The state entered into a contract with a private prison company last year to house inmates if the structurally unstable Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins became uninhabitable, the Department of Corrections director said recently.
The Wyoming Department of Corrections inked the deal Aug. 2 with the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison company, according to a copy of the 29-page contract that the Star-Tribune obtained Tuesday.
The contract is in effect until June 30.
In coming weeks, a new contract will be signed containing the new name of Corrections Corporation of America, CoreCivic, said Mark Horan, the spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Corrections.
The contract states up to 750 male inmates could be sent to prisons owned by the Nashville, Tennessee-based company — depending on the state’s need and available space at the corporation’s prisons.
The state will pay the company up to $5.1 million. A portion of the contract increases July 1, the contract states.
The Rawlins prison is experiencing structural problems — walls separating, floors buckling and doors out of alignment.
A task force of lawmakers and Wyoming leaders studied the penitentiary last year and recommended repairing the 15-year-old building, which is home to about 650 inmates.
But in the 2017 legislative session, legislators didn’t proceed with the proposal to fortify the building, which would entail construction techniques such as drilling and installing supports below the ground.
Instead, they created a savings account for a new prison, ordered a peer review of the findings of last year’s task force and authorized Wyoming to spend up to $15 million from the rainy day fund in the case of a catastrophic collapse of the prison that would require moving inmates.
Sabrina King, policy director of the Wyoming chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted the state has had a troubling past with its inmates in Corrections Corporation of America facilities.
About 120 Wyoming inmates were in a Colorado prison during a 2004 riot in which prisoners set fires, smashed toilets and sinks, destroyed appliances and searched files for names of sex offenders and informants. Officials said no one from Wyoming was injured.
“There really needs to be a public process and a discussion about this,” King said. “And part of this discussion is really figuring out what’s going on with the prison in Rawlins. But let’s not use a private prison as a default. It’s such a terrible backup plan.”
Recently, CoreCivic representatives met with lawmakers to discuss the possibility of hiring the company to build a new state penitentiary on a different site, said Jonathan Burns, a spokesman for the company.
“CoreCivic’s capabilities extend beyond correctional facility management,” Burns said in an email. “We have a long history and deep expertise providing real estate only solutions, like correctional facility construction and financing, that meet the unique needs of our government partners. We are interested in further discussions around those capabilities should the State decide it wants to replace the Wyoming State Penitentiary instead of renovating the current facility.”
On Friday, Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Bob Lampert said there needed to be a place for inmates if structural movement at the prison was so severe that people could no longer inhabit it. Last year, corrections officials began to look for options, he said.
“We put out a request for proposal to see if anybody had any beds available on a contingency basis,” Lampert said. “They had beds readily available if we needed them.”
Lampert said the contract would go into effect only if there was a “catastrophic failure of the penitentiary and we need to move inmates.” He said the inmates would return to Wyoming when the prison’s problem was remedied.
In December, inmates were placed on lockdown for nearly two days as maintenance crews repaired the facility’s doors.
Lampert said the structural issues haven’t been that severe since then. But there are some indications that the prison continues to move. Doors and windows appear to have shifted. He said that maintenance crews continue to try to keep the prison safe for employees and inmates.
Included in the $5.1 million contract is a $55 to $75 cost to house each inmate per day.
The daily housing portion of the contract will increase by 2.5 percent on July 1, when the new contract kicks in, the contract states.
CoreCivic would have to provide food for the inmates as well as routine medical care, clothing, bedding and basic hygiene and cleaning items.
Inmates can buy additional hygiene items and other goods at the private prison’s commissary.
The contract doesn’t delineate which items are basic and which ones are extras that inmates would have to purchase. It just says CoreCivic must follow its own commissary policies.
All profits made at the commissary must benefit the inmate population, although the contract doesn’t specify what precisely would constitute as a benefit to the prisoners.
The contract requires CoreCivic to provide inmates access to the courts. Prisoners must be treated well, it states.
CoreCivic “shall provide humane treatment to agency inmates, free from unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain, grossly disproportionate treatment in light of their convictions, deliberate indifference to safety, health and welfare and other cruel and unusual punishment,” the contract states.