Private Prison Firm Runs School Drug Raid

Just when you thought the privatization of prisons couldn’t get much worse. In Arizona, the nation’s largest private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America, took part in the locking down and searching of a school for drugs, working with regular law enforcement companies.

At 9 a.m. on the morning of October 31, 2012, students at Vista Grande High School in Casa Grande were settling in to their daily routine when something unusual occurred.

Vista Grande High School Principal Tim Hamilton ordered the school — with a student population of 1,776 — on “lock down,” kicking off the first “drug sweep” in the school’s four-year history. According to Hamilton, “lock down” is a state in which, “everybody is locked in the room they are in, and nobody leaves — nobody leaves the school, nobody comes into the school.”

“Everybody is locked in, and then they bring the dogs in, and they are teamed with an administrator and go in and out of classrooms. They go to a classroom and they have the kids come out and line up against a wall. The dog goes in and they close the door behind, and then the dog does its thing, and if it gets a hit, it sits on a bag and won’t move.”

While such “drug sweeps” have become a routine matter in many of the nation’s schools, along with the use of metal detectors and zero-tolerance policies, one feature of this raid was unusual. According to Casa Grande Police Department (CGPD) Public Information Officer Thomas Anderson, four “law enforcement agencies” took part in the operation: CGPD (which served as the lead agency and operation coordinator), the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Gila River Indian Community Police Department, and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

It is the involvement of CCA — the nation’s largest private, for-profit prison corporation — that causes this high school “drug sweep” to stand out as unusual; CCA is not, despite CGPD’s evident opinion to the contrary, a law enforcement agency.

“To invite for-profit prison guards to conduct law enforcement actions in a high school is perhaps the most direct expression of the ‘schools-to-prison pipeline’ I’ve ever seen,” said Caroline Isaacs, program director of the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker social justice organization that advocates for criminal justice reform.

“All the research shows that CCA doesn’t properly train its staff to do the jobs they actually have. They most certainly do not have anywhere near the training and experience–to say nothing of the legal authority–to conduct a drug raid on a high school,” Isaacs added. “It is chilling to think that any school official would be willing to put vulnerable students at risk this way.”

This kind of thing is unconstitutional to begin with (despite the Supreme Court’s rulings allowing it to take place, providing an exemption from the First Amendment that is found nowhere in the text or history of the Constitution), but the involvement of a private prison firm makes it far worse.

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  • providing an exemption from the First Amendment that is found nowhere in the text or history of the Constitution

    You mean Fourth Amendment, right?

  • magistramarla

    This used to happen occasionally in the Texas high school where I used to work.

    The difference is that the school district has it’s very own police force.

    Even the teachers were not exempt. There was one teacher in Texas who was fired for having pain pills in her purse which were not labeled with a prescription.

  • matthewhodson

    Is this story from a dystopian novel? Maybe something like “the man in high castle”, an alternate future where the fascists won the second world war.

  • Artor

    Why the hell are there still any people living in Arizona? Everything I hear about the place makes it seem more & more hellish.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … regular law enforcement companies.


  • yoav

    Am I right to assume the student in this school are mostly poor and not white?

  • So what’s next? CCA employees will be allowed to grab teens off the street for “random” searches?

  • @7 Only if they look suspicious and/or come from the wrong quadrant of the color wheel; forgetting the suspicious part of course.

  • naturalcynic

    Am I right to assume the student in this school are mostly poor and not white?

    Probably true. Casa Grande is roughly 50% non-Hispanic White, 40% Hispanic, 5% Native American and 5% Black.

  • anubisprime

    In Blighty we have G4S, a for profit security firm and most will remember the debacle at the recent Olympics where they bid a ridiculous boast, and then failed miserably to provide adequate security at all Olympic venues.

    They also staff prisons and run the prisoner transport services.

    They are the largest of such an organization in Britain certainly.

    I am sure most of their work is of a standard where they are happy but in the main the public are not that sanguine with them.

    They have been involved in all prisons where there has been a woeful lack of standard of care.

    To the point that bullying. smuggling and violence was rife and endemic.

    As for quality of care and control of their charges almost to the point of non-existence.

    They are untrained for the most part, and the bulk of their staff are part time students and on short cheapo contracts.

    They have a rather chequered history of losing prisoners in transit to court appearances and they have a rather arrogant view as to their worth.

    They failed badly, in the Olympics, showing themselves for the cheapskate amateur clowns for what they are.

    They promised over 20000 security personnel and delivered between 10 and 12000 by the time of the opening ceremony, there was problems with kit and complete chaos in scheduling shift changes.

    Several army regiments were drafted in to cover their shortfall, and the government had to basically bribe them to agree.

    The regiments had only just returned from Afghanistan, for R&R and were expected to pick up the dropped bollix by this investor led debacle.

    The rest of the gaps was filled by Police officers supposedly on holiday at the time, downtime was cancelled at the weekend.

