegedly violating her probation by possessing a small quantity of crack cocaine, the 35-year-old woman said she was supposed to receive 400 mg of a medication to treat epilepsy. Two weeks ago, Thompson said she was accidentally given 500 mg of the drug. Thompson said the nurse also dispensed another unknown medicine to her that she wasn't supposed to receive, but she threw the pill away because she didn't recognize it. "I told her it was too much, but she said 'No, no, no, you take. It's OK," Thompson said Thursday during a jailhouse interview. Thompson said she didn't suffer any ill effects from the overdose of epilepsy medication, but it could have caused her to go into seizures. When she brought the mistake to another nurse's attention, Thompson said she was told "People make mistakes." "That mistake could've killed me," Thompson said, shaking her head. There are also several allegations that the record-keeping at the jail is sometimes spotty, botched or misplaced. Georgia E. MacDonnell, 48, landed in the Gwinnett County Detention Center earlier this year because Hall County didn't have the medical facilities to treat her. Reached by phone Thursday at her Gainesville home, MacDonnell said her only crime was trying to kill herself. McDonnell said she was charged with aggravated assault for attempting to shoot herself after hearing her fiance had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. MacDonnell needed ongoing treatment while at the jail because she has a colostomy bag attached to her abdomen to collect her body's waste. She said the skin where the bag attaches became infected when PHS staff failed to provide her with supplies to change the bag every three days, as recommended by her doctor. She claimed she only received the supplies to change 17 bags during her entire five-month incarceration. MacDonnell regularly requested them at pill call, but she was usually told to wait because more were being ordered, she said. MacDonnell explained that the sticky bandage that the plastic bag attaches to is useless when it gets wet, so it must be changed after each shower just like a Band-Aid. When she wasn't supplied with the bandages, called flanges, MacDonnell said she couldn't take showers. On one occasion, MacDonnell said she took a mandatory shower. Afterward, she asked a deputy for another colostomy bag, but allegedly didn't receive one until six hours later. During that time, MacDonnell said she was forced to sit in the medical unit with her body's waste dripping out all over her, making her abdomen raw. On the only time she was taken to see a physician in the medical unit, MacDonnell said yet another snafu occurred. "The doctor had my nephew's medical records instead of mine, and they returned me to my dorm without treating me," MacDonnell said. "I think that Gwinnett needs to answer to a lot of things, especially the medical care." Holmes, who has hepatitis, also alleges a poor experience with one of PHS' doctors. She followed protocol by submitting a request to see a doctor for pain in the area of her liver. When Holmes was transported to the medical unit to see a physician, she claimed the doctor didn't even know what she was doing there. Then he dismissed her complaints as imaginary. "He never touched me or examined me," Holmes said. "He said I was imagining it." Yociss said the inmates experiences are not uncharacteristic with what she witnessed as a former PHS employee. "I am not disgruntled. I am furious that people are still being treated like this," Yociss said. "I am furious that people have to die. I am not anybody's guardian angel. I'm just doing this because it is the right thing to do."

December 10, 2005 Gwinnett Daily Post
Information in the medical files of a leukemia patient who died at the Gwinnett County Detention Center in October conflicts with her cellmates' allegations that the woman was repeatedly denied hospitalization, according to autopsy records released Friday. The autopsy conducted by the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's Office stated 43-year-old Harriett Washington's cancer was in remission prior to her being jailed in June. However, she died of leukemia just five months later. The Gwinnett County Detention Center has no record of Washington receiving any cancer treatments during her stay there, according to the autopsy. The only documented medical complaint in her file was on Oct. 16, when she complained of knee pain. Washington died before dawn on the following day. "(Washington's) roommates found her to be experiencing seizure-like activity before losing consciousness," the autopsy said. "Responding staff members found her lying supine on the floor with her head resting on a pillow that had been placed there by her roommates. Staff members immediately called 911 and transported her to the clinic." Washington was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center in full cardiac arrest, where she was pronounced dead. Kimberly Holmes and Carla Dotson claim Washington was scheduled to see a specialist for cancer treatment two weeks before she died, but she was never taken. The inmates also claim Washington begged repeatedly to be hospitalized because she realized that she was relapsing and getting sicker.

December 9, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Whenever a prison inmate dies in custody - especially when the death may have been the result of inadequate medical care delivered by a for-profit company - the public deserves to know what happened and why. Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway has promised to investigate eyewitness claims that jail health workers largely ignored inmate Harriet Washington's symptoms for two days and let her suffer before she died in her county jail cell on Oct. 17. Jail officials knew Washington had leukemia. Washington's death is the third over the last two years to raise questions about the quality of medical services at the Gwinnett jail. The county pays Prison Health Services of Brentwood, Tenn., $4.8 million a year to provide nursing and physician care to inmates. The company has contracts with eight other jail facilities in Georgia and works at 310 facilities around the country. In September, the family of Ray Austin, who died at the Gwinnett jail in 2003, sued Prison Health Services, alleging company employees injected him with psychotropic drugs against his will shortly before being shocked eight times with a Taser during an altercation there. On Wednesday, the family of Frederick Williams filed a lawsuit against Conway, Taser International, Prison Health Services and several other defendants for another Taser-related death at the jail in May 2004. In Alabama, the state settled a class-action suit filed by inmates over inadequate care provided by Prison Health Services at state prisons. And Richland County, S.C., officials recently terminated a contract with the company after three inmate deaths in the county jail over the last three years. Many critics fear that in their quest for higher profits, private companies will cut costs through such arrangements as reducing shift workers, putting doctors on call instead of working on site at the jail, and giving employees unchecked decision-making power about what drugs are given to prisoners. Employees are also answerable to their employer, the private company, and not to those actually running the jail. Conway and Gwinnett officials need to ensure that's not happening at the county jail. The best way to do that is to make public as much of the investigation about Washington's death as possible and re-examine the staffing arrangement it has with Prison Health Services. The county may be able to contract out health care, but it can't contract out its legal and moral obligation to those in its custody.

December 7, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Attorneys for a man who died after a Taser-related scuffle at the Gwinnett County jail today filed a wrongful death lawsuit. The Gwinnett State Court suit was filed today by attorneys representing the family of Frederick Williams, who lost consciousness and died after a May 2004 scuffle in the jail. The handcuffed and manacled inmate was shocked multiple times with a Taser. In the Williams lawsuit, attorneys named Sheriff Butch Conway, three of his deputies and two Gwinnett police officers allegedly involved in the altercation, weapon manufacturer Taser International and Prison Health Services, a Nashville-based company that provides medical services for the jail.

December 7, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Tennessee company responsible for providing care to Gwinnett County jail inmates has faced a litany of lawsuits in at least four states in recent years. Already named in one Gwinnett County lawsuit linked to an inmate's death, Prison Health Services has been cited by cellmates of a woman who died in jail seven weeks ago. Harriet Washington, 43, of Norcross, died Oct. 17 in her cell. Her two cellmates said their pleas that Washington receive help went largely unheeded. The Brentwood, Tenn., company's Web site says it provides care to about 214,000 inmates in 310 jails and prisons in 37 states. The company says it serves eight facilities in Georgia. This year, Gary Watts, a coroner in Richland County, S.C., led an inquest after an inmate in the county jail hanged himself. A coroner's jury found that Prison Health Services had not provided the mentally ill man his prescribed medication for several days. "Horrible care," Watts said. "Absolutely horrible care." In Alabama, the state Department of Corrections settled a class-action lawsuit filed by inmates over health care provided by the company. Among other things, the lawsuit charged that inmates were not given their medication at the proper time or in correct dosages and were examined in rat-infested rooms. "There were some significant lapses in the system of medical care being provided at the facility," said Joshua Lipman, a lawyer at the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, which represented the inmates. Added Lipman, "Prison Health Services has problems all over the country right now." Prison Health Services was named in a lawsuit filed by the family of a Gwinnett inmate last September. Attorneys for Ray Austin's family allege that Austin was shocked eight times with a Taser after company employees injected him with psychotropic drugs during a September 2003 altercation at the jail. Austin lost consciousness and died after the incident. Austin's attorneys allege that Prison Health Services officials ignored a doctor's warning that Austin not be forcibly medicated. The warning was in his jail medical file, according to the lawsuit. Medical personnel and deputies also ignored Austin's wishes he not be medicated. Austin had signed jail paperwork granting him the right to refuse medical treatment, according to the lawsuit. "But for the decision on the part of ... medical personnel to proceed with forced administration of medication, Austin would not have resisted," the lawsuit said. "He would not have been in the altercation ... and would not have died." The details of Washington's death sounded familiar to David Almeida, executive director of the South Carolina chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Three mentally ill inmates have died at the Richland jail, including the man who hanged himself, in the past three years. After the third death, the Richland County Council voted to terminate its contract with Prison Health Services. The estates of the first two inmates who died settled lawsuits with Prison Health Services. "It just seems to me that when it comes to Prison Health Services, you have to be very careful," Almeida said. Watts, the coroner, said the inquest revealed a pattern of poor record-keeping, insufficient personnel and a failure to provide inmates with medication. Watts said that Prison Health Services employees subpoenaed in the inquest testified that that level of service was "almost a way of doing business: just go in, and do what you could. If you couldn't do it, don't worry about it."

December 6, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gwinnett's sheriff promised a thorough investigation Monday into an inmate's death, which prompted two cellmates to allege inadequate medical response. Butch Conway also defended the jail's contract medical provider, Prison Health Services, of Brentwood, Tenn. The company declined comment on the Oct. 17 death of Harriet Washington, 43, jailed since June for possession of cocaine. Washington, who suffered from leukemia, died on the jailhouse floor as her two cellmates watched. Morgenstern said the company initiates an in-house review of every patient's death. The two inmates, Kim Holmes and Carla Dotson, said in a jail interview Monday that they can't get the images out of their heads. They described Washington screaming in pain and convulsing before dying. Holmes and Dotson began keeping a list of Washington's numerous symptoms. On Sunday afternoon, they say, a medical unit nurse came to assess her condition. Holmes and Dotson decided to risk retaliation by writing the letter because they think a change is needed. "The only thing I have to say is that I didn't want Harriet to die and nothing change," Holmes said. "I just appreciate knowing that we have a voice even though we're in here."

December 5, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Two Gwinnett Detention Center inmates are alleging that shoddy medical treatment contributed to the death of their cellmate. Harriet Washington, 43, died in her cell Oct. 17 while being attended to by staff from Tennessee-based Prison Health Services, a private firm contracted by the county to provide medical care at the jail. In a Nov. 8 letter addressed to the medical unit supervisor and the Sheriff's Department's internal affairs unit, inmates Kim Holmes and Carla Dotson allege that Washington's multiple symptoms were for the most part ignored. Representatives of Prison Health Services did not return phone calls Sunday seeking comment. Holmes and Dotson were moved into Washington's cell about 8:30 a.m. Oct. 15. According to their letter, Washington was "extremely sick" and worsened as the day went on. The medical unit and a nurse who delivers medications at "pill call" were consulted, the letter says, but advised the women to fill out a medical request and turn it in. On Oct. 16, Washington eventually was sent to the medical unit, but was returned after an hour with no medications, according to Holmes. Several hours later medical was called again, the letter says. Washington was briefly taken back to the medical unit, the letter says, but was returned to her cell a short time later. Holmes' letter says she and Dotson continued to try to get medical attention for Washington, but were told that Washington had leukemia and nothing could be done, so she had to stay in the cell. Other times, they say, they were told that Washington "would be fine." Holmes further states that as Washington worsened and began to vomit continuously, she asked a deputy to seek medical help. The deputy returned and told her the medical department said vomiting was good for Washington. Early on Oct. 17, the letter states, Washington began screaming in pain and could not stop. According to the jail's Unusual Occurrence Report, a deputy notified medical at 2:10 a.m. and was told to bring Washington to the unit. Washington could not be moved, so the deputy pressed his "panic button" and announced a medical emergency. As he waited in Washington's cell, the report said, Washington "exhaled one loud breath and her eyes were open and fixated." The Unusual Occurrence Report states that nurses arrived at the cell at 2:44 a.m., but could not get any response from Washington. At 2:53 a.m., an ambulance was summoned. Homes' and Dotson's letter says that the medical staff decided that the hospital was necessary after the nurse announced that Washington had "no pulse." Holmes also alleged in her letter that Washington was supposed to see a cancer doctor every six weeks, but was already overdue. According to the jail's "inmate external movements" report, Washington last went to an outside doctor on July 18.

October 7, 2005 Gwinnett Daily Post
The nation's largest private provider of health care services to prison inmates has faced a recent lawsuit in Gwinnett and criticism from local officials in other states, but county commissioners have voted to extend their contract for another year. Prison Health Systems, a Nashville-based company, will continue providing medical, dental and mental treatment for inmates at the Gwinnett County Detention Center and the Department of Corrections until Oct. 31, 2006. Commissioners voted in September to extend the contract with PHS, said Kristine Tallent, budget division director for Gwinnett County. A lawsuit filed in September in the U.S. District Court's Northern District in Atlanta took aim at the company, claiming that medical personnel employed by PHS at the Gwinnett County Detention Center should not have forced deceased inmate Ray Charles Austin to receive an injection of an anti-psychotic drug. Prison Health Services has been faulted for inmate deaths in other jurisdictions, prompting some local officials to discontinue contracts with the company. A series of articles which ran in The New York Times beginning in late February documented cases of inmate suicide, shoddy care to children in custody and prisoners dying after being denied treatment. Last month, officials in Richland County, S.C., ended a contract with PHS following the deaths of three mentally ill inmates during the past three years, saying they were "terribly dissatisfied" with services. Nashville jail officials also replaced PHS last month with another inmate health care service in the wake of widespread criticism for failing to give inmates enough medical attention. Three diabetic inmates were alleged to have become ill there after receiving substandard care since January. Prison Health Services has a profitable business relationship with Gwinnett County in recent years. Last year, it was paid approximately $6.4 million, and the company has received more than $3 million in compensation this year.

September 22, 2005 Gwinnett Daily Post
An attorney for the children of an inmate who died after struggling with deputies has filed a lawsuit against the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department and its contracted health care provider. The lawsuit was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court’s Northern District in Atlanta on behalf of the son and daughter of Ray Charles Austin, who are both under the age of 10. The suit claims that deputies and medical personnel employed by Prison Health Services should not have forced Austin to receive an injection of a drug to calm a psychotic outburst at the Gwinnett County Detention Center. Austin, 25, struggled with deputies who were attempting to restrain him so a nurse could administer the injection on Sept. 24, 2003. Brian Spears, the attorney for Austin’s family, said Austin was a diagnosed schizophrenic and he was afraid of needles. During the struggle deputies shocked Austin about six to eight times with a Taser stun gun, according to the lawsuit. Austin bit off a portion of a deputy’s ear, and several deputies used their fists, choke holds, Taser shocks and deprivation of oxygen to retrieve the piece of flesh from Austin’s mouth. He subsequently lost consciousness and died.

September 21, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The family of a man who died at the Gwinnett jail after being repeatedly shocked with a Taser has filed a federal lawsuit against members of the sheriff's department. The wrongful death suit was filed this week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta by attorneys representing the family of Ray Charles Austin. It is the first of two Taser-related lawsuits expected to be filed by the families of inmates who have died after scuffles at the jail. Attorneys for Frederick Williams, an inmate who died in a similar altercation eight months after Austin, say they plan to file a lawsuit soon. The suit names Sheriff Butch Conway, three of his deputies allegedly involved in the altercation, and Prison Health Services, a Nashville-based company that provides medical services for the jail. Austin's attorneys allege in the suit that the 24-year-old man would not have died if deputies and a jail nurse had not forced him to take medication, shocked him eight times, beat and choked him. Gwinnett's medical examiner reported that Austin died of a heart attack but the autopsy did not clearly determine what caused the heart attack. Austin's attorneys allege that jail medical officials ignored a doctor's warning that he should not be forcibly medicated. The warning was in his jail medical file, according to the suit. Medical personnel and deputies also ignored Austin's wishes of not being medicated even though Austin had signed jail paperwork stating that he had the right to refuse medical treatment, according to the suit.

Hays State Prison
Rome, Georgia

July 20, 2010 Rome News-Tribune
Two people were arrested on drug charges Sunday after a road check was conducted on the access road to Hays State Prison in Chattooga County, a prison spokeswoman said. According to Chattooga County Jail records and Susie McGraw, secretary to Warden Clay Tatum: Patricia Denton of Flintsone was charged with crossing guard lines with drugs or intoxicants, possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and the possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime. Denton worked for a private food service company.

Irwin County Detention Center
Ocilla, Georgia

Detention Management LLC
How One Georgia Town Gambled Its Future on Immigration Detention: April 10, 2012, The Nation. By Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville. Expose into the bonding and political factors in building this prison.

Nov 17, 2022
Doctor at South Georgia immigration detention center abused women, investigation finds

A U.S. Senate investigation into South Georgia’s Irwin Detention Center found widespread medical abuse against women who were held in immigration detention there. Irwin was at the center of a 2021 federal whistleblower complaint after a nurse alerted advocates about suspected abuse. The investigation found female detainees were subjected to excessive, invasive, and often unnecessary gynecological procedures — including partial removal of the cervix and hysterectomies — often without consent. U.S. Senator for Georgia Jon Ossoff led the investigation. “Among the serious abuses this subcommittee has investigated during the last two years,” Senator Ossoff said, “subjecting female detainees to nonconsensual and unnecessary gynecological surgeries is one of the most nightmarish and disgraceful.” The investigation focused on Dr. Mahendra Amin, who was accused of performing these procedures. Karina Cisneros Preciado was detained at Irwin for 7 months. She was breastfeeding her four-month-old daughter and has no criminal record. Still she was put in detention because of her immigration status. She asked for a postpartum check-up, and was sent to Dr. Amin, who did not explain what he was doing. “I had suffered from sexual assault before as a child. So this kind of …the experience with Dr. Amin made me feel the same thing,” she said in front of the Senate subcommittee investigating the abuses. “I felt…it made me feel like I had no control over my body. I had no say. No vote, no nothing. Patients were referred to Dr. Amin by the private prison company that runs Irwin – LaSalle Corrections. The report shows he received referrals even though he’s been dropped by an insurance provider for a number of malpractice lawsuits and was sued by the federal government for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Dr. Amin has his medical license but does not have board certification from the national oversight group for gynecology. He could not be reached for comment at his medical office in Douglas, Georgia, where he currently sees OBGYN patients. But Scott Grubman, an attorney representing him, said in an email that his client only performed necessary procedures. But experts who testified in front of Congress said Dr. Amin’s invasive exams and procedures were relics of care from forty years ago. Dr. Amin did not follow current medical guidelines. And expert review documented in the Senate report shows the doctor gave almost all his patients the same procedures regardless of diagnosis. Azadeh Shahshahani is the legal director for Project South, the advocacy organization that helped file the initial whistleblower complaint. Everything we were saying about the medical abuse of migrant women was confirmed as a result of this extensive 18-month Senate investigation,” she said.” At the hearing, representatives from the ICE Health Service Corps and LaSalle Corrections described a medical system that lacked accountability. Stewart Smith is the Assistant Director of the ICE Health Service Corps. He said there are now vetting standards and accountability procedures in place to prevent medical abuse. But Shahshahani says the pattern of abuse against women seeking medical care at detention facilities continues at Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center. Stewart now accepts women in immigration detention after ICE ended its contract with Irwin. And Stewart is currently under investigation for sexual assault allegations against a male nurse. In the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security is still investigating Irwin, and there is an ongoing civil case against Dr. Amin.

Jan 25, 2022
Dawn Wooten Discusses Her Experience as a Whistleblower on the New Yorker Radio Hour

WASHINGTON-The New Yorker Radio Hour has released their most recent episode featuring Government Accountability Project's whistleblower client, Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) run by private prison company LaSalle Corrections. In September 2020, Wooten blew the whistle publicly about failures at ICDC to protect staff and immigrants in detention from the spread of COVID-19, in addition to concerns that numerous immigrant women were undergoing invasive gynecological procedures without consent. Wooten's shocking disclosures went viral, prompting public outcry, multiple congressional and agency investigations, a class action lawsuit seeking justice for their mistreatment, and DHS Secretary Mayorkas's decision in May 2021 ordering ICE to end its immigration detention contract with ICDC. Yet even as DHS OIG earlier this month issued one report validating many of Ms. Wooten's disclosures, Ms. Wooten is still waiting for findings to be issued by the DHS OIG in her whistleblower retaliation complaint filed more than fifteen months ago. Even though her whistleblowing helped expose and end grotesque abuses, Wooten has suffered ongoing retaliation for making the brave decision to stand up for what is right. Wooten, a single mother of five, was unable to secure work-as a qualified nurse during a pandemic-for months. In the interview, Wooten discusses life since the story broke and what blowing the whistle means to her. "It's like everybody's getting answers but me. And everybody's getting relief but these women. So, we're the only two left hanging in the balance. These women still have scars that they have to carry from here until the end of their time on this earth. And my voice with their bodies paved the way for the decision to be made, so what's holding up? Each day is lost time for me. It's lost time." Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel and lead counsel for Ms. Wooten commented: "Dawn Wooten's disclosures about some of the most grotesque abuses imaginable demonstrate the power of information provided by whistleblowers to protect the vulnerable and catalyze accountability. But too often we forget that a real person is behind that information, and that person often suffers significant costs for their decision to speak up for what's right. Dawn's story is one of retaliation and resilience and reminds all of us how much we as a society depend on, and need to protect, all whistleblowers."

