Tuesday, December 21, 2004

London police may moor prison ship on Thames

"Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center." Hunts Point in the Bronx."This floating jail shared the name of the family that once owned my ancestors."

Last month, Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers condemned the ship as "merely an expensive container – and in the wrong place".

UK: The London police are holding discussions about possibly mooring a prison ship on the River Thames in a bid to ease pressure on the spiralling prisoner population.

"The Metropolitan Police Service needs to increase its cell capacity and is currently in negotiations with the HM Prison Service in relation to the use of a prison ship," a police spokesman said.

The spokesman says a decision is expected at the end of the year after the idea has been assessed for suitability and possible locations for mooring have been checked.

Britain's first prison ship, HMP Weare, is currently berthed at Portland in Dorset. Last month, Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers condemned the ship as "merely an expensive container - and in the wrong place". She said the ship should be closed down unless a massive amount of cash was spent on refurbishment.

A Home Office spokeswoman said no decision had yet been taken on the ship's future but if it were sold, a "competitive price" would be sought. HMP Weare was a troop ship which Britain deployed in the 1982 war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in the south Atlantic. It later became a floating jail in the United States. The UK Government bought it in 1997 as a temporary overcrowding measure and intended to close it in 2000. It now holds 400 inmates.

Although the jail was generally a safe place, last month inspectors said it was "unacceptably cramped and claustrophobic" with no access to fresh air in cells. Ms Owers said "despite the best efforts of staff or managers, HMP Weare is entirely unsuitable for its present function as a 21st- century category C training prison. "Millions of pounds of capital investment would be necessary to make it more suitable - indeed, even to keep it seaworthy and safe will require significant resources," she said.

Scandal of society's misfits dumped in jail
Up to 70% of inmates in Britain's jails have mental health disorders. In the first of a three-part series, Nick Davies hears their shocking stories.

By Millennium Fleet posted 21 December 04


Three Days in NYC Jails
Day 3 Monday, November 25, Before the sun came up, I was among a dozen or so inmates chained together to board a bus for Rikers Island. An iron-barred door was locked to separate the driver and a correctional officer from the rows of inmates seated in the back of the bus. Just before we pulled off, I overheard a senior officer change our destination to a place he called "The VCBC." We went to a dock at Hunts Point in the Bronx, and drove onto a boat. It was a floating jail.

The sign in front of the gates read: "Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center." The irony was overwhelming. This boat shared the name of the family that once owned my ancestors. And here I was, centuries later, being loaded back onto a ship in chains.

We were ordered to strip naked and prepare for cavity searches. A young inmate who voiced his reluctance to do so was dragged into a back room by three guards. Every man in line heard his cries as he was beaten.

"All The Way With The USA"
A former prime minister of Australia (1966-1967), Harold Holt, is widely remembered for his "All the way with L.B.J." endorsement of the Vietnam war. Today, the Australian government continues to unreservedly adopt policies and philosophies emanating from the U.S.A. This copycat behaviour extends to the privatisation of prisons and the overly harsh immigration detention centres that have been criticised by a report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (2002).

The first private prison in Australia opened in 1990. Whilst the US has the highest proportion of its population in prison, the Australian state of Victoria now has the highest proportion of prisoners in its privately run jails. No other state in the world has a higher proportion of commercially housed and managed prisoners. Not surprisingly, in these time of globalised markets, not a single private prison in Australia is run by an Australian company. In truth, there aren't many local firms or brands left in any industries in this country.

Private prisons and immigration detention centres are good business for private operators because there is no financial risk involved. The government foots the bill for the construction of the facilities and then pays private contractors to run them. Since the basis of payment is the occupation rate of each prison, the more prisoners there are the more money the private operator can make.

There is a strong incentive to "get em there and keep em there". This is the same model that has emerged in the US. Amanda George is a community lawyer who has been active in opposing the privatisation of prisons in Australia, particularly those facilities which now hold 80% of the women who are serving time in Victoria. The following excerpts are from an article she wrote during the 1990s, when there was still time to halt the globalisation of Australian prisons.

