PROFIT, POLITICS, PAIN - Huge profits and sweet setups for Wall Street darlings; rape, squalor, murder in lockups - and the price for Florida taxpayers
Stabbed 30 times as guards watch
In 2008, Graceville prison inmate William John Mahoney said he told guards at the GEO-run Florida lockup that he was afraid: He had refused the sexual advances of another inmate, and that inmate pulled a knife on him.
The inmate had a reputation of beating men who wouldn’t have sex with him. But the officers didn’t take precautions, according to Mahoney’s lawsuit. Instead they relayed Mahoney’s complaint to the inmate he feared, then watched the inmate stab Mahoney 30 times with a makeshift blade. A guard tried to help, but was threatened by the shiv-wielding inmate and retreated, locking the door behind him and blocking Mahoney’s escape.
The assault ended only when the shiv got stuck in Mahoney’s back. Mahoney said he spent 10 days in the hospital.
Asthma meds stopped; agonized inmate dies
Ed Meus arrived at Florida’s GEO-run Moore Haven Correctional in March 2007 with three medicines for severe asthma. Two were discontinued within 48 hours. For four weeks, Meus begged for his medicine, repeatedly saying he had difficulty breathing.
On April 19, he screamed to the nurses that he was dying. Four hours later, he was dead.
The Department of Corrections wrote the prison doctor a formal “letter of concern” about Meus’ death and ordered the physician to take refresher classes in asthma treatment.
Wrong button opens cells; inmate’s lip ripped off
Ronnie Lonoaea had been in and out of psychiatric facilities before he stole five music CDs and wound up in a CCA-run Mississippi prison.
He angered other prisoners with erratic behavior, talking and banging on the cell door all night. Finally, he was housed alone, which might have kept him safe. But on the night of July 17, 2005, a guard accidentally opened 20 cell doors.
Lonoaea was medicated and sleeping in his cell when inmates beat him, tearing off his lower lip and cracking his skull. He is brain damaged.
According to Lonoaea’s attorney, a control panel button had been jury-rigged with a piece of PVC pipe and electrical tape to keep officers from hitting the wrong button and accidentally freeing inmates.
Girl alleges assaults by guard when she was 12
In 2007, Texas removed young offenders from a GEO-run Coke County juvenile facility. A review found feces-smeared lighting and walls, bug infestations, including insects in food, and teenagers who reported defecating in containers when toilets failed to work.
Teenagers described being allowed to shower only once every 72 hours and sometimes not being allowed to brush their teeth for days. The warden told state investigators that corporate officials did not respond to purchasing needs because there was no long term contract between GEO and the state.
Eight years earlier, several girls housed at the same facility alleged guards awarded privileges to girls who performed sexual favors and punished those who did not.
Sara Lowe was among them; she was repeatedly assaulted by a prison worker starting at age 15. The employee was convicted of two counts of sexual assault on a minor. A Texas official later called the facility a training ground for pedophiles.
Lowe sued GEO, then known as Wackenhut. The day the settlement was finalized, Lowe, then 18, shot and killed herself and her boyfriend. In a note, she blamed the company. “She just wanted an apology,” her sister told reporters.
Warden smirks at beaten inmate
In 2001, Gregorio de la Rosa, a former National Guardsman serving six months for possessing less than one quarter of a gram of cocaine, was beaten to death by inmates in front of guards at Willacy County State Jail in Texas. The facility was operated by GEO, then known as Wackenhut.
A corrections officer later testified that he tried to open a locked door and stop the fight, but the control center operator refused to buzz him out, saying, “It’s none of your business.”
Other officers testified that the warden and assistant warden laughed and smirked as de la Rosa lay dying.
A videotape of the incident disappeared.
A jury awarded de la Rosa’s family $42.5 million.
Underfed teens photographed naked
In 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Louisiana, charging young offenders, many of them teenagers, were held “in dangerous and life-threatening” conditions at Jena Juvenile Justice Center.
A federal investigation reported underfed inmates without shirts or shoes. Guards photographed them naked and in some cases, left them in restraints for hours. A later civil suit alleged severe understaffing.
GEO, then known as Wackenhut, told reporters that federal investigators had been lied to by the inmates, and that it had made significant improvements at the facility.