Jan 8, 2022

OIG Report Confirms Whistleblower Claims of Wrongdoing at Irwin County Detention Center

WASHINGTON- Yesterday the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its final report, "Medical Processes and Communication Protocols Need Improvement at Irwin County Detention Center" outlining Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) grave shortcomings in medical healthcare at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), an ICE facility owned and operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company. The findings validate disclosures made to the OIG and Congress in September 2020 by Government Accountability Project's client, ICDC nurse Dawn Wooten, as well as ICE detainees, regarding failures to protect workers and immigrants from COVID-19 and inadequate medical care at the rural Georgia facility. While Ms. Wooten's disclosures, and in part, the OIG's report, reveal a toxic and dangerous culture within one ICE detention facility, the findings are symptomatic of an immigration detention system at large that has consistently proven unable to protect both workers and immigrants. Ms. Wooten's whistleblower disclosures, which also included high rates of unnecessary, nonconsensual gynecological procedures performed on women in detention, went viral in September 2020, prompting Congressional investigations and resolutions, a class action lawsuit on behalf of survivors, and international public outcry. Ultimately, DHS Secretary Mayorkas in May 2021 ordered ICE to sever its contract with ICDC, and in September 2021, all remaining immigrant detainees were transferred out of the facility. A separate OIG investigation and audit is being conducted into the processes for approving gynecological procedures at ICDC and for all surgeries across ICE detention facilities. Ms. Wooten's disclosures about ICE's and LaSalle's failure to implement COVID protocols provided vital first-hand examples of the endangerment of workers, immigrants, and the public posed by the spread of COVID in ICE detention-warnings issued at the beginning of the pandemic by DHS's own medical experts. The OIG, while concluding that ICDC "generally complied with CDC and ICE COVID-19 guidance," also detailed several areas in which ICE and ICDC fell woefully short in critical ways. The OIG found that ICDC failed to "adequately implement and enforce social distancing protocols;" that "confusion at the beginning of the pandemic made for a late and inconsistent implementation of mask distribution and wearing;" and that even a year after the beginning of the pandemic, video footage from March 2021 showed "facility staff not wearing masks and social distancing." Further, the OIG found that "CDC and ICE management did not adequately or consistently keep facility employees, ICE staff, and detainees informed of COVID-19 protocols and guidance" and that "detainees reported not being informed of their cohort or quarantine status, their COVID-19 test results, or facility COVID-19 protocols." The OIG's investigation into medical care at ICDC and subsequent findings not only validate Ms. Wooten's disclosures regarding ICDC but are consistent with its earlier findings about failures at other ICE detention facilities to adequately protect workers and immigrants-and thus the public too-from COVID, including at the Richwood Correctional Center, also run by LaSalle. This report should not be viewed as irrelevant because ICDC is closed, but rather as a case study in why this system - locking up immigrants en masse without adequate safeguards during a pandemic - is an ongoing public health disaster. Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel and lead counsel for Ms. Wooten commented: "We are gratified that the OIG's report largely validates many of the problems disclosed by Ms. Wooten. Yet we remain frustrated that the very whistleblower whose disclosures led to this important report continues to wait for a decision on her whistleblower retaliation complaint filed with the OIG more than fifteen months ago. Ms. Wooten's disclosures prompted DHS to conduct investigations that have resulted in accountability and an end to mismanagement and abuses at ICDC, but Ms. Wooten herself, a single Black mother of five struggling to provide for her family, continues to suffer the adverse effects of retaliation. We hope that the DHS OIG will now take care of the whistleblower who served the public interest by choosing to speak up instead of stay silent." Katie Shepherd, Immigration Counsel for Government Accountability Project stated: "ICDC is not an outlier - it is reflective of a toxic, harmful immigration system lacking accountability. The OIG's recent findings illustrate ICE's and LaSalle's failures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard detainees and workers alike from harm not just at ICDC but at ICE facilities across the country. The report adds to the chorus of complaints, expert reports, Congressional investigations, and whistleblower disclosures detailing the extensive and egregious harms caused by the mass incarceration of thousands of individuals in substandard conditions and reflects the critical and immediate need for systemic change."

Dec 7, 2021

ICE doctor may have performed unwanted hysterectomies to defraud DHS

New details from an investigation into a Georgia-based doctor who performed unwanted hysterectomies on migrant women in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody found the man to be "not competent" and indicated he may have performed unnecessary and invasive procedures on patients to inflate payment from the government. A previously unreleased letter caps an investigation into Mahendra Amin, who worked as a contractor in an ICE facility in Georgia and was reported by a nurse in the facility who filed a whistleblower complaint alleging he removed women's uteruses without their consent. "My concern is that he was not competent and simply did the same evaluation and treatment on most patients because that is what he knew how to do, and/or he did tests and treatments that generated a significant amount of reimbursement without benefiting most patients," wrote Tony Ogburn, a doctor asked to review Amin's file as part of a joint investigation by the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Additional letters from the committees Monday ask for a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) briefing on the matter and inquire how the Georgia Composite Medical Board plans to respond. "We are concerned that Dr. Amin may have been performing unnecessary surgical procedures to defraud DHS and the federal government without consequences. We are also concerned that people at other detention facilities may be receiving similarly inappropriate or inadequate medical treatment," the committee wrote in its letter to DHS. Ogburn's letter details a pattern of Amin doing more invasive "D&C" procedures to take samples - rather than doing an in-office biopsy, a less invasive and less expensive procedure.  It was something Ogburn found was part of "a pattern of performing the same surgery . on many patients no matter what their condition was." The review also found almost all ultrasounds conducted by Amin found conditions allegedly requiring surgery. And within those who received surgery under Amin, the review found an unusually large number of patients were deemed to have both endometriosis and adhesions, something Ogburn said was "very unlikely that such a high proportion of patients would have both findings." Ogburn also noted that Amin had the "unusual" practice of preprinting all consent forms and packaging them together. He also found patients were "rarely offered any alternative therapies" for their gynecological issues other than surgery. "Patients that clearly had an indication for hysterectomy as an option did not have that option presented to them. Often evaluation/treatment did not address their primary issue with recommendations for sustainable relief but instead he did a variety of tests and surgery that did them little or no good, and potentially caused harm," Ogburn wrote. DHS in May ended its contract with the facility where Amin worked, which was run by private prison company LaSalle Corrections. But the committees stressed the need for DHS to ensure the same practices aren't being carried out in any other facility. "DHS has thus far identified only two detention facilities as unsuitable for housing ICE detainees after more than six months of review, even though the Committees' investigations have identified serious concerns about many others," they wrote in their joint letter asking DHS for a briefing on the matter. DHS said it is still reviewing detention policies and practices. "In May, Secretary Mayorkas issued a memo directing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to close two detention facilities, and ICE has been actively working with the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, the DHS Office of the Inspector General, and the DHS Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman to ensure that detention facilities are held to the appropriate health and safety standards," an agency spokesperson said in a statement. "Secretary Mayorkas continues to evaluate DHS detention policies and will be issuing additional immigration-related policy memos, including memos addressing immigration detention."

Oct 19,
Concerning Results from OSHA Investigation Emphasize Ongoing Dangers from COVID-19 at Irwin County Detention Facility, ICE Detention Generally

WASHINGTON - Today, Government Accountability Project alerted key Congressional offices about the results of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), a facility run by private prison company LaSalle Corrections, in Ocilla, Georgia. ICDC held immigrants in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until early September 2021, when ICE severed its contract with ICDC. The OSHA inspection, conducted in December 2020, was prompted by a complaint filed by Government Accountability Project on behalf of a confidential whistleblower regarding the unsafe conditions for both employees and migrants detained at ICDC related to COVID-19. ICDC has long been rife with reports of limited access to medical care, unsafe work practices, and the absence of adequate protections against COVID-19 for detained migrants and workers alike. Many of these concerns were raised by Government Accountability Project client whistleblower Dawn Wooten in disclosures to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General and Congress in September 2020. While the ICDC no longer holds immigrants in ICE custody, concerns around lack of COVID protections and protocols remain as the private prison continues to hold non-immigrant detainees. The congregate settings of prisons and ICE detention facilities alike are known vectors for the spread of COVID, a virus which does not distinguish between workers, immigrants, or the local communities near detention facilities at risk of severe illness and death. The OSHA findings show systemic and repeated failures by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ICE and LaSalle Corrections to address the hazardous conditions at ICDC related to the spread of COVID-19, and reveal flaws in OSHA's own ability to oversee workers' health and safety. The OSHA investigation confirms several troubling themes including: Weaknesses in OSHA's inspection and citation process expose a lack of meaningful oversight mechanisms available to the thousands of individuals who labor in the ICE detention system, a known source of spread for COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a serious threat to prisoners in ICDC, the individuals who work at ICDC, and the surrounding community. Findings from OSHA's recent investigation at ICDC reflect systemic racism in the U.S. immigration system that causes disproportionate harm to Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC).The concerns raised by the confidential whistleblower and subsequent OSHA inspection reflect a pressing need for a system-wide investigation into the ongoing lack of critical safeguards to combat the spread of COVID-19 to workers, detainees and local communities within and in the proximity of congregate settings such as prisons and ICE detention facilities. On July 13, 2020, LaSalle leadership testified before Congress that they were complying with all required health protocols. Yet over a year later, OSHA's investigation and findings prove otherwise. Samantha Feinstein, Government Accountability Project Staff Attorney and counsel for the confidential whistleblower, stated: "To our knowledge, the OSHA inspection at the ICDC is the first federal OSHA inspection of an ICE detention facility since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we are pleased that OSHA issued citations and fined LaSalle Corrections, we are also disheartened by the leniency toward LaSalle Corrections and concerned by the many challenges that we encountered during OSHA's investigation process while representing our client. Two ICDC personnel have died of COVID-19. Many others contracted the virus. The lack of adequate oversight and accountability of ICDC remains a matter of life and death and leaves workers and detainees without any real avenues for redress." Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel and attorney for the confidential whistleblower, stated: "OSHA's failure to meaningfully protect workers at ICDC or other ICE detention facilities from unsafe conditions amounts to a failure to protect immigrants and the public as well. ICE and private prison companies like LaSalle Corrections have repeatedly demonstrated their inability and unwillingness to responsibly care for the workers and the people in their custody even before the dangerous pandemic. We hope that Congress acts with alacrity to address the continued threat posed from COVID-19 and the substandard conditions in ICE detention facilities and to strengthen OSHA's ability to fulfill its mandate of protecting worker health and safety." Contact: Andrew Harman, Communications Director, Email: Phone: (202) 926-3304 Government Accountability Project is the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project's mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

May 20 2021 Irwin County Detention Center

ICE DETENTION CENTER SHUTTERED FOLLOWING REPEATED ALLEGATIONS OF MEDICAL MISCONDUCT Immigrant women held at the private prison alleged a pattern of medical procedures, including hysterectomies, without proper consent.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Homeland Security announced on Thursday the agency will be shutting down the controversial immigration prison in Georgia where dozens of detained immigrant women were subjected to nonconsensual gynecological procedures, including hysterectomies. The memo, sent by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, instructs U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to terminate the contract with the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, according to the Washington Post, along with another detention center in Massachusetts. Both facilities are under federal investigation for detention practices. “This victory, brought about through years of organizing and exposing the abuses, is momentous,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director of Project South, a civil rights organization based in Atlanta. “This victory, brought about through years of organizing and exposing the abuses, is momentous.” The detention center, run by the private prison company LaSalle Corrections, was the focus of widespread criticism last fall when Dawn Wooten, a nurse and subsequently whistleblower at the facility, came forward with allegations of pervasive medical neglect and misconduct. “For over a decade, LaSalle and ICE have ignored, threatened, and even attacked immigrants at Irwin in an attempt to silence them,” said Priyanka Bhatt, a staff attorney at Project South. “Today matters because the people suffering abuse at Irwin have been seen.” In her whistleblower allegations, Wooten detailed how the facility’s staff ignored serious medical complaints and failed to take proper precautions against Covid-19 both for the staff and the people detained at the prison. Wooten also alleged detained women were subjected to hysterectomies and other, sometimes unnecessary, gynecological procedures performed without proper informed consent, allegations that spurred widespread international criticism, including congressional investigations. According to the Washington Post, Mayorkas’s memo said Homeland Security “will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.” In a statement to the Post, Mayorkas said, “DHS detention facilities and the treatment of individuals in those facilities will be held to our health and safety standards. Where we discover they fall short, we will continue to take action as we are doing today.” (ICE and LaSalle Corrections did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the closure memo.) Mayorkas’s memo closing Irwin also instructed ICE not to renew its contract with the Bristol County immigration detention center in Massachusetts. In December, the Massachusetts attorney general said the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the facility, violated the civil rights of detained immigrants last year, when officials fired pepper spray and pepper projectiles and illegally unleashed dogs on detainees who were demanding Covid-19 protections. The closures of the Irwin and Bristol detention centers come as the total number of people detained by ICE has increased in recent months, to over 20,000 as of May 14, a high for the Biden administration, but still far lower than the more than 55,000 people who were detained at any given time during the peak months of 2019. It is not clear when the facilities will be officially shuttered, but the Post reported that the Bristol contract would be terminated immediately and DHS would work to sever its contract with Irwin as quickly as possible. “The closure of the Irwin County Detention Center marks a decisive victory in the long war against white supremacy in the U.S. south and across the globe,” said Kevin Caron, a steering committee member of Georgia Detention Watch. “While they have yet to receive justice, today those who suffered at Irwin have been vindicated. The abuses at Irwin are emblematic of our urgent need to end immigrant detention and abolish ICE.” LAST SEPTEMBER, Wooten blew the whistle about conditions at the facility amid the Covid-19 pandemic, first reported by The Intercept. With the assistance of attorneys from the Government Accountability Project, Wooten sent a letter to Congress detailing “misconduct and failures to provide medical care in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.” With Project South, she also submitted a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General. Part of the complaint said that women in detention were being subjected to often unnecessary gynecological procedures conducted without proper consent. Later, in a closed-door meeting with senators on Capitol Hill, attorneys confirmed at least 57 women were subject to the reproductive-system procedures since 2018. The story, especially the gynecological procedures allegedly performed without consent, was widely covered. Public officials demanded an investigation. A number of the women subjected to the gynecological procedures were subsequently deported, even as advocates demanded that ICE cease the deportations of victims and shutter the facility. The DHS Office of Inspector General launched an investigation into the allegations; its findings have not yet been released. (The DHS OIG also launched an investigation into prenatal and gynecological care in other ICE facilities, the findings of which have also not been released.) Last December, 14 women filed a class-action lawsuit alleging abuse during their time imprisoned in Irwin. The lawsuit claims that the women received nonconsensual procedures performed by Mahendra Amin, a doctor based in rural Georgia who was sent patients from the nearby detention center. Both Amin and his attorney have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. The women claim that ICE and Irwin County Detention Center officials were made aware by detainees of alleged misconduct. “In many instances, the medically unindicated gynecological procedures Respondent Amin performed on Petitioners amounted to sexual assault,” the lawsuit says. “After Petitioners spoke out, or attempted to speak out, about their abuse, Respondents retaliated against them in order to silence them.” ICE stopped sending immigrant women to Amin after the allegations of nonconsensual and unnecessary procedures came to light. The FBI is currently investigating Amin for a series of unnecessary, rough, or abusive procedures, according to a report in Prism by Tina Vásquez earlier this month. Last week, a group of 29 formerly detained immigrants sent a letter to President Joe Biden denouncing abusive practices in immigration detention.  In the letter, they also demanded that the Irwin County Detention Center be shut down and all contracts with LaSalle and other for-profit detention companies be terminated. “Many women faced retaliation from ICE, with some even being deported to prevent them from testifying in any investigations, a tactic frequently employed by ICE to silence and disappear its victims,” the letter reads. The shuttering of Irwin does not mean that people currently detained in the facility will be released from detention. ANOTHER DETENTION CENTER in rural Georgia, the Stewart Detention Center, has received an influx of women detainees since December 2020, many of them transfers from Irwin. Stewart, which has exclusively detained men for over a decade, is one of the largest ICE detention centers in the country. It is also, according to advocates and nongovernmental trackers, one of the deadliest. “Transfer of women from one corporate-run detention center with a track record of human rights violations to another deadly one is not going to get ICE off the hook.” Stewart, which is run by the private prison company CoreCivic, has come under fire by, among others, the DHS Office of Inspector General, for alleged violent abuse against people detained there. Since 2017, eight detainees at Stewart have died. Two men died by suicide after being held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time, despite diagnoses of mental health disorders. During the Covid-19 pandemic, The Intercept reported that detainees in Stewart demanding improved medical care were pepper-sprayed twice in two weeks by a special unit of private correctional officers akin to a SWAT team. The Intercept also reported that three detainees in wheelchairs were hurled to the ground after asking for better medical care amid the pandemic. According to ICE’s tracker, four people detained at Stewart died from complications after contracting Covid-19. “We will not rest however until Stewart is also shut down,” said Shahshahani, of Project South. “Transfer of women from one corporate-run detention center with a track record of human rights violations to another deadly one is not going to get ICE off the hook.”

Nov 26, 2020

House Democrats subpoena private prison operator in forced hysterectomy case

The House Oversight and Reform and the Homeland Security committees on Wednesday subpoenaed the head of the private prison company that operates a detention center where women were allegedly sent to receive unwanted gynecological procedures. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of Homeland Security panel, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Oversight panel, issued the subpoena for LaSalle Corrections Executive Director Rodney Cooper to appear before the committees on Dec. 9. “Despite the seriousness of the allegations taking place at their facility, LaSalle has stonewalled our Committees since we began our investigation in September,” Thompson and Maloney said in a statement. “They have provided us no documents, refused to share their contract with ICE, and have consistently fed us conflicting information," they added. The accusations against LaSalle, stemming from a whistleblower complaint at the Irwin County, Ga., detention center, allege that more than 43 immigrant detainees received unwarranted or unwanted treatment, including hysterectomies that left some of them sterile. The Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a consent motion in court, agreeing to hold the deportation of detainees involved in the case while investigations are concluded. Since the whistleblower allegations were made public in September, Democratic lawmakers have unsuccessfully sought further information on the case, according to Thompson and Maloney. "LaSalle has refused to take even the most minimal steps to comply with the Committees’ requests for documents, and company employees have provided conflicting information to the Committees about its steps to locate and preserve documents," they wrote in a letter to Cooper accompanying the subpoena. Representatives for LaSalle could not be reached for comment, as the company does not list contact information publicly.

Sep 16, 2020

Watson Coleman Calls for Investigation and Resignations Following Reports of Forced Hysterectomies at ICE Facility

WASHINGTON, DC -  - Congresswoman Watson Coleman, a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, today demanded the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia be shut down immediately while an investigation is undertaken into allegations of mass hysterectomies being performed on non-consenting detainees. A number of news agencies reported last night that a whistleblower at the facility, run by a private prison firm LaSalle South Corrections, revealed that female detainees were routinely given hysterectomies by an outside gynecologist, often without their consent. “This level of barbarism is almost unimaginable. This country has a long, disturbing history of mistreating prisoners and detainees, but this level of cold-blooded inhumanity is truly sickening,” said Watson Coleman. “This facility must be shut down immediately, Matthew Albence must immediately step down as Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, his superior Chad Wolf must step down as Secretary of Homeland Security, and a full and thorough investigation must begin including identifying the physician in question. “This is another example of the dangerous and often illegal behavior that occurs when we outsource our corrections and detention services to private companies. Private prisons have long lacked necessary oversight, creating breeding grounds for malpractice and simultaneously allowing the government officials who should be in charge to claim plausible deniability when crimes are committed. For this very reason I introduced the End For-Profit Prisons Act almost four years ago. It is time we reexamine our approach to detention of all kinds."

April 23, 2012 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A privately owned detention center that houses hundreds of illegal immigrants in South Georgia narrowly avoided being auctioned off at a county tax sale this year after the Atlanta-based owner’s creditors forced the company into bankruptcy proceedings. Now the fate of Irwin County's largest private employer is at stake, as is a considerable chunk of the county's tax base, demonstrating how illegal immigration and economic development can be intertwined. Located about 180 miles south of Atlanta, the Irwin County Detention Center houses detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service. About 200 jobs are tied to the detention center in Ocilla that now houses slightly more than half its capacity. “If it closes, then everybody loses their jobs ... and the inmates go back to wherever they came from, but we hope that it never gets to that,” said Joey Whitley, chairman of the Irwin Board of Commissioners. The facility is at the center of a complex financial arrangement involving the county and several private companies linked to the same Atlanta-area businessman, Terry O’Brien. O’Brien owns Municipal Corrections LLC, which owns the detention center. He also has an interest in two other companies involved in its management. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment. An attorney for his company said he was still evaluating the bankruptcy case. The problems started after the county -- hoping to create more jobs and save taxpayer money -- issued $55 million in tax-exempt bonds in 2007 to help pay off other bonds and to finance an expansion of the center by 512 beds to a total of 1,201. As part of the arrangement, the county gets to house up to 30 of its own inmates in the detention center for free, not including medical costs. The bonds were to be paid off with revenue from the center, which receives federal funding for holding federal detainees. But the center has not housed enough detainees to cover the bond payments, Whitley said in court papers. As of Thursday, the detention center was holding 653 people. In February, the trustee in the arrangement -- UMB -- wrote to bondholders, saying the bond payments were in default. In January, at the county's request, an Irwin Superior Court judge ordered that the property to be sold at auction to cover a combined $1.6 million in back taxes owed to the county and the city of Ocilla for 2009 and 2010. That’s a large sum for a county with about 9,500 residents and an annual operating budget of $4.2 million. The detention center’s tax sale was set for March 6. But its bondholders blocked that by filing a petition in a federal bankruptcy court, claiming $54.1 million in bond debt. O’Brien has been seeking to have the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case transferred from a federal court in Nevada -- where his company was organized -- to one in Georgia. Before the detention center’s expansion, Municipal Corrections had “limited operating history and limited assets,” bond records show. The records show O’Brien had a background in construction, marketing and finance, but they don’t indicate he had any experience running a jail or prison. As part of the project, his company was to receive between $5,000 and $8,333 monthly to cover “oversight” expenditures. The county is leasing the jail from Municipal Corrections, an arrangement that allowed Irwin to issue the tax-exempt bonds for its expansion, county officials said. The county signed an agreement with a second company linked to O’Brien -- Detention Management LLC -- to operate the jail. The contract says that company is to be paid a $21,469 monthly management fee from the detention center’s revenue. The company is also responsible for working with ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service to steer more detainees to the detention center, Whitley said. The company’s website lists O’Brien as one of its leaders. No one from that company's Atlanta office responded to a request for comment this week. A third company connected to O’Brien -- Correctional Center Consultants LLC -- was hired to help manage the project, bond records show. O’Brien is the company’s managing member.

