Released 25 March 2016  By Democracy Now!
Investigation Reveals the Secret Deaths of Dozens at Privatized Immigrant-Only Jails
Dozens of men have died in disturbing circumstances inside these facilities in recent years.
By Amy Goodman / Democracy Now! February 22, 2016
The investigation published in The Nation magazine documents more than 100 deaths at private, immigrant-only prisons since 1998. The investigation's author, Seth Freed Wessler, spent more than two years fighting in and out of court to obtain more than 9,000 pages of medical records that private prison contractors had submitted to the Bureau of Prisons. We speak to Wessler about his piece, "This Man Will Almost Certainly Die."
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a shocking new investigation about private prisons and the dozens of men who have died in disturbing circumstances inside these facilities in recent years. The investigation, published in The Nation magazine this month, documents more than 100 deaths at private, immigrant-only prisons since 1998.
The investigation’s author, Seth Freed Wessler, spent more than two years fighting in and out of court to obtain more than 9,000 pages of medical records that private prison contractors had submitted to the Bureau of Prisons. The documents are stunning. They reveal more than two dozen cases of inadequate medical care that independent doctors say contributed to the premature deaths of the prisoners. One man died shackled to his bed from an undiagnosed HIV-related infection in his brain. Other men died from lack of medical care for cancer and liver disease. Several men were denied adequate mental health treatment and went on to commit suicide.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the Democratic presidential candidates are increasingly speaking out against multimillion-dollar private prison contracts. In September, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill to ban government contracts with private prison companies at the federal, state and local level within three years. In October, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also pledged to ban the use of private prison companies. The Clinton campaign later said it would stop accepting money from lobbying groups linked to private prisons and that it would donate the money it had already received.
Well, to talk about this and more, we’re joined by the author of the new investigation, Seth Freed Wessler, reporter with The Investigative Fund, his new story for The Nation called "This Man Will Almost Certainly Die."
Seth, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain the title, "This Man Will Almost Certainly Die."
SETH FREED WESSLER: That title comes from a quote that was left in one of the medical files I obtained through an open records request. I obtained 9,000 pages of documents. And in those documents, from one of these prisons, there was a medical doctor who left his normal medical notes, but he also left a series of notes railing against the system that he had—he worked in, inside of one of these private federal prisons, private federal prisons used only to hold noncitizens convicted of federal crime—a sort of segregated system of prisons. In these files, he left a series of notes where he was railing against this prison system, basically saying that it wasn’t providing prisoners, or wasn’t allowing him to provide prisoners, the kind of care that as a medical doctor he believed he should be able to provide. These records tell the stories of 103 men who died inside this federal subsystem of prisons.
If you’re convicted of a crime in the United States, a federal crime, and you’re a noncitizen considered a low-security prisoner, you’re likely to be sent to a different prison from all of the rest of—from citizens. And those prisons are nearly the only prisons that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has privatized, has contracted out to private companies—GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation.
And what I found is that the federal government is applying a different and less stringent set of rules to these prisons. And that, in the context of medical care, is leading to stripped-down kinds of medical clinics with lower-trained, lesser-paid, less expensive workers. And in dozens of cases, prisoners held inside are facing medical neglect. In 25 cases I looked at, doctors who reviewed the files said these prisoners likely would have lived had they received adequate medical care.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Seth, could you—how did these develop? In other words, what’s the rationale for them segregating off the noncitizens into separate prisons? And also, talk a little bit about the evolution. When did they begin to flower or develop as a form of institutionalization of inmates?
SETH FREED WESSLER: Sure. So, private prisons, in general, they have existed for decades. But it took until the ’90s, the late ’90s, for the Bureau of Prisons to begin privatizing. The Bureau of Prisons had resisted privatization until the late ’90s, when the Clinton administration proposed in its 1996 budget request a plan to privatize a subset of federal prisons, to see if in fact they could save money. This was a time when the Clinton administration was promising not to expand the size of the federal workforce, but also prisons were growing. So, when prisons grow, federal prisons grow, usually that means more workers. The solution they found was to privatize federal prisons.
Well, very soon, as these prisons started to open, the federal government began to incarcerate only noncitizens inside of most of its federal prisons that have been privatized. The logic is, as recently as 2014, the Bureau of Prisons said that noncitizens are an ideal group of people to hold in privatized federal facilities that have somewhat fewer resources and services, because these people will later be transferred to immigration authorities and deported, after they serve their time. So they’ve explicitly said that these are sort of stripped-down facilities.
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