White House urged to shutter privately run Kansas prison

·3 min read

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A privately run maximum security federal prison in Kansas is dangerous and should be shut down when its contract expires at the end of this year, civil rights advocates and federal public defenders urged the White House in a letter.

The 10-page letter emailed Thursday to a White House office and local officials details stabbings, suicides, a homicide and inmate rights violations that happened this year at the Leavenworth Detention Center. The letter blamed understaffing and poor management by operator CoreCivic.

Among the incidents it cites was one in February in which an inmate was beaten and sent to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. The next day, an inmate threw hot water on a female correctional officer, stabbed her and then kicked another officer. The officers were taken to the hospital with severe injuries after other inmates intervened to save them.

The privately run prison is separate from Leavenworth's more well known federal penitentiary, where infamous mobsters and, more recently, former football star Michael Vick, were held.

CoreCivic described its critics' claims as “false and defamatory” in a written statement Friday.

“These allegations are designed to exert political pressure rather than to serve as an objective assessment of the work our dedicated (Leavenworth Detention Center) staff has done to serve the needs of the United States Marshals Service,” the company said.

The letter was signed by legal directors for American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska, and by the heads of federal public defender offices for districts whose pretrial detainees are incarcerated at the prison.

They wrote that CoreCivic has tried to pressure government entities to keep the prison open by renewing or extending its contract with the U.S. Marshals Service or entering one with Leavenworth County that would allow CoreCivic to run the facility. The county declined CoreCivic's proposal, but the company has asked it to reconsider.

The White House has the opportunity to put meaning behind President Joe Biden's executive order regarding the closure of private detention facilities, the critics contend.

“We can think of few places worthier of immediate action than this facility, which has proven itself to be increasingly dangerous and incapable of upholding the constitutional of those imprisoned there,” they wrote.

In its statement, CoreCivic wrote that the ACLU aims to end all private prisons, and the company said its critics' letter contained bias throughout.

Neither White House spokeswoman, Emilie Simons, nor Leavenworth County Administrator Mark Loughry immediately responded to emails seeking comment about the matter.

The detention center, located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Kansas City, Missouri, houses inmates facing federal charges primarily from the court system's Western District of Missouri, District of Kansas and District of Nebraska. It can hold up to 1,033 people.

Between May and July of this year, it averaged more than 36 violent incidents a month, according to the letter. The prison also had two suicides this year, including one in which nothing was done despite the family notifying officials that the detainee was suicidal, and several cases in which inmates were stabbed or otherwise attacked. The letter also alleges that a correctional officer sodomized a detainee during a search in the middle of the night.

The ACLU of Kansas also says it has received complaints that staff routinely lock people in showers with running water as a form of punishment.

Some doors in the prison don't lock and inmates routinely barricade themselves inside their cells at night for their own protection, according to the letter.

CoreCivic said in its statement that the locks have been fixed.

The prison has been on lockdown since a detainee was fatally attacked by another inmate on Aug. 2.

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Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas.

Roxana Hegeman And Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press

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