* "One of the biggest hurdles prisoners and prison activists face is the silencing that occurs around prison issues. The Victorian government has now made it virtually impossible for the media to have access to prisons unless "to improve the public image of the department", according to the Corrective Services Director ... This sort of silencing occurs all the time around what goes on in prisons and is compounded by the pressure that transnational corporations can bring to bear on the media.

In the UK there is clear evidence that private prison corporations lobby governments on law and order policies. And why not? The more prisoners there are, the more business they get. In Junee [Australia] a local council member has won a contract to provide sporting equipment to the [privately operated] jail. Clearly this meshing of financial interest and politics is absolutely improper."

* "Not only is there money to be made inprivate prisons, there is money to be made out of prison labour. In Victoria prisoner labour brings in $5.5 million per year. In Queensland prisoners are working in the River of Gold Slate Mine. They get $5 a day, with a productivity bonus of $2 a day. The contractors certainly have a river of gold with those sorts of labour costs.

There is a long history of privatisation in prisons which seems to be coming full circle. Private contractors were [earlier] removed from corrections because of the high rates of deaths and abuse. ..."

* "In the US, private prisons are now executing people as part of their contract."
Federal and state governments in Australia don't seem to have been too concerned about who gets the contracts to run prisons here.

The organisation that originally managed federal immigration detention centres and a number of state prisons was founded by four former FBI agents in the 1950s. Not only does that corporation, which has grown enormously in the intervening years, have a dubious association with the CIA and the alleged manufacture of high-tech weapons and munitions for illegal export from the US to third-world customers, it has a positively dreadful, and very public, record of mismanagement of prisons and mistreatment of prisoners in its care. (According to an article in the Atlantic Monthly its board of directors has included; "a former head of the FBI, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, a former CIA director, a former CIA deputy director, a former head of the Secret Service, a former head of the Marine Corps, and a former Attorney General.)

[Their name doesn't particularly matter, it's the underlying thinking and attitudes that are important in understanding prison privatisation]

A second major prisons contractor used by governments in Australia also has an unenviable track record. If the purpose of imprisonment was really rehabilitation and 'correction' it would seen that such a provider should have been eliminated during the tendering process. But no, they got the lucrative contracts anyway, because the purpose of a prison sentence is solely one of
punishment. The executive sent to Australia to run private prisons for this contractor had previously come to the attention of US courts. While working as director of corrections in Virginia and Arkansas he was found by the US Supreme Court to have violated the 8th and 14th amendments of the US Constitution, in respect to cruel and unusual punishment. Really just the sort of guy you want if your idea of prison is punishment.

Here are just a few of the prison management incidents (or failures in a duty of care) that have been reported in relation to the US owned for-profit corporations involved in managing Australian jails and immigration detention centres (the latter are really prisons as well, but they are never described as such - prisons are for punishment you see). The excerpts are taken from various reliable sources on the WWW; there is little doubt that the problems stateside were real.

* "... in Texas, a former inmate of the [...] run minimum-security lockup in Lockhart claimed she was raped repeatedly over a four-month period. In July 1998, as reported in the American-

Statesman, the former inmate filed a federal suit alleging that, although a prison internal affairs investigation found that the sex was not consensual, [...] officials failed to fire or reprimand the accused guard. The guard later quit after a second sexual assault allegation came to light.

Asked about the many allegations against the company, a [...] official spokesman told the St. Petersburg Times that the cases aren't that unusual, given the company's size. "The lawsuits were filed against us on allegations by inmates who are convicted felons," the spokesman told the Florida daily. "So they have a record of dishonesty and misleading people." Speaking of which:

* "In [...'s] Lockhart prison there are housed three private manufacturing companies. One of the companies Lockhart Technologies Inc, which produces circuit board assemblies, had a completely new factory assembly facility built by prison labour.

