The BOP notified one of the country’s leading private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America, on July 29 that a long-troubled federal prison the company had operated for 16 years will be closed down. The notice is exceptional in the BOP’s history of overseeing its privatized prisons—in the last decade, it has ended only three other private prison contracts before they were set to expire—and it follows reporting by The Nation and the Investigative Fund that documented poor medical care at the prison, including at least three questionable deaths.
The minimum-security Cibola County Correctional Center, in Milan, New Mexico, holds 1,200 prisoners, all noncitizens convicted of federal crimes, who will be moved to other prisons before the facility is shuttered at the end of September.
Cibola is one of several facilities that have been the focus of a Nation and Investigative Fund series that has uncovered dozens of questionable deaths in 11 privatized federal prisons. Drawing from 30,000 pages of previously unreleased federal records obtained through an open-records lawsuit, we documented dozens of premature deaths following shoddy medical care in these federal prisons, which are used to hold noncitizens. The documents, as well as interviews with former BOP officials and contractors’ medical staff, reveal the BOP’s own oversight monitors issuing increasingly stern warnings about medical neglect, understaffing of medical units, and underperforming internal quality-control systems. Yet federal administrators repeatedly extended contracts at the same prisons that the agency’s monitors declared to be in trouble.
The standard contract offers private companies a 10-year agreement to operate the prisons. Cibola marks only the fourth time in the last decade that the BOP has walked away from a contract prior to the end of that 10-year period. Each time it has done so, including with CCA’s Cibola contract, it has ended the contracts as no-fault terminations. Not once has the BOP terminated a contract for default, which could negatively affect a company’s ability to acquire a new federal contract.
The last privatized federal prison to lose a contract before the end of the normal 10-year agreement was the Willacy County Correctional Center in southern Texas. As I reported in The Nation last year, Willacy erupted in a major riot in February 2015, after guards responded to a protest over medical care with tear gas and rubber bullets. The prisoners so ransacked that facility that the BOP declared it uninhabitable and was forced to end the contract it had signed with Management & Training Corporation.
As The Nation detailed in June, Cibola has been among the BOP’s most problem-prone private prisons, accumulating more demerits from BOP monitors than any other private facility for repeated and systemic violations in the medical unit. Prison medical staff repeatedly failed to evaluate and treat patients in accordance with policy, and for months on end the prison operated without a single medical doctor.