Brutal Mississippi Prison Finally Closed
A friendly reader alerted me to this story yesterday and, remarkably, the NY Times is actually on it today. (It is amazing how the paper seems to overlook some negative Trump news from the prior day but manages to be right on top of an item like this, but that’s for another post.) Thanks to a six-year long lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), one of the worst prisons in the United States, Mississippi’s Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, has been closed. You will not be shocked to learn that the prison has been privately run for profit by a number of different firms since 2003.
The prison housed adults and teens and the documentation of the abuse of inmates is shocking. To quote the SPLC, “Youthful offenders at Walnut Grove endured rampant violence and sexual assaults, often by the guards who were paid to protect them. One young man suffered severe brain damage after he was stabbed and beaten during a fight that was facilitated by a guard. U.S. Justice Department investigators reported that sexual abuse at Walnut Grove – including ‘brazen’ sexual misconduct by prison staffers – was ‘among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation.’ At the time, the facility held boys as young as 13.” That Justice Department report described frequent rapes of younger inmates by older ones, guards refusing inmates medical care, and the guards themselves raping inmates and supplying drugs and weapons to inmates. Some of the guards were gang members themselves and would release inmates to assault other inmates or to engage in gladiator-type fights which the guards organized and bet on. And the corruption went all the way to the top, as the prison warden was arrested and convicted of escorting an inmate to a local motel where he had sex with her. Incredibly, he received only a seven-month prison sentence.
In 2012, a judge ordered all children and teens removed and put the prison under a federal consent decree for violating prisoner’s constitutional rights. But the violence and corruption still continued and, in 2014, there were two major riots at the prison. Finally, yesterday, the state of Mississippi decided to close the prison and transfer the inmates to other facilities. The state blamed budget cuts on the closure. Whatever the reason, it was clearly long past time to shutter this house of horrors.
The closing of Walnut Grove follows on the heels of last month’s decision by the Justice Department to stop using private prisons altogether. A Justice Department study that prompted that decision showed that private prisons are less safe for both inmates and guards; do not save the government money; have significantly higher levels of contraband; and have significantly fewer services and programs for inmates. The majority of private prisons in the US are state prisons like Walnut Grove so the impact of the federal decision will be minimal. But it is yet another example of the foolishness of trying to privatize what should be a public responsibility. It was merely another give-away to private corporations to fleece the public and provide below standard services simply to line their own pockets.