    Then after this truly lamentable performance the company demanded they get paid per contract.

    But the government quite rightly told them to go and take a long run off a short pier.

    So private security firms…wonderful, but share holders seem to have no ethical concerns at all, nothing stands between them and cash in their wallet seemingly.

  • Obvs, bringing in an outside company to do the search-and-seizure is against the law, but… shit, can the cops just DO that? Barge in to a school and go, “we’re searching everyone”? I always thought they had to get the consent of the person being searched…

  • =8)-DX

    Shit, lining up children? There’d have to be some fire hazard, weapon or bomb-scare or something for anything close to that to happen in my country.

    I mean I guess if a child was caught with drugs or weapons a police officer might be brought in, as well as notifying the parents and having a sit down. But wholesale lining ’em up?

    All I remember about police were some friendly dudes coming into to show off their kit and explain the basics of interaction with the police (we also had firefighters in).

  • rabbitscribe

    “This kind of thing is unconstitutional to begin with (despite the Supreme Court’s rulings allowing it to take place, providing an exemption from the First Amendment that is found nowhere in the text or history of the Constitution)…”

    Shame on you! What’s the difference between a constitutional activity and an unconstitutional activity which SCOTUS has erroneously ruled constitutional?

    Hint: What’s the difference betweet two and six thirds?

  • joeina2

    Alright, some one crush my hope: Every time I have ever had an interaction with the Friends, I have been happy. AFS seems to be one of the most consistently pro-civil liberty, anti-war people.

    Are they harboring any latent homophobes or secretly spend money on putting creationism in science classrooms. Because I have to admit, my opinion is really rosy.

  • anandine

    Artor @4, the populace in Arizona like this crap. They vote for people who do it. Others self-deport.

  • joeina2: The Friends I have encountered are all pro-LGBT rights and while I don’t know their views on evolution they are very strongly pro-separation of church and state so I doubt they support classroom creationism. This might not be universal however since my understanding is that they tend to be pretty loosely organized.

  • Doug Little

    Nothing says welcome to the war on drugs like raiding schools with drug sniffing dogs.

  • Doug Little

    So what’s next? CCA employees will be allowed to grab teens off the street for “random” searches?

    They get to shoot them if they are wearing hoodies.

  • marcus

    Sorry, IMHFO rabbitscribe @13 is correct, if SCOTUS ruled an activity as constitutional then it is, in fact, constitutional. Though the action is, of course, quite contrary to the spirit of the constitution and the Bill of Rights itself. We can disagree about whether something should or should not be constitutional but whether it is or is not is determined by SCOTUS.

  • The so-called authorities stage an event like this to look for drugs; but then some kid breaks into a school with GUNS and kills about 20 kids in cold blood? This hyper-ironic coincidence just reminds us that current school “security” policies really aren’t aimed at protecting kids from anything.

  • @joeina2

    Yeah, for real. Go Quakers!

  • bradleybetts

    What nobhead allowed this? Because for-profit PRison organisations are gonna be totally impartial when it comes to locking people up, right? Not to mention they have no jurisdiction and no legal powers, so presumably it’s illegal for them to be involved?

  • The problems with involving G4S in the UK are bad enough, but at least they don’t build, own, and operate their own for-profit prisons.

    The incarceration rate in the UK is one of the highest in the EC, but is still dwarfed by the USA’s — which is five times higher, per capita (and higher than either Russia and China, that are both routinely condemned for their punitive and oppressively authoritarian justice systems).

    Of course, it’s not just the for-profit prison system that’s the problem, it is a many-headed beast all stemming from the misguided conservative belief that the tougher you are on criminals, the better society will be.

    Here’s another area where unnecessary but routine incarceration is practiced (also with a possible aid-and-abet from for-profit private businesses, this time bail bondsmen) — pretrial incarceration:

    Jailed without conviction: Behind bars for lack of money

  • pocketnerd

    And never forget the crucial lesson you learned today, kiddies: Surrender your rights without question. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down!

  • jakc

    In my experience, the same legislators who are offended by anything they see as a restriction on the 2nd Amendment believe students have no 4th Amendment rights.

  • Surely, three law enforcement agencies would have been too few.

  • anne mariehovgaard

    Raging Bee @ 20: Nothing ironic about it, both are symptoms of the pathological love of violence in all its forms that is such an important part of US culture. Just like the death penalty, the collective military fetish, corporal punishment, the insane number of people in prison…

  • uncephalized

    Artor #4

    Why the hell are there still any people living in Arizona? Everything I hear about the place makes it seem more & more hellish.

    Some of us are stuck here due to limited employment opportunities. Plus, it’s my home state and despite being full of crazies, is actually quite beautiful and (for half the year) has extremely pleasant weather.

    We’re working on getting the hell out (particularly the Phoenix area, which is pretty much a hellhole; I’m originally from Tucson which is much more liberal, less hot and has better scenery), but it takes time and money.

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