February 29, 2012 Las Vegas Sun
Bondholders owed more than $54 million filed a Chapter 11 involuntary bankruptcy petition in Las Vegas on Wednesday against a private prison company. The filing was made against Municipal Corrections, LLC, which has offices in Stratham, N.H., and Atlanta. The involuntary filing apparently was made in bankruptcy court in Las Vegas because Municipal Corrections is registered as a Nevada limited liability company. The filing, if approved by the bankruptcy court, would subject the company’s finances to court supervision. Records from the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, which collects municipal debt data, show Municipal Corrections has a prison agreement with Irwin County, Ga. Under the 2007 deal, the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga.; south of Atlanta, was expanded using county-issued bonds. Municipal Corrections, an investor in the prison, leases the expanded prison to the county. Some of the bonds refinanced existing debt. The records also show there’s been a default in payment obligations for the municipal bonds — officially called Irwin County, Ga., Participation Certificates — backed by the prison and the revenue it generates. A request for comment on the involuntary bankruptcy filing was placed with Municipal Corrections, which is headed by managing member Terrence O’Brien. The petitioning creditors in Wednesday’s $54.195 million involuntary bankruptcy filing included Hamlin Capital Management, LLC of New York; Oppenheimer Rochester National Municipals of Rochester, N.Y.; and UMB N.A. of Minneapolis and Kansas City. UMB is the bond trustee charged with representing the interests of bondholders, and its claim was made in bankruptcy court on behalf of all bondholders. The petitioning creditors are represented by the Las Vegas office of the law firm Ballard Spahr, LLP and the Minneapolis office of the law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP. They allege in the petition that Municipal Corrections "is generally not paying debts as they become due." UMB, in a separate state court proceeding in Minnesota, has said the prison has a capacity of 1,200 inmates but for the past several years has seen occupancy of just 700 to 800 inmates. That means revenue from government agencies housing inmates there has been sufficient to pay operating expenses but has been insufficient to pay any debt service on the bonds and property taxes on the jail, UMB attorneys said in a court filing.

Macomb County Jail
Macomb County, Georgia
Correctional Medical Services

March 31, 2006 Macomb Daily
A nurse fired from the Macomb County Jail has retained the law firm of Geoffrey Fieger for a possible lawsuit against her employer, in connection to a baby she delivered at the jail. Lori Helhowski, a nurse who last month performed the first live birth delivery to an inmate in the jail's history, said she has decided to go ahead with civil action over her dismissal. She said the Fieger law firm in Southfield is helping her prepare a case of wrongful retaliation and violation of whistle-blower protection laws. "My son begged me not to even pursue this, but I feel obligated to pursue it for the sake of the inmates," Helhowski said of her legal action. "I just don't even believe it." Helhowski was terminated March 20 as an employee of St. Louis-based Correctional Medical Services, or CMS, a private company under contract to provide medical services at the jail. Although her termination is ostensibly linked to a personal relationship she developed with former jail inmate Shawn Jefferson, she and an attorney handling her case have both noted that Jefferson was no longer at the jail when her employer became aware of the situation. Helhowski believes her discharge was really connected to concerns she raised at the jail about proper care for the inmate and her baby. Attorney Arnie Matusz, who represents Helhowski, said Thursday the timing of her dismissal is questionable since the inmate was long gone. Matusz said he is helping her prepare a case, but there are already some obstacles facing him.

March 28, 2006 Free Press
Lori Helhowski, the nurse who delivered the first baby born in the Macomb County Jail, says she has been fired from her job there. Her employer, St. Louis-based Correctional Medical Services, told her she was let go Wednesday because she has a relationship with a former Macomb inmate, she said. Helhowski, 43, of Macomb Township admitted Friday to talking to Shawn D. Jefferson on the phone and exchanging letters with him. Jefferson now is incarcerated at Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson. Helhowski said she believes her firing was because she had received media attention for the birth and privately complained about procedures and conditions in the jail. She said she's considering a lawsuit. Macomb County Jail Administrator Michelle Sanborn said Monday: "I can tell you that she is no longer working there ... but other than that, this isn't the kind of thing that I like talking about when someone loses their job or is terminated."

March 24, 2006 Macomb Daily
A nurse at the Macomb County Jail who made history by delivering the first baby there may now seek legal action against her former employer, who has cited her relationship with a former inmate as grounds to fire her. Lori Helhowski, a Macomb Township resident and nurse with nearly 20 years' experience, said the administration of Missouri-based Correctional Medical Services terminated her employment Monday after learning of phone calls and other evidence of a "personal relationship" with former jail inmate Shawn D. Jefferson. Correctional Medical Services, or CMS, is the private contractor company that employs all nurses and medical staff at the Macomb County Jail, where Helhowski was a nurse on the night shift. Jefferson, 44, of Clinton Township, was in the jail from roughly October through February on a charge of cocaine possession and allegedly had several phone conversations with Helhowski on her personal time at home, when she wasn't working. "Would I sue? I don't know, I'm not really a lawsuit person. But I've been thinking about it," Helhowski said this week of her termination. "This isn't like I tried to smuggle a gun to him or something. I don't understand how they can try to tell me what to do on my own phone, on my own time, with my own money."

McRae Correctional Facility
McRae, Georgia
Nov 1, 2022

'We're hoping there's no layoffs': McRae-Helena prepares for economic hit once private prison closes

CoreCivic paid nearly $651,000 in property taxes last year for the $48 million facility, according to the Telfair County

MCRAE-HELENA, Ga. — A private prison in McRae-Helena is closing in 30 days, leaving hundreds looking for new jobs.

Officials say the closing could be a huge economic loss for Telfair County. As of Monday, the future of this prison remains uncertain. The answer to where it's prisoners will go is still unknown. What is certain, however, is that by the end of November, more than 250 people will lose their jobs. The Georgia Department of Labor posted a layoff notice to its website, reporting that 252 prison employees will lose jobs on November 30. The company that owns the prison, Nashville-based CoreCivic, says they hope their employees will get jobs with the state prison system or at other CoreCivic facilities, like the one in neighboring Wheeler County. "We're hoping there's no layoffs," said Earl Merritt with the Telfair County Development Authority. The state has bought the McRae private prison for $130 million, but so far has not confirmed with 13WMAZ what they'll do with it. However, Merritt and Telfair County Sheriff Sim Davidson say CoreCivic employees tell them the state is making plans for the prison. "That the state will take over December 1, and at that time, it'll be a women's prison," Davidson said. Aside from jobs, the city itself will take a hit. "The tax base will be diminished because of this," Davidson said. Remember, CoreCivic is a private company so they have to pay taxes. Just last year, CoreCivic paid nearly $651,000 in property taxes for the $48 million facility, according to the Telfair County Tax Commissioner's office. Meanwhile, the other prison in town, Telfair State Prison, is owned by the state and tax exempt. So, once the state takes over, the city can no longer tax the McRae site. Sheriff Davidson says they might have to talk about adjusting their budget. "Taxes are a big part of the funding we get to operate as an office so it's certainly a concern there," Davidson said. Last year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said they planned to phase out private prisons. The McRae facility was built to house nearly 2,000 inmates. According to the company's website, it currently houses barely a quarter of that.

Oct 29, 2022

Private prison in McRae will close and lay off 252 people

MCRAE-HELENA, Ga. — More than 250 people will lose jobs next month when a federal prison in Telfair County closes. The McRae Correctional Facility is owned by a Nashville-based private company, CoreCivic. Steve Owen, a CoreCivic vice president, said it's closing because their contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons expires November 30. Last year, the federal agency said they planned to phase out private prisons. Owen says that's why CoreCivic agreed to sell McRae to the Georgia Department of Corrections for $130 million. Telfair County tax records say the prison site is worth about $48 million. So far, the state prison system hasn't announced their plans for the 69-acre site. Owen says McRae houses non-citizens who've been convicted of federal crimes and face deportation after release. It was built to house nearly 2,000 inmates. According to the company's website, it houses around 530 prisoners; barely a quarter of capacity. The Georgia Department of Labor posted a layoff notice to its website this week reporting that 252 prison employees will lose jobs on November 30. Owen says the company hopes those people will get jobs with the state prison system or at other CoreCivic facilities. The company will try to help place the rest, he said. McRae Correctional Facility is about 4.5 miles from Telfair State Prison, which has a capacity of about 1,400. 13WMAZ reached out to the state prison system about their plans for McRae. They've not responded. However earlier this year, the state announced plans to replace some of its older prisons with new ones. Georgia also faces a Federal Department of Justice investigation over conditions in its prisons. Federal officials say overcrowding and understaffing is causing violence and dozens of homicides in Georgia prisons.


Jun 28, 2022

Prison guard charged with accepting bribes to allow inmate to receive smuggled items Incidents occurred at privately run facility for federal inmates

DUBLIN, GA:  A federal prison guard faces the possibility of substantial time as an inmate after being charged with multiple counts of accepting bribes to allow smuggled material into a prison. Tiffany Fletcher, 35, of McRae, Ga., a corrections officer and counselor at the privately operated McRae Correctional Facility, is charged with five counts of bribery, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The charge carries a statutory penalty of up to 15 years in prison, along with substantial financial penalties and up to three years of supervised release after completion of any prison term. There is no parole in the federal system. "The safety and integrity of federal corrections facilities demands that the staff of these facilities maintain the highest ethical and legal standards," said U.S. Attorney Estes. "We continue to partner with investigative agencies to combat the flow of contraband material into these facilities." McRae Correctional Facility, in Telfair County, is operated by the private corrections company CoreCivic and houses male inmates under contract with the federal Bureau of Prisons. As described in the indictment, Fletcher is accused of accepting five cash bribes totaling $4,390 from June to December 2019, and in return acted "in violation of her official duties as a correctional officer" by failing to "report or investigate prohibited objects being brought into McCrae Correctional Facility." "Fletcher is accused of accepting bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye to contraband being brought into the prison," said James F. Boyersmith, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General Miami Field Office. "Correctional Officers who engage in bribery undermine the safety and integrity of federal prisons." Criminal indictments contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless The case is being investigated by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, and prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcela C. Mateo.

Aug 15, 2019

Fmr Georgia Correctional OIfficer Indicted for Accepting Bribes to Smuggle Contraband into Prison

A correctional officer at a federal prison has been charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting bribes in return for smuggling cigarettes to an inmate. Michael Kerr, 30, of Vidalia, Ga., is charged with 12 counts of Bribery, one count of Providing Contraband into a Prison, and one count of making a false statement to law enforcement, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The charges carry possible punishment of up to 15 years in prison. The indictment alleges that on 12 occasions Kerr, a correctional officer at McRae Correctional Facility, a private prison operated under a federal contract in Telfair County, accepted payments ranging from $400 to $640 in return for smuggling cigarettes to the inmate. The indictment alleges Kerr then lied when confronted about the allegations by claiming the payoff occurred only once, for $100. The forfeiture allegation included in the indictment contends Kerr accepted bribes totaling of $5,790. “The corrections officers in our federal prison system perform outstanding work under difficult conditions,” said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “Any guard who violates their oath makes the job for all the others more difficult, and as a consequence merits prosecution.” “Introducing contraband undermines the integrity of federal prisons and creates a danger for correctional officers, prison staff, and inmates,” said Special Agent in Charge James F. Boyersmith, Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, Miami Field Office. “Bribery and smuggling contraband into federal prisons will not be tolerated, and our agents will continue to root out these schemes. I’d like to thank U.S. Attorney Christine for his partnership in this effort.” An indictment contains only charges. Defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty in court. The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, and prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcela C. Mateo. This is a press release from the US Department of Justice.

May 29, 2019
Private prison staff accused of spying on inmates in toilets and showers
Former detainee Corey Donaldson claims CoreCivic staff at McRae correctional facility in Georgia peered at and made video recordings of immigrant inmates. A former detainee at a prison for immigrants in rural Georgia alleges he and other detainees were the victims of sexual harassment and voyeurism by employees of CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison contractors in the US. Corey Donaldson, an Australian national, was held at the McRae correctional facility in McRae-Helena, Georgia, for a handful of months of his five-year sentence before he was deported to Australia in July 2018. Between September 2017 and February 2018, he alleged in a statement to the Guardian: “McRae staff were physically peering upon immigrant inmates in the toilets and showers and knowingly recording video streams of inmates taking showers and using the toilets 24/7.” Before his removal proceedings to Australia, Donaldson filed multiple informal and formal grievances to CoreCivic, according to documents obtained by the Guardian, citing the Prison Rape Elimination Act (Prea) and its policy on sexual harassment. Donaldson told the Guardian he had not made these allegations at other facilities during his five years in detention across the US. “Other facilities use guards to roam the shower and toilet areas for security purposes, who zip in and out, which is the norm,” he said. Explaining why he was highlighting these allegations nearly a year after his deportation, and with no legal recourse available to him, he wrote: “I believe it is my duty to expose what is happening in honor of those immigrant inmates I left behind.” The McRae correctional facility is one of 11 contract prisons under the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP). According to the BoP website: “The majority of BoP inmates in private prisons are sentenced criminal aliens who may be deported upon completion of their sentence.” The BoP abides by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (Prea) of 2003, which was passed to address issues of sexual harassment in prisons. In Donaldson’s statement, he claimed, “At McRae C.I. the zoom cameras above the toilets and showers were acutely positioned to maximize the capturing of intrusive footage of immigrant men performing very private bodily functions while taking showers and sitting or standing using the toilets. Images were recorded for a debased data library, and to induce abject humiliation.” Voyeurism is listed under the Prea definition of sexual harassment as: “[An] invasion of privacy of an inmate, detainee, or resident by staff for reasons unrelated to official duties, such as peering at an inmate who is using a toilet in his or her cell to perform bodily functions; requiring an inmate to expose his or her buttocks, genitals, or breasts; or taking images of all or part of an inmate’s naked body or of an inmate performing bodily functions.” CoreCivic did not respond to the allegations levelled by Donaldson individually. But Amanda Gilchrist, the director of public affairs said in a statement: “Corey Donaldson’s allegations of sexual harassment during his period of incarceration at McRae correctional facility were fully investigated and his claims were determined to be unsubstantiated and without merit. His additional allegations are baseless and we strongly refute all claims made by Mr Donaldson.” CoreCivic, in its latest Prea audit report, from 2017, concludes no sexual harassment claims – substantiated, unsubstantiated, unfounded or pending – were made that year at the McRae correctional facility. The report for 2018 has not been released yet, according to Gilchrist. “McRae correctional facility operates in full compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations, codes and policies, including the Prison Rape Elimination Act. In addition, McRae maintains continued compliance with all ACA standards and Prea policies,” she added. The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about Donaldson’s allegations. Since his deportation, Donaldson has sent his statement and documented written interactions to multiple prison rights campaigners to draw attention to his allegations about McRae. The Bureau of Prisons has had a history of problems with private facilities housing foreign nationals, Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiative at the Sentencing Project, said. “Most of the people who are housed there are non-citizens so there isn’t the sense of urgency from lawmakers to dig into the issues. Also, because these individuals will be deported, she says, they don’t receive much attention,” she said. Azadeh Shahshahani, legacy and advocacy director at the non-profit organization Project South, said the allegations regarding abusive conditions were not surprising. “As a first step, we need to get private corporations out of the business of imprisoning human beings. The profit motive has no place here,” she explained. Donaldson first made an informal complaint on 28 December 2017, three months after his arrival at McRae, according to documents seen by the Guardian. In it, Donaldson suggests removing the video cameras pointed into the bathroom and asks CoreCivic to “produce an FBI agent for me to file a report”. He also asked for an “offer of compensation”.On 9 January 2018 the correctional counselor who responded to Donaldson’s claim in a memorandum said the facility had undergone two Prea audits before his arrival. The officer also wrote, in regard to Donaldson’s request to remove cameras from the toilet and shower areas, that McRae complied with all laws and Prea compliancies. His concern about voyeurism and the possibility of cameras pointing into the facilities is not directly addressed. On 10 January 2018, the complaint was marked as unresolved. One day later, Donaldson requested permission to collect signatures from other inmates to corroborate his allegations. He also requested copies of the Prea audits mentioned in the memorandum. According to publicly available documents, the last Prea audit took place from 31 October to 2 November 2016. Eight days after his letter, on 19 January 2018, the assistant warden of program/inmate services at McRae correctional facility, Terence Dickerson, responded Dickerson wrote that Donaldson had provided “no specific or credible evidence” to suggest he had been a victim of voyeurism. When Donaldson replied, he told Dickerson he sent a certified letter to the FBI, along with the tracking number to identify the letter. He also alleged the day after he sent the letter, the wiring and cameras in and around the toilet and shower facilities in the entire facility were removed. He claims he was put in solitary confinement until he was moved from the facility before his deportation in July. This is not the first time CoreCivic facilities have faced complaints. In April 2018, at Stewart detention center in Georgia a class-action lawsuit was filed for using “forced labor”. Another similar class-action lawsuit was filed in New Mexico last year. In 2011, the ACLU of Georgia says it “alerted BoP staff to concerns about medical care, abusive disciplinary practices, and other issues” at McRae.

Nov 3, 2016
Chatham County narcotics agents bust federal corrections officer for trafficking drugs
Chatham County narcotics agents say they have arrested a federal corrections officer and charged him with trafficking drugs. Akeiran Lawson, a 22-year-old Lumber City man who works at a private prison under contract with the federal Bureau of Prisons, was busted Thursday while traveling on Interstate 95 near Savannah, said Gene Harley, spokesman for the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team. Lawson, who works at McRae Correctional Facility in Middle Georgia, faces charges of criminal attempt to traffic cocaine, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and criminal use of a telecommunication device. Harley says the joint state and local operation began last month following information that Lawson was possibly aiding federal inmates. During the investigation, it was determined Lawson presented his willingness to transport large amounts of controlled substances during off-duty hours in exchange for money, Harley said. On Friday, undercover agents met with Lawson in Chatham County. Lawson agreed to transport a large amount of cocaine and left with the drugs, Harley said. Agents then took him into custody and found a loaded firearm in his possession, Harley said. Lawson is expected to be arraigned Friday in Chatham County Recorder’s Court, and it was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.

February 28, 2005 Guardian
Bahamian prisoners in McRae's Correctional Facility are caught up in a racial war, The Guardian has learnt. In a letter to The Guardian, which includes the names of Bahamian prisoners incarcerated at McRae, the writer expresses that they fear for their lives. "It is quite possible that by the time you receive this letter, one or more of us may be badly injured, dead or facing serious charges," the letter states. "There is a racial conflict here that exists .... We have had several Bahamians injured here during the course of previous rioting." Accompanying the letter is a copy of an inmate bulletin dated January 25, 2005, which advises inmates of a lock-down "because of an incident" which occurred in the Recreation Yard the day before. The bulletin notes the prison would remain on lock-down until inmates have been interviewed and issues concerned are resolved. In order to stay alive, Bahamian prisoners have to fight, he says. "I am quite sure you would not want us to be cowards and accept abuse. We are men who will live like men or die like men. You are the only ones who can help us. Our Government must listen to its people. You have the voice. Speak for us," the letter adds. It is signed, "The Bahamian community."

May 31, 2002
Corrections Corporation of America has been awarded a three-year, $109 million contract that would end two years of dormancy for a company prison in Georgia.
  The Nashville-based prison operator was notified yesterday about the 1,500-bed award by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. CCA will begin Dec. 1 to house male federal inmates who aren't U.S. citizens at the prison, which is in McRae, Ga.   The contract should help in efforts by CCA to fill up 10,000 empty beds.  Critics suggested that the bureau bailed out CCA and the private prisons industry.  (Tennessean)

June 8, 2002
Asked whether he feared his company's $45 million gamble on a private prison in Telfair County might never pay off, Corrections Corporation of America CEO John Ferguson had a simple answer.
  "Yes," he said with a smile. "We had been to the line a number of times."   Ferguson was in McRae on Thursday to tour the facility, which had just landed a federal contract that will finally bring inmates to the empty prison. He also visited two other private prisons owned by CCA, one in Alamo and the other in Nicholls.   Ferguson met with Telfair County officials to celebrate the inmate contract and discuss plans for getting the prison open.   One of the biggest helps could come from Heart of Georgia Technical College, which is looking to start Spanish classes at its satellite campus in McRae. The classes will be needed for prison employees because most of the inmates will be Spanish-speaking criminal aliens.  Jep Craig, vice president of economic development at Heart of Georgia Tech, said the school has made a proposal to CCA to provide Spanish training for the company's employees. "It's not very in-depth," said Craig. "We are teaching phrases to be memorized."  In 1998, state audits gave CCA's two operating prisons in Georgia failing marks, CCA Vice President Damon Hininger said the state has not found problems since then.  Carol Lavely, president of the Telfair County Chamber of Commerce, led a vigorous letter-writing campaign to urge the Bureau of Prisons to award the contract.  Hininger said experience will be required only of supervisory staff.   Everyone else must have a high school diploma, plus pass a physical and a background check.  Ferguson said private prisons are a good option for the state and federal government. He disputed a Wall Street Journal article that found the cost of housing inmates in private prisons is about the same as government prisons.  (The Macon Telegraph)

Millen Prison
Millen, Georgia

May 25, 2011 Millen News
The Jenkins County Commissioners will loan the City of Millen $100,000 of the county’s share of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax #5 ( SPLOST) funds to help defray initial expenses incurred by the city for the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) project. The agreement was approved during an April meeting of the commissioners.

December 15, 2010 Georgia Green Party
Ayman Fadel an Augusta based business owner was arrested for misdemeanor criminal trespass and was held pending the setting of bond by the Jenkins County Sheriff's Department. A thirty year Georgia resident, Mr. Fadel has been active on a range of issues with the CSRA Peace Alliance. Mr. Fadel was arrested while holding up a sign reading "CCA $ is not blessed". He was part of a small picket gathered in opposition at a ground-breaking event advertised as a 'public ceremony' in a paid advertisement in the Millen News taken out by the Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, the privately owned Tennessee based company which owns and operates sixty prison facilities across the country advertised that both Governor Perdue and DoC Commissioner Owens would be in attendance at the 10:00 am event. Private security in the employ of CCA, with the support of deputies from the Jenkins County Sheriff's Department, informed members of the public, wishing to participate in the picket in opposition to this new private prison that they could do so only in a designated 'free speech' area in the parking lot, not visible to the ceremony itself. A uniformed officer attempted to move back the picket, and shortly after when the Governor arrived, the sheriff's deputies ordered that signs be put down. Mr. Fadel, asserting his free speech rights challenged the legality of the police order and was promptly arrested. "Our nation's public policy of imposing mass incarceration is destroying the liberties of all of us," said Denice Traina, former cochair of the Georgia Green Party, mother, grandmother and Augusta based physical therapist. Ms. Traina remained on site where she helped organize bail for her Columbia County neighbor. "We pretend to have overcome the race caste system of Jim Crow, only to recreate it anew by criminalizing health problems and discarding proven restorative justice strategies in favor of punitive and highly profitable tools of social control. Are the Georgia authorities so frightened by this week's inmate strike action, that they must break ribs and lock up even more for expressing an opposing view?"

