Report criticizes private Mississippi prison after 2012 riot

AP News
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Posted: Dec 22, 2016 9:34 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A new report by the Justice Department's inspector general finds that the company that owns a private southwest Mississippi prison had fewer prison guards for most of the three years following a deadly riot.

The report also finds the Adams County Correctional Center had only a single doctor and dentist for much of the period, violating health staff ratios required under its federal Bureau of Prisons contract. Only four of 367 employees were fluent in Spanish, even though most inmates are Mexicans convicted of immigration offenses.

The prison's owner — Nashville, Tennessee-based CoreCivic — was known until October as Corrections Corp. of America.

The report comes more than four years after inmates rioted over what they said was substandard food, inadequate medical care, and disrespectful staff members. Guard Catlin Carithers was killed and 20 people were injured in the riot on May 20, 2012. Federal prosecutors say 24 inmates have been convicted for their roles in the riot.

The inspector general said CoreCivic sent staffing reports to the federal government that counted the total number of guards and employees, but didn't account for the fact that not all worked full time, even though CoreCivic was paid as if they were. That's allowable under the contract, even though systemic staffing deficiencies were cited as a contributing factor to the riot that occurred in May 2012.

"We found that in 19 out of 38 months after the riot, staffing levels at the prison were actually lower than they were when the riot occurred," said Inspector General Michael Horowitz in a video statement.

The report found that if staff was counted on an hours-worked basis, staffing requirements were below agreed-on levels for 43 of 46 months.

CoreCivic disputed the hours-worked method as "inappropriate," saying it had never been used before and wasn't in line with Bureau of Prisons or general correctional practices.

"Adoption of the OIG's approach would not be consistent with industry-wide corrections practices and would retroactively impose an unwarranted and unprecedented new standard for measuring staffing on the BOP and its contractors," wrote CoreCivic Vice President Natasha Metcalf. She said the company has improved security at Adams County and reduced assaults since the 2012 riot.

The federal Bureau of Prisons announced in August that it would phase out the use of private prisons after an earlier inspector general's report that cited problems with safety and security in private prisons. The 2012 riot helped spur the report.

The Bureau of Prisons said it would adopt nine changes recommended by the inspector general to better monitor contract performance and payments, give inmates more grievance appeals, require minimum levels of Spanish-speaking staff, and evaluate whether low employee qualifications and high turnover are bad for safety. CoreCivic pays guards $12.60 an hour and requires only a high school diploma, while federal prisons pay entry-level workers $18.70 an hour and require higher qualifications.

Adams County officials have lobbied to keep the prison open, citing the jobs and tax revenue it provides.

"We want to keep you here," Adams County Supervisor David Carter told prison officials in a September meeting reported on by The Natchez Democrat.

Donald Trump's election has sparked speculation that the incoming president will reverse the mandate to phase out private prisons. Shares of CoreCivic, which tumbled with the August announcement, leaped the day after Trump was elected.

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Online: Report on Adams County Correctional Center: http://bit.ly/2hX0h7S

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