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German article quotes PLN about U.S. private prison industry

ARD Media, Feb. 7, 2016.

USA : Earning Money with Prisoners

Feb. 7, 2016

ARD [Translated from German]

Meet somebody who doesn’t really fit in: Alex Friedmann, a former inmate, was imprisoned for 8 years because of robbery. Friedmann is now an activist shareholder with a critical view. He bought shares of commercial prison companies in order to create pressure from inside against those companies and investors.

Alex Friedmann, Prison Legal News: “The prison companies are not acting in the interest of the prisoner. They don’t care about rehabilitation. They just want to lock up as many prisoners as possible, because they profit from that.”

The desert of Arizona: jobs are in short supply in this abandoned area. The salaries are low and in the middle of all that is a private prison, built and run by MTC, the biggest employer around Kingman. This prison has 3,500 inmates, mostly small-time criminals. Most of them were convicted of possession of drugs or people like Steven, not a criminal but an alcoholic, who got locked up for six years, because he drove his cars several times while he was drunk.

Not allowed to visit him in prison, his wife and his friend arranges a telephone call, so they could talk to him. Steven is not doing well in Kingman prison, he is seriously injured, but they are denying him a MRI. “My knee is injured, I can’t put any pressure on it. As we talk I am sitting in a wheel chair”

His wife Susie Estes says: „They don‘t want to spend the money on it, because if it becomes clear that they are responsible for the damage it could become very expensive for them. Therefore they are denying him any necessary check-ups.”

The prison regime in Arizona is famous for three things: its penalties for small crimes, its exorbitant relapse rate of former prisoners, and politicians (who take great interest in private prison matters).

Five years ago Patty Altman helped inmates like Steven in Kingman integrate back into the society. Last year Patty gave up her job, because she couldn’t take it anymore. She told us how unbearable the prison conditions are. Those private prisons are trying to save money wherever they can. “The prison personnel are shockingly poorly trained, the turnover is very high. This is all no surprise if you consider that MTC cut the training periods for new personnel significantly short."

Ever since Patty talked about the conditions in the prison publicly, people in Kingman are avoiding her. Too many are dependent on this private prison in Kingman. At home she told us of the tragic death of Neil Early, who died because other inmates tortured him. “They raped him with a broom. For days nobody seem to notice.” Then Patty is showing us a photo of Vincent Alonge, a small drug dealer, who had Hepatitis C; his liver wasn’t working properly anymore. “They should have drawn his blood regularly, they should have taken care of him. But they didn’t. They denied him any support, they told him: “You caught Hepatitis, that’s your own problem, don’t think we will help you now.”

MTC denies any allegations as weak and unfounded. In the commercials of the company you only find smiling faces. The business model of private prison companies is risk free and safe, you get paid per day and head – like a hotel – often combined with an occupancy guarantee.

Alex Friedmann from Prison Legal News knows the details: “A lot of contracts include conditions in which the occupancy of inmates in prisons are guaranteed. The state is paying even if the occupancy rate isn’t reached.”

Alex, the shareholder with a critical opinion, isn’t well seen by the commercialized prison companies. He knows their investors, the hedge funds and banks from Wall Street. He follows meticulously who donates when and how much, in order to get the decision makers in politics to act in their favor, for examples those politicians in Arizona. “What are the banks and hedge funds getting back? They get profitable contracts like the ones that guarantee a fixed occupancy rate in prison in order to get paid the maximum amount."

Arizona guarantees, for the prison in Kingman, a 97 percent occupancy rate and pays $60 per day and inmate. How much money MTC has earned is not going to get revealed.

On July 1st, 2015 there was a big revolt at the MTC prison. The trigger point was an inmate who was brutally mistreated by a prison guard. The government only published the following 4 photos. Steven, who could prove that he didn’t take part in any of those actions, got hit from a prison guard that destroyed his knee on purpose. He said: “They took my clothes off. Then I told him that my knee is injured. Then one of them kicked my knee again and left me on the floor for the next 17 hours.”

Patty Altman: “I saw this riot coming. The inmates talked with me about it beforehand. I warned the prison management, I mentioned the anger that has built up. But they did not listen to me.” They said: ‘We won’t take any actions because prisoners want us to.’”

Incidentally, the supervisory authority of the government of Arizona meanwhile proved most of the allegations that Patty made. MTC’s license got withdrawn. Instead of MTC another private company took over – with the same conditions, the same personnel. Business as usual in Arizona!