OSHA complaints show awful conditions inside private prisons … for the employees

Fire, lead, and vermin are just some of the everyday hazards

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by JPat Brown

MuckRock’s September request for complaints made to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) against Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has so far yielded only four complete responses from OSHA’s ten regional offices. None of them mention interpersonal inmate issues but nonetheless they offer glimpses into what goes on within prison walls.

At Georgia’s Wheeler Correctional Facility, a fire started by two inmates inside their cell took about a half an hour to extinguish because they were insufficiently trained to use the extinguisher. Three employees were sent to the hospital for burns and carbon monoxide inhalation. The reporting employee noted that despite having experience with putting fires out — “fires are common here” — he was unfamiliar with the protocol regarding in-cell accidents.

In Mississippi, employees on perimeter duty complained of a lack of proper attire to deal with vermin they might encounter while on watch. It was revealed that previous allowances for vehicle patrol had been traded for mandatory standing to prevent guards from napping.

At the Northeast Ohio Correctional Facility in Ohio, a firearms training employee was sent to the hospital with high blood lead content. OSHA was eventually called in, after months of prodding from the employee, who was told that testing had not yet been conducted because it was unclear from whose budget the expense would be drawn.

While the initial incident occurred on an indoor range, OSHA’s testing was conducted on an outdoor range, where lead levels were not high enough to violate OSHA standards.

And at the Idaho Correctional Facility complaints about the quality of light, radios, effective security camera coverage, and evacuation in case of emergency revealed that OSHA does not have standards to address those items — common enough concerns across all prisons — and that no citations would be given.

The largest fine for this group of offenses rang in at $3,675 in Ohio, but as CCA noted in its RFP for another Ohio institution, it makes enough money to cover those, no problem.

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