Prisoner Transport
Feb 6, 2015

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- U.S. marshals and local law officers in northwest Georgia were searching Thursday for an inmate they say overpowered a guard on a van that was transporting prisoners. The prisoner struggled with the guard and escaped around 7 p.m. Wednesday after it stopped in Cartersville, about 40 miles northwest of Atlanta, authorities said. The inmate shoved the guard and ran after the private prison transport van stopped outside a gas station for a restroom break shortly after stopping at a local Pizza Hut to pick up food, Cartersville police Lt. Rich Hawley told The Associated Press. The female guard gave chase and caught up to the male prisoner, but he broke away after a struggle, Hawley said. "Basically everybody in the area is looking for him," Hawley said around 6 a.m. Thursday. "The last word I have is that he's still a fugitive." The guard was taken to a hospital for treatment of an injury, but Hawley said it doesn't appear to be serious. The inmate was being taken from Florida to Indiana to face federal drug charges.

Richmond County Jail
Richmond County, Georgia
Correctional Medical Services

August 30, 2009 The Augusta Chronicle
Since the decade began, at least nine men have died while in the custody of the Richmond County jail. Officially, they were not guilty of anything, but they were being held until the justice system could determine whether charges against them could be proven. Those who died varied from a troubled Vietnam vet to a brain-damaged traffic victim with the mental capacity of a child. Another was a mentally ill inmate who should have been a free man, but the paperwork releasing him never made it to the jail. All the deaths were investigated. No criminal wrongdoing was found. The Augusta Chronicle reviewed the cases at the urging of families and others who all seemed to want the answer to one simple question: How could someone in the restrictive and rigidly supervised custody of incarceration end up dead? IN A PLACE WHERE slaying suspects and tough-talking young men live behind steel doors and iron bars, the old, handicapped, depressed or mentally ill can be overlooked. Charles Brunson was severely disabled when he died at the jail March 12, 2008. The only public notice of his death was an obituary. The severely disabled and brain damaged 52-year-old might have never been thought of again by anyone outside his family, except that he suffered a fatal head injury inside the county jail at 401 Walton Way. Less than four years earlier, another inmate suffered a near-fatal head injury that an emergency room doctor said was exacerbated because of a delay in treatment. Like most people housed in the Richmond County jail, Mr. Brunson had been arrested but not convicted. The Chronicle learned of Mr. Brunson while reviewing the quality of medical care at the jail facilities because of two recent lawsuits involving former inmates and a steady stream of complaints sent to the newspaper by phone, e-mail, and letters written in pencil by inmates. Since 2003, Augusta has contracted with Correctional Medical Services to provide medical services in the county jails. This year's contract is worth more than $4 million. CMS, the largest U.S. corporation in the prison health care business, takes care of all medical needs, from nurses and doctors to medicine and equipment. Maj. Gene Johnson, who is in charge of the jails on Walton Way and Phinizy Road, said he believes the inmates have better health care than most county residents. Every day he meets with the registered nurse in charge of medical services to discuss any especially troubling medical problems among nearly 1,000 inmates, most of whom Maj. Johnson knows by name or accused deed. "They're getting better care here than they can on the street," Maj. Johnson said. Some are getting care for the first time in years. Many have abused themselves for years with drugs and alcohol at a higher level than the general population, he said. The $17.7 million budget for the jails includes just more than $5.1 million for medical care. In addition to the contract payment to CMS, the city is liable for any medical expenses that exceed $10,000 for any single inmate in a single year. CMS spokesman Ken Fields said the company provides qualified and experienced health care professionals to see to the medical needs of the jail inmates. That quality is recognized in the jail's accreditation by the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare, he said. THE ACCREDITATION, however, doesn't impress everyone. Attorney Elizabeth Alexander, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's national prison project, said that means the facility can provide an adequate level of care. The way CMS and other for-profit corporations in the business of prison health care make money is the problem, she said. The companies get contracts by providing the lowest bid, and the only place to cut costs is in the medical care, said Ms. Alexander, who works from the ACLU's New York City office. Once the contracts are set, there's no oversight of the care because the state or local officials no longer have independent medical staff, she said. Ms. Alexander represented the family of 21-year-old Timothy Joe Souders in its lawsuit against the state of Michigan and CMS. Mr. Souders, who was mentally ill, was chained to a bed for 17 hours a day for four days in a cell that got as hot as 106 degrees, according to court documents. He died of dehydration. A surveillance video showed Mr. Souders' experience, and the state agreed to a $3.8 million settlement in June 2008. "We're quite familiar with CMS," Ms. Alexander said. The company has a long history of providing inadequate and often unconstitutional care, she said. It's not the only poor-performing prison health care company, she said. States and local governments go from one to the other and back again, usually with the same results, she said. The only real solution she sees is to use nonprofit-based medical personnel. Mr. Fields pointed to CMS' 30 years of experience in what is a specialty in the medical industry. CMS has been a leader in the field, he said, and has developed strategies and techniques that have improved the quality of care in secured facilities. CMS has been named in many lawsuits, but numbers don't equate to a lack of quality care, Mr. Fields said. He estimated that 95 percent of the suits are dismissed or won by CMS. The Chronicle searched for lawsuits involving CMS by using legal databases maintained by, a private company that provides free access to courts and other legal issues, and Prison Legal News, a prisoner rights advocacy organization. The Chronicle found 182 lawsuits against CMS. State and local governments who have contracted with CMS have had to pay settlements in 16 cases that totaled more than $28.5 million. Still, CMS wins almost all of the cases, and the same is true of state and local governments sued by inmates who complained about the quality of health care. IN FEDERAL COURT IN AUGUSTA, inmates have sued the county 31 times in the past decade. Nineteen suits alleged civil rights violations based on medical services. The city won every case. Another lawsuit, filed by the mother of a man who died of untreated pneumonia, is pending. In most of those lawsuits, the county didn't even have to respond to the allegations, thanks to federal legislation passed in 1995. The Prison Litigation Reform Act was designed to curb the flood of prisoner lawsuits in federal court. It allows judges to summarily toss out what they see as frivolous cases. Ms. Alexander said the law and case decisions have set the bar at a near impossible height, regardless of the merit of an inmate's complaint. An inmate can't claim a constitutional violation based on health care unless he suffered physical harm, Ms. Alexander said. An inmate also has to prove the staff knew harm could happen but did nothing to prevent it, she said. The techniques once used at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq wouldn't be considered civil rights violations in the U.S. legal system, Ms. Alexander said. The inmates didn't suffer actual physical harm. In an opinion released in January 2007, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that trial judges and appellate courts were taking the Prison Litigation Reform Act too far. "We are not insensitive to the challenges faced by the lower federal courts in managing their dockets and attempting to separate, when it comes to prisoner lawsuits, not so much wheat from chaff as needles from haystacks. However ... adopting different and more onerous pleading rules" is not right, he wrote. Jamie Koss is among those whose constitutional claim based on health care was tossed out in the Augusta federal court. He suffered a head injury in the Richmond County jail Dec. 1, 2004. As he lay unconscious on the cement floor, a nurse did little more than glance at Mr. Koss before deciding he was fine, according to witness statements in the GBI file on Mr. Koss' injury, according to his lawsuit. About seven hours passed before Mr. Koss got help. The delay, the treating physician at University Hospital said, exacerbated the brain damage. He is now disabled, in chronic pain and unable to care for himself, according to his lawsuit. Mr. Koss might have had a case against the nurse who did nothing to help him, but because she has died, Mr. Koss had no valid constitutional challenge, the judge ruled. Neither the sheriff's office nor CMS can be held liable for the nurse's derogation of duty. Mr. Koss, the judge ruled, could not meet the legal standard for such a constitutional challenge: that CMS or the sheriff's office participated in the acts or omissions; that either had a history of widespread abuse so that they should have known there was a risk; or either implemented a policy that resulted in deliberate indifference. When asked about Mr. Koss' case, Mr. Fields said CMS cannot discuss any patient's care because of confidentiality demanded of health care professionals. After death, federal medical privacy laws allow the release of a person's medical information only to the executor of the estate; the person authorized access through a health care power of attorney immediately before death; or a person authorized by the patient while still alive to receive the information, wrote Christine Shaffer, an Augusta attorney with experience in litigation dealing with the privacy law and the state's Open Records Act. Maj. Johnson said the Richmond County jail staff is doing its best to keep watch over the inmates in the overcrowded facilities and separate those who are vulnerable or ill. "This jail here has turned into a mental institution," he said one particularly trying morning in June. Georgia Regional Hospital was full and not accepting new patients, Maj. Johnson said, and he had one out-of-control inmate who broke the iron-restraint chair and tore the ligaments in a captain's thumb. THERE ARE PROCEDURES SET to catch potential medical problems on the front end, Maj. Johnson said. Every person brought into the jail is asked a set of questions to determine whether he or she has any medical needs or could be suicidal. A nurse is to check the answers and follow up on any potential medical needs. Every person can fill out a request to see the CMS physician or dentist, Maj. Johnson said, but the requests are screened by a nurse to determine whether an inmate should see the doctor. The doctor works 40 hours a week. On any given day, the jail facilities hold a combined population of about 1,000. A recent article in a John Hopkins University publication found the average ratio of physician to patients in the United States is 1 to 400. What medicine an inmate receives is up to the physician, Maj. Johnson said. Jail staff cannot allow family or anyone else to provide medication for an inmate because staffers have no way to verify what it is, he said. In lawsuits, former inmates have complained that they cannot get access to the nurses and especially to the doctor. Maj. Johnson denies those charges. Inmates have access to medical care, and the medical staff is trained to deal with inmates incapable of asking for medical attention, he said. Dealing with mentally ill inmates is a huge issue for the medical and jail staffs, he said. There have been at least five suicides since 2001. According to GBI reports reviewed by The Chronicle , most had been on antidepressants. John O. Johnson was a 43-year-old repeat offender looking at life in prison if convicted of a series of armed robberies. After his May 21, 2003, arrest, he tried to choke himself to death with a shoestring and he banged his head into a wall. The jail put him on suicide watch. Mr. Johnson convinced the medical staff he was all right, according to the GBI report. He was moved to the special needs unit in a lock-down status, but he was allowed to have clothing and the normal items other inmates have. The morning after he was moved off suicide watch, Mr. Johnson was found hanging from a strip of bedsheet. He left handwritten copies of a will and testament and letters of apology to his mother and the mother of his children. He also left a note apologizing to the people of Richmond County for his crimes. According to a statement given by one of the nurses, Mr. Johnson swore he would kill himself because staff couldn't watch him all of the time. Though not many people have died in the county jails in recent years, the number shouldn't be the criterion for judging the quality of medical care, said Ms. Alexander, who has been with the ACLU Prison Project since 1981. The critical question is whether any of the deaths were preventable, Ms. Alexander said. The only way to know for sure is to examine the medical records, she said. If something went wrong, the problem needs to be understood and corrected, she said. She compared it to how the National Transportation Safety Board operates. Compared with the number of flights every year, the number of crashes is not statistically significant, but the board examines every accident to find out what happened and whether there was a problem that can be corrected to prevent another accident, she said. Though Mr. Koss' near-fatal head injury in December 2004 was exacerbated because of a delay in treatment, when Mr. Brunson struck his head in March 2008, the nurse took no action to determine whether the severely disabled and brain-damaged man might have had a brain injury, according to the GBI file. Mr. Brunson's family isn't seeking civil unrest or damages from lawsuits. They say they just wanted to know why he couldn't have been saved.

August 30, 2009 The Augusta Chronicle
Jamie Koss liked to drink, and his rap sheet indicates it was usually the reason the Vietnam War veteran found himself repeatedly behind bars. Not anymore. On Dec. 2, 2004, Mr. Koss lay unconscious on the cement floor of a jail cell for hours as his brain bled and swelled. He recovered, somewhat, and sued Richmond County, the sheriff and Correctional Medical Services, the company that has the contract to provide medical services at county jail facilities. Deputies booked Mr. Koss into jail about 6 p.m. for disorderly conduct. It didn't take him long to start an argument with inmate Gilbert Jacobs. He called Mr. Jacobs names and questioned his service during the Vietnam War. Mr. Jacobs responded by punching him once in the face. It knocked Mr. Koss off his feet. Mr. Jacobs and the other men in the holding cell would later tell Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents that Mr. Koss' head slammed on the concrete floor about 8 p.m. One of the men told Deputy David Copeland that Mr. Koss had been hurt, and the deputy could see Mr. Koss had blood on his face and head. The officer called nurse Nellie Williams, who looked at Mr. Koss from the doorway but did nothing else, according to the GBI report obtained by The Chronicle through the state's Open Records Act. Ms. Williams, a registered nurse, told investigators that no one told her Mr. Koss had been hurt. He was breathing OK and she thought he just needed to sleep off being drunk. A review of the jail video recording shows Ms. Williams at the cell door for about 30 seconds. Mr. Koss came to after a couple of hours on the floor, the other men in the cell told GBI agents. He got up onto one of the benches but fell off several times. About 3 a.m., when a deputy came to move the men out of the holding cell, he couldn't wake Mr. Koss. At the hospital, doctors operated on Mr. Koss. They warned jail staff that he might not make it, according to the investigative report. He did survive, however, after a month in the hospital and many more months in physical therapy. He is blind in one eye, unable to stand without support and cannot bathe or dress himself. The physician who treated Mr. Koss at University Hospital said the brain damage was exacerbated by the delay in getting medical care. In a March 30 decision, U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall wrote that Mr. Koss couldn't prove any jail or medical worker was deliberately indifferent, except perhaps Ms. Williams. Because she died in February 2005, Mr. Koss didn't have a federal case, Judge Hall ruled.

Savannah River Site
Augusta, Georgia
Wackenhut (Group 4)

July 25, 2012 Aiken Standard
A civil lawsuit against Wackenhut Services Inc. at the Savannah River Site claiming discrimination should proceed to trial, a U.S. magistrate judge recommended in federal court documents last week. Judge Paige Gossett recommended granting in part and denying in part motions for summary judgement in the case of Marvin Timothy Oerman, who filed a lawsuit in 2010 claiming he was demoted by former employer Wackenhut because he is white. The judge's July 17 recommendation said the lawsuit should proceed on a race discrimination claim, but not on a sex discrimination claim. "It is our understanding that the magistrate issued recommendations partly in our favor and partly against us," said WSI spokesperson Rob Davis. "If the recommendations are upheld, the case will proceed to trial on one of Mr. Oerman's claims." Davis said that Wackenhut continues to deny any discriminatory actions against Oerman. Oerman, who is no longer employed with Wackenhut, worked for the contractor for more than 25 years, and claims that he was demoted while a less experienced black male was selected for the position of manager of Wackenhut's training operations department. The complaint states Oerman later learned that another manager planned to leave the department, and that Randy Garver, general manager of WSI-SRS, did not post the position before choosing another black male with less experience. Oerman filed a second lawsuit in 2011 against Wackenhut claiming retaliation once it became known that he had filed the initial lawsuit. He claimed Wackenhut Services Inc. selected individuals on the basis of race and gender and has "instituted an ad hoc racial and gender quota system," according to the complaint. Court documents state that, according to Garver, "there were continuing performance failures at the barricades for which [Oerman] was responsible," and as a result, he selected a new manager to oversee perimeter protection and transferred Oerman elsewhere. "Unfortunately, there were a significant number of employees who lost jobs through downsizing at SRS over the last several years, and this is our only lawsuit related to that downsizing," Davis said.

July 27, 2010 Aiken Standard
A Caucasian man is claiming that he was the subject of racial discrimination at the hands of the security contractor at the Savannah River Site, Wackenhut Services Inc. (WSI). Marvin Timothy Oerman filed a complaint Monday in U.S. District Court, claiming that he was demoted from a management position, suffering loss of pay, stature and future career prospects in order to promote a minority employee. "Defendant's actions towards Plaintiff are consistent with its pattern and practice during the WSI-SRS reorganization, which targeted and impacted white males in a discriminatory and adverse manner," the suit reads. Oerman stated that he was a manager in WSI's training division at SRS, alongside two others - a white female and a black man who he identified only by sex and race. In early 2010, the suit states WSI-SRS began discussing a reorganization. In this, Oerman claims to have been told that more minority candidates were to be brought in at supervisory and management levels to compensate for upper management at the private security company being dominated by Caucasian males. Despite his experience and work record, individuals at WSI-SRS informed Oerman that he was not even considered for a manager position because of his race, and this was reaffirmed to him after an alternative candidate was put in place. "We have not received official notification of a lawsuit, but I can tell you that we are in full compliance with applicable legal requirements, and that there has been no discrimination," Rob Davis with external affairs for WSI-SRS said. "However, we do not comment on the specifics of pending or ongoing litigation." As the suit was only filed Monday, WSI was not officially served with it until Tuesday. The claim is not the first of race discrimination at the long-time SRS security contractor. Lagone Melton of Hephzibah, Ga., a black male, filed a federal claim against WSI in late 2009 claiming he was treated differently and more severely than white colleagues in similar disciplinary actions. WSI has denied all claims made by Melton in court filings. WSI has been SRS' security contractor since 1983 and recently signed a $989 million contract to continue to do so for the next decade.

June 16, 2010 WISTV
Wackenhut Services, Inc. has agreed to pay the United States $650,000 to resolve allegations that it defrauded the government for security services at the Savannah River Site. U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said the settlement resolves allegations that WSI submitted hundreds of thousands in expenses to be reimbursed by the Department of Energy from 2001 through 2005. The only problem, the government says, is that those expenses were expressly forbidden to be reimbursed. Nettles said expenses included, among other things, a charter boat cruise, a Polynesian drum show, and alcohol for WSI employees. The government contends that WSI violated both the False Claims Act and the Federal Acquisitions Regulations Act. The government says WSI submitted claims which included expressly unallowable costs under the and later said the claims did not include any expressly unallowable costs. The FAR also has separate penalties for violating its provisions which were resolved in this settlement. "This is a significant settlement," said Nettles. "When providing services paid for by the government, contractors must adhere to the requirements of the FAR."

December 22, 2009 Aiken Standard
A long-serving member of the Savannah River Site's military-style security force is suing his employer, claiming he was discriminated against because of his race. His former employer, however, states they fired him due to numerous arrests and his unwillingness to cooperate with Department of Energy physicians who were assessing his "fitness for duty." Lagone Melton of Hephzibah, Ga., filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Wackenhut Service Inc. recently, claiming he was treated differently and more severely than white colleagues in similar disciplinary actions. He further claims he was demoted, decertified and terminated when he raised the issue of racial discrimination to union officials. His former employer denies all of Melton's claims. Melton has been employed by the security firm since 1990 and has received positive performance evaluations since that time, he claims in his complaint. He was fired from his position on July 9, 2007, under what he believes are false pretenses. In December 2006, Melton was charged with reckless driving, he wrote in his complaint. After reporting this to his employer, they required Melton to attend alcohol and anger management treatment, he claims. "Other white employees of the same rank, SPO III, received driving under the influence charges but were not treated in the same manner as the plaintiff," Melton's complaint reads. "They were not required to enter into a treatment program." Court records show, as the defendants claim in their response, that Melton was arrested Dec. 24, 2006, and charged with DUI and weaving over the roadway, but it was reduced to reckless driving when Melton pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to two days in jail, probation and had his car fitted with an ignition interlock device which acts as a breathalyzer that will not allow someone over the legal alcohol limit to drive. Wackenhut officials state that this was not the first time Melton was arrested for DUI and that they ordered alcohol dependence and anger management classes at the behest of a clinical psychologist. "(The) plaintiff was arrested for driving under the influence in December 2006; he had been arrested on at least three previous occasions for (DUI) and on other occasions arrested for other misconduct, and, as a result, ... he was referred to an off-site clinical psychologist for evaluation for fitness for duty," the response states. An outspoken proponent of employees unionizing, Melton was made an administrator when the Local 125 organization was ratified in January 2007. He states in his complaint that he was targeted for termination after he expressed that African-American applicants were being "denied hire" and that Wackenhut "demonstrated unwillingness to work with African-American union executives." Wackenhut officials deny all of this charge.

March 12, 2008 Metro Spirit
When Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver and two other local mayors designated the Wackenhut Corporation a “business of character” last month in a big ceremony at Savannah River Site, it caused more than a few chuckles among people in the know. The mayors presented awards to Wackenhut, a paramilitary company with a security contract at SRS, because it takes part in the National Character First Program. While Moses was content with 10 laws, the National Character First Program lists 49 character traits, including every manager’s dream traits: docility, meekness and obedience. Companies that take part in the program receive training materials to emphasize a different character trait each month. Character traits include alertness and attentiveness. That would make sense after Wackenhut was fired late last year from all 10 of Exelon Corporation’s nuclear power plants after a TV news station obtained footage of Wackenhut guards sleeping on the job. The list includes compassion, which might have helped local resident Sandra Tobin when she was pulled over at SRS in 2005 with an expired vehicle registration. She alleges the Wackenhut guards used excessive force in her arrest and then illegally seized her vehicle. The issue was settled last year in federal court. Also on the list: truthfulness. That might have kept Wackenhut out of trouble before Miami-Dade County officials accused the company of billing the county for work it did not perform. A dose of forgiveness might have persuaded Wackenhut not to sue the Service Employees International Union under the civil provisions of the RICO statute for publicizing the stories of Wackenhut whistleblowers. Wackenhut has also been investigated for allegedly hiring felons without background checks, cheating on tests of nuclear security against mock attackers and retaliating against whistle blowers. Investigative reporter Greg Palast has called Wackenut’s privatized prisons “hell on earth.” The company was even too harsh on inmates by Texas standards. About a decade ago, Texas terminated its prison contract with Wackenhut after prison personnel were indicted for sexually abusing inmates. The mayor was unavailable for comment.

