j[Ed. Note – This post on private prisons was originally submitted to Prison Path, an organization that helps incoming prisoners become adjusted to life in prison and serves as a news source on a variety of prison and corrections topics. It is reprinted here in its entirety.]
Catholic readers of this site probably know the meaning of the word “requiem.” A Requiem Mass is celebrated for the souls of the dead. This month’s one – two punch for private prisons suggests that we will soon be singing funeral dirges for private prisons and the companies that run them… Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group.
For anyone who hasn’t followed the news, the Justice Department announced it is winding down its prison contracts. The change won’t happen overnight but stock in the two largest private prison operators plummeted on the news. The other big news this month was the exposé published in Mother Jones. Award winning journalist, Shane Bauer, left the news room and became a corrections officer working undercover for 4 months in CCA’s Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana.
Many exposés have been written about private prisons but very few capture the attention of main stream media or the civilian population. Bauer’s story is the exception. And the story he paints is not very complimentary of the industry.
Now that the industry and the people employed in private prisons are beginning to assimilate the news, everyone is asking what next? No one expects that any facilities will close in the immediate future but hiring freezes and attrition will become common. Even without the Justice Department’s announcement, new incarcerations of undocumented aliens were already slipping and they are one of the largest “customers” of the private prison industry.
As a whistleblower lawyer, I represent individuals that wish to report misconduct involving government funds and earn an award. Many healthcare workers know of the huge awards paid under the federal False Claims Act – over $435 million in 2014. Private corrections officers and prison healthcare vendors largely do not, however. Those that do are often reluctant to come forward.
The code of silence in corrections isn’t as great as in the law enforcement community but for current corrections officers, it is actually stronger. No one wants to blow the whistle and soon find themselves put in an unsafe – make that dangerous – work situation because a pissed off supervisor decides to retaliate.
Yes, retaliation is against the law but is it worth the risk? Many answer “no.” (Although for the poor pay that private c.o.’s earn, we wonder if the job is even worth it.)
Now that Bauer has shined a light on the mismanagement of our private prison system, we expect people will begin to come forward. Only the first ones to file, however, are likely to get an award. If you have inside knowledge of mismanagement within a private prison or prison healthcare provider, this could be your last call.
Not all mismanagement is eligible for an award. But overcharging the government, not providing healthcare services as required by contract or lying about staffing is. When mismanagement becomes so bad that inmates are routinely denied proper healthcare or suffer needlessly, awards may also be available.
Private Prisons, the False Claims Act and Whistleblower Awards
The federal False Claims Act was passed by Congress during the Civil War. It allows an ordinary person to file a lawsuit in the name of the government. If the suit is successful, the whistleblower gets up to 30% of what the government collects.
29 states have their own false claims acts although many just cover healthcare. A state facility may still be subject to a federal False Claims Act complaint if it accepts federal inmates, however. Because the law provides for triple damages and huge fines, awards can quickly mount even in small facilities.
Remember, CCA, GEO Group and Corizon are multi-billion dollar companies. They aren’t charities. If they have done wrong, the Justice Department won’t hesitate in going after them. CCA has already been in hot water with Florida’s Attorney General for billing improprieties.
So what do you do? Obviously, it is a personal choice. If you are no longer working for one of these companies, the choice is easier. And if we do file a complaint on your behalf, it will usually remain sealed by the court for months if not longer. While sealed, your identity is not made public even to the defendants.
The first step is to pick up the phone and call us. We can help you decide whether you have a case or not. If you have a case, most lawyers that handle these claims do so on a contingency fee basis. That means you don’t have to front any money. The lawyers only get paid if you win. And they do all the heavy lifting.
The first step in coming forward is the hardest but once that is done, the professionals can take over and prosecute the case.
For a corrections officer making just over minimum wage, taking on a corporate giant sounds formidable. If you have the right lawyer, however, it is certainly possible and probably much easier than you imagine.
About the author. Brian Mahany is a False Claims Act lawyer representing whistleblowers. He served as one of the lead counsels in the 2014 record breaking $16.6 billion case against Bank of America. Previously Brian graduated the Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s corrections officer program and served as a corrections officer. for several months in Somerset County, Maine and served as a police officer in Maine, Louisiana and New Jersey.
Brian’s first book, Saints, Sinners & Heroes – Covert Ops in the War Against the C-Suite Mafia is being released this month. In appreciation to the readers of PrisonPath.org, Brian will give away free copies to the first five c.o.’s, healthcare workers or other insiders with information about fraud within private prisons or with private prison healthcare. He can be reached through his website, www.mahanyertl.com.