When this factory was completed, the owner of Lockhart Technologies closed down his plant in Austin, Texas, laid off his 150 employees and moved all the manufacturing equipment to Lockhart. The prisoners performing this work a Lockhart are paid minimum wages for this highly profitable work, and the prison keeps 80% of that for room and board. None of this comes as a surprise though when you consider that [...'s] board of directors consists of former members of the FBI, CIA and sections of the US military establishment. It has in the past developed quite a reputation [for] strike breaking, and for running covert operations against private individuals who are either - whistle-blowers, environmentalists, anti-nuclear activists and union organisers on behalf of various privately owned companies. It is also the largest provider of security related services to the US Govt."

* "At the Broward County work release facility in Ft. Lauderdale, allegations of sex between guards and inmates, and a successful escape, caused the county sheriff to ask for tighter oversight of the [...] facility. ... In June of 2000, the Florida state ACLU [a union] filed a public records suit against [...] for "stonewalling" access to records. The ACLU said they believed the documentation it sought would confirm ongoing allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, and "excessive profits" taken by the company."

* "Louisiana: In April 2000, allegations of guards abusing juvenile offenders prompted the state to take control of the Jena Juvenile Justice Centre run by [...], the Baton Rouge Advocate reported. The facility, opened in December 1998, was plagued by problems, including riots during the first month the facility was open, allegations of "abusive and untrained" guards, and lack of "meaningful" rehabilitation programs, medical care, and educational opportunities. The paper also reported that inmates also complained of shortages of food, supplies, and clothing.

According to the Advocate, juvenile inmates said they would purposely mutilate or attempt to kill themselves, hoping to get away from their tormentors."

* Santa Rosa, New Mexico: "On August 31, 1999, they took the opportunity to run amok, stabbing an inmate, then Garcia, several times. Why was Garcia left alone among the convicts?

Let's begin with [...'s] Jails R Us method of keeping costs down.

They routinely packed two prisoners into each cell. They posted just one guard to cover an entire "pod," or block of cells. This reverses the ratio in government prisons - two guards per block, one prisoner per cell. Of course, the state's own prisons are not as "efficient" (read "cheap") as the private firm's. But then, the state hadn't lost a guard in seventeen years - where [...] hadn't yet operated seventeen months."

* "On 5 April 2000. [...] agreed to surrender control of its 15- month-old juvenile prison in Jena, after the US Justice Department named [...] in a lawsuit seeking to protect imprisoned boys from harm at the hands of guards and fellow inmates. The government accused [...] of beating boys, throwing tear gas indoors, spraying them in the face with pepper spray, and not providing them with adequate education and counselling.

One incident highlighted the regime at the institution. In March 1999 Judge Mark Doherty had ordered a 17-year old boy - a shotgun victim - removed from the prison. The boy wrote the following testimony.

'A Sgt. came to me and said to put shirt in pants, and I told him that I couldn't and he 'put me to the ground and told me to lay face down on the ground. And I told the Sgt. that I couldn't that I have on a (colostomy) bag, and he went put me on the ground. He came with his knee in my stomach'."

The nurse at the prison's infirmary later noted that 5 to 6 inches of the boy's intestines were in the colostomy bag. One of the Justice Department's consultants. Nancy K. Ray wrote that Jena's difficulties stemmed largely from operating problems.

In Jena's first 13 months, more than 600 people 'drifted through 180 positions', including 125 who were fired in 1999, a gross turnover rate of more than 300%. Ray also observed that recreation and rehabilitative programmes were 'grossly inadequate'."

* Coke County Juvenile Justice Centre (Bronte,TX): "Several girls were sexually, physically, and mentally abused by [...] employees, including a man with [a] prior conviction for sexual abuse of a child; a lawsuit settled for $1.5 million (1999), TYC confirmed allegations that some staff members manipulated a "demotion/graduation" system to coerce girls into giving them sexual favours or dancing naked in front of them; some girls were raped or fondled, while others were made to disrobe and shower in the presence of male employees (1995).

