Suffering in Private
Seth Freed Wessler’s article “A Plague of Private-Prison Deaths” [July 4/11] selectively presents information and lacks critical context that would have given readers a more balanced, informed understanding of the relationship between private contractors and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The writer first fails to account for the unique challenges of delivering health care to prison populations. As the Pew Charitable Trusts has highlighted, prison populations are aging and have greater prevalence of infection, chronic disease, mental illness, and substance abuse. Many inmates—often with little or no prior access to the health-care system—enter prison with these serious health issues, where they benefit significantly from regular health-care access. It’s important to understand those challenges, because they aren’t exclusive to private prisons.
In fact, recent mainstream-media coverage details some of the federal government’s own challenges with staffing for medical services, none of which the writer includes in his piece. The writer didn’t approach this story with journalistic integrity, objectivity, or balance. He stated his biased, uninformed premise on a crowd-funding page in February before even writing the story, and then tailored it to fit that premise.
No corrections system—public or private—is immune to the challenges of safely and securely housing inmate populations. However, it’s important to view those challenges in an appropriate, reasonable context, which the writer doesn’t provide. Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, and Management & Training Corporation have partnered with the bureau for decades. Federal, state, and local agencies find great value in our flexible, cost-effective partnerships, and our independently accredited facilities comply with all of the government’s contractual requirements and standards for safety, security, and health care. Without companies like ours, federal agencies would have to make extremely difficult decisions about how to manage populations and provide capacity.
Steve Owen, CCA
Pablo Paez, GEO Group
Mike Murphy, MTC
Advisers, The Public-Private Partnership Alliance
Seth Freed Wessler Replies
My investigation of privately operated federal prisons is based on a detailed review of 30,000 pages of internal federal records, obtained through FOIA requests, and interviews with current and former BOP officials and private-prison medical staff. The first story, “Separate, Unequal, and Deadly” [Feb. 15] began with thousands of pages of prison medical files pertaining to 103 inmates who died while held in privately managed facilities. Independent medical doctors reviewed each file. They documented systemic inadequacies and found evidence that at least two dozen men likely died prematurely as a result of seriously substandard care. The companies do not dispute these findings.