by Pa Rock
A few days ago I wrote a post about the people of Hardin, Montana, who own a brand new prison, a state-of-the-art prison that has never held a convict. The community passed a $20 million bond issue to build the facility with what they felt was a tacit agreement from the state of Montana that if the prison was built, the state would use it. The intent was to spur local job growth (at least 100 new jobs) and ignite the local economy. It should have worked because incarceration is a huge business in America. But when the prison was completed, the convicts never came. The town's citizens began to lobby to have the prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, brought to the prison at Hardin, but the Montana Congressional delegation quickly scuttled that plan declaring that captured al-Qaeda terrorists would never be brought to Big Sky country.
In the piece I suggested that private prisons, while not ideal, seemed to work well in Arizona, so perhaps Montana should lighten up on the entrepreneurs of Hardin. That was a dumb statement, and I knew that as I typed it. Anytime government turns some public function over to a private company (like the evil Blackwater running the war in Iraq), the pooch inevitably gets screwed.
The next morning Anonymous had replied to the post with a stinging rebuke:
Private prisons aren't "working" in Arizona or anywhere else unless you count frequent escapes and murders as "working." They have all sorts of problems. In Eloy's CCA-owned La Palma, there's hardly a day goes by without an assault on staff.
Hardin Montana has a vastly overpriced minimum security facility that should never have been built. Texas hucksters made off with millions in investor money.
Anonymous appears to be somebody who works with the Arizona Department of Corrections and has intimate knowledge of what is happening in the prison system. (Eloy is a community outside of Phoenix that is home to a giant private prison. CCA is Corrections Corporation of America, a monster company that owns numerous private prisons.)
Having been righteously chastised, I determined to expend some effort in learning more about the penal system of Arizona. And although I haven't found much regarding escapes, there is enough in the press to strongly indicate that the prisons in Arizona are festering pits of abuse, abuse directed at prisoners as well as staff.
An example of prisoner abuse occurred this past week at the Perryville Women's Prison in Goodyear, AZ. Arizona is bitchin' hot in the summer - and two-thirds of the days this month have been over 100 degrees. Last Wednesday, 48-year-old Marcia Powell, who was serving a 27-month sentence for the victimless crime of prostitution, was placed in an outdoor holding cell and essentially forgotten. When guards got around to checking on her four hours later, she was unconscious from the heat. Ten or so hours after that when it became apparent that she was in a vegetative state and would not survive, Department of Corrections Director, Charles Ryan, ordered Ms. Powell removed from life support.
It was over 100 degrees last Wednesday. Outdoor holding cells at Perryville have no water or shade, and prison policy calls for prisoner's to be held in those cells no longer than two hours. Changes are being made to ensure that this tragedy is not repeated, but Marcia Powell is still dead.
The abuse of staff appears to also be quite too common in Arizona prisons. Private prisons are notorious for low pay and under-staffing. It was under-staffing that led to the death of of Correctional Officer Brent Lumley at the Perryville facility in 1997. Lumley was overpowered by prisoners and killed as he struggled to open the door to a control room.
Officer Lumley was memorialized by his co-workers in a most unique manner. Shortly after his death, a newsletter entitled The Lumley Vampire began circulating among prison staff and showing up on the windshields of employees. (The name "Vampire" comes from the fact that it originated with the prison's graveyard shift.) Prison officials, not being overtly enamored of the First Amendment, quickly got the ink-on-paper effort shut down - but the Vampire went underground and surfaced in cyberspace where it flourishes to this day.
The Lumley Vampire is the source for hard news on what is occurring in the prisons of Arizona as well as those nationwide. The site may be accessed at: http://thelumleyvampire.homestead.com/
Officer Brent Lumley was killed because there was not sufficient staff on duty to come to his defense. Under-staffing puts money in the pockets of the prison owners, and so does low pay for employees and deliberate over-crowding of prisoners. Capitalism works fine some places, but prisons run for profit are scary propositions.
It's past time for the states to take back their responsibility to society and to prisoners. Prisons should be run by people who can be held accountable to the voters. Wars should, too.