Lane McCotter, who helped set up Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison for U.S. military use headed the Texas prison system during one of its most controversial periods and later resigned as director of Utah prisons after an inmate died while shackled naked to a chair, says the Houston Chronicle. McCotter, now director of business development for a private prison company, Management & Training Corp., says he never trained U.S. military personnel working in Iraq’s prisons and turned over the management of Abu Ghraib to military officials before the U.S. began housing prisoners there.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, wants Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate how people like McCotter were chosen to oversee the opening of prisons in Iraq. Schumer noted that McCotter is an executive for a company operating a private prison in New Mexico that the Justice Department criticized last year for unsafe conditions and lack of medical care for inmates.
McCotter left Iraq in early September; the first documented abuses in Abu Ghraib prison occurred in October. McCotter said he had nothing to do with training military personnel to run the prisons.
McCotter was picked to head the Texas prison system in June 1985 after intense lobbying by Gov. Mark White. Managing the system in those days meant complying with the strict guidelines established by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice to meet terms of a settlement in a long-standing prison overcrowding lawsuit. McCotter spent 18 months administering the Texas system, a period when prison violence made frequent headlines and Justice was threatening to fine the state as much as $1,000 a day if it did not make court-ordered improvements. McCotter was widely criticized for the early release of thousands of violent convicts who accrued “good time” in segregation cells where they were placed because they were too dangerous to mix with others.
McCotter resigned under pressure from newly elected Gov. Bill Clements. His supporters claimed McCotter had been unfairly made a scapegoat during the bitter political campaign; they noted that prison violence dropped significantly during his tenure.
McCotter recently said that, “like all Americans, I am offended and sickened by the improper actions that have taken place at Abu Ghraib since my departure. Certainly those who have acted improperly should be fully prosecuted.”