Leavenworth prison beset by reports of violence and mismanagement faces uncertain future
The ACLU complained in a letter of reports of stabbings, understaffing and poor security at the private prison. As CoreCivic's contract expires this month, questions about its future remain.
Prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing at the troubled Leavenworth Detention Center should have new confines by the end of the year.
CoreCivic, a publicly traded prison operator, owns the Leavenworth Detention Center, which has been the center of a number of controversies in recent years. They range from reports of poor conditions to authorities eavesdropping on phone calls between prisoners and their attorneys.
The U.S. Marshals Service’s (USMS) lease at the Leavenworth Detention Center ends on Dec. 31 and won’t be renewed. That comes after President Biden issued an executive order early this year to curtail the Justice Department’s use of private prisons.
Plans are underway to transfer the prisoners to another government-run prison facility in Leavenworth.
“Currently, the USMS and BOP (Bureau of Prisons) are collaborating to transfer individuals from the Leavenworth Detention Center to the nearby U.S. Penitentiary Leavenworth,” said Lynzey Donahue, a spokeswoman for the USMS. “Preparations are underway to accommodate the particular needs and rights of those individuals being transferred.”
That leaves unanswered the question of what CoreCivic will do with its Leavenworth facility. An NPR report earlier this year speculated that it may be repurposed to house immigration detainees. But a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement said Tuesday that it is not pursuing a contract to use the facility.
CoreCivic, whose shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange, noted in a quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Nov. 9 that its lease in Leavenworth with the U.S. Marshals Service was ending in December.
It’s one of seven CoreCivic detention facilities used primarily by the U.S. Marshals Service and whose terms would expire in the next several years. CoreCivic said if those leases are not renewed or the Biden executive order is expanded to apply to ICE, it could have a “material adverse effect” on the company’s business and financial condition.
CoreCivic’s work on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service accounted for 23% of the company’s total revenue so far this year, according to SEC filings. Contracts with ICE represented 30% of CoreCivic’s revenue.
“It’s a huge business for them,” Brett said.
The quarterly SEC filing said that CoreCivic had entered negotiations with other government partners to use the Leavenworth Detention Center, but it did not specify which ones.
The Leavenworth Detention Center is a 1,033-bed prison that opened in 1992.
The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General examined the prison in a 2017 report that found a number of management issues, including frequent understaffing and the placement of three prisoners in cells designed to hold two. The inspector general uncovered efforts to conceal the presence of a third inmate in the cells.
The inspector general also criticized the U.S. Marshals Service for its lack of oversight of CoreCivic, including failing to reduce payouts to the company when it understaffed the prison.
A letter earlier this year from ACLU chapters in several Midwest states to the White House and Leavenworth County Commission urged both to stop using CoreCivic in Leavenworth by the end of the year. The letter painted a grim picture of conditions inside the prison, including prison doors that don’t lock and multiple incidents of stabbings this year alone.
“Federal public defenders with clients inside CoreCivic Leavenworth report that stabbings like this are so routine recently that they are almost unnoteworthy,” the letter said.
The prison has also been at the heart of ongoing court proceedings brought by one-time inmates who claim their privileged conversations with their attorneys were illegally recorded and, in some cases, made available to federal prosecutors. The prisoners are seeking to have their convictions vacated or their sentences thrown out.