Willacy prison: “A most unsurprising riot”

As an ACLU article noted this week, the riot and destruction of Willacy County Correctional should have come as a surprise only to those wearing blinders.

AP Photo/Valley Morning Star, David Pike
AP Photo/Valley Morning Star, David Pike

In the dark.
For the last seven years.
To recap: Almost 3,000 inmates are packing up and leaving the harshly-criticized Texas prison after a riot left the place “uninhabitable.”
The inmates, most of them serving time for low-level or immigration offenses, seized control of the sprawling complex for two days beginning last Friday, citing poor medical care.
Management and Training Corp. is the private company running the prison for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. It also operates Gadsden Correctional prison for Florida’s Dept. of Corrections.
MTC hasn’t run up the same type of serious complaints here.
But it’s been under the gun at Willacy for years.
Back in 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which at the time sent immigrant detainees to Willacy, found problems. ICE said the problems were fixed within a year, but in 2009, the Texas Tribune did an expose on health conditions there.
In 2011, Frontline ran a series which unearthed allegations of, among other things, sexual abuse by guards.
Last year, the ACLU released a report once again slamming Willacy. Inmates faced solitary confinement for complaining about food or bad medical care, attorneys found. The “prison” was a tent city, a series of Kevlar tents, allowing insects to crawl into beds at night. (Take it from a Texas girl. Bugs grow big there.) Sewage overflowed from broken toilets. And medical care too often consisted of Tylenol.
MTC rejected the ACLU findings.
So ACLU attorney Carl Takei, who interviewed Willacy inmates, might be allowed an “I told you so” right about now.
That’s not really where he took it, though. To read Takei’s thoughts on the uprising: https://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform-prisoners-rights-human-rights/most-unsurprising-riot
And to read The Post’s investigation into privately operated Florida prisons:

Corizon settles landmark death suit; forced to use better-qualified health workers

No, not a good week for Corizon, the private prison health care company with a $1 billion deal to treat Florida inmates.
Even as state prisons chief Julie Jones announced she will revise the Corizon contract – and possibly toss it- in the wake of reports by The Post of rising deaths and horrific medical treatment, Alameda County and Corizon this week abruptly ended a wrongful death case in California; agreeing to pay $8.3 million dollars to the children of Martin Harrison, who died during three days of untreated alcohol withdrawal.

Martin Harrison
Martin Harrison

It is the largest wrongful death settlement in a civil rights case in California history.
Corizon fired the vocational nurse who played a key role in Harrison’s death. And the company reported her to the California Board of Nursing.
But the case is much broader than any single incident. The lawsuit settlement requires that Corizon now only use registered nurses or other highly qualified medical staffers to assess inmates – and not just at the Alameda jail, but in every jail or prison in California where it provides care.
That create something of a Florida intersection with the California suit. Jones said new negotiations with Corizon will include making sure there are enough registered nurses on hand to ensure that less-qualified staffers, such as licensed practical nurses, would not be making decisions.
She did not elaborate on why this was an issue.
If California inmates are entitled to have registered nurses, said California lawyer Julia Sherwin, who represented Harrison’s adult children, then so are inmates in Florida- and in Arizona, Alabama, New York, Michigan, and “every other state where Corizon has contracts.”
We’ll see. It could take a year to finish revisions to Florida contracts with both Corizon and Wexford Health Sources, which also provides care to state inmates- though far fewer than Corizon handles, and with far fewer complaints.
For a look at the Harrison suit:Martin Harrison case
And to understand, in part, why Julie Jones felt compelled to switch gears with Corizon and Wexford: http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/private-health-firms-withheld-details-of-some-inma/nj6dr/icmp=mypalmbeachpost_internallink_megamenu_link#6f299be5.3545241.735642

No loose lips here: prison chief clamps down on talk of inmate abuse investigations

Julie+JonesTiming, as they say, is everything.
Smack in the middle of intense media scrutiny over inmate abuse and deaths, newly installed Department of Corrections chief Julie Jones has clamped down on agency investigators who discuss – yes!- inmate abuse and deaths.
Existing policies on how to access public records won’t change, but investigators with the agency’s Inspector General who investigate abuse, and until recently, deaths, are now required to sign off on agreements barring them from discussing open or closed investigations, even with other law enforcement officials.
Jones may have thought this was a smallish issue. After all, the same rules applied when she headed up the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
But that department wasn’t fending off accusations of cover-ups, violence, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the governor’s office intended to clamp down on bad press. And it didn’t have four whistleblowing Inspector General investigators already in court alleging retaliation by higher-ups.
A DOC spokesman says the move is designed to halt casual talk about formal investigations – think World War II and “Loose Lips sink ships”. But the ban also applies to closed investigations when presumably, loose lips would have no impact on a case. And it requires that no investigator “volunteer” information about a case. If not asked, they can’t tell.
And there is a lot to talk about, including why medical companies withheld information on inmate deaths: