BY TOM BUSSELBERG
CENTERVILLE – The Management Training Corporation of Centerville has been accused of allowing “barbaric” conditions at a prison that houses mentally ill prisoners that it runs in Mississippi, but was not named in a lawsuit about the alleged problems.*
However, the company claims it has made “significant progress” in improving conditions at a Mississippi prison, which it took over on July 1, 2012.
The scathing lawsuit was filed in May by Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union against the Mississippi Department of Corrections, which contracted with MTC.
The 83-page lawsuit claims that rapes and beatings are rampant and that psychological help is either inadequate or unavailable.
Other claims say that the grime-covered facility reeks of feces and inmates spend months in isolated darkness with access to showers or working toilets, and that prisoners are routinely denied medication, ignored by guards, and use rats that infest the building as currency to obtain goods and services.
Issa Arnata, director of corporate communications for MTC, emphasized his company, which operates 24 prisons across the country, is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
“The allegations date to before we took over,” he said. “We’ve had a very good relationship with Southern Poverty. They’ve toured the facility multiple times, called the warden to ask about individual inmates, thanked the warden for helping with situations.”
However, the lawsuit listed several appalling incidents that allegedly occurred since the takeover.
Arnata said offender assaults have decreased 74 percent from 2012 and incidents where force was used are down by 60 percent from the prior year.
He also said conditions are improving.
“A health inspection found no signs of infestation,” Arnata said, adding that a company has been hired to visit twice a month to take care of any such issues.
MTC operates all four of Mississippi’s prisons.
A press release from the Mississippi Department of Corrections said it is working with MTC and Health Assurance, which provides health services, to respond to the lawsuit.
“It is the agency’s policy to let the facts play out in court,” the release said.
It said the department has “responded accordingly” when made aware of problems.
Monitors are based at all prisons, including East Mississippi Correctional Facility (subject of lawsuit), said Commissioner Christopher B. Epps in the release.
He said the corrections department was not happy with the prison’s previous operator and plaintiffs in the lawsuit agreed to go with the new operator.
Grace Fisher, public information officer for Mississippi Department of Corrections, said that privately operated prisons must offer a savings of at least 10 percent.
Monitors are paid for by the state, Fisher said. The system involves an “ongoing assessment of the facility’s operations.”
That includes a daily review of unusual incident reports, periodic inmate interviews and surveys, and quarterly audits of inmate records and files.
Epps indicated the state is happy with MTC’s performance at the facility, she said.
For many years, MTC has operated the Clearfield Job Corps under contract with the federal government.
*This article has been updated to reflect the fact that MTC was not named in the lawsuit.