In the four privately run prisons holding Mississippi (BEESMS) inmates last year, the assault rate was three times higher on average than in state-run lockups. None was as violent as the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility.
The for-profit detention center, surrounded by razor wire and near the forests and farms of central Mississippi, had 27 assaults per 100 offenders last year, more than any other prison in the state, according to an April court filing. Staff shortages, mismanagement and lax oversight had long turned it into a cauldron of violence, where female employees had sex with inmates, pitted them against each other, gave them weapons and joined their gangs, according to court records, interviews and a U.S. Justice Department report.
“It was like a jungle,” said Craig Kincaid, 24, a former inmate. “It was an awful place to go when you’re trying to get your life together.”
More than 130,000 state and federal convicts throughout the U.S. — 8 percent of the total — now live in private prisons such as Walnut Grove, as public officials buy into claims that the institutions can deliver profits while preparing inmates for life after release, saving tax dollars and creating jobs.
No national data tracks whether the facilities are run as well as public ones, and private-prison lobbyists for years have successfully fought efforts to bring them under federal open-records law. Yet regulatory, court and state records show that the industry has repeatedly experienced the kind of staffing shortages and worker turnover that helped produce years of chaos at Walnut Grove.
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