Future unclear for Adams County Correctional Center after U.S. Department of Justice memo

Published 1:58 am Saturday, August 20, 2016

NATCHEZ — Adams County Correctional Center’s future is unclear one-day after the U.S. Department of Justice said it would begin to phase out the use of private prisons such as ACCC to house federal inmates.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates announced the decision in a memo Thursday to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons instructing officials to either decline or substantially reduce the contracts for private prison operators when they come up for renewal.

Click here for link to memo from Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates

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Yates cited the decline in the number of federal inmates and a recent DOJ report that cited safety and security problems associated with private prisons as the reason for the decision.

The directive puts the future of the prison on Hobo Forks Road near U.S. 84. into question.

ACCC is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America, one of three private prison companies that operate the Bureau of Prison’s 13 privately operated facilities.

“It would really hurt our economy if we lost that prison,” Adams County Board of Supervisors President Mike Lazarus said Friday. “They paid the county $1.8 million in taxes last year.”

Lazarus said that closing the prison would be horrible for all of the employees who work at the facility, many of whom live in Natchez and the surrounding area.

CCA spent more than $100 million building the facility, Lazarus said. The Bureau of Prison website showed Friday that the prison currently houses 1,816 inmates.

“I will do everything I can to see that (the prison) stays open,” Lazarus said.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said Friday that he is trying to set up a meeting with CCA to determine what kind of impact, the DOJ will have.

“I don’t know much at this point,” Russ said.

Russ said he hopes to meet with CCA officials early next week to find out how much time is left on CCA’s contract and to determine what options the company may pursue.

A change in The White House could result in a different opinion at the Department of Justice, Russ said.

Neither Lazarus nor Russ said they knew how much time was left on CCA’s contract. CCA officials said in an email they would defer the answer to that question to the Bureau of Prisons, who did not respond to an email request for that information.

Private prisons have come under fire in recent years due to some problems that have surfaced, including a deadly riot at ACCC in May 2012.

That riot resulted in the death of correctional officer Catlin Carithers.

That incident appears to have prompted the DOJ to investigate the safety and security of private prisons.

Last week, the DOJ released a report that harshly criticized the conditions at several private prisons, including ACCC.

Click here for link to U.S. Department of Justice report

In the report, the prison riot was listed among four incidents between 2008 and 2015, which resulted in significant property damage and bodily injury. The 2012 incident in Adams County was the only incident listed in which a correctional officer was killed.

The report reviewed the private prisons and reported that contract prisons “incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable Bureau of Prisons institutions.”

In the findings, contract prisons were reported as having higher incidents of contraband and higher rates of assault and uses of force than comparable Bureau of Prison facilities.

ACCC was specifically cited for the number of cellphone contraband incidents reported. Between 2011 and 2014, 983 cellphones were confiscated at ACCC, a rate that along with other private prisons the report called “striking” compared to contraband rate at Bureau of Prisons facilities.

CCA Director of Public Affairs Jonathan Burns said Friday in an email that the DOJ report has significant flaws.

“(The DOJ) failed to account for the impact of elements such as population demographics or the scope and efficacy of efforts to mitigate contraband,” Burns said. “The findings simply don’t match up to the numerous independent studies that show our facilities to be equal or better with regard to safety and quality, or the excellent feedback we get from our partners at all levels of government.”

CCA’s stock price fell 35 percent Thursday on the news. The stock regained some of the loss Friday rebounding 8.6 percent.

The recommendation that private prison use be curtailed does not directly impact the Wilkinson County Correctional Center in Woodville, which is a private prison contracted with the state of Mississippi, not the federal government. WCCC is managed by Management and Training Corporation.