Sunday, February 01, 2009

Prison Riot or Inmate Resistance?

For the second time in two months there is an uprising at a privately run prison in Pecos, Texas. It is described by the media as a "riot," and it is frustrating to read the various and brief reports on the matter:

The CNN story says, "As many as 2,080 inmates from two of the center's three buildings began fighting in the prison yard about 4:30 p.m. CT, said county Sheriff's Office Dispatcher Anna Granado."

But this story from UPI says that a guard at the prison who described the situation as "out of control" also said that "a medical dispute between inmates and staff may have sparked the riot, the second disturbance at the privately-run prison in two months."

It is not surprising to hear someone from a prison claim that an uprising is actually a fight between inmates even as another official contradicts her statement - prison uprisings are often described as fights, and usually fights between racial groups or various gangs, regardless of the truth. It rarely is described as having anything to do with poor treatment, abuse by guards, or bad management; and of course there is never any commentary about why the U.S. has well over 2 million people locked up in prisons and jails (and many more on probation or parole), whether it is a failing of our other public institutions, or whether we can afford to continue to lock up so many people (in this case it looks like many of these people are in for immigration violations - most likely completely nonviolent offenses - which should also raise questions about the costs of our immigration policies).

Regardless of what guards or officials say, this looks like an uprising of inmates against poor conditions. Even if we doubt the statement from the one guard about a medical dispute, the earlier incident within the two month span is described as follows by the CNN story: "On December 12, inmates took two workers hostage and set fire to the recreation area at the center in Pecos, located about 430 miles west of Dallas. The inmates, who had made several demands, surrendered later that night." Clearly not a fight between inmates but an uprising with demands of prison officials. The latest incident is likely consistent.

If you read this report (pdf) from the GEO Group - the private prison corporation paid by American tax dollars to run this facility - it admits that several incidents have occurred previously at this prison. In 2004 "The entire inmate population (approx. 2100) engaged in a food strike and refused to partake of any meals. The chief complaint of the inmates centered on changes related to food preparation." In 2005, "Approximately 150 inmates in a housing dormitory refused to rack-up due to complaints about a correctional officer." In 2008, "Approximately 14 inmates began flooding the special housing units by using objects to obstruct the drainage in their toilets because they were scheduled to be transferred from the facility."

There are multiple complexes at this prison and these incidents come from the low-custody complexes - the same complexes that appear to be involved in the present uprising; at the minimum/medium complex there are several other incidents of resistance including in 2004 "All Black Inmates housed in C Building (minimum custody) began a work stoppage because a Black Inmate from their housing unit had been placed in detention." And in 2007 "Approximately 340 inmates refused to participate in count. Chemical agents were utilized."

Of course these are the narratives provided by the private prison corporation; there may be other incidents unreported and even these likely leave out critical (embarrassing) details. That is the nature of prisons - it is difficult to actually find out what is going on inside of them; for the media, for attorneys, and for family members. When they are privately run there are more substantial transparency issues, e.g., Freedom of Information Act requests do not necessarily apply. And of course we get contradictory accounts of what is happening inside and reports like this from the AP: "Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said the disturbance at the Reeves County Detention Center was still going on Sunday. But no details were available on the extent of the riot ... Officials at the prison could not be reached for comment. Calls to the GEO Group, which runs the lockup, were not immediately returned."


Ahma Daeus said...

A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)


The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.
We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

Prior to the past month, and the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. Although, we remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
These new slave plantations are not the answer!

For more information please visit: or email:
To sign the petition please visit:


William Thomas
National Community Outreach Facilitator
The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons
P.O. Box 156423
San Francisco, California 94115

Anonymous said...

Shoplifters go to Contra Costa!