Stewart Detention Center
Lumpkin, GA
Jul 15, 2022

Abuse and Cover-Up’: Complaint alleges sexual assault, retaliation at for-profit immigrant prison in Georgia
Immigrants held at a privately operated detention center in Georgia were subjected to a pattern of sexual assault and retaliation by guards for reporting repeated assaults against people detained there, according to an administrative complaint filed this week by the Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of human rights groups. Filed yesterday on behalf of four women, the complaint details firsthand accounts from immigrants who were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. The complaint, which details abuse that took place from July 2021 to January 2022, includes reports from women who say a male nurse sexually assaulted them while they sought medical care at the facility. The nurse is employed by CoreCivic, which operates the private immigrant prison. While in detention, two of the incarcerated immigrant women notified Stewart officials of the nurse’s behavior. Both of them submitted multiple reports and were repeatedly threatened with retaliation, legal action, prison time and prolonged detention. Officers also withheld food from one woman to discourage participation during internal investigations. The complaint was the subject of a press conference today at the ICE Atlanta field office by El Refugio, a nonprofit that helps detained immigrants, and grassroots community leaders and organizations. “To the survivors, our community is here to say, ‘We see you, we hear you. No one deserves these abuses. We care about you, we value you and we worry about you,’” Amilcar Valencia, director of El Refugio, said at the press conference. “We’re also here to say — not one more!” Johanna Garcia, advocacy coordinator for El Refugio, said at the press conference. “How many more Black and Brown bodies have to be sacrificed in order to make change?” In the complaint, one woman identified as Viviana Doe states, “I’m livid knowing that this man is still working at Stewart after having abused me and so many girls, even when the entire Stewart staff knew what happened. It scares me so much to see Stewart staff cover up to allow the abuse of so many women, and that the employee who sexually harassed me is still there, exposed to hundreds of women.” The complaint was filed with various offices within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by a collaboration of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, El Refugio, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Human Rights Clinic, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), Owings MacNorlin LLC, Project South and the SPLC. “These brave women took a huge risk by sharing these disturbing accounts, which unfortunately are not isolated incidents,” said Monica Whatley, project coordinator for the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, which provides free, direct legal representation to detained immigrants. “They confirm what community organizers, human rights advocates and detained immigrants have warned for years — ICE detention centers are fundamentally inhumane, corrupt and rife with abuse and cover-up.” The four immigrant women also submitted licensing complaints against the nurse with the Georgia Licensing Board seeking disciplinary actions for violations of the rules and laws governing his practice. Advocacy organizations also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request  for records related to medical care of people in ICE custody at Stewart. “I can’t sleep just thinking about so many women being abused by this male nurse, and I don’t understand how they allow that man to keep working at Stewart Detention Center, after all the staff know he is a sexual offender,” a woman identified as Maria Doe stated in the complaint. “Why do they continue to cover up his actions? For what purpose? How many more women must be victims of this corrupt center? All I want is for justice to be done and for this man to never abuse more women. They must stop violating the human rights of all women at Stewart. Enough of torturing us!” The allegations against the nurse form part of a series of complaints regarding medical abuse and reckless misconduct at Stewart and other ICE detention facilities. Stewart has long been at the center of multiple investigations surrounding its abusive treatment of immigrants in detention and is currently under investigation by the DHS Office of Inspector General. It has the highest reported number of deaths due to COVID-19 of any ICE facility, as well as the highest reported numbers of COVID-19 cases among ICE detention centers. Immigrant rights advocates and human rights groups have repeatedly called for the closure of Stewart and release of people in detention. In numerous reports, investigations and lawsuits, the groups have documented  Stewart’s improper use of solitary confinement, numerous deaths from suicide, horrific conditions, forced labor, widespread exposure to COVID-19, failure to follow pandemic response requirements, medical neglect  and racial discrimination. Stewart also has been at the center of media investigative reports on the use of force by the staff of CoreCivic, the country’s largest private prison company. The announcement of multiple incidents of sexual assault at Stewart comes after ICE ended its contract with the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia in May 2021, after human rights groups exposed medical abuse against migrant women there. “While GLAHR is appalled to hear of the abuse and retaliation that these brave survivors have endured, we are not surprised, given the pervasive history of abuse and human rights violations at detention centers in Georgia,” said GLAHR Executive Director Adelina Nicholls. “The closure of Stewart is imperative to protect immigrants from further harm.” The transfer of immigrant women from Irwin to Stewart does not resolve the systemic and rampant mistreatment and neglect of people detained in South Georgia detention centers, as was most recently  observed by the Office of Inspector General  in its report regarding inhumane conditions at Folkston ICE Processing Center, only three hours southeast of Stewart. This ineffective transfer strategy is underscored by the current complaints of repeated sexual assaults occurring amid an active investigation at Stewart. The human rights groups and the complainants are calling for a thorough investigation of the allegations, the immediate closure of Stewart, the release of people currently in detention, reparation and a path to immigration relief in the United States. “It is abominable for the administration to have transferred migrant women to the Stewart Detention Center and to continue to keep them there, knowing full well about the history of well-documented egregious abuse at this ICE prison,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director at Project South. “It is high time for Stewart to be shut down and for all detained migrants to be released.”

Jun 22, 2021

Stewart County becomes COVID hot spot as cases rise at detention center

An outbreak of COVID-19 at an immigrant detention center is fueling a spike in cases in a west Georgia county. Stewart Detention Center, in the town of Lumpkin, has 47 inmates currently under isolation or monitoring for COVID, according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website. State data show Stewart County has had 69 infections over the past two weeks. It has the second-highest overall COVID rate per 100,000 population among Georgia's 159 counties, trailing only Chattahoochee County just to its north. Chattahoochee, which is home to much of the Army's Fort Benning, where many soldiers from around the nation receive training, has shown consistently high COVID infection rates during the pandemic. The Stewart Detention Center also had a major outbreak of COVID last year. In all, there have been more than 700 cases of COVID-19 infections at the center. Four people there have died of COVID, the highest total at any ICE detention center in the nation, according to the agency's website. No other ICE center has more than one COVID death. The Stewart center is run by CoreCivic, a company that says it's the nation's largest owner of "partnership correctional, detention and residential re-entry facilities." The center "has followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which have evolved over time, since the onset of the pandemic, and we're continuing to work closely our government partners to enhance procedures as needed,'' said CoreCivic spokesman Ryan Gustin in a statement Monday. "The health and safety of the individuals entrusted to our care and our staff is the top priority for CoreCivic,'' the statement added. The company referred a reporter to ICE for specific information on COVID and detainees. An ICE spokeswoman did not respond to a GHN query by early evening Monday. CoreCivic also runs a state prison in Wheeler County where an inmate recently was reported infected with tuberculosis, and three others were suspected of having the disease. Another immigrant detention center in Georgia, operated by a different company, has also drawn much attention in recent months. The Biden administration announced in May that it would stop detaining immigrants at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, along with a center in Massachusetts, that came under investigation over allegations of inadequate medical care and poor conditions. Advocates have pressed the administration on immigration detention, sending a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas calling for the closure of 39 ICE detention facilities, CNN reported. As of May 14, there were more than 20,400 immigrants in ICE detention, according to the agency. But the Intercept reported this month that people continue to be transferred into the Irwin detention facility, citing multiple sources. Last week, at least 34 people were transferred there from other detention centers, according to locally based advocates and people at the facility. Mayorkas recently announced that the agency would be severing its contract with LaSalle Corrections, the private prison company that runs the center in Irwin County. A class-action lawsuit was filed in December 2020 in which several women say they underwent gynecological procedures, including hysterectomies, without their consent at the facility.

Aug 8, 2020


ATLANTA – Attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Perkins Coie LLP, Project South and the Law Office of Andrew R. Free today filed a motion to dismiss CoreCivic’s counterclaim against the plaintiffs in the forced labor lawsuit, Barrientos vs. CoreCivic. The private  would owe the corporation the cost of their detention at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. CoreCivic alleged that if it were ordered to pay migrants for the work they were forced to perform, those detained people should pay CoreCivic for the very same services the company is already getting paid by the U.S. government to provide, at a profit. “CoreCivic’s shameless counterclaim proves that the corporation prioritizes fattening its own pockets over caring for the people it detains,” said CJ Sandley, a senior staff attorney with SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “The counterclaim offers a window into how the company views Stewart, which already has the reputation of being a miserable place, as being first and foremost an opportunity for CoreCivic to generate maximum profit.” According to the lawsuit, CoreCivic violated federal anti-trafficking laws by coercing detained migrants to work in its “Dollar-a-Day” program, in which migrants were paid as little as $1 dollar per day to clean, maintain and operate Stewart. While saving CoreCivic hundreds of dollars per week per detained worker, the scheme forced migrants to work by threatening them with solitary confinement, the loss of access to basic necessities like personal hygiene products and denial of phone calls to loved ones. “CoreCivic abuses, dehumanizes and exploits the immigrants they detain at Stewart and then asks their victims to pay for the experience in return,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director of Project South. “The human rights catastrophe at Stewart demands we reimagine our unjust immigration system. Private corporations driven by their bottom-line have no place in the lives of our immigrant friends and neighbors.” According to the motion to dismiss, CoreCivic’s counterclaim fails to state a claim that the corporation is entitled to payment from the plaintiffs. CoreCivic fails to allege that it ever expected those in its care to be responsible for the cost of basic necessities, nor could it plausibly claim it is entitled to such a payment from detained individuals when CoreCivic receives tax payer dollars to operate Stewart pursuant to its federal contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In recent months, CoreCivic and ICE have escalated their mistreatment of migrants at the detention center. At least 153 detained migrants have tested positive for COVID-19, and ICE has confirmed at least one COVID-19 death. To make matters worse, CoreCivic has retaliated to pleas for release and medical help with appalling use of force and medical neglect.

Aug 31, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Correction Staff at ICE Jail Skirted Rules with Mentally Ill Detainee who Hanged Himself

A warning to listeners: some of the audio in this story is disturbing and hard to listen to. An exclusive Takeaway and The Intercept investigation shows that correctional staff at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center skirted rules when dealing with a migrant with mental illness. The detainee, a 40-year-old undocumented Mexican migrant, killed himself after spending 21 days in solitary confinement in July 2018. The investigation shows that correctional staff at the Stewart Detention Center did not follow the ICE national detention standards during the classification process, the disciplinary process and even on the night he killed himself. The migrant, Efraín Romero de la Rosa, took his own life at the Stewart Detention Facility in Georgia, which is run by the private corrections company CoreCivic. He had been previously diagnosed with schizophrenia. While in ICE custody, Efraín was placed in solitary confinement for 15 days, was later placed on suicide watch and, separately, spent time at a mental health institution for over a month. On his return to Stewart to continue immigration proceedings, correctional staff neglected to recognize his mental illness and classify him accordingly. Staff had noted his fixation on death, repeatedly telling staff he would "die three terrible deaths," and telling other detainees he was a "prophet." Yet, CoreCivic's correctional staff sent Efraín to solitary confinement for 30 days. None of the disciplinary records released by CoreCivic in response to courtroom discovery demands and provided by family attorney Andrew Free make mention of his worsening mental illness. The Takeaway and The Intercept accessed hundreds of pages of records, photos, audio with witnesses and correctional staff, and 18 hours of security footage from within the facility. Efraín’s story helps the public gain insight at the tangled and opaque world of ICE detention. As the Trump Administration continues to round up migrants at an increasing pace, more people diagnosed with mental illness will inevitably be placed in ICE detention.

Feb 4, 2019
Officers capture escapee from S. Georgia immigration detention center

Authorities on Sunday morning apprehended a Honduran man who escaped from a barbed wire-rimmed federal immigration detention center in South Georgia over the weekend. An officer searching for Erlin Gutierrez-Maradiaga told a humanitarian organization in Lumpkin the detainee climbed three fences to escape Stewart Detention Center. Gutierrez-Maradiaga disappeared at about 7:20 p.m. Saturday, according to CoreCivic, the corrections company that operates Stewart through an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Calling him a “low-security detainee with no criminal past,” CoreCivic said he was captured Sunday morning after he was spotted walking along U.S. 27 near Stewart. “Facility staff immediately notified our government partners and local law enforcement,” CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist said in an email about the escape. “ICE officials immediately began an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the incident. Simultaneously, the Stewart County Sheriff’s Office began a search for Gutierrez-Maradiaga in the area around the facility.” Gutierrez-Maradiaga is the first person to ever escape Stewart, according to CoreCivic. Authorities could not immediately provide statistics on escapes from other immigration detention centers. But in March of last year, Jose Manzanares Montalavan escaped ICE’s Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, by scaling a fence, KXAS-TV reported. He was recaptured. And in December, Emrah Gocekli, a Turkish national, escaped from the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Bakersfield, Calif., by climbing two razor wire-topped fences, according to KERO-TV. ICE’s records indicate he is still at large, has convictions for battery and burglary and should be considered armed and dangerous. Located just outside the small city of Lumpkin, Stewart is a sprawling facility with capacity for 1,900 detainees. It has locked up people from more than 140 countries and nearly every continent. Two detainees have hanged themselves at Stewart since May 2017 amid lapses at the facility. On Saturday evening, a police officer searching for Gutierrez-Maradiaga visited El Refugio, a humanitarian organization in Lumpkin that provides lodging and meals to people visiting their loved ones at Stewart. Loyda Paz Perez, a volunteer coordinator with El Refugio, said the officer told her Gutierrez-Maradiaga was seriously injured by barbed wire while climbing three fences to escape Stewart. Perez said she hasn’t heard of any other escapes from Stewart. “It took us by surprise,” she said. El Refugio had no contact with Gutierrez-Maradiaga or his family, said Marie Marquardt, a founding member of El Refugio. “We have had no communication with this person,” she said. “He is not a person that we had sent people to visit with. We were not aware of his presence inside the detention center. We have no communication with his family. “We, obviously, are very concerned for him. If, indeed, he was able to escape the facility, I am sure he is very injured.”

Nov 29, 2018
A Private Prison Company Says Georgia’s Investigation Into a Detainee’s Death Must Stay Secret
A private prison company worked to block the release of potentially embarrassing information about a suicide at one of its immigration detention centers this summer, according to emails obtained from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Efrain Romero de la Rosa, a 40-year-old Mexican immigrant diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, committed suicide in July after being held in solitary confinement for three weeks at the Stewart Detention Center in south Georgia. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility pays CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America) more than $100,000 per day to hold at least 1,600 immigration detainees in Stewart. After Romero’s death, the GBI, which investigates deaths in Georgia prisons and detention centers, opened an inquiry. Its agents collected video evidence and documents from inside the facility, looking for evidence of foul play. On October 1, as the investigation was coming to a close, a lawyer hired by CoreCivic sent an email to the director of the GBI’s office of privacy and compliance, arguing that a federal regulation barred the agency from publicly releasing any of the findings from its investigation. Efrain Romero de la Rosa committed suicide after being held in solitary confinement for three weeks. “Unlike most prison records with which the GBI ordinarily deals, the further disclosure of records obtained from Stewart…is limited by federal law,” CoreCivic attorney Steve Curry claimed in an email obtained by Mother Jones through a public records request. He cited a post-9/11 federal regulation that grants the Department of Homeland Security control over most information about immigration  detainees. “It is our request that there not be a release of information,” he wrote. CoreCivic’s attempt to block the release of information about Romero’s death came about a year after the GBI released records related to the death of Jeancarlo Alfonso Jimenez Joseph, who committed suicide at Stewart under similar circumstances in May 2017. Jimenez was brought to the United States from Panama when he was 10 years old and grew up in Kansas, eventually earning protection from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to a CNN investigation. But by age 27, he had lost his DACA status following a mental health breakdown. He was struggling with schizophrenia when he was arrested and sent to Stewart, where guards put him in solitary confinement as punishment for what his sister later described as a suicide attempt. After 19 days alone in a cell, he hanged himself. The GBI’s investigation into Jimenez’s death uncovered embarrassing details about the CoreCivic detention center. Security footage and internal records showed that a guard had falsified logs to conceal that he had not checked on Jimenez at the required 30-minute intervals. The day before Jimenez’s suicide, a volunteer who tried to see about his wellbeing was told that Jimenez couldn’t receive visitors, even though there were no such restrictions in place, according to one report. And earlier in his detention, as Jimenez attempted to fight his deportation case, the detention center failed to send his attorney requested documents. The guard who falsified logs was fired the month after Jimenez’s suicide, and Stewart’s warden retired soon after the GBI’s investigation was closed. (CoreCivic told journalists the retirement was unrelated to the Jimenez case.) Details about Jimenez’s death continue to surface, including an account from another detainee who heard Jimenez tell a guard about experiencing psychosis in solitary confinement two weeks before he committed suicide. Meanwhile, Jimenez’ family is suing the federal government to force it to reveal additional information about medical care, incident reports, and inspections at Stewart. The case, including GBI’s photographs of the cell where Jimenez died, also drew attention to the practice of putting detainees with mental illness in what CoreCivic terms “restrictive housing”—solitary confinement. Experts say solitary confinement can exacerbate suicidal urges and other mental health problems. In 2011, a United Nations special rapporteur on torture recommended banning the use of solitary confinement for any period longer than 15 days. In his email to the GBI in October, CoreCivic’s lawyer referred to the release of information in Jimenez case. He also cited a federal regulation from 2002, which granted the Department of Homeland Security increased control over information about federal immigration detainees. The regulation was put in place to block an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking the release of the names, nationalities, and other basic information about Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees held in two New Jersey jails following September 11, 2001. Another suicide drew attention to the practice of putting mentally ill detainees in what CoreCivic terms “restrictive housing”—solitary confinement. State and local agencies sometimes use the regulation to deny requests to release records about detained immigrants. Liz Martinez, the advocacy director for Freedom for Immigrants, an anti-detention activist group, says a sheriff’s office in California used the regulation to deny her group’s request for information about ICE detainees’ grievances in a local jail. The Justice Department has also cited the rule in its ongoing lawsuit against California’s sanctuary policies, arguing that a law allowing the state attorney general to inspect ICE detention centers violates the rule. The regulation is just one of many tactics private prison companies use to block disclosure of government records about their operations. The Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply to their operation of federal prisons. For more than a decade, Democratic members of Congress have introduced versions of a bill that would force private prisons to follow the same federal disclosure rules as their public counterparts. Private prison companies have lobbied against the bill, which has never gotten out of committee. On the state level, as Mother Jones reported in 2015, CoreCivic has intervened in public records requests to conceal information about lawsuits it has settled involving medical malpractice, wrongful deaths, assaults, and the use of force, arguing that such information “constitutes trade secrets.” In response to questions about its attorney’s email, CoreCivic public affairs manager Rodney King said it was “standard practice” for the company to urge state agencies to defer decisions about releasing public records to federal authorities. “This matter was investigated by a state agency, GBI, but it occurred in a facility we operate on behalf of a federal government partner, ICE. In these situations, it’s our standard practice to reach out to the state government body to ensure the necessary coordination with the federal government, which has the leadership role in determining how information about an individual in its care is shared,” King said in a statement. So far, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has gone along with CoreCivic’s wishes, declining to release its investigative file or answer questions about its conclusions about Romero’s suicide. “The federal statute that prevents the release of these records was not known to the GBI at the time of the Jimenez death investigation and release of records,” said Lisa Harris, the special agent in charge of GBI’s open records unit. “Now that the GBI has knowledge of the statute, we will abide by it.”

Aug 22, 2018
Court allows claims to move forward against private prison company that profits from forced labor of detained immigrants
A federal court has ruled that a private prison company can be held liable for forcing detained immigrants to work for as little as $1 a day to clean, cook, and maintain an immigration prison it operates in Georgia. The ruling follows a class action lawsuit the SPLC filed in April against CoreCivic, Inc., which runs the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. CoreCivic is under contract with Stewart County, Georgia, to house people detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The ruling allows the plaintiffs’ claims against CoreCivic to move forward because the company can now be held liable for violating anti-trafficking laws and reaping unjust economic gains by doing so. “The court’s decision shows that CoreCivic is not above the law in the treatment of people in its care,” said Meredith Stewart, senior attorney for the SPLC. “We will now have the opportunity to show how CoreCivic’s practice of forcing the immigrants detained at Stewart to work for nearly free by depriving them of basic necessities, and threatening solitary confinement for refusing to work, violates federal anti-trafficking laws, and leads to an unjust financial windfall for the private prison company.” Detained immigrants at Stewart Detention Center who refuse to work are threatened with solitary confinement and the loss of access to basic necessities, like food, clothing, products for personal hygiene, and phone calls to loved ones, in violation of federal anti-trafficking laws, according to the lawsuit. The “Dollar-a-Day” program creates a lucrative profit scenario for CoreCivic: Detained immigrants are forced to purchase basic necessities from CoreCivic’s commissary, and the primary way to fund their purchases is to participate in the work program that is necessary for the operation of the facility. These jobs include providing basic functions at the facility like cooking and cleaning, work for which CoreCivic would otherwise have to hire and pay outside employees. Similar lawsuits have been filed in California, Washington, Colorado and Texas, challenging private prison companies’ work practices. The SPLC filed the lawsuit against CoreCivic in conjunction with the Law Office of R. Andrew Free, Project South, and Burns Charest LLP. The Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) is a project of the SPLC that enlists and trains volunteer lawyers to provide free legal representation to detained immigrants facing deportation proceedings in the Southeast.

