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  • mcprison mcprison Jul 5, 2000 12:15 PM Flag

    next week's TIME on Jena

    July 10, 2000


    HEADLINE: Where The Market Fails

    BYLINE: Nadya

    Ah, privatization. How the invisible hand of
    competition can force efficiency
    on the laggard ways of
    government. Well, that was the way it was supposed to go

    for Louisiana's juvenile-prison system. But it didn't
    work out, and now even
    some Republicans, the
    champions of privatization, are backing away from the

    idea. "The profit motive works well in some places,"
    says Republican Governor
    Mike Foster. "I don't
    think it works well in prisons."

    The case of
    Jena helps explain why Foster has come to this
    conclusion. A
    month after the Justice Department sued
    Louisiana in 1998 for inadequate care of
    its jailed
    youth, a privately owned juvenile-detention facility
    opened there.
    Here was the state's chance to prove
    it could run a prison right, even if it
    contracting with an outside company--the Florida-based
    Corrections Corp. Instead a Justice
    Department investigation of Jena prompted
    the state to
    transfer all the inmates out of there last May.

    The probe alleged that Jena's boys suffered more than
    100 serious traumatic
    physical injuries in a
    two-month period. And in a separate incident, a

    17-year-old who wore a colostomy bag as a result of gunshot
    wounds was
    hospitalized after an altercation with a
    guard. The nurse at the prison's
    infirmary noted
    that about 5 in. of the boy's intestines were in the
    bag. After a subsequent encounter, the youth
    wrote, "[A] Sgt. came to me and
    said to me put shirt
    in pants, and I told him that I couldn't and
    he...put me to
    the ground and told me to lay face down
    on the ground. And I told the Sgt. that
    couldn't that I have on a bag, and he went put me to the
    ground. He came with
    his knee in my stomach." In its
    defense, Wackenhut Corrections says the boy had
    number of disciplinary proceedings against him that year
    and that the
    distension might have been
    exacerbated by an oversize opening of the bag.

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    • With hindsight, the head of Louisiana's prisons
      questions whether the state
      gave Wackenhut Corrections
      enough money to run a professional operation.

      Louisiana paid the company a per diem of $ 70 for each
      juvenile at the 276-bed
      facility. "We paid them
      approximately the same per diem that our own facilities

      cost," says corrections secretary Richard Stalder. "But
      they had to recover not
      only their operating but
      their capital cost. Seventy dollars a day is
      close." Juveniles are twice as expensive as
      adults because they require more
      rehabilitative and
      educational programs.

      The Justice Department
      contended that in the first 13 1/2 months of Jena's

      operation, 600 men and women were hired to fill about 180
      positions, a gross
      turnover rate of more than 300%.
      Staff shortages led to what the department

      characterized as excessive overtime and lapses in hiring. One
      security officer
      had a previous record of aggravated
      assault and cruelty to juveniles. But
      properly trained people to work in Louisiana's prisons is
      tough. The
      state's public corrections officers, who
      receive starting salaries just below $
      15,000, are
      the lowest paid in America. Recruiting is even harder
      in the private
      sector, where benefits tend to be
      less generous across the nation. Still,
      Corrections president Wayne Calabrese insists, "we had more
      staff to
      inmates than the state facilities
      themselves were required to have."

      In Jena, a poor
      rural community, the corrections and prison populations
      particularly mismatched. "You've got a Billy Bob
      high school-educated white guy
      trying to provide
      services and treatment to very tough, emotionally
      African-American kids," says David Utter,
      co-counsel for Louisiana's jailed
      youth in a class
      action against the state. Others argue that Wackenhut

      Corrections got a raw deal compared to the other
      four public juvenile
      facilities. "The reality is
      that [they] took their worst offenders and sent
      to Jena," says John Cooksey, the Republican
      Congressman who represents Jena's

      is too easy to blame privatization--or Wackenhut
      Corrections--for all
      Jena's ills. The fact is that the very
      nature of the deal--shared responsibility
      the state and a private company--makes it hard for
      authorities to react
      in tandem to the crises of a
      juvenile-corrections system. Wackenhut Corrections
      wants to move
      on. The company may sell the buildings at Jena, which
      now stand
      empty, or fill them anew with adult

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