A 15-year old female victim of sexual assault by a [...] employee committed suicide in [the] wake of [a] lawsuit settlement that allowed the company to avoid accepting responsibility (1999)."

* Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Facility-2000: "23 inmates and 6 staff contracted e-coli due to poor kitchen hygiene."

* "[...] runs a 200 bed detention centre, on behalf of the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS), in Jamaica, Queens (New York) where asylum seekers who arrive without 'proper documentation' are held. [...] has a 5-year $49m contract with the INS. Recently religious leaders from Queens toured the Jamaica facility and raised concerns about the conditions in which the asylum seekers were being detained.

'The Jamaica detention centre is an unmarked structure of brown brick with video cameras perched on each corner. Slots 2 inches wide ventilate the centre, which has only a few windows atop one wall. Detainees live in open rooms of 20-30 beds, with communal showers and partially enclosed toilets. Men and women are housed in separate rooms. They eat food brought to them on trays, talk to their lawyers, play Ping-Pong, watch TV, sleep and bathe in the same locked area. There are few books in any language. Detainees get one hour of 'outdoor recreation' a day in a small courtyard.

Visits with family and friends happen in guarded rooms through Plexiglass booths with telephones.' (Newsday, New York [Queens Edition], 3.6.01)"

Given their record of abuse allegations and incidents of mismanagement, it is not at all surprising that the multinational (US owned) 'corrections' companies that Australian governments chose to run jails and detention centres on Australian soil have delivered much the same results here. For example there is the siting of the first privately run women's prison outside of America, at Deer Park in Victoria.

* "Fairlea women's prison (a state government run prison in the centrally located suburb of Fairfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) [is to be] closed in June 1996 and the women there shunted 27 kms out of the city to the newly multinational-built Metropolitan Women's Correctional Centre, a new private prison, at Deer Park. A primary reason for the move is so the government can sell the valuable real estate Fairlea prison is on.

[...] got the land at Deer Park cheaply from the former owners Defence Industries of Australia. The site is known to be contaminated by rocket fuel and other military contaminants."

Other examples are:

* "The family of an Iranian boy said to be severely traumatised by 15 months in an Australian detention centre will today take legal action against the Federal Government and the operators of the detention centre. Josh Bornstein, of the law firm Maurice Blackburn Cashman, will seek damages from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and [...] which ran the Woomera and Villawood detention centres. A spokeswoman for the law firm said the claim would be for a substantial amount." (The Age, October 26, 2003)

* "Australia's treatment of refugees in detention centres was the harshest in the world, federal human rights commissioner Sev Ozdowski said today. Dr Ozdowski said the billion dollar system removed basic liberties from refugees, resulting in levels of despair unseen in detention camps elsewhere. 'It (Australia's system) is the harshest - the harshest mainly form the point of view of the length (of detention),' he told seminar guests at Monash University. 'I've never seen the level of despair (in camps anywhere) that I've seen in Australia.' He said the longest a child had been held in detention in Australia was five years, five months. By April this year, 50 children had been detained for more than two years. Dr Ozdowski

... said the social implications of indefinite detention were shattering. Family life disintegrated, people became suicidal and he had seen children as young as 10 with signs of self-harm. He quoted from one detainee who said "it's 16 months since my detention. My life has been taken away from me ... I've become a useless person who wishes for death every day." ...