Jul 13, 2018

Reported Suicide at Georgia Immigration Detention Center

De La Rosa is the third death at Stewart Detention Center in 15 months

advocates demand action

 Lumpkin, Georgia  — Immigrant rights organizations, El Refugio Ministry, Georgia Detention Watch, Project South, Southern Poverty Law Center and Detention Watch Network are demanding an immediate investigation and public release of the findings of the death of Efrain Romero De La Rosa. De La Rosa, 40, originally from Puebla, Mexico, died on July 10th after being in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at the Stewart Detention Center operated by the notorious private prison company, CoreCivic, in Georgia. ICE is reporting the death as an apparent suicide. “The death of De La Rosa is yet another tragic loss of life inside the walls of the Stewart Detention Center — immigration detention is a death sentence,” said Amilcar Valencia, Executive Director of El Refugio Ministry. “We express our deepest condolences to De La Rosa’s family and affirm our resolve to fight to end to immigration detention in his name.” De La Rosa is the third death and second suicide at Stewart Detention Center in 15 months, following the death of Yulio Castro-Garrido in January 2018, and suicide of Jean Jimenez-Joseph, who spent 19 days in solitary confinement prior to his death in May 2017. “The deaths and systematic abuse at Stewart are not only tragic, but infuriating,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal and Advocacy Director at Project South. “We have repeatedly documented the horrors at Stewart and called for its closure — how many more people have to die before the government shuts down this horrendous place?” Project South has led calls on the Georgia Congressional Delegation to investigate Stewart, as well as the Irwin detention center and has also called on the United Nations to do the same. Since 2003, 184 people have died in immigrant detention, De La Rosa’s passing marks the ninth death to occur in ICE immigrant detention in fiscal year 2018. Recent investigations into deaths in immigration detention, Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Dangerously Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention, Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignores Deaths in Detention and Systemic Indifference: Dangerous and Substandard Medical Care in US Immigration Detention, have found that inadequate medical care has contributed to numerous deaths, which could have been a factor in the death of De La Rosa. “People are losing their lives in ICE custody,” said Kevin Caron of Georgia Detention Watch. “ICE’s rising death toll and sustained and well-documented track record of abuse should not only shake you to your core, but propel you into action.” De La Rosa’s death comes as the demand to #AbolishICE continues to gain momentum amongst communities nationwide and on Capitol Hill. “The alarming death toll in ICE custody underscores that the immigration enforcement system is plagued by egregiously poor conditions, a lack of accountability and a culture of violence and secrecy,” said Gabriela Marquez-Benitez, Senior Organizer at Detention Watch Network. “The evidence is indisputable; Members of Congress must defund ICE and terminate all of its functions to end the targeting, incarcerating, surveilling and exhiling of immigrants.”
El Refugio is a ministry of hospitality and visitation that walks alongside families and immigrants detained at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. El Refugio promotes education and social witness for advocacy by introducing US citizens to the injustices of our system of detention and deportation.
Georgia Detention Watch (GDW) is a coalition of organizations and individuals that advocates alongside immigrants to end the inhumane and unjust detention and law enforcement policies and practices directed against immigrant communities in our state.
Project South is a Southern-based leadership development organization that creates spaces for movement building. We work with communities pushed forward by the struggle– to strengthen leadership and to provide popular political and economic education for personal and social transformation. We build relationships with organizations and networks across the US and global South to inform our local work and to engage in bottom-up movement building for social and economic justice.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality. Through its Southeast Immigration Freedom Initiative (SIFI), SPLC provides pro bono legal representation to detained immigrants at five of the largest immigrant detention centers in the Deep South.
Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit Follow @DetentionWatch.

Apr 19, 2018
Immigrants’ Lawsuit Accuses Private Prison Contractor Of Forced Labor
A class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in Georgia accuses the country’s largest private prison contractor of forcing detained immigrants to work for between $1 and $8 dollars per day, in violation of the federal minimum wage law. The civil lawsuit, filed in federal court on behalf of three immigrants detained at CoreCivic’s Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, says that those who decline to participate in the voluntary work scheme face threats of retaliation, including criminal prosecution. The lawsuit was jointly filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Project South and the law offices of Andrew Free and Burns Charest. “Under these circumstances, no labor is voluntary,” the complaint says. “It is forced.” The lawsuit marks the latest attempt to challenge the legality of obliging immigrants to work while detained for wages that fall well below the federal minimum wage. A separate lawsuit was filed against CoreCivic by immigrant detainees in California in December. The second-largest prison company in the United States, the GEO Group, is also facing multiple lawsuits over its pay of detainees: one filed in Colorado by immigrants in 2015, and the other from the state of Washington last year. The GEO Group has disputed claims that it is violating the law. Similar lawsuits have challenged work schemes in U.S. prisons, without success. But the lawsuits challenging the low pay for immigrant detainees contend that those detained under civil infractions like immigration violations should be entitled to receive the federal minimum wage. Obliging detainees to work for such low wages subsidizes CoreCivic, which should either pay minimum wage or look to the local labor market for employees if detainees refuse to work, the lawsuit adds. “CoreCivic’s economic windfall, and the profitability of its immigration detention enterprise, arises from its corporate scheme, plan, and pattern of systemically withholding basic necessities from detained immigrants to ensure a readily available, captive labor force that cleans, maintains, and operates its facilities for subminimum wages under threat of solitary confinement, criminal prosecution, and other sanctions,” the complaint says. “Without this nearly free labor, CoreCivic’s windfall from immigrant detention would be substantially decreased.” CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns said that the company does not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy. He added that “all work programs at our ICE detention facilities are completely voluntary and operated in full compliance with ICE standards, including federally mandated statutory reimbursement rates for Voluntary Work Program participants.” “We have worked in close partnership with ICE for more than 30 years and will continue to provide a safe and humane environment to those entrusted to our care.” Detainees at CoreCivic’s remote detention center commonly work in the kitchen or carry out cleaning or custodial work, for which they earn approximately $1 per hour. Those who work double shifts can make as much as $8 in a day. Wilhen Hill Barrientos, a Guatemalan national detained at Stewart who is seeking asylum, routinely works eight-hour shifts in the kitchen, seven days per week, according to the complaint. On days he works 12 or more hours, he makes $8, which is paid in the form of a credit to his commissary account. If he refuses to work, he faces expulsion from his two-person pod to the overcrowded open dormitories, according to the lawsuit. Stewart’s commissary, where detainees buy food or calling cards, is also run by CoreCivic. “When I arrived at Stewart I was faced with an impossible choice — either work for a few cents an hour or live without basic things like soap, shampoo, deodorant, and food,” Barrientos said in a statement. “If I didn’t work, I would never be able to call my family.” Shoaib Ahmed, a Bangladeshi detainee held at Stewart from August 2016 to February 2018, also worked eight-hour shifts in the kitchen for up to seven days a week, earning him $4 per day. After refusing to go to work, guards placed him in solitary confinement for 10 days, the lawsuit says. Ahmed was later deported. The lawsuit seeks damages for all immigrants who participated in the voluntary work scheme for the last decade. Immigrant detainees have complained of poor conditions and treatment in general at Stewart, some of them documented in a 2017 report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. Several detainees at Stewart were punished with solitary confinement there in 2015 in response to a hunger strike over conditions that led to a protest in which property was damaged. The Trump administration has sought to expand capacity for immigrant detention as it ramps up efforts to deport undocumented immigrants.

Oct 11, 2017
IN JUNE, OFFICIALS at a privately run Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in rural Georgia sentenced an immigrant detainee to a month in solitary confinement to punish him for encouraging fellow detainees to stop working in protest of low wages at the facility. Three days after the detainee shouted “no work, no pay” in a facility kitchen, according to ICE records, “the detainee was found guilty of encouraging others to participate in a work stoppage and was sentenced to 30 days of disciplinary segregation.” Immigrants confined in ICE facilities often work for only $1 per day, but the immigration agency’s guidelines state that all such work must be voluntary. Earlier this year, a federal judge cleared the way for a class-action lawsuit originally brought by nine ICE detainees alleging that ICE contractor the GEO Group had profited off forced labor in violation of federal anti-slavery laws. In the case of the Georgia facility, ICE’s records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request simply list “work stoppage” as the reason for using solitary confinement to punish the immigrant detainee, who is originally from Haiti. In response to questions from The Intercept, ICE did not attempt to defend this use of solitary confinement at the facility, Stewart Detention Center, which is run by private prison contractor CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America). An ICE spokesperson said that detainee labor at Stewart is governed by the agency’s “voluntary work program” and sent a link to ICE detention standards, which state, “Detainees shall be able to volunteer for work assignments but otherwise shall not be required to work, except to do personal housekeeping.” The spokesperson told The Intercept to contact CoreCivic for questions regarding the disciplinary action. Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with the Atlanta-based social justice group Project South, who has extensively criticized conditions at Stewart, said in an email that this is not the first hint of forced work at the privately run facility. “This is extremely disturbing,” Shahshahani said. “We keep hearing from ICE and the prison corporation that the program is ‘voluntary.’ We have always questioned how a labor program in a corporate prison setting for sub-minimum wages could be truly voluntary. In the past, we had documented at least one instance where detained immigrants who did not want to work were threatened with being put in the hole.” In response to questions about the Haitian immigrant’s placement in solitary confinement, CoreCivic did not provide any details but broadly defended the quality of its services. “Providing a safe, humane, and appropriate environment for those entrusted to our care is our top priority, and we work in close coordination with our partners at ICE to ensure the well-being of the detainees at Stewart Detention Center,” CoreCivic spokesperson Jonathan Burns said in an email. Burns also disputed The Intercept’s use of the term solitary confinement to refer to conditions in which detainees are held in isolation for the vast majority of each day. “CoreCivic does not use ‘solitary confinement’ at Stewart Detention Center (nor at any of our other facilities),” Burns said. “I’d submit to you that using the term in your coverage with regard to Steward [sic] would give readers a false impression of the reality of restricted housing at the facility.” CoreCivic has previously raised similar objections to this wording. Burns sent The Intercept a list of amenities at the Stewart facility’s restrictive housing unit, including law library access, visitation, mail, visits with ICE, an hour of recreation each day, and access to showers on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Burns said that the Stewart facility follows the standards for ICE’s voluntary work program. He did not respond to a question asking whether the Haitian detainee was earning any wage at all for his labor.

Jul 22, 2017
SPLC: Stewart Infrastructure Violates ICE Detainees' Due Process
Southern Poverty Law Center lawyers say a large immigration detention center in South Georgia is violating detainees' rights to due process. In a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and CoreCivic, the private prison company that runs the facility, the legal advocacy group says the scarcity of attorney visitation rooms at Stewart Detention Center is causing unreasonable delays. "Attorneys have been unable to get to speak with their clients because they were kept waiting in the waiting room and their clients' moment in court came and went while the attorney was still outside," SPLC attorney Lisa Graybill said. Graybill said Stewart's practice of banning electronic devices, as well as a policy change that pushed back the hour at which meetings can begin in the mornings, slows down client meetings, which vary in length and complexity. “If they have a complicated potential asylum claim, if they’re emotional -- as many folks who’ve been persecuted are -- it can take quite a while to get through even basic information,” Graybill said. Stewart, which can house more than 1,700 detainees, has one of the highest deportation rates in the country. Graybill said that's why the SPLC created the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative nearby in April. The group says it has been coordinating and sending groups of pro bono lawyers and interpreters, but Stewart’s infrastructure, originally designed as a prison, is causing a bottleneck that limits detainees access to legal services. “We would even be willing to provide the space,” said Graybill, pointing to examples in Texas of portable buildings being used for attorney-client meetings. “It’s doable. It doesn’t require knocking down any walls.” In a statement, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said Stewart has been found to be “in full compliance with federal law and agency policy.” He said attorneys should schedule appointments in advance, though the SPLC said its lawyers are already doing this.

May 20, 2017

Group: Visit with ICE detainee in Georgia was blocked before he died
An advocacy group says it was blocked from visiting Jean Carlos Jimenez-Joseph a day before he apparently committed suicide in his solitary confinement cell in an immigration detention center in Southwest Georgia. An advocacy group says it was denied access to a Panamanian national the day before he committed suicide in his solitary confinement cell in an immigration detention center in Southwest Georgia. Officials at El Refugio say Jean Carlos Jimenez-Joseph’s mother saw him at Stewart Detention Center Saturday and was concerned about his mental health, so she had asked them to visit her son. But El Refugio says one of its volunteers was turned away at the privately-run facility Sunday. Jimenez, 27, was found unresponsive — with a sheet around his neck — in his isolation cell at 12:45 a.m. Monday. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed Friday that its autopsy revealed he committed suicide by hanging. He had been kept in isolation for 19 days before he died. “We are gravely concerned that Jean Carlos may not have received the mental health services he required while detained,” said Marie Marquart, chairwoman of El Refugio, which aids Stewart detainees and shelters their visiting relatives in Lumpkin. “His solitary confinement may have exacerbated his isolation and further impacted any mental health issues.” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said detainees may still receive visitors while they are being isolated. But he also referred to his agency’s standards for solitary confinement, highlighting a section that says immigration detention centers “may restrict or disallow visits for a detainee who violates visiting rules or whose behavior indicates that he/she may be a threat to the security or good order of the visiting room.”  Cox rereferred additional questions to the Nashville-based private company that manages Stewart, CoreCivic, previously known as Corrections Corp. of America. But CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns referred questions back to ICE, saying that federal agency is responsible for medical and mental health services at Stewart. “CoreCivic is fully cooperating with ICE as it conducts an investigation into this incident,” Burns said. Cox added ICE has medical practices in place for detainees who appear suicidal. “He was in disciplinary segregation,” Cox said. “Had he expressed any kind of suicidal ideation, there would have been a specific medical reaction to that.” RELATED: Second ICE detainee in Georgia dies in space of two days. ICE isolated Jimenez, according to the GBI, after he was observed jumping off a second floor walkway at Stewart. His isolation was extended for three days after he exposed himself to a nurse there, the GBI said. He was isolated one other time in April for five days for fighting with another detainee, Cox said. ICE said it took custody of Jimenez on March 2 in Wake County, N.C., following his felony conviction for motor vehicle larceny. He was in the middle of deportation proceedings at the time of his death. He has also faced assault and drug-related charges in Raleigh, N.C, according to Raleigh/Wake City-County Bureau of Identification records. In a prepared statement released Friday, his sister, Karina Kelly-Jimenez, said she was shocked by his death. “Jean had a beautiful spirit,” she said, adding he was “full of life and quick to love and help anyone.” “We patiently await the outcome of the ongoing investigation into how Jean died, and why,” she added. “We ask those conducting this investigation for nothing more than honesty, transparency, and a prompt resolution.” A GoFundMe online account has been created to raise money for his family’s funeral and travel expenses as well as efforts to “hold Stewart Detention Center accountable.”  Jimenez was a high school wrestler and a talented drummer who was charming, bilingual and fiercely loyal to his friends, said Dalton Gomez, who previously lived with him in Kansas City and performed in a band with him. “He should of been a star, his potential was limitless,” Gomez said, “but our system is not.”

Jul 5, 2016
The Corrections Corporation of America is Blocking Immigrants from Seeing Their Lawyers at a Georgia Detention Center
Three hours south of Atlanta in the town of Lumpkin, Ga., hundreds of immigrants are being held in Stewart Detention Center with virtually no access to lawyers. It’s a basic principle of the U.S. justice system that all people, no matter their citizenship status, are guaranteed due process. Yet, 94 percent of immigrants in this prison-like detention center lack representation. And both U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its for-profit prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), continue to erect barriers that prevent them from finding help. In March, a coalition of pro bono attorneys, law school clinical programs, non-profit legal organizations and private immigration lawyers urged ICE, CCA and Stewart County to fulfill the terms of a 2014 contract requiring CCA to install video teleconferencing and to institute policies and procedures ensuring that detainees have access to representation. ICE responded with a brief letter in late May that failed to address these pressing legal concerns and instead simply promised to repair a couple of broken telephones. Anybody who is detained has the right to confer with a lawyer. But for years, CCA guards have prevented attorneys from meeting with detainees by creating unreasonable delays. Even when a lawyer succeeds in setting up a meeting with a detainee, he or she must speak to the client via phone through a Plexiglass barrier - and the phones are often broken, leaving the lawyer to yell his advice through the Plexiglass. A number of lawyers have stopped practicing at the detention center, citing inconsistent practices involving attorney-client meetings and harassment by facility staffers. Elizabeth Hildebrand Matherne, an Atlanta-area immigration attorney, reported that every time she goes to Stewart, a guard finds a new reason to put her through arbitrary procedures or refuses to allow her to meet with a client. “Detainees desperately need help with their asylum cases, but the lawyers and expert witnesses who attempt to assist them are humiliated and run through the ringer as a result of poor policies and uncooperative staff,” she said. ICE recently settled a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union to provide better telephone access to immigrants detained in California. CCA’s management at Stewart Detention Center and ICE should take heed of this decision and stop obstructing access to counsel at Stewart immediately. This issue has nothing to do with heated rhetoric about building a wall on the border. It’s simply about due process and fairness, basic tenets of our legal system. It’s about giving people like Jose the right to representation to put forward their best case in immigration proceedings. Jose is a 30-year-old activist who fled El Salvador after receiving death threats from a rival political party. He was first detained in Texas, where he had a lawyer, but his lawyer could not reach him after he was transferred to Stewart, and withdrew from representing him. Unable to find another lawyer, Jose lost his asylum case, and was deported after six months at Stewart. Back in El Salvador, he lives in fear that the next time, the death threats against him will be realized. Without an attorney, detainees like Jose, even those with strong cases, fight a losing battle. The odds are stacked against them at the immigration court adjacent to Stewart Detention Center, where more pleas for relief are denied than in any other immigration court in the country. To have a chance at relief, immigrants need assistance in navigating complex immigration proceedings. A video teleconferencing system was the only chance Jose had to avoid the uncertain fate he now faces in El Salvador. It’s an easy and cost-effective solution to implement - and the government is already paying for it via its contract with CCA. It’s unacceptable that CCA, a company with hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts, has failed to fulfill the requirements of its contract, must less ensure that constitutional standards are met in its facilities. It’s past time for the government to hold its contractor accountable for its failure to comply with core principles of justice.

Jun 17, 2016
Advocates question impact, timing of solitary confinement for Durham student seeking asylum
A Riverside High School student who was taken to a private prison in Georgia earlier this year by federal immigration agents for being in the country illegally was ordered to spend time in solitary confinement this month, the day before he would have graduated from high school. Wildin Guillen Acosta, a 19-year-old native of Honduras, has been in federal custody at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., since Jan. 28, when he was picked up by ICE agents near his Durham home while on his way to school. Prison officials placed Acosta in solitary confinement on June 7. This week, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield and other supporters said they think prison officials put him there as retaliation for being an outspoken, high-profile detainee. “In our experience, a sentence of more than 30 days in solitary is rare and overly punitive,” said Julie Mao, an enforcement fellow with the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. The nonprofit in Washington, D.C., works with attorneys who defend immigrants facing deportation. Mao added that sentencing Acosta to solitary confinement the day before he was set to graduate could have a debilitating effect on the student. “The timing couldn’t be worse,” she said. “Moreover, the severity of this sentence suggests that Wildin will continue to be the subject of increased surveillance and retaliation” by prison personnel and federal immigration authorities. Butterfield, a Democrat from Wilson whose district includes Durham, echoed Mao’s sentiments in a letter Tuesday to Sarah Saldana, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “I am troubled that Mr. Acosta, a 19-year-old without a criminal record and with a pending asylum claim, remains in detention after almost five months and now finds himself in restrictive housing where he could suffer lasting psychological damage,” Butterfield wrote. [Barry Saunders column: Why we should denounce the action of immigration officials] Mao said late Wednesday that Acosta’s time in solitary was shortened to 15 days after Butterfield’s letter to Saldana. He was released Thursday, Butterfield’s office announced. Immigration spokesman Bryan Cox stated in an email to The News & Observer on Wednesday that “ICE has no direct involvement” in the “disciplinary action” of Corrections Corporation of America, which owns and manages the prison. Cox said “disciplinary action for rule violations within a CCA facility is determined by CCA per their policies, which are conducted in accordance with ICE’s Performance Based National Detention Standards.” Jonathan Burns, a CCA spokesman, said Acosta received a 15-day sentence that began June 6, but he was released after serving 10 days. “That happens at the discretion of the facility leadership,” Burns said by phone Thursday night. “The 15-day restrictive housing time frame is not a reduction; it is the original penalty Mr. Acosta received for the High offense he committed,” Burns wrote in an email Thursday night to The News & Observer. Mao said Acosta was sentenced to solitary because of the detention center’s “three strikes” within 90 days rule for minor administrative violations: being unsanitary because his bed wasn’t made; being in an unauthorized area for not being at his bedside during sleep time, and refusing to obey an order while helping a fellow inmate translate a letter from Spanish to English. Burns said that only one of the violations - having an unsanitary area - was classified under ICE’s disciplinary standards as “low-moderate.” The other two are “high-moderate” offenses. Burns said restrictive housing at the detention center is “not like the traditional notion of solitary confinement” and that Acosta had access to visitation, was allowed to come out for meals, had phone privileges and recreation time. Acosta was stopped at the Texas border by federal agents in 2014 after fleeing Honduras because of gang violence. He attended a court hearing on Dec. 17, 2014, but failed to show up for one in March 2015. On March 30, 2015, a deportation order was issued, leading to his arrest in January. Since then, there have been protests and rallies in Durham on his behalf. The Durham school board has condemned the ICE raid, and the county’s Human Relations Commission asked immigration officials to stop deporting young people who fear for their lives if they were to return to countries they fled. Acosta was scheduled for deportation March 19, but Butterfield and U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, persuaded Saldana to intervene in the case. Butterfield visited Acosta at the Georgia detention center on May 27 and wrote the letter to Saldana this week. “I am deeply concerned that the punishment received by Mr. Acosta may be retaliatory in nature, especially with the knowledge that two of the three alleged offenses occurred several days after I visited the detention facility,” Butterfield wrote. “During the visit, I did not see any predisposition on his part to violate the rules. Moreover, I fear Mr. Acosta is not being treated fairly because of the significant attention his case has received by Members of Congress and the national media.” Acosta would have graduated from Riverside High School on June 8. Acosta’s mother, Dilsia Acosta, was an honored guest at the graduation ceremonies. “It’s heartbreaking,” Mao said. “He called her the day before and broke down.” His supporters have said Acosta was hoping to enroll at Durham Tech and study engineering. Evelyn Smallwood, a Durham attorney, said Acosta’s case for asylum has never been heard on its merits. Mao said immigration officials have not set a date for his asylum hearing. “And that’s what so egregious,” she said. “He’s spent nearly six months in jail without any signs of release.”

