Closing Walnut Grove, a Step in the Right Direction

by Catherine Arjet

opinions editor

Today I’d like to do something I don’t often get a chance to: congratulate Mississippi on making a forward thinking decision that puts the citizens of Mississippi before politics. Recently the state department of corrections shut down Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, a private prison Judge Carlton Reeves of Federal District Court called “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world” during a settlement order in 2012.

This shut down comes on the heels of the Obama administration’s executive order to shut down all federal private prisons. Walnut Grove was a state facility, not a federal one and as such the decision to shut it down came from Mississippi, not from this order. However it shows that Mississippi is, for once, following in the footsteps of the federal government when it comes to reforms. Up until 2012, Walnut Grove housed children who were tried and sentenced as adults, however, when an investigation found that guards not only failed to protect the inmates from physical and sexual assault at the hands of other inmates, but also often assaulted the children themselves and ignored their mental and physical health needs, the prisoners under 18 were transferred out. This was not enough to keep the prison out of trouble and just last year Judge Reeves ordered federal oversight of Walnut Grove to prevent further constitutional rights violations.

Even though the state cited budget cuts as the reason for closing the prison, not the horrific human rights violations, it is a step in the right direction. For profit prisons feed off the taxpayers and hurt society. If you just look at the simple economic facts, they make no sense. A prison company like Management and Training Corp. (the company that ran Walnut Grove) gets paid based on how many prisoners they have, so it logically benefits them when those who are released either violate parole or commit more crimes so they end up right back in these prisons. In fact, a report by the DOJ found that private prisons have a higher rate of safety and security incidents than their public counterparts as well as a higher rate of assaults committed by both staff and inmates. This makes sense because, like all corporations, they have to focus on how to best create wealth for the owners or stockholders, not to rehabilitate criminals or even to make sure the people around them are safe. The best way to do that is to cut costs, which often hurts the inmates. Even though supporters of private prisons often say that they save the state money, a report by the ACLU has called that into question. We have to ask: if these prisons aren’t saving us money and are harming both their occupants and communities, why do we still have them?