Who’s Minding the Kids?: Have Profits Distorted the Mission of Rehabilitating Inmates at Mississippi’s Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility?

 Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

A few days ago, I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR while I was driving in my car. Host John Burnett was talking about an investigation into Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi. The prison facility for youthful offenders is being run by a private company called GEO Group. According to NPR, privatized prison services are a $3 billion dollar industry in this country—and GEO Group is our nation’s second largest for-profit prison operator.

From NPR: “The Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU National Prison Project have filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 13 inmates against the prison operator, GEO Group, the prison administration and state officials. The complaint describes rampant contraband brought in by guards, sex between female guards and male inmates, inadequate medical care, prisoners held inhumanely in isolation, guards brutalizing inmates and inmate-on-inmate violence that was so brutal it led to brain damage.” 

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation into some of these charges earlier this year. NPR says its own investigation has raised “the fundamental question of whether profits have distorted the mission of rehabilitating young inmates.”

Walnut Grove, the nation’s largest juvenile prison, houses 1,200 boys and young men. It is the only facility that locks up thirteen-year-olds with 22-year-olds. The typical guard-to-inmate ratio is 1 officer to 10 or 12 juvenile prisoners. A state audit of the Walnut Grove facility showed a guard-to-inmate ratio of 1 to 60! Salaries for prison staff are reportedly the largest expenditure of a correctional budget. Evidently, cutting staff is a good way of cutting costs.

The inmates in the Walnut Grove facility outnumber the citizens of the small town by 2 to 1. The prison reportedly pays Walnut Grove $15,000 a month in lieu of taxes. The facility’s payments comprise nearly 15% of the town’s annual budget. The mayor said, “For a small town, that’s a lot of money and it helps us maintain a full-time police department that we wouldn’t be able to afford without that income.” 

State Representative Earle Banks, chairman of Mississippi’s Juvenile Justice Committee, said, “All this community is just making so much money off Walnut Grove that no one wants to upset the applecart. Then that means they’re not gonna make their money anymore.” Banks, a plaintiff’s lawyer, called a recent hearing to investigate Walnut Grove. He is suing the prison for wrongful death of an inmate.

As John Burnett said, “All of this raises the question: Is oversight of the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility negligent because it’s a golden goose?”

Note: There IS a full-time state corrections employee who has the job of monitoring how the prison is run. That employee’s salary is reimbursed by…GEO group.

Listen to the NPR program “Town Relies On Troubled Youth Prison For Profits”

Note: I believe NPR will broadcast the second part of this story on Monday, March 28th.  

Town Relies On Troubled Youth Prison For Profits (NPR)
What Is GEO Group? (NPR)

29 thoughts on “Who’s Minding the Kids?: Have Profits Distorted the Mission of Rehabilitating Inmates at Mississippi’s Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility?”

  1. raff and everyone. Thank you all for the kind words and support. Raff, to answer your question, my daughter and her ex-husband are requesting donations for the children’s cancer clinic. The clinic he was treated at is the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Pediatric-Hematology. His treating oncologist was Dr. Watts. They loved him at the clinic. When the Hospice nurse called Dr. Watts to tell him Reed was gone, he was at their home within twenty minutes. Dr. Watts is a fantastic doctor and a wonderful human being who actually made house calls on Reed.

    Here is a link to Reed’s page at the cancer cookbook with one of his prize winning recipes. He wanted to be a chef.


    Any donations should be sent in Reed’s name. Here is the link with contact information.


    Centers for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Hospital
    1600 7th Avenue South
    ACC 512
    Birmingham, AL 35233

  2. Otteray Scribe,

    I recall the first thread wherein I read you mentioning that your grandson had entered the last phase of his young, ephemeral life was one regarding Private Bradley Manning. The connection between those two young men—Brad and Reed—will be my unalterable remembrance. One is now in peaceful repose while experiencing the dignity, care, and grace of a loving family while the other continuously suffers inexplicable abuse at the hands of an undignified, cruel, and disgraceful government.