Sep 11, 2015


(APN) ATLANTA — Detainees at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia were apparently met with retaliation for protesting inhumane conditions this week. “We are deeply concerned for people currently detained at Stewart.  As communication in and out of the facility has been limited, it has been difficult to monitor the situation,” Silky Shah, co-director of the Detention Watch Network, said in a press statement. The trouble came to light on September 04, 2015, when guards at Stewart ceased allowing visitation. “I personally met a family that had driven over 900 miles from Chicago to visit a loved one,” Anton Flores-Maisonet of Georgia Detention Watch said. “How heart wrenching to see a sister of someone detained, travel such distance only to be turned away without explanation and with her concerns only heightened,” he said. Georgia Detention Watch was able to determine the lockdown was sparked by protests, though they haven’t released further details. In the past, detainees at Stewart have initiated hunger strikes and work stoppages to protest what they say are: lack of due process, poor food quality, inadequate medical care, overcrowding, and unhygienic living conditions. Complaints have ranged from being served rotten food, to showering in water that caused rashes. In response to this most recent protest, Stewart officials not only cut off phone access and visitation, they also suspended religious services and regular meal service, according to Georgia Detention Watch.  Stewart Detention Center is owned and operated by Corrections Corporations of America, the largest owner of for-profit prisons and immigration detention facilities in the nation. According to the Center For Media and Democracy, CCA’s revenue in 2013 was 300 million dollars, the entirety of which came from taxpayers via government contracts. “Immediate investigative action should be taken and Corrections Corporation of America, the Stewart County Commissioners, and ICE should publish findings from their investigation as a first step toward ensuring transparent management of the facility,” Shah said.

Jun 29, 2014

(APN) ATLANTA -- Hundreds of Inmates at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia staged a hunger strike because of deplorable conditions at the Center.   It began last week when inmates refused to eat spoiled food with maggots in the beans and instead threw the food away. "They were locked up and pepper strayed because of the hunger strike, that's why it only lasted one day," a family member told Atlanta Progressive News. APN granted anonymity to the family member, who wants to remain anonymous so her husband will not be retailed against, for her talking to the press. ICE said the food at Stewart meets federal standards and is monitored by a registered dietitian; meanwhile, state health inspectors gave Stewart's dining facility a 96 percent score in April 2014, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported. Reports from inmates and family members tell a different story.  Numerous reports have surfaced about unsanitary conditions in the kitchen, which is infested with roaches; and maggots, which have been found in the food.  Food that is several days old and unfit to eat is served to inmates. Instead of cleaning up the kitchen and throwing away the spoiled food, the Detention Center put the entire facility on a 24 hour lock down.  According to reports, immigrants in Unit 6, where the hunger strike started, were locked down longer. Also, the air conditioning is cut off at night and inmates are forced to sleep in the sweltering south Georgia summer heat.  Many of the showers have no hot water while others don't work at all. "My husband has to beg for toilet paper.  They are screamed at and treated like animals.  They don't want to give them hygiene products, so they can keep clean," a family member told APN. Stewart is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of Americans (CCA,) a for-profit private prison, and manages everything but health care at Stewart.  The health care is managed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. According to CCA reports obtained by National Public Radio, the corporation believes that immigration detention is its next big growth market, as reported by APN in 2011. "Obviously there is a profit motive there to cut down on the cost of operating the facility and maximize the profits for the corporation.  Immigrants work in the kitchen and perform chores and labor at the facility.  Instead of paying minimum wage, the corporation pays them one to three dollars a day… often not providing safe working conditions, which in the past has lead to injuries for immigrants in the kitchen," Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project Director, American Civil Liberties Union/Georgia, told APN. CCA's revenue rose more than 60 percent over the last decade, and its stock price climbed to more than 30 dollars from less than three dollars a share. Last year, the company made 301 million dollars in net income, according to earning reports, as reported in the New York Times newspaper. The medical care is not any better.  With only one doctor for 1,750 men.  The medical department is understaffed and it often takes days or weeks for medical requests to be answered, if at all.  The closest hospital is in Columbus, Georgia, almost one hour away. One detained immigrant explained, in an ACLU report, that he has nerve damage from an auto accident that occurred prior to his detention.  He was receiving prescription medication for the nerve pain, but at Stewart, he is given only Ibuprofen that does not work well for nerve pain. Stewart has been the site of protests for seven years, as reported several times by APN.  Hundreds of people make the pilgrimage to the remote southwest Georgia facility each year to protest the inhumane conditions.  It has been named by Detention Watch Network and other national organizations as one of the ten worst facilities in the country. "When the guards are searching, they destroy their personal belongings.  If they have a little radio, they throw it to the side and sometimes it breaks.  If they have a bag of chips, they will crush it and destroy their food," a family member said. In 2010, APN reported that Georgia Detention Watch cited conditions at Stewart including poor or no healthcare, no full-time doctor, deplorable food, lack of legal resources, physical and verbal abuse, and few bi-lingual staff.  Looks like four years later not much has changed, except now they finally have a doctor. The ACLU of Georgia, after a three-year investigation based on interviews with 68 immigrants in detention facilities in Georgia, family members, immigration attorneys and review of documents obtained from the government, has released a new report, “Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia.”  The report concludes that Stewart has consistently failed to provide basic medical care, hygienic conditions, or adequate, edible food for those in detention. "After twenty months away from home, you lose faith, you feel worthless, this place breaks you, it is made to break your soul.  The constant screaming and verbal abuse the guards inflict on the detainees is just made to break your soul and handicap you," Pedro Guzman, former inmate at Stewart, said in the ACLU report. The reports recommends that ICE should stop detaining immigrants at this facility, given the extent of the violations and the remote location of Stewart Detention Center. Unfortunately, abuse, poor food, and next-to no health care appears to be rampant throughout the penal system in Georgia. Through interviews with released inmates, family members, and advocates, including at several meetings on mass incarceration in Georgia, APN has learned about widespread conditions of inadequate health care, unidentifiable food, and abuse in county jails, state prisons, as well as private, for-profit corporate prisons.

Jun 19, 2014

A complaint last week about the quality of the food at an immigration detention center in South Georgia led to a riot involving more than two dozen detainees who had to be restrained and then “segregated for disciplinary purposes.” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement disclosed the incident in a prepared statement issued Thursday in response to concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Georgia and Georgia Detention Watch. In a news release issued Thursday, the civil and immigrant rights groups alleged detainees mounted a hunger strike last week at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin. Repeating their requests for the government to close the center, the ACLU and Georgia Detention Watch also alleged unsanitary conditions and inadequate medical care at Stewart. “Discontent has long been brewing over the poor quality of the food, desperately inadequate medical care, and unlivable conditions,” the ACLU said in its news release. ICE denied there was a hunger strike at Stewart, which is operated by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America. “On June 9, a detainee incited a disturbance in one of the facility’s housing pods, charging poor quality of food,” ICE said. “A group of ICE officials and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) managers went to the affected pod and talked to the detainees about their concerns. Despite significant attempts to diffuse the issue, 27 detainees in one pod had to be restrained and then segregated for disciplinary purposes.” ICE said the food at the Stewart meets federal standards and is monitored by a registered dietitian. A health inspector looked into an anonymous tip about maggots in the food at Stewart but didn’t find any, the federal agency said. State health inspectors gave Stewart’s dining facility a 96 percent score following an April inspection, ICE said. ICE added the government provides “excellent medical care through the dedicated service of more than 60 professionals assigned to the facility, including a full-time physician.”

March 27, 2012 AP
The widow of a Mexican citizen who died while in immigration custody in south Georgia has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Sara Hernandez-Gonzalez. Roberto Medina-Martinez died in March 2009 after having been held for about a month at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility. An autopsy showed he died of myocarditis, an inflammatory heart disease. The lawsuit alleges the medical staff at the Stewart Detention Center, which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America, the same company that runs a similar facility in Gainesville, was negligent and didn't provide proper medical care to Medina-Martinez. It seeks $1 million in damages for his wife.

May 18, 2011 Huffington Post
On Tuesday, for the first time in 19 months, Pedro Guzman left Stewart Detention Center, a privately run facility where he was housed while fighting deportation. The Lumpkin, Ga., detention center is one of many run by Corrections Corporation of America, a prison giant that believes its next major market is immigrant detentions. Georgia may be its next frontier. The state's anti-illegal immigration bill, styled after Arizona's SB 1070, was signed into law last week. The result could be more immigrants in detention -- and more profits for CCA, which has been accused of mistreating detainees and cutting down on amenities to improve profits. CCA, as reported by NPR last year, was in the room when SB 1070 author Russell Pearce, now Arizona state Senate president, unveiled his plans for the bill at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Guzman said he saw firsthand how CCA makes its money by spending as little as possible on the men and women in detention centers. "There’s so much money they make from us, but they’re not investing any money in detainees," he said in an interview. "The treatment you get is like you’re an animal. I have two dogs, and I treat my dogs much better than the detainees are treated in there." Guzman, who turns 31 on Thursday, moved to the United States from Guatemala with his mother when he was 8 years old. He is married to an American, Emily Guzman, and is the father of a 4-year-old citizen named Logan. For about a year an a half, the Guzman family was separated by the immigrant detention system. The difficulties of communication from the CCA-run facility made the separation worse. Guzman was granted a green card on Monday, and will be allowed to stay in the United States under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, which allows some immigrants from Guatemala to stop deportation proceedings. But he said he is "still healing" from the 19-month detention, during which he said detainees were yelled at, crammed into close quarters and given little communication with the outside world. He was never convicted of a crime, but Guzman said he was treated like a prisoner, despite an effort launched by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in October 2009 to make detention centers less punitive. Detainees in the Stewart Detention Center stay in "pods," where 62 men sleep in bunk beds about two feet apart, Guzman said. In the center of the room are about six tables, where the men can eat food they buy from the commissary. Guzman said he saw some physical abuse, mostly when guards were provoked by detainees who talked back. More common, though, was verbal abuse. Many of the guards yelled at detainees regularly, creating an atmosphere of near-constant screaming in the pods. "It’s just made to break your soul and handicap you," Guzman said. He said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials discouraged detainees from pushing for an individual response to their case, because the high-level of deportations requires most to go through courts where a judge rules on several cases at a time. "They’re not there to help you," Guzman said. "Ninety percent of the officers will tell you you have no chance to fight, just go to court and we will remove you and take care of the rest." With new detainees entering every night, guards changed the rules and procedures often, creating confusion and tension for long-term detainees like Guzman. He said a major source of stress was a new phone system implemented midway through his detention that prevented him from calling his mother in Mexico. Calls within the United States were expensive, and phone cards only allowed him to talk for about 11 minutes. When his family visited, they had to talk to Guzman through a glass barrier. Now, Guzman has been reunited with his family. On Wednesday evening, they were driving home to North Carolina. "I felt like I was never going to get out of there and like I was never going to be in the U.S. again," he said. "Many times I felt like quitting, just giving up. But changes can happen."

May 10, 2011 AccessNorthGA
About 30 people attended a candlelight vigil Monday night outside the immigrant detention center in Gainesville for a Salvadoran immigrant who died there last week. Georgia Detention Watch sponsored the vigil. Organizers say 54-year-old Miguel Hernandez collapsed and died after being returned to the North Georgia Detention Center on Main Street after being treated for a blood clot. A spokesman said the group is calling for "accountability" from the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which operates the detention center. Georgia Detention Watch says Hernandez is the second death it is aware of in recent years at a CCA-operated facility in Georgia. The group said ICE and CCA have yet to provide answers about the death of 39-year-old Roberto Martinez Medina at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin which happened more than two years ago.

June 2, 2010 Georgia Public Broadcasting
For one West Georgia County this year’s census could bring a windfall of federal money. That’s because of the number of illegal immigrants it detains. Stewart County has a less than 5-thousand people, but following the census their numbers will swell. 17-hundred illegal immigrants being held in the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin will be counted as residents even though they stay in the facility less than two months. Stewart County Commission Chair Joe Williams says the Corrections Corporation of America which operates the facility, also gives the county a daily fee for each inmate and provides jobs. “They pay property tax and they spend money here in the county. Their payroll comes through our local bank.” The county could receive around 15-hundred federal dollars for each detainee, be eligible for more government grants and greater representation in Congress.

December 3, 2009 Workers World
Some 100 people gathered at the town square in Lumpkin, Ga., on Nov. 20 to protest the conditions at the nearby Stewart Detention Center, a privately owned prison that holds 1,800 immigrants awaiting deportation. Operated by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America, the facility is located almost two miles outside of Lumpkin in an isolated area. Following a series of speeches by immigrant rights activists and a former employee of the detention center, the crowd marched to the gates of the prison, where three large buses blocked the view of the complex. Undeterred, the protesters held a memorial service for Roberto Martinez Medina, a 39-year-old worker from Mexico who died in March from a treatable heart infection after his pleas for medical assistance were ignored by prison staff. More than 100 immigrants have died while in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the last few years. The action was organized by the Georgia Detention Watch and supported by numerous groups, including the SOA Watch.

June 12, 2009 AP
An autopsy shows a detainee at a federal immigration detention center in south Georgia died of natural causes. Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said Thursday 39-year-old Roberto Martinez Medina died of myocarditis, an inflammatory heart disease. Martinez, a Mexican national, was being held at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin - which is operated by the same company that plans to open a similar facility in Gainesville, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Martinez died March 11 at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. A coalition of immigrant rights and civil rights groups planned to hold a vigil Thursday in front of the Atlanta headquarters of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The groups are demanding accountability and transparency from the agency. Martinez's death was one of the issues they wanted information about.

June 11, 2009 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
On March 11, a 39-year-old man held in detention at the Stewart Detention Center, a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in southwest Georgia, died at a hospital in Columbus. To this day, the immediate cause of Roberto Martinez Medina’s death remains unclear (a press release pronounced the cause of death as “apparent natural causes”). Last month, Leonard Odom, 37, died at the Wheeler County Correctional Facility in south-central Georgia. Both facilities are operated by Corrections Corp. of America, which has a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to operate the Stewart center and one with the Georgia Department of Corrections to operate the one in Wheeler County. The DOC has not released additional information about the death of Odom, due to an ongoing investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. What sets apart the deaths of these two men held at CCA-operated facilities is the difference in official responses. In the case of the death at the immigration detention facility, there have been no further explanations regarding what may have prompted the death — much less an official investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which was created as a part of Homeland Security in 2003 to consolidate immigration enforcement. Medina’s tragic death marks the latest in the mounting number of immigrant deaths in the custody of CCA, the largest corporation in the business of for-profit detention. From October 2003 through Feb. 7, 2009, 18 people died in immigration detention custody in facilities operated by CCA alone, according to information from The New York Times. Yet ICE has failed repeatedly to hold CCA accountable. Instead, the federal agency continues to reward CCA with additional contracts, most recently for operation of the North Georgia Detention Center in Hall County. The CCA’s track record should come as no surprise to those who read the report issued in April by Georgia Detention Watch, a coalition of several organizations and individuals advocating an end to unjust and inhumane immigration detention and local enforcement practices. The report was based on interviews with 16 detainees during a humanitarian visitation coordinated by Georgia Detention Watch in December 2008. The report uses ICE’s own Performance Based National Detention Standards to evaluate conditions at Stewart. Even compared to ICE’s own nonbinding standards, conditions at the CCA-operated facility can best be described as grossly inadequate. Members of Georgia Detention Watch and partner organizations have requested on several occasions to meet with ICE to discuss the findings of the report, but have gotten no response. Georgia Detention Watch is not alone in demanding answers and accountability for immigrant deaths in U.S. detention. The United Nations Expert on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, who toured the United States on a fact-finding mission in June 2008 on a mandate to investigate killings in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, recently released a report demanding greater transparency and swift and public investigations for deaths in immigration detention. Today marks three months since the death of Medina. ICE has yet to provide any answers regarding why this man died in detention. Neither have Georgia Detention Watch members been provided with an opportunity to meet with ICE representatives to discuss the mounting concerns regarding the treatment of immigrants at the CCA-run Stewart. With the prospect for yet another CCA-run immigrant detention facility in Hall County, these concerns become especially urgent. If ICE’s oversight of the CCA operation of Stewart is any guide, we can expect yet another facility funded by taxpayers held to no standards at all.

April 11, 2009 AP
Immigrant rights groups released a report Friday criticizing what they call "grossly inadequate" conditions at a federal immigration detention center in southwest Georgia and recommending changes. The report by Georgia Detention Watch complains about food and medicine being withheld as punishment, trips to solitary confinement without a disciplinary hearing and insufficient working toilets, among other things. The report, based on interviews with 16 detainees during a humanitarian visit organized by Georgia Detention Watch in December, was released at a news conference in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Atlanta. Georgia Detention Watch is an Atlanta-based coalition of immigrant rights groups and individuals. Some treatment described by detainees "may reflect violations of ICE's national detention standards and basic protections guaranteed by the federal Constitution and international human rights standards," the report says. The report comes about a month after Roberto Martinez Medina, a 39-year-old Mexican citizen detainee at Stewart, died at a hospital in nearby Columbus on March 11. ICE spokesman Ivan Ortiz said the agency is still awaiting the results of an autopsy to determine cause of death. Some attendees at the news conference wore black T-shirts that said "Why did Roberto Martinez Medina die in detention?" Azadeh Shahshahani, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who wore one of the shirts, said she didn't know if he received inadequate medical care but speculated his and other detainee deaths may have been preventable with better care. The detention center in Lumpkin, in rural southwest Georgia, is operated by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, the country's largest private prison firm. CCA spokeswoman Louise Grant referred questions to ICE. "The care and treatment some detainees receive does not yet meet our shared expectation of excellence. We all agree this is reason for concern," the agency said in a statement.

September 22, 2008
Prisoners at the privately contracted Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia have the right to have qualified leadership supervising over them. Recently it has been discovered that the for profit prison company contracted to supervise these prisoners at the Stewart Detention Center may be promoting people with fake college records from a very well known diploma mill. The Stewart Detention Center is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (Headquartered in Nashville, TN). Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) has previously stated that “No contender for a job— whether it’s in the private sector or federal government—should lose out to a candidate because that candidate holds a bogus degree.” This was in response to the findings of a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs investigation into fake college degree's being bought in order to fake qualifications for government jobs ( ? Fuseaction=PressReleases.View&PressRelease_id=c0e23155-0de5-4fa7-9617-f70899351078&Affiliation=R). This issue was initially raised in March of 2004 when Laura Callahan was named to the position of Deputy CIO of the Department of Homeland Security. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is part of the Department of Homeland Security. An investigation found that Laura Callahan and other government employees had purchased fake degree's and succeeded in getting key government positions. It appears that at least one Assistant Warden employed by Corrections Corporation of America at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA has bought his degree from one of the most well known fake degree mill's currently in operation. Corrections Corporation of America's own website ( ) shows that Assistant Warden Charlie Peterson holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Ashwood University. Ashwood Universities website states "We recognize 100% of the work or life experience of our students" ( ). In other words you do not need to take any tests or study at all to receive one of their college degree's. One can assume that Stewart Detention Center Assistant Warden Charlie Peterson only had to pay the $239.00 fee in order to receive a degree.

April 13, 2007 Albany Herald
The Americus-based Prison & Jail Project and the LaGrange-based Alterna nonprofit advocacy community will hold a demonstration outside the Stewart County Detention Center in Lumpkin Saturday to protest reports of poor medical care and food at the facility. The vigil is being held in response to a hunger strike prisoners staged last month to protest what they said was mistreatment of immigrants housed at the 1,500-bed detention center. “Any time prisoners stage a hunger strike, risking further punishment or retaliation by prison authorities, there has to be something terribly wrong with the prison,” Prison & Jail Project Director John Cole Vodicka said in a phone interview. “We want the authorities to know that there are people out here who will not tolerate prisoner neglect and abuse. “We can’t verify all the charges that have been made at the facility, but its isolation — and we can’t say whether that’s deliberate or not — certainly enhances the possibilities. It certainly makes it difficult for detainees to have access to legal counsel and for their families to visit them.” The detention center, located in rural Stewart County, was built by the private Corrections Corporation of America, which contracts with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to house undocumented immigrants arrested in all sections of the country. A spokesperson for CCA said most of the detainees are awaiting deportation hearings. “People need to understand, this is not a prison, it’s a detention facility,” Steve Owen, spokesperson for Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA, said in a phone interview. “We hold the detainees for ICE until they determine their (immigration) status or deport them. Of course, some countries don’t readily take their citizens back, so we sometimes have to find other countries willing to take them.”

March 30, 2007 Immigration News Briefs
More than 1,000 immigration detainees held a two-day hunger strike at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, according to the consul general of El Salvador in Georgia, Asdrubal Aguilar. The Atlanta Latino newspaper reported the protest in a March 22 article, but did not say when it took place. The facility is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) under contract with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Aguilar said the Salvadoran consulate received as many as 600 calls in one day from detainees reporting the protest and complaining about conditions. The consulate sent staff members to the detention center and interviewed 40 detainees. Aguilar reported that detainee Oscar Armando Castaneda Lopez was beaten by CCA guards after clashing with a guard who tried to force him to eat. Castaneda was punished with 45 days in "the hole," an isolation unit. After the hunger strike, authorities transferred the women detainees at Stewart to the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama. Guillermo Antonio Carpio, a 70-year old detainee at Stewart, told the consulate he is HIV-positive and has Parkinson's disease and diabetes, yet is denied adequate food and medical care at Stewart. Carpio said when he has medical problems needing attention, it generally takes two to four days before he can see a doctor. Another detainee, Carlos Antonio Alfaro, said he suffers from attacks of schizophrenia which must be controlled with medication, but since being detained he has not had access to medication and his condition has worsened. Jose Saul Hernandez Argueta, also detained at Stewart, said he and his wife were arrested last October in a raid on a Houston meatpacking plant. Their only son, who was eight years old and suffered from asthma, was at school when his parents were arrested; he was sent to live with his uncle and aunt, who were unfamiliar with his treatment needs. Hernandez said his son's asthma grew worse and he died three weeks ago from complications of the condition. "My wife is currently in an immigration jail in Texas, and I don't even know if she knows about our son," said Hernandez. (Atlanta Latino, March 22)

December 19, 2006 The Ledger-Enquirer
Stewart County has experienced a steady population decline during every decade since 1900. County and city officials expect to reverse that, but one factor stands in the way of a community hoping to lure more people to the rural county: Crime. "I had a problem with a drug neighborhood between the courthouse and Westville when I was executive director there," said Stewart County Manager Mac Moye. "It was affecting Westville visitation. I won't say anybody was in danger. People were wary when they went through it. "We have a lot going for Stewart County," he said. "Property values are up. Our schools have made significant progress in the last few years. The Corrections Corporation of America prison opened in October, adding some 311 jobs, including some 50 held by local citizens. We have Apex, a modular home company, which located in Richland. They have 58 employees and hope to have 150 by June. We have every reason to expect Fort Benning is going to have major impact on this county in the next five years.

