As noted in an earlier post, the ramping up of prosecutions of non-U.S. citizens, particularly for immigration-related offenses, has contributed to recent increases in the federal inmate population. Non-U.S. citizens now comprise more than 25% of the BOP inmate population, and 12% of federal prisoners are serving time for immigration-related offenses. Concurrent with the population spike, the Bureau of Prisons, whose immediate past Director is the Chief Corrections Officer of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), transferred the vast majority of removable (deportable) male prisoners (a.k.a., the criminal alien population) from standard, BOP-operated Federal Correctional Institutions to contract facilities “operated primarily by private corrections companies” notwithstanding evidence from its own researchthat “[p]rivately operated prisons appear to have systemic problems in maintaining secure facilities.”
In late May, a prison disturbance occurred at CI Adams County, Mississippi, a CCA contract facility. Media reportsconcerning an FBI affidavit filed last week in support of a criminal complaint against one of the individuals allegedly involved — the affidavit, filed one day before the named inmate’s sentence was scheduled to end, is available via the link — indicate that rather than gang-associated violence, as first alleged, the disturbance stemmed from an organized effort to voice complaints about the institution and its management:
Markovitz’s affidavit states that Mexican inmates at the Adams County Correctional Center, which houses immigrants who reentered the U.S. after being deported, were upset about what they believed was disrespectful treatment from prison staff, inadequate health care and poor-quality food.
Early reports, most notably from Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield, indicated that a fight between Mexican gangs started the melee at the prison, which Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America owns. Prison and immigrant-rights advocates doubted claims of gang involvement from the beginning, telling the Jackson Free Press at the time that reports of abuse from inmates were common.
The FBI’s affidavit bolsters those claims. The report states that leaders of the Paisas wanted to submit a list of grievances to Warden Vance Laughlin and instructed its members to disobey staff instructions. The group also prepared a list of corrections officers they no longer wanted working at the facility.
According to the Washington Post, “FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden said Paisas are a loosely affiliated group within the prison, without ties to organized gangs.” Still, the apparently organized disturbance, which resulted in hostage taking and the death of one correctional officer, reportedly caused an estimated $1.3 million in damage.
At one point, the inmates gained access to a section of the prison by telling the warden they wanted to go back to their cells, but they ended up taking more hostages once they got into that part of the facility, the affidavit said. Other inmates were able to break through a fence and get a 32-foot ladder, which they used to get on the roof of a building. That’s where Carithers was killed.
The affidavit describes a chaotic scene in which inmates were picking up tear gas canisters and hurling them back at guards. Some guards locked themselves in safe rooms, but the inmates used keys taken from other officers to get into the rooms. They also looted the kitchen and commissary.
This unfortunate incident is not too surprising. Complaints about the BOP are common, and often justified. However, the nature and scope of complaints concerning contract facilities housing non-U.S. citizens are of a different order. These facilities have a generally poor reputation.