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GEO Group Flings Money and Promises to Laredo

Last week the Laredo Morning Times reported on an apparent largesse by the GEO Group's CEO George Zoley. Zoley promised a cool quarter million dollars each to the City of Laredo and to Webb County at a press conference. It may sound like a lot of money, but for Zoley and the GEO Group, it's a small investment in local goodwill with a huge cash payoff.

GEO has sealed a deal on a new federal jail in Laredo, a smaller version of the project that was being referred to as the "superjail" and has been met with considerable opposition. GEO anticipates this new 1,500-bed prison will pull in $31.5 million per year once it's operational in 2008. It will take the prison less than a week to earn GEO half a million dollars in revenue once it's full of prisoners. GEO was hoping to sweeten the deal for themselves by getting the county to foot the bill for construction, but the county nixed that idea, opting only to pay for the utilities necessary for the prison.. at a cost of approximately $500,000. For those of you doing the math, the county is getting $250,000 and paying $500,000 to help GEO get their prison.

Why pay money to have a prison in your county? GEO Group wasn't just handing out money... GEO is predicting all sorts of tax benefits, jobs galore, and other perks... even though there is plenty of evidence that prisons cost rural communities on several levels and don't deliver on all their promises (see this excellent summary on the false promises of rural prisons by Tracy Huling). Laredo isn't exactly rural, but like a number of rural communities, it's counting on the prison as an economic development tool. And the prison will make money... for GEO Group.

There's big money to be made in private prisons in South Texas. A May 2006 count by the Texas Observer put the number of private prison beds in South Texas alone at approaching 5,000. 5,000 prison beds making money a day... that's a lot of profit, and lot of lives... certainly the sort of profit that will get someone handing out money and promises pretty freely.