Mentally ill shoplifter dies
Shortly after her 2006 release from a Pennsylvania hospital, 38-year-old Cassandra Morgan was arrested for shoplifting at Walmart. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Morgan told police she owned the store.
Walmart declined to press charges, but Morgan was arrested and placed in a GEO-run facility. Six weeks later, she was found dying on her cell floor from hypothyroidism.
Family members said repeated calls telling the prison that Morgan needed thyroid medicine were ignored.
Prisoner slits throat in solitary
In 2007, Scot Noble Payne, one of many Idaho inmates housed at a GEO-run Texas prison, attempted to escape and was placed in solitary confinement. There, he slit his throat, writing his uncle that death was preferable to prison conditions.
In a subsequent review of the incident, an inspector with Idaho’s state health department concluded that conditions at the prison contributed to Payne’s suicide, that the warden ruled by fear and intimidation and that the prison was “beyond repair or correction.”
A suit brought by Payne’s mother was settled for an undisclosed sum.
Begging for meds, immigrant dies alone
Jesus Galindo was serving 30 months in a GEO-run federal detention center in Texas after wading across the Rio Grande to see his family. Galindo, a longtime epileptic, died after a month in solitary confinement where he had been placed after complaining that cheaper anti-seizure medicines prescribed at the prison were not working.
According to court filings, Galindo’s mother, public defender and even other inmates repeatedly asked guards and medical personnel to help Galindo, who was experiencing frequent seizures and was terrified he would die alone during an episode.
His body was found purple, cold and in rigor mortis in his isolation cell. A death report concluded Galindo likely suffocated during a seizure.
When prisoners saw his body being removed, they rioted. Two months later, inmates rioted again, claiming substandard medical care.
Festering tooth decay splits open face
In 2007, inmates serving time in GEO-run Rivers Correctional in North Carolina filed suit, claiming substandard medical care. One inmate said improperly treated tooth decay had festered, leaking green slime. Eventually, one side of his face split open, requiring emergency surgery.
When another inmate developed boils on his legs, he was prescribed hot compresses. He was later diagnosed with MRSA, a highly contagious infection. But when the boils reappeared — this time on his penis — the prisoner alleged he was told by a nurse that it was just a sign of aging.
Several of the plaintiffs have since been dropped from the suit after being transferred to other prisons. GEO has denied the allegations.
Rats on leashes, blood-smeared walls
Under GEO management, conditions at a Mississippi prison housing mentally ill prisoners deteriorated to the point where an underfed prisoner reported he ate crumbs off the floor.
Malnutrition was widespread, an ACLU inspection team found. Walls were smeared with blood and excrement.
A second private prison company, MTC, took over. However, malnutrition, large pools of excrement and widespread brutality by both guards and inmates continue, according to allegations outlined in a lawsuit.
Mice lived in toilets. The rat problem was so bad that some prisoners created makeshift leashes, then sold the rodents to less mentally stable inmates.
Neither MTC nor GEO were named in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU against the state. MTC has stated that assaults at the facility are sharply down and that it is making improvements.
In 2006, MTC agreed to pay $8 million to about 13,000 inmates routinely strip-searched in the Santa Fe, N.M., jail even those arrested on minor offenses, and without determining whether a strip search was necessary.
The company halted the practice shortly after the suit was filed.
Two years later, a man arrested on charges of driving under the influence challenged a GEO practice of strip-searching. A class-action lawsuit followed, and in 2010, GEO agreed to a $2.9 million settlement. Up to 10,000 detainees in six facilities over a three-year period were affected.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that similar strip search policies were constitutional.
Without meds, a slow strangulation
In 2001, Jeffrey Buller, who was weeks away from leaving the CCA-run Kit Carson Correctional Center in Colorado, repeatedly asked for a $35 medication to treat his angioedema, which swells body tissue, including airways.
Untreated, Buller’s throat swelled shut over several days, slowly strangling him until he died while packing to leave.
A subsequent lawsuit claimed cost-cutting had become a major concern in the prison’s medical unit.
After restraint, inmate dies with broken skull
In 2004, Estelle Richardson died in a CCA-operated Nashville jail with a skull fracture, bleeding on the brain, four broken ribs and a lacerated liver. The day before she died, guards forcibly restrained her.