Dr Ozdowski, who was once himself a Polish refugee, also said the government's system of temporary protection visas (TPVs) was "ill conceived" "I personally believe that the TPV system is a disaster and we'll be paying for it for a long time." ... He said the biggest human rights abuses had occurred during riots at the centres. "(It happened) where basically control was lost and gas was used and physical force was used." he said. "You just don't keep people imprisoned for a long time with no good reason." Senator Vanstone issued a statement saying Australia was 'one of the great immigration success stories.' 'We have a generous, robust and ordered immigration system.' she said. (The Age, October 10, 2003)

* "The Commonwealth Ombudsman's office has confirmed it has received several complaints from detainees, particularly those put into detention centres with pre-existing medical conditions, claiming they have been denied treatment. ... One case being investigated by the Ombudsman involves a 37-year-old Lebanese man, Samir Abbas, who suffers from a heart condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. He was put into Villawood in February after overstaying his visa. His lawyer, Stephen Hopper, says Mr Abbas has been refused permission to have a heart operation which doctors say would control his recurring heart palpitations. Mr Abbas has offered to pay for the operation. It is claimed Mr Abbas suffered an 'episode' with his heart on Friday, but despite repeated requests to be taken to hospital, Villawood guards refused to act until his lawyer went to the ABC [media].

After media broadcasts, he was taken by ambulance to Bankstown hospital and kept overnight. Villawood management was rebuked by the deputy state coroner last month over the death of a Thai prostitute in September 2001. Villawood medical staff had refused to take her to hospital." (Sydney Morning Herald, May 16, 2003)

* "The Government has been hiding the real reasons why a private company lost the contract to run six immigration detention centres. ... Also covering up the poor performance is the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (Dima), which is acting in the commercial interests of [...]

BRW has discovered a serious contractual breach relating to [...] and its handling of an escape that the department is keeping secret. Despite the seriousness of the breach - and the amount of about [AU]$90 million in taxpayer's money paid to the company for each year of the contract - the Federal Government refuses to disclose details about why a default notice was served on [...].

The disclosure of Dima's default notice adds to continuing revelations about [...'s] poor operating performance at the six centres. It also brings into question the Government's claim that [...] lost the contract to manage the detention centres because of poor value for money rather than poor performance.

After a lengthy freedom-of-information request that began in May 2002, BRW has established that the department secretary, Bill Farmer, or his agent, issued a default notice to [...] under the contract. ... As a sign of the seriousness of the breach, Dima is not letting BRW see the document because of the harm it would do to [...]. The assistant secretary of unauthorised arrivals and detention services, Jim Williams, wrote to BRW on September 5: "I believe that there is a real risk that disclosure of the document would cause unreasonable harm to [...'s] business reputation and potentially prejudice its ability to perform competitively in its industry." (Business Review Weekly, September 26, 2003)

Mr Williams need not have worried about [...'s] business fortunes though, the company that replaced it in 2002 as the contractor for Australian immigration detention centres is now the subject of a conditional takeover offer by a renamed and rebadged [...]. If the truth were known, he probably had more reason to be worried about the safety of his family or his personal reputation and career.

He was dealing with the biggest, toughest and most highly connected corrections corporation in the whole American Military Industrial Complex (AMIC). Those 'Good-ol'-Boys' don't muck around, and few Australian bureaucrats have ever had to deal with anything like [...] before. They are putty in its hands.

While none of the global private prisons contractors now operating in Australia were involved in the following incident it is indicative of the industry that has developed in the US. The case is also quite revealing with regard to where the torture techniques recently reported at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad might have originated.

* "Another incident of brutality captured on videotape has sparked an investigation against a Texas prison and a lawsuit against the county that contracted with it. A video surfaced depicting guards brutalising inmates at the Brazoria County Detention Centre who had been recently transferred from overcrowded prisons in Missouri. The detention centre is owned and managed by a for-profit corporation, Capital Correctional Resources, Inc. (CCRI) under contract with Brazoria County. The video, which had been taped during a routine drug search, showed guards kicking the inmates, forcing them to craw on the floor, sicking guard dogs on them and prodding prisoner's buttocks with a stun gun."

The interrogators at Abu Ghraib were CIA but the guards were mainly contractors from the US prisons industry, perhaps some came from Brazoria County, Texas.

