The Austin Chronicle

"A Record of Dishonesty"

By Jordan Smith, July 5, 2002, News

Wackenhut Corrections Corporation's trouble with allegations of understaffed facilities, sexual assaults against inmates, and internal violence by guards and among inmates has not been confined to the Travis County state jail. Allegations similar to those at the TCCJC have arisen in several other states. Among Wackenhut's more notable difficulties:

  • New Mexico: Riots broke out at two facilities operated by Wackenhut. At the company's Santa Rosa facility in Guadalupe County, a riot in August 1999 left one guard dead and one inmate wounded. Nine days earlier, an inmate was beaten to death by another wielding a bag of rocks. In its first year under Wackenhut control in 1998, the Hobbs Correctional Facility in Lea County was the site of three fatal inmate stabbings, six nonfatal stabbings, a "near-riot" and allegations of guards using excessive force, according to reports in both the Albuquerque Journal and Albuquerque Tribune. The papers also reported that in January 2000, four mentally ill inmates in the Hobbs facility filed a class action lawsuit alleging that they were denied access to medical treatment. The inmates also alleged that the facility was understaffed and the guards were poorly trained and abusive.

  • Louisiana: In April 2000, allegations of guards abusing juvenile offenders prompted the state to take control of the Jena Juvenile Justice Center run by Wackenhut, 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 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."

  • Florida: 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 Wackenhut facility. According to The Palm Beach Post, five guards were either reprimanded or fired as a result of the allegations. In June of 2000, the Florida state ACLU filed a public records suit against the Palm Beach Gardens-based Wackenhut for "stonewalling" access to records. The ACLU said they believed the documentation it sought would confirm ongoing allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, and "excessive profit" taken by the company.

  • Elsewhere in Texas, a former inmate of the Wackenhut-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, Wackenhut 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 Wackenhut 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."

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