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Making the Case Against Privatized Prisons: A matter of deliberate indifference, violation of civil liberties and medical neglect

Edward Palmore, Ed.D.

He was a cute kid.   This vulnerable kid could have been nineteen, twenty or something like that.  He was a decent kid who should have been at home assisting Granny with putting items in the cabinet after she had done grocery shopping at Kroger.   He should have been in a GED program somewhere getting what he should have received some time ago.  He should have been cutting grass in the summer and raking leaves in autumn.  He should have been walking down the road going to work at the Dollar Tree or at Home Depot.  But, of course, he was doing none of that.

I had been walking down the corridor of the private-prison.   In Correctional Corporation of America – now called CoreCivic – there were two perpendicular hallways that attached six residential units all under the same roof.   Initially, the elegance of the plan was that all inmate activity would be accomplished under one roof and except for yard calls, inmates would never be required to leave the building and face the elements.   As I walked down the corridor a set of crash gates closed.  The gates were controlled by central control and they were closed obviously to control traffic.   The kid that I had seen in traffic was standing on one side of the crash gate and I was standing on the other. The kid was on the left side of the hallway going in one direction and I was on the right side of the hallway going in the opposite direction.

What up wit’ yo’ feet, mah nigga?   You git fucked up playing’ basketball?

“No, Ah got fucked up in the fence in the back.  Someniggas wuz fuckin’ ’round ‘n’ pushed mah ass into the barb wire ‘n’ now Ah’m on dese crutches,” the young man informed.

Did you write a grievance?

All of that could have been avoided.   I was assigned to private prisons for about half of the time I did in prison. March 2010 I was told to “pack my shit” and I was “shipped” off to CoffeeCorrectional Facility in Nichols, Georgia.   It would be my second“rodeo” in that particular chain gang.  It was a private facility owned and operated by Correctional Corporation of America.  It was a warehouse.  A human warehouse.   It was evident that the mission of the prison was changing.   They were installing two buildings at the rear of the prison compound.   I had done a bid in Coffee from2001 until 2003.  Now I was back again.

The prison was expanding.  The two buildings in the rear of the compound were prefabricated.   The parts were delivered by trucks and put together like it was a Lego erector set.   The buildings would roughly double the population of the prison.   This did not mean that they would necessarily increase security or medical staff.   Inputting together, the additional buildings there were fences erected between the new buildings and the original building.  Once the buildings were populated, inmates had to leave the “the island” – that is what these new building were called by inmates – to get to the original building where there was the administrative arm of the prison.  There were fences erected everywhere.

Now in Georgia all the work done in the prison is done by uncompensated inmates.   Civilians supervise.   And between the island and the main building there was a fence.  Thus, barbed wire was supposed to be emplaced on top of the fence for security purposes.   For some unknown reason, the prison delayed doing this.   And the delay wasn't a day, or for a week.   The delay was well over a few years.   Inmates were daily rounded up and the gate was open manually when it was time for a mass movement to the chow hall.  And the barbed wire was on the ground, just lying there, as inmates passed through the gates.   There was usually no staff supervising mass movement.   Prisons are labor-intensive enterprises.   need I say more?  And if a hapless officer was nearby, he nonchalantly stood by with a radio on and could not adequately supervise a thousand inmates traversing in both directions through this passageway.

The barbed wire in rolls laid on the ground for years.

This young boy at the crash gate waited. I looked down at his foot.  It was wrapped in an Ace bandage.  The boy was smiling at something someone had said to him in traffic.   The bandages were grotesque. There were circles of encrusted blood and oozing pus.  The young boy told me that inmates were going through the passageway where the barbed wire was lying on the ground and someone pushed him.   It was probably meaningless horseplay.   The boy was hurled into the barbed wire.  And his foot got caught.

Just imagining this shit is horrendous. Think about it. It wasn’t like accidentally stepping on a nail. This was worse.

The crash gate had forbidden any movement of prisoners.   This gave me time to talk to the kid on the other side of the closed gate.  I asked him if he filed a grievance and I began thinking.   He hadn’t.   He wasn’t aware of his constitutional rights.   Tears welled up in my eyes.   Because I knew that if we had lived in the same residential unit that I would have personally filed a grievance about that boy’s foot.  Tears welled in my eyes because I knew that the negligent prison officials were more concerned about profits than people as were their profits were swelling on the market. This boy would never again play basketball, never again kick a soccer ball.   He might even spend the balance of his days on disability with enough to pay the rent and buy a can of sardines.   Tears welled in my eyes because I knew instinctively that he was learning disabled and he was in an environment where no one gave two damn about him.   Tears welled in my eyes because within those few moments we were beginning to bond.  And once that crash gate opened I would never see him again.  Tears well in my eyes because I was relating to this kid as if he could’ve been my grandchild or great-grandchild.

Had we lived in the same residential unit I would have personally filed a grievance for him and explained to this learning-disabled kid, as a layman, his constitutional rights. He had a right under the final clause of the first amendment to petition the government for a redress of grievance.   I would have told this kid that he had only a five-day period pursuant to the Standing Operating Procedure – the SOP – in which to do so.  Obviously, his five days had come and gone.  I would have told him that he could file a grievance and seek a remedy because his body was in the custody of the Department of Corrections, but he was remanded to a private facility and accordingly private facilities did not enjoy qualified immunity.   I would have told him that the private facility was negligent in not installing the barbed wire on top of the cyclone fence.   I would have told him that the private facility was negligent in not providing security for inmates who were traveling a dangerous passageway.   I would have told him that even though he did not file the grievance within the five-day period allotted by law that he could still file a grievance because the treatment he was receiving was inadequate.   I would have told him he could still file a grievance because the barbed wire which was still on the ground.  And as we waited for the crash gate to open it was still a valid complaint.  I would have told him that he could have “hollered” at me in the prison library and we could have gone to the computers with the Lexus-Nexus software installed and looked at cases.   I would have assisted him in crafting a letter to his people letting them know precisely what was happening so that they could call the commissioner, the governor, their state representative, and alerting them to the maltreatment he was receiving at the hand of this billion-dollar corporation.  But the crash gate opened, and I would never see this kid again.