[Ed. Note 12/17: Political winds change like the tides. Since this post was written 14 months ago, the United States has a new President, a new Attorney General and a new love affair with private prisons! It has been updated to reflect the current political realities.]
Private Prisons, Prison Healthcare and Whistleblower Awards
A little over one year ago, the Justice Department announced that it would not be signing any more contracts to house federal inmates or immigration detainees in private prisons. Until that announcement, the private prison industry had been booming. That announcement caused a deep drop in stock prices but one month later, voters elected a new president, one who is a fervent supporter of privatization. Today, taxpayers spend approximately $5.5 billion annually on private prisons with more growth in site.
Roughly one in ten prisoners is today in a private prison. The current estimate of inmates housed in these facilities is 125,000. If you think the number of prisoners in government run facilities is high there is even a greater percentage of prisoners that receive private healthcare.
Federal Private Prisons
On February 17, 2017, Attorney General Sessions issued a one paragraph memo rescinding the Obama’s administration’s August 2016 decision to phase out private prisons. Sessions gave little explanation for the 180 degree change in policy except to note that the private prisons were necessary “to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.” As of November 2017, both the Justice Department and Immigration began looking for additional private prison beds in South Texas, Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul and Salt Lake City.
The Justice Department believes that private prisons are a less expensive alternative to government run prisons. Many states feel the same way. Of course, the inmate rights organizations and the unions representing corrections officers vehemently disagree. They claim that state run prisons, while often inefficient, have as their goals rehabilitation and protection of the public. Private prisons want to make money even if that means keeping prisoners longer or cutting back on services.
Our investigations have revealed that private prison companies sometimes don’t maintain staffing as required by contract, cut corners and fail to deliver educational and substance abuse services. That means inmates when they are released are more likely to reoffend. We have also heard that sometimes these private corrections companies have paid bribes to state officials in order to get contracts or overlook contract violations. All of these activities can give rise to whistleblower awards – keep reading!
Under the federal False Claims Act, whistleblowers with inside information about fraud involving private prison contracts may be eligible for large cash awards. The award process is discussed below.
State Private Prisons
It’s not just the Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that rely on private prisons. Many states do as well.
Currently, 27 states house prisoners in private facilities. Some states like Montana and New Mexico use them for almost half their inmates. The Bureau of Justice Statistics says that Texas presently has 14,293 people in private custody.
Private prisons have been around since 1852! That’s right. San Quentin began as a private prison before becoming a state run facility. After San Quentin, the private prisons industry disappeared. The movement was reignited in 1985 when Texas brought them back to save taxpayer money.
The three largest contractors today are GEO Group, CoreCivic and Management and Training Corporation. Keeping track is difficult, however, as several of the big players have either changed names or acquired other private prison companies. For example, until recently, CoreCivic was known as CCA or Correctional Corporation of America. GEO Group recently acquired Community Educations Centers. Previously GEO Group was known as Wackenhut.
While its debatable if these companies really save any money, there is no doubt that private prisons have had their share of fraud and problems.
The jury is out on private prisons. Three states have outlawed them. Other states use them although only in special circumstances. (Just 0.1% of Maryland inmates are in private facilities.) Assuming private prisons are here to stay, we believe they need far better oversight.
The fundamental flaw is that the three big private prison companies are for profit. That means they report to investors and shareholders. The Huffington Post said that at some private prisons, physicians get paid just $5.00 for each inmate they treat. Is that efficiency or just plain dangerous? Guards don’t get paid well either. In a Mother Jones exposė, a reporter went undercover as a guard in Wynn Parish, Louisiana. He risked his life daily to make just $9 per hour.
These for-profit companies are not only beholden to shareholders, they also pay huge salaries to their CEO’s. If you think the highest paid corrections officer in America is the Director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, guess again! The Center for Media and Democracy claims that in just 4 years, the CEO of GEO earned $22 million!
Corrections Corp of America CCA Accused of Defrauding Idaho
In 2013, CoreCivic (then known as Correctional Corporation of America) was accused of falsifying 4,800 hours of staffing records. Although CCA was required to maintain certain minimum staffing, the state claimed that the company would often leave posts vacant but still certify that they had maintain required staffing. While not admitting wrongdoing, the company repaid the state $1 million.
The shortfall apparently occurred over a 7 month period. Thankfully there were no major incidents or rise in inmate violence during that time period. CCA operated the Idaho Correctional Center.
As noted above, prison healthcare is even more privatized than the prisons themselves. Although between 8% and 10% of inmates are housed in private jails and prisons, a much higher percentage of inmates receive private healthcare. That percentage may be as high as 50%.
One jail official tells us that private prison healthcare means that inexperienced nurses are being forced to treat hundreds of inmates even though contracts call for better staffing and on site physicians. The Huffington Post says that some doctors are only paid $5 for seeing a patient.
The ACLU worries that inmates are receiving substandard care. Their executive director said, “It’s a level of suffering that is unprecedented. The degree of suffering and the degree of harm to these patients is really the result of a system that is extremely, extremely broken.”
Seeking Corizon Whistleblowers
The biggest player in the prison healthcare field is Corizon Health. Corizon was created in 2011 by the merger of Prison Health Services and Correctional Medical Services. In 2004, Prison Health Services paid $5 million to settle Florida Medicaid charges. The federal False Claims Act and similar laws in several states pay whistleblower awards for inside information about Medicaid and Medicare fraud.
Poor healthcare is usually prosecuted by individual malpractice lawsuits. Obviously for prisoners, mounting a successful lawsuit against a multi-million company is almost impossible. Whistleblowers, however, can claim an award and help stop poor care if the prison healthcare company is supplying the wrong professionals, understaffing or grossly providing inadequate care.
[We have a new post dedicated specifically to present and former Corizon Health workers and some of the many problems that have occured because of staffing issues at the company.]
Claiming a Whistleblower Award
It will take Congress and the state legislatures to fix or abolish private prisons and private jail healthcare. Whistleblowers with inside information about fraud involving government prison and healthcare contracts can help clean up the worst of the abuses. For doing the right thing and stepping up, they are also eligible for cash awards
If you have information about fraud involving private prisons or prison healthcare, give us a call. We have helped our whistleblower clients receive over $100 million in awards. Big companies that are supplying these services include the GEO Group (Wackenhut, Community Education Centers), CoreCivic (Corrections Corporation of America), Management and Training Corporation and Corizon.
Reporting these frauds is not only the right thing to do, it can also save lives. While we have real concerns with the companies that run these for profit prison companies, we have great respect for the men and women who work there. The nurses and corrections officers risk their lives daily for very little pay. Understaffing and leaving posts open increases the risk for both the officers / staff and the inmates forced to live in these facilities.
For more information, contact us by email () or by phone (202-800-9791). You can also check your eligibility for an award online. All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential. We handle cases nationwide and you never have to pay us anything unless we win and recover money for you.
Jail Death or Jail Medical Malpractice?
If you have suffered a severe injury because of police misconduct, suffered life threatening injuries because of the actions of a private corrections officer / prison healthcare provider or if a loved one was killed in a prison or a jail, see the link below. Outside Wisconsin, Connecticut and California we generally limit our practice to death cases but will consider catastrophic, life threatening injuries and sexual assaults by guards and law enforcement. Visit our jail death and police misconduct legal team.