Police were told that video cameras failed to capture the incident. A guard also told police that officers had been instructed not to call a medical emergency for inmates having epileptic seizures. Richardson was epileptic.
Four guards were charged with reckless homicide and aggravated assault. Charges were dismissed, partly because the timing of the injury could not be determined, and Richardson also had fallen from her bunk at one point.
Another officer, who an inmate reported had injured Richardson three days earlier, was not charged.
A civil suit against CCA was settled for an estimated $2 million.
‘Cesspool of inhuman acts’
“A cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts,” an outraged federal judge dubbed Missisippi’s Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in 2012.
A Justice Department investigation discovered widespread sexual assaults by guards — “among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation” — and rampant excessive use of force on the young offenders, especially with chemical spray. Some said they saw guards spray entire cans into a cell and then lock the door.
GEO maintains the problems predated its takeover from Cornell Companies Inc. But policies and key employees did not substantively change under GEO management, according to the Justice report.
After GEO ran the facility for more than a year, a federal judge found, “The facility remained so understaffed that a teenage offender was brutally attacked by several other offenders while only one staffer was on site.”
The state announced it would remove offenders 17 and younger. GEO canceled its contract.
Multiple diabetic comas; baby born in toilet
Under fire for deaths at the Dawson County Jail in Dallas, CCA emphasized that it is not the health care provider treating the inmates. Even so, two lawsuits single out CCA for policies on handling ill inmates. Medical staffers were not on duty during evenings, and guards were instructed not to decide when to call an ambulance, according to a lawsuit.
Pamela Weatherby, who had a severe form of diabetes, lapsed into multiple comas; after one incident, the jail staff concluded she was suicidal and sent her to a psychiatric facility. Returned to the jail, Weatherby fell ill. A guard took her to a cell near the unstaffed clinic at night and left. Weatherby was found dying the next morning.
Autumn Miller had unsuccessfully asked for a pregnancy test before she began to bleed heavily and feel abdominal pain. When she was unable to walk to a video monitor to consult with a nurse onscreen, a guard told the nurse Miller was not sick. She was taken to a cell, where she gave birth in a toilet. The infant girl died four days later.
A suit brought by Weatherby’s family was settled. Miller’s suit is pending.
Pair shot, set afire after escape
In 2010, Gary and Linda Haas were traveling near the Arizona-Texas border when three escaped inmates found the vacationing couple. Serving time for murder or attempted murder at an MTC-run prison in Kingman, Ariz., the three had left through a door propped open with a rock, attorneys charged.
The Haases were forced to drive to a secluded spot, taken into their camper and shot. The camper was set on fire after the inmates saw blood seeping through the door.
A state investigation found guards had stopped paying attention to the prison’s malfunctioning alarms, which could go off 89 times in a day. Some lights at the prison’s edge were burned out. Perimeter patrols were left unmanned for 15 minutes or more.
An MTC spokeswoman pointed out that prior to the escape, Arizona officials repeatedly gave the prison good reviews. The company made prompt repairs, she said, and there have been no further incidents.
“MTC has been operating correctional facilities for 25 years,” she said, “and with a few isolated exceptions, we have a solid track record of operating safe and secure facilities, while providing our customers with savings.”
Guard wasn’t told he was target
Catlin Carithers never knew he was on an inmate hit list. But the guard at Adams County Correctional in Mississippi was among officers targeted by inmates, a prisoner told an officer on May 18, 2012. According to a lawsuit, the prisoner said a riot was brewing, and if trouble broke out, those guards would be in danger.
Two days later, prisoners rioted. Inmates took 16 prison workers hostage. Carithers was called in to help. An inmate climbed to the roof where Carithers was stationed and beat him to death.
The informant-inmate wrote to the security officer afterward, according to court documents, asking why Carithers was on the front line when they knew he would be “eaten alive.”
Carithers’ family sued, charging the prison was understaffed and poorly equipped.
In its response, CCA wrote that to believe the company acted with the intent to harm Carithers, “One would have to believe that (CCA) intentionally understaffed, underequipped and undertrained their employees … Such a diabolical scheme is not possible.”