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TYC Closes GEO's Coke County Facility

The Austin American Statesman reported yesterday that the Texas Youth Commission will close the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Bronte siting unsanitary and unsafe conditions at the facility. According to the article:

"Detainees will be transferred from the Coke County center, in Bronte, to other TYC facilities on Tuesday. The facility holds 197 young offenders, said TYC spokesman Jim Hurley. "TYC's number one priority is the safety and well being of those youths under our care," Dimitria D. Pope, the agency's acting executive director, said in a statement.

"The unsafe conditions I witnessed at Coke County this weekend are unacceptable. We have zero tolerance for any form of abuse within the system, and those responsible parties will be held accountable."

A TYC official found unsanitary conditions during a visit to center on Sept. 24. State officials followed up with an unannounced audit that began Wednesday and continued through the weekend, the Texas Youth Commission said Monday in a statement.

The audit found the facility was in an advanced state of disrepair and rehabilitation and other programs weren't being pursued, leaving detainees mostly constrained. It led officials to believe the health and safety of the youth housed at the center was in jeopardy, Hurley said."

As Judy noted back in July, Coke County was home to one of the worst scandals in private prison history back in the 1990s when GEO, then called Wackenhut, hired a man who’d been arrested for a sex offense against a child, to work as a "lead careworker" at the prison, which then held young girls.

The man, Rufino Garcia, sexually assaulted 15 year-old Sarah Lowe, and continued to harass and threaten her after her release. Wackenhut settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount of money. Lowe, distraught because the lawsuit allowed the company to avoid responsibility for the incident, committed suicide the same day the settlement was finalized.

Again in 2007, a Coke County staffer was fired after TYC learned he had a previous conviction for exposing himself to a child (while a juvenile). The staff member maintained that he revealed the conviction during the hiring process.

As Grits points out, TYC hasn't exactly been consistent as of late on whether the private prison corporations have been providing quality care.

"First, why did TYC earlier this year propose moving ALL the young kids into contract care if their only contract unit was doing so poorly? Had nobody been out there to check on the Geo unit? The agency came within a whisker this summer of shifting all 10-13 year olds into contract care.

Thankfully they stopped the move after the decision was first reported on Grits and the MSM began poking around, but then Tim Savoy announced they still intended to contract care for young kids. Hopefully this new development will scuttle the idea of contracting out care for young kids completely. That is a state responsibility."

The overall operational problems continue to mount for GEO in Texas. In July, Idaho moved its prisoners out of GEO's Dickens County in the wake of an inmate suicide lock-up siting "squalid" conditions.

The company then drew fire in Laredo for an apparent quid pro quo deal involving scholarship checks exchanged for zoning permits and water and electrical hookups. The company was also recently sued over alleged medical neglect of an inmate at it's Pearsall immigrant detention center.

Of course, these problems haven't kept company officials from getting rich - CEO George Zoley made an estimated $3.7 million in overall compensation last year. We'll keep you updated on GEO developments, including a protest this weekend at GEO's Val Verde detention center.

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