Private Prisons Make News in Michigan and Mississippi

By CN Staff

According to the Associated Press, the Federal Bureau of Prisons recently awarded contracts in late April to imprison noncitizens convicted of certain felonies. This means a private prison in Jackson, Miss., could be in danger of closing, while a Michigan facility is reopening.

CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) owns and manages private prisons and detention centers and operates others on a concession basis. Company spokesperson Steve Owen says it is currently seeking other users for the 2,200-bed Adams County Correctional Center near Natchez, Miss., which employs nearly 400 workers. A decision has not been reached yet whether it will close the prison if no other government houses prisoners there after the federal contract expires on July 31.

Following a riot at the prison in May 2012, where a correctional officer died and 20 others were injured, a 2016 federal report was critical of Adams Country Corrections Center’s operations. The riot started after inmates said they were unhappy about the food, medical care and staff members.

The report found CoreCivic had fewer guards for most of the three years following the riot, as well as fewer health staffers than required. Only four of 367 employees were fluent in Spanish, even though most inmates were Spanish speakers. That report questioned whether the Department of Justice was overpaying CoreCivic under its contract. CoreCivic disputed the calculations and said it had improved security since the riot.

Geo Group of Boca Raton, Fla., which is committed to providing leading, evidence-based rehabilitation programs to individuals while in-custody and post-release into the community says it has won contracts for 5,000 beds for the next decade, including plans to reopen the 1,800-bed North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Mich., a rural community about 175 miles northwest of Detroit. The other 3,200 beds are in two Geo-managed prisons owned by Reeves County, Texas.

The Adams County Correctional Center and North Lake Correctional Facility differ from other immigration detention centers that hold people accused of entering the country illegally. Rather, these two facilities hold people convicted of crimes, including illegal entry.

Originally built in 1998 as the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility, North Lake closed in 2005 after the state decided it could save money by sending young inmates to state-run prisons instead of the private facility. In 2011, it reopened briefly to hold California inmates. It then opened again 2015 to hold fewer than 300 Vermont inmates, but that contract ended in 2017. As a result, more than 100 workers being laid off, and the prison has been closed since.

In 2017, Michigan lawmakers wanted the state to buy the North Lake facility, Geo had offered to sell the prison to the state for $100 million in 2016.

Geo said it expects the contract to bring in an additional $37 million a year. That figure is considerably less than the $60.9 million that CoreCivic said it was paid by the Bureau of Prisons to run the Mississippi facility in 2018.

“We were disappointed to learn that CoreCivic was not a successful bidder,” says CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist. She said the company would offer employees the opportunity to transfer.

CoreCivic also said didn’t know when federal officials would begin transferring inmates out of the Mississippi facility.