September 30, 2006 Ledger-Enquirer
There is something morally repugnant about making a profit on someone else's brokenness. It's not that the prisons in the state of Georgia don't do that, but there is some incentive for the state not to fill every prison bed, said John Cole Vodicka, director of the Prison & Jail Project, a watchdog organization in Americus, Ga. But when you have a company operating a prison that needs to fill up every cell in order to turn a profit that meets their shareholders expectations, there is absolutely no incentive to reduce that population or to figure out ways to get people out of that prison, said Cole Vodicka. Jim Wetherington, former commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said the state opted for private prisons because it's cheaper, but he also has reasons for not favoring for-profit facilities. "I never was in favor of private prisons because they don't offer the services we offer in state prisons. They don't go in depth on the rehabilitation as the state does, and they have fewer guards," said Wetherington, who is a candidate for mayor of Columbus, and the city's former police chief. Cole Vodicka said he understands officials' desperate need for jobs and to bring their county up and out of poverty. "Stewart County is one of the poorest counties in the state -- one of the poorest counties in the Deep South," he said. "At the same time, I think they are being sold a bill of goods. I think ultimately what's going to happen is that a lot of the jobs at the prison will be filled by people who do not live in Stewart County right now, and won't choose to live there once they get jobs at the prison," Cole Vodicka said. Failing public? Frank Smith agreed. Smith, who is national field organizer for Private Corrections Institute, contacted me after reading "For profit prisons fail public." It was Tuesday's column about the Corrections Corporation of America's upcoming job fair. CCA runs for-profit corrections facilities. "People call this the Prison Industrial Complex. They recruit guys who are wardens in state penitentiaries. The corporations bring in the big shots. And pay the guards low wages," said Smith, who said he got involved with for-profit prisons about 15 years ago in Alaska. At that time, he said, Alaska wanted to send 320 prisoners to Texas. Smith referenced a 1970s study in which researchers looked at prisoners who, in the last year of incarceration, had zero, one, two or three visitors. They found that the people who had no visitors had a recidivism rate six times that of people who had three or more visitors. Researchers defined visitors as different people. One person who visited a prisoner three times counted as one visitor, said Smith, a social worker, who had contracted with Alaska department of corrections to provide substance abuse treatment. Smith also recalled an incident in which a for-profit prison in Oklahoma was emptied because Wisconsin officials removed the prisoners. "Wisconsin insisted on a deal so that prisoners didn't lose contact with their families back home. The prison couldn't negotiate for a reasonable phone rate, so Wisconsin pulled all the prisoners. And the prison sat empty for about three years," he said. Cole Vodicka said most of the prisoners in the Stewart County facility are going to be those who either haven't been in the country very long or are in this country illegally: "This means folks working there will encounter folks not like themselves. Different culture. Different language. That immediately raises some concerns about how well trained these prison employees will be." Prison employees will live in Columbus. They'll live in Albany. And they'll live in Alabama. But they are not going to choose to live in Stewart County, which needs a lot more help with its infrastructure than they are going to get from the Corrections Corporation of America, Cole Vodicka said. "There may be a gas station or a restaurant that will get a few dollars because the prison is there," he said. "And maybe a few people will choose to live in Lumpkin. But by and large, Lumpkin will be known as a prison town. The prison is a mile from the courthouse square." Contact Kaffie Sledge at 706-571-8585 or

September 26, 2006 Ledger-Enquirer
Though disturbing, the ad for Corrections Corporation of America seems to have appeared right on time. Georgia has an obvious need for more prison beds -- for sex offenders and illegal immigrants -- otherwise what are Gov. Sonny Perdue and challenger Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor telling us in their ads? Set boldly at the bottom right corner of Sunday's classified section, the announcement of a CCA job fair got my full attention. The problem with for-profit prisons such as CCA is the only people who benefit are CCA stockholders. CCA's job is not about correcting behavior, reuniting families or contributing anything to the community other than some low-paying, high-turnover jobs. "Our experience with any of these private prisons is that the prisons are poorly operated," said John Cole Vodicka, director of the Prison & Jail Project, a watchdog organization in Americus, Ga. "The guard force is poorly trained, unable to react in a positive way to the prisoner population. It seems the mindset is to implement whatever cost-cutting measures you can implement, so that the profit margin is great." It's a business to Corrections Corporation of America. They are not looking at how to change lives or restore lives and send people back into the community. CCA is looking at filling up those cages to make a profit. "Outsourcing is becoming more and more the norm," Cole Vodicka said. "Entities such as CCA come into a community and say, 'We can do this cheaper. You will not have to spend as much money, if you contract with us.' "This may or may not be true. I don't know that there's any data out there to show that this is true. But again, these folks are in it for the money. And it's seductive in our poor communities, which make up the bulk of rural southwest Georgia." Our responsibility. If we choose to build prisons and fill up prisons and operate prisons, it should be the citizens' responsibility. We shouldn't just give it up to some private entity that really has no interest in the welfare of our community, Cole Vodicka said. The Stewart County facility, for example, will warehouse people labeled as "criminal illegal immigrants." Some of the alleged crimes committed by these immigrants amount to being in this country illegally. Period. Does illegal entry into the U.S. warrant being sent to Lumpkin, Ga., where nobody knows your name or your language, and your friends and family won't have a clue as to your whereabouts? When prisoners are shipped off to be warehoused, Cole Vodicka said, their sentences become indefinite. "In such instances, there is absolutely no way for prisoners to maintain contact with families and lawyers," he said. "People can get lost. They enter the country illegally, get picked up by law enforcement and sent to Lumpkin. Lumpkin has nothing in place to provide assistance to immigrants. Lumpkin has little in place to assist its own." Contact Kaffie Sledge at 706-571-8585 or

April 14, 2003
A dispute over the price the state will pay for a 1,600-bed private prison in Stewart County led lawmakers Monday to delete $40 million in bonds that could be used to buy the facility.  The House-passed $16 billion budget approved by a 114-63 vote goes to the Senate without funding for the purchase of the prison near Lumpkin from Corrections Corp. of America.  "We just can't agree on a purchase price right now," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Buck, D-Columbus, told colleagues as he explained details of the proposed state budget for the year beginning July 1.  "The state thinks the price ought to be 'X,' and those that started construction think it ought to be 'Y,' " Buck said. "We're just going to have to take another look at that next year."  Corrections Corp. of America, a Nashville, Tenn.-based company, reports it has invested about $35 million in the prison. It stopped construction after the state announced it was no longer interested in using privately operated prisons to accommodate the burgeoning prison population.  (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)

January 19, 2003
Gov. Sonny Perdue included $40 million in bond money in his budget to buy and complete a 1,524-bed private prison near Lumpkin in west Georgia.  The prison has lain dormant and unfinished since June2000 when the state told CCA of Nashville, Tenn., it was no longer interested in using a privately run prison facility.  A state assessment Dec. 2 estimated construction is only about 50 percent complete.  (AP)

Telfair County Jail
Telfair, Georgia

Many state and local officials went to prison Wednesday, and they couldn't have been happier.  Just days before the first inmates arrive, Corrections Corp. of America held a dedication ceremony for its new $60 million, 1,500-bed prison in Telfair county.  But Wednesday's opening was a long time coming.  The company struggled to get an inmate contract while the completed prison sat vacant for more than a year.  In May, The Federal Bureau of Prisons announced it would fill the facility with criminal aliens, most of whom will be Hispanic.    Speakers at the ceremony included Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, House Speaker-nominee Terry Coleman and the company's CEO, John Ferguson.  (Telegraph Staff Writer)

Valdosta-Lowndes County
Valdosta, Georgia

March 16, 2012 WCTV
The Corrections Corporation of America is not extending their agreement with the Valdosta Lowndes County Industrial Authority. That agreement was to construct and operate a corrections facility in Lowndes County. Negotiations began in 2010. The initial agreement allowed for three extension terms to purchase the land. That extension officially expired on Tuesday March 13. The Valdosta Lowndes County Industrial Authority Executive Director Andrea Schruijer said "The contract that we currently had in way or the purchase and development agreement that we had is null and void at this point." One of the reasons why the Corrections Corporation of America may not have extended the agreement is because Georgia's prison population is down. But that doesn't mean Lowndes County wouldn't have benefited from the project. Schruijer went on to say "It would have been a huge economic impact. There were about 400 jobs associated with the project with approximately $150 million dollars in capital investment."

February 29, 2012 WCTV
Plans for a new private prison in Lowndes County are in jeopardy as Georgia's inmate population declines. The prison would be built by Corrections Corporation of America, known as CCA. It would create about 400 new jobs. If CCA was to move forward with construction it would potentially invest $120 million dollars in the project. The Lowndes County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ashley Paulk said he has "not seen any movement towards the state of Georgia leasing any more prisons right now because they don't have a need for them." There is no set date as to when the prison may be built.

February, 27, 2012 On The Lake Front
CCA has a contract to buy the private prison site from a private landowner. But who did that landowner get the site from? The Industrial Authority! And the sale prices involved are rather interesting: the landowner gets almost 100% profit in five years. One person I showed them to immediately said, "sweetheart deal." What do you think? The Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority (VLCIA) bought the site back in 1998 for $1,243,200, and sold it to the landowner in 2007 for 1,463,512, which is an increase of about 18% in almost 10 years or about 2% per year. CCA can buy it from the landowner in 2012 for $2,907,000, for an increase of 99% in about five years or almost 20% per year. Which is far more than the 20% in five years or about 4% per year shown by the assessed value. And this remarkable surge in the price of that land is during the worst real estate market since the Great Depression. Does this look like a sweetheart deal to you?

Wheeler Correctional Facility
Wheeler County, Georgia
Sep 21, 2021

Prison Guard Alleged She Was Subjected to Cavity Search and ‘Digitally Penetrated’ in Facility Parking Lot. A Judge Ruled Her Lawsuit Can Move Forward.

A federal judge in Georgia ruled last week that a lawsuit filed by a prison guard can move forward. The plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to multiple unreasonable, intrusive strip searches and was “digitally penetrated” after setting off a faulty metal detector. Ariel Curtis, a correctional officer at the Wheeler Correctional Institute in Alamo, filed a lawsuit in February in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia claiming that her superiors at the facility lacked proper cause to perform the searches on her in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. Curtis filed the complaint against CoreCivic, the private company that owns and operates the prison, Capt. Casandra Boney, who allegedly ordered the searches, and the city of Alamo, Georgia. CoreCivic and Boney sought to have the case thrown out by arguing that the searches performed on Curtis were conducted in the course of her employment as a corrections officer and officials involved were therefore not acting in their capacity as agents of the state. U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen on Thursday outright rejected that claim, saying the contention that invasive searches were “simply a matter of Plaintiff’s employment is misplaced.” According to the complaint, Curtis reported to work on Oct. 4, 2020 and upon entering the facility set off a metal detector, which she claimed had a documented history of false positives. Per prison policy, an officer performed a pat-down and found no metal objects. The suit said that Capt. Boney was called and Curtis was ordered to go to the parking lot. Once in the parking lot, Boney allegedly ordered Curtis to pull own her pants. “Plaintiff, who was not wearing underwear at the time, complied,” documents said. A strip search found no metal objects. Boney then allegedly demanded Curtis’ car keys and conducted a search of her vehicle before ordering her to go back inside and walk through the metal detector again. The detector did not go off when Curtis walked through the second time, but Boney allegedly ordered the Alamo City Police be called to conduct a more thorough strip search of Curtis. “This time, in the parking lot of the facility, Officer K. Zanders instructed [Curtis] to sit in the front seat of her vehicle, a 2005 Chevrolet Tahoe, with her pants down and her feet on the dashboard so that her legs were positioned on either side of the steering wheel,” the judge recounted the allegations of the complaint. “Officer Zanders put on a latex glove and digitally penetrated Plaintiff’s vagina. No metal objects or contraband were discovered.” According to Bowen, the mere fact that Curtis was employed by CoreCivic does not mean that its employees were not acting under the “color of state law” when the alleged searches took place. “Plaintiff was a CoreCivic employee when she was subjected to the challenged searches, but penological purposes underlie searches to ensure that no person, employee or otherwise, enters the prison with metal or contraband. The metal detector is utilized in furtherance of CoreCivic’s operational duties as a correctional facility,” Bowen wrote. “Any search conducted as a result of failing to clear the metal detector is related to and in furtherance of the operation and management of the correctional facility.” Bowen also pointed out that a non-employee would have been subjected to similar treatment if they set off a metal detector after entering the facility. “Surely, had Plaintiff been a visitor of an inmate in the facility, there would be no question that the alleged conduct was state action, i.e., conduct of a state actor in its capacity as operator of a state prison facility,” he wrote. “For this reason, the Court concludes that Defendants were state actors for purposes of the challenged searches of Plaintiff’s person and vehicle.” “Upon the foregoing, Defendants’ motion to partially dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (doc. no. 24) is DENIED IN PART and DEFERRED IN PART. More specifically. Defendant Honey’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against her is denied. Defendants CoreCivic, Inc. and CoreCivic of Tennessee, LLC’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s negligence claim in Count Three of the Amended Complaint is also denied,” the judge ruled. “Consideration of Defendants CoreCivic, Inc. and CoreCivic of Tennessee, LLC’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against them (Counts One and Two) is deferred until such time as Plaintiffs leave to amend the complaint has expired.”

Jun 9, 2021
Georgia prison testing inmates after TB found
One inmate at a southeast Georgia state prison has been found to have tuberculosis, and three others are suspected of having the disease, public health officials said Tuesday. All four have been transferred to Augusta State Medical Prison for evaluation and treatment. Contact tracing is being performed with more than 600 inmates and staff at Wheeler Correctional Facility in Alamo. The state is awaiting final lab results for the three potential cases. The TB cases occurred at a prison that was hit hard by COVID-19 over the past year, with 172 cases and 13 deaths. Wheeler Correctional's operator said Tuesday that it's testing other inmates in the sections of the prison where the cases surfaced. TB is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects the lungs. Bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from person to person through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes. Historically, TB was a major health problem worldwide until scientific advances in the 19th and 20th centuries helped limit its spread. But many tuberculosis strains currently resist the drugs most used to treat the disease. People with active TB must take many types of medications for months to get rid of the infection and prevent antibiotic resistance. In 2019, about 3 percent of TB cases reported in the United States occurred among people who were incarcerated at the time of diagnosis, according to the CDC. The incarcerated population contains a high proportion of people at greater risk for TB than the overall population. Among the states, Georgia has a higher-than-average rate of tuberculosis, according to 2019 CDC data. All states require health care professionals to report suspected and confirmed cases of TB to their local or state health department. The extent of the TB situation at Wheeler is unusual, said prisoner rights advocate Susan Burns, who runs a Facebook group, "They Have No Voice," a clearinghouse of firsthand accounts from Georgia correctional facilities. CoreCivic, a private company that runs the Wheeler prison, told GHN that an inmate at Wheeler showed symptoms of TB in early May, and then was sent to Augusta State Medical Prison. "Several days later, another inmate was determined to be suspicious for TB and was transferred to [the medical prison] for further evaluation,'' said company spokesman Ryan Gustin in a statement. "Wheeler Correctional medical staff have since been informed that these individuals are suspected positive for TB.'' The prison is conducting contact tracing in the TB situation. The Wheeler facility "is working closely with both the state level and district level of the Department of Public Health to coordinate appropriate evaluation and care of all exposed individuals-inmates and staff,'' said Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for the agency. The Wheeler prison has taken steps to contain the risk of further spread of the disease, Gustin added. These moves include medical isolation of "the affected pods.'' (Each prison housing unit is divided into several pods.) Other steps include TB testing of all inmates assigned to the affected pods; full personal protective equipment for all staffers assigned to these pods until further notice; and continued medical lockdown of each of the pods, with re-testing as needed. "The health and safety of the individuals entrusted to our care and our staff is the top priority for CoreCivic,'' Gustin said.

May 23, 2014
Wheeler Correctional Facility in Alamo, Georgia had no idea that their employee Clarinda K. Clark, a correctional officer with the state's prison system had partnered with Covian J. Camp, an inmate at Autry State Prison in Pelham, Georgia to run a national phone scam on people in as many as 11 states. On May 21 Fox31online revealed that the criminal activity came to light when residents in Bergen County in New Jersey began to complain to the Bergen County Sheriff's Office about the scam, which consisted of residents being told they had missed jury duty and would now be required to pay a fine to avoid arrest, or that there was a warrant out for their arrest, which they could avoid by paying the fine. Payment for the fine was to be made by providing their credit card numbers to the person contacting them from a prepaid cell phone with a "201" area code. Otherwise, they were told they would need to load money from their bank accounts onto prepaid debit cards in order to avoid arrest. The worst part of all this criminal story is that Wheeler Correctional Facility is a private prison, not operated on a daily basis by the state government, which might have prevented this potential occurrence if it had been. Instead, it is operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which was founded by three men with a vision: to allow businesses to operate prisons, not government. And everyone knows that businesses are focused on making money and turning a profit, which explains why CCA was recognized by Forbes magazine named CCA as "the nation's 'best managed company' in the business services and supplies category in January 2007. And why the organization passed their $2 million milestone in shareholder distributions in August 2012, and why after three decades of financial success they chose in January 2013 to restructure into a REIT (a company that owns and operates income producing real estate, which, in this case, is prisons). Victims in 12 states have now dealt with scam phone calls in which a correctional officer of a Georgia private prison is alleged to have told them they missed jury duty and have to pay $700 or risk arrest. And an inmate within one of those prisons has been implicated in the criminal act. WCBI reported that Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson in Mississippi warned the public in his community about the scam last week, and had this to say about cell phone use in prisons at that time. A lot of times there will be a relationship struck up between an inmate and an employee, and nine times out of ten, the employee is not changing the acts of the inmate, the inmate is changing the acts of the employee," the sheriff said. Investment U says "crime least if you structure it as a REIT". And in this case with CCA, it appears they may be right, for the correctional officer and the prison, at least in one way or another, as a prison focused on making money might be a lot less focused on actually making sure their employees are being as law abiding as the inmates they are supposed to influence for good. Inmate Covian J. Camp remains in Autry State Prison in Pelham, facing new charges in the case, and his alleged co-conspirator former correctional officer Clarinda K. Clark agreed to be extradited to New Jersey, to face charges there for extortion and impersonation of a law enforcement officer. In addition, both suspects now face state and federal charges in 11 states. And law enforcement warns the public that this type of scam has been tied to gang activity in California and New Jersey. And to contact your local law enforcement office if someone calls you claiming you missed jury duty and have to pay a fine.

June 11, 2009 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
On March 11, a 39-year-old man held in detention at the Stewart Detention Center, a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in southwest Georgia, died at a hospital in Columbus. To this day, the immediate cause of Roberto Martinez Medina’s death remains unclear (a press release pronounced the cause of death as “apparent natural causes”). Last month, Leonard Odom, 37, died at the Wheeler County Correctional Facility in south-central Georgia. Both facilities are operated by Corrections Corp. of America, which has a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to operate the Stewart center and one with the Georgia Department of Corrections to operate the one in Wheeler County. The DOC has not released additional information about the death of Odom, due to an ongoing investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. What sets apart the deaths of these two men held at CCA-operated facilities is the difference in official responses. In the case of the death at the immigration detention facility, there have been no further explanations regarding what may have prompted the death — much less an official investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which was created as a part of Homeland Security in 2003 to consolidate immigration enforcement. Medina’s tragic death marks the latest in the mounting number of immigrant deaths in the custody of CCA, the largest corporation in the business of for-profit detention. From October 2003 through Feb. 7, 2009, 18 people died in immigration detention custody in facilities operated by CCA alone, according to information from The New York Times. Yet ICE has failed repeatedly to hold CCA accountable. Instead, the federal agency continues to reward CCA with additional contracts, most recently for operation of the North Georgia Detention Center in Hall County. The CCA’s track record should come as no surprise to those who read the report issued in April by Georgia Detention Watch, a coalition of several organizations and individuals advocating an end to unjust and inhumane immigration detention and local enforcement practices. The report was based on interviews with 16 detainees during a humanitarian visitation coordinated by Georgia Detention Watch in December 2008. The report uses ICE’s own Performance Based National Detention Standards to evaluate conditions at Stewart. Even compared to ICE’s own nonbinding standards, conditions at the CCA-operated facility can best be described as grossly inadequate. Members of Georgia Detention Watch and partner organizations have requested on several occasions to meet with ICE to discuss the findings of the report, but have gotten no response. Georgia Detention Watch is not alone in demanding answers and accountability for immigrant deaths in U.S. detention. The United Nations Expert on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, who toured the United States on a fact-finding mission in June 2008 on a mandate to investigate killings in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, recently released a report demanding greater transparency and swift and public investigations for deaths in immigration detention. Today marks three months since the death of Medina. ICE has yet to provide any answers regarding why this man died in detention. Neither have Georgia Detention Watch members been provided with an opportunity to meet with ICE representatives to discuss the mounting concerns regarding the treatment of immigrants at the CCA-run Stewart. With the prospect for yet another CCA-run immigrant detention facility in Hall County, these concerns become especially urgent. If ICE’s oversight of the CCA operation of Stewart is any guide, we can expect yet another facility funded by taxpayers held to no standards at all.

May 20, 2009
An inmate died over the weekend at a privately run prison in Wheeler County, and the Georgia Department of Corrections is withholding most details while an investigation is under way. Leonard Odom, 37, died Sunday, according to the department. He was serving 10 years on two arson charges from Toombs and Appling counties, according to the Department of Corrections’ Web site. A department spokeswoman wouldn’t release other information about Odom’s death and said the investigation will be headed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Wheeler Correctional Facility Warden Ralph Kemp would only confirm that an inmate died Sunday, and he referred other questions to the department, which contracts with Corrections Corporation of America to run the prison.