    When Bradley ultimately finds peace—in whatever manifestation—it will now have an added, distinctive meaning for me. Similarly, the ‘Mull of Kintyre’ pipes will remain as a commemoration of the father and grandfather who lost his son and grandson too soon but who made the effort to honor their young lives in the presence of people to whom they—and he—would have otherwise remained unknown in character and appreciation.

  3. Otteray Scribe,

    My deepest sympathies to you and all the family and friends who knew and loved Reed.

  4. Thanks, guys. I am holding up OK. My wife is a retired oncology nurse, so she and I both have seen our share of death. But, when it is your own, it is quite different.

    I have been getting messages of support from all over. The kindness of people is touching.

  5. OS,
    I am so sorry to hear your news. From your earlier discussions, it looks like he fought the good fight, but he is in a better place now with no pain or suffering. My prayers and condolences go out to you and your family on this difficult day!

  6. Otary Scribe,

    The news you bear fills me with sorrow as I listen to Amazing Grace
    and wish it for your Grandson and all of your family. The enormity of your loss cannot be ameliorated by anything I can say. I recited the “Kaddish” in his honor. I can only say you have my deepest empathy and sorrow.

  7. This is about as off-topic as it can get, but since the title of this story is about minding the kids, I am letting our little community know about this now. My seventeen year old grandson, Reed, has passed away. He fought the good fight against Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that mostly affects teenage males. He was diagnosed at the age of 13 and just had his seventeenth birthday. Reed was surrounded by his parents, two sisters and several other family members when he left us about four o’clock EDT.

    Please remember him in your own way. He is at peace now. May he have Godspeed on his journey to forever….

  8. To what extent are politicians who “save money for the people” by indirectly raising “costs to the people” far beyond he money saved involved in an illegal conflict of interest?

  9. carol,

    Your comment got me to thinking about privatized prisons in Arizona–which I had read about some time ago.

    Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law (NPR, 10/28/2010)
    by Laura Sullivan

    Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.

    Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch.

    “The gentleman that’s the main thrust of this thing has a huge turquoise ring on his finger,” Nichols said. “He’s a great big huge guy and I equated him to a car salesman.”

    What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.

    “They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community,” Nichols said, “the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate.”

    But Nichols wasn’t buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years — decades even — with illegal immigrants?

    “They talked like they didn’t have any doubt they could fill it,” Nichols said.

    That’s because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona’s immigration law.


    How Corporate Interests Got SB 1070 Passed (NPR, 11/9/2010)

    This past April, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer set off a national controversy when she signed Senate Bill 1070 into law. That’s the measure that requires state law enforcement officers to ask suspects they believe may be here illegally about their immigration status.

    Supporters praise it as a tough law that lets state authorities enforce laws the federal government will not. Critics say it will lead to racial profiling. The Justice Department believes it’s unconstitutional, and most of the law has been suspended while that case proceeds in federal court.

    But no matter whether you support the law or not, you probably don’t know how it came to be written, unless you heard a two-part series reported by NPR’s Laura Sullivan.

    She learned that SB 1070 was drafted and passed with the help of powerful corporate interests: the private prison industry.

  10. Our new Ohio Governor, John Kasick wants to sell five of our prisons to private hands. Of course his argument is saving money since the biggest expenditure is salaries (what should it be?). He says all current employees will be given preference for jobs by the new owners. Providing of courser if they want to work the same job with for a lot less.

    Anybody know the website that tells who a politicians major contributors are? I suspect the soon to be new owners of the five prisons are right up there.

  11. Whenever I hear child rehabilitation and institutions in the South,
    my mistrust meter registers high. Unfortunately, as I found out working with Foster Care in NYC this is really a countrywide problem. In my experience the more faith based the institution running the facility, the more noxious its treatment is.

  12. Thanks for front paging this story Elaine. This is a freaking nightmare. As I told you earlier, it is a scam propelled by Haley Barbour and his enablers and owners.

    I know many of the key players in this system, going back to the horrible juvenile detention facility near Raymond, MS.

    There have been many lawsuits, but the surprises keep coming. Maybe I should not use the word ‘surprise,’ because nothing surprises me any more about this system.

    Read this document and weep.


    And this one


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