However, the point about the range of abuses listed is not who was responsible nor who was ultimately to blame. The truly concerning aspect is that governments throughout Australia have chosen to take prisons and detention centres in this country down the same privatisation path; to the same awful conditions and human rights abuses. There is so much documentation available on the failures of for-profit prisons in the US that the Australian decision makers would have had to be both uninformed and incompetent not to be aware of the facts about the records of the contractors they appointed.

Why then did they do it? We can only speculate, but it is likely that the inner circle of political and business 'heavy hitters' in this country feel comfortable with their own kind from America. Both groups feel threatened by the looming changes due to the digital revolution, and they both want to hang onto control at all costs.

These people are not philosophers, they aren't deep thinkers, they are militarists, industrialists, and political warriors. Brutality and coercion appeal to them as means to keep the lid on the mega- change pressure cooker which this freesite terms the 2nd Renaissance.

In pursuing their goal of absolute control of every aspect of society these federal fascists will erode any vestiges of civilisation that remained at the end of 20th Century Dark Age. We need to discuss these trends on an Us-2Us basis, before they can take hold and do damage to innocent people in Australia, America, and other totalitarian-democracies.


Scandal of society's misfits dumped in jail
Up to 70% of inmates in Britain's jails have mental health disorders. In the first of a three-part series, Nick Davies hears their shocking stories.

UK solitary confinement
UK: Segregation units are prisons within prisons - the places where the most unchecked brutality is meted out to prisoners. In recent years conditions in high security segregation units have deteriorated, and the use of long-term segregation as a control mechanism has increased.

Offenders to be fed vitamins to improve behaviour
UK: offenders are to be given vitamin supplements in an unusual attempt to reduce anti-social behaviour which will test the effect of diet on the brain. The move is controversial, with many in the prison service sceptical that healthy food could make much difference to abused prisoners.

Mentally ill face 'Asbo' measures
UK: People with mental health problems living in the community could be banned from leaving their homes under proposals to reform mental health law, a legal expert has warned.

Inquiry must root out prison racists
UK: It is difficult to imagine a more brutal murder than that of Zahid Mubarek. The 19-year-old was clubbed to death by his cellmate at Feltham Young Offender Institution in the early hours of 21 March 2000. He was due to be released just a few hours later.

Prison suicides soar as jails hire 'babysitters'
UK: Prison officers are being taken off suicide watch and replaced by unqualified 'babysitters' because the system is overwhelmed by an epidemic of self-harm.

Plan to sell off juvenile jails as job lot
UK: The government is to put out to tender all its dedicated juvenile jails that hold children under 18 in a departure in Whitehall's privatisation programme.

Failure to sack 'racist' prison staff condemned
UK: Two prison officers suspended for racism are still on full pay three years after a stash of Nazi memorabilia, neo-fascist literature and Ku Klux Klan-inspired 'nigger-hunting licences' was found in a police raid on their home.

Report slams 'unjust' jailing of women on remand
UK: Six out of 10 women sent to jail while they await trial are acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence, a report published today reveals. Introducing the report, Lady Kennedy QC calls for a complete review of the use of remand and bail for women saying it is "inhumane and unjust".

Concern as UK prison suicides hit record level
UK: More prisoners took their own lives in English jails in August than in any other month since records began, prison reformers said today.

End of years of despair as Holloway closes its doors
But now Holloway prison in north London - where Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in Britain, was hanged in 1955 - has been earmarked for closure, along with several other women's prisons, which have been hit by a spate of suicides.

How detox and self-help brought suicide jail back from the brink
UK: Six suicides in 12 months made Styal jail notorious and the Prisons Ombudsman criticised the prison and its staff for serious failures. But things are changing.

Belmarsh detainees consider suicide, says freed man
UK: The first of the Muslim detainees released from Belmarsh high security prison after being held on suspicion of terrorism has told the Guardian his fellow prisoners are suffering such severe mental problems that they constantly consider suicide.

Suicides and unrest have soared, admits Home Office
UK:The already overcrowded prison population is set to go on rising and will top 80,000 within the next three years, a senior Home Office civil servant warned yesterday.