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Whitmire Orders Investigation of GEO lock-ups; GEO Sends in Lobbyists

We’ve been posting about GEO’s ongoing Texas troubles for months, and those troubles finally seem to have caught up with the company in the wake of the removal of juveniles detained at Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, a facility contracted by the Texas Youth Commission.

State Senator John Whitmire, the powerful chair of the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, has launched a probe into the company’s contracts with the state. According to the story this morning Houston Chronicle:

Democratic Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, cited the "terrible job" Geo Group Inc. did running the West Texas youth lockup and said Thursday he plans to review adult corrections contracts the state has with the company.

Whitmire is clearly upset about the abuse and “filthy conditions” reported at Coke County. He is also rightfully peeved that GEO Group is sending lobbyists to convince legislators that they were acting too swiftly in pulling the youth from the prison. According to the Dallas Morning News:

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, threatened to hold a public hearing on GEO's operation of the TYC prison.

"Certainly that's an option if this goes any further," said Mr. Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "If GEO thinks they've been treated unfairly, let's have a public hearing and look at all the photographs and videos [of the Coke County prison] and let the public decide."

Mr. Whitmire said he was upset at efforts this week by GEO lobbyists to convince legislators that TYC had treated the company too harshly.

"Now enters GEO with their paid lobbyists attempting to put a good face on this," Mr. Whitmire said.

"I'm saying the corporation should back off. They've run a very poor facility that probably violates the youths' civil rights. ... Kids were stepping in their own feces. The sheets were such that a cat or dog wouldn't sleep on them."

GEO spokesman Pablo Paez said he would not comment on any attempts by the company's lobbyists to sway legislators.

The problems have been piling on in recent days for GEO and the TYC. Yesterday the Dallas Morning News reported that TYC had fired 7 employees in the fallout of the Coke County scandal and was launching a criminal investigation into the Coke County facility, including GEO employees there.

TYC Inspector General Bruce Toney said Wednesday he has begun a criminal investigation of operations at the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center near Bronte.

Mr. Toney said his inquiry could focus on TYC employees and those of GEO Group Inc., which operates the prison. "We are going to follow all leads wherever they take us and as high as they may go both in TYC and the operation of that facility," Mr. Toney said.

Citing "deplorable conditions," TYC this week canceled its contract with GEO to operate the state's largest private juvenile prison. All 197 male inmates were removed on Tuesday.

Mr. Toney said he has requested assistance from the state auditor's office and met with the head of the Travis County district attorney's public integrity unit on Wednesday.

He said he also advised the Texas Rangers and Texas attorney general's office of his investigation.

The withdrawl of the juvenile inmates was instigated by a damning report filed by new TYC Ombudsman Will Harrell. Again from the excellent reporting of the Dallas Morning News (and via Grits for Breakfast - by far the best place on the web for continuous coverage on the TYC):

The problems found at the prison in Bronte, operated by the GEO Group Inc. of Florida, were described in a report by TYC Ombudsman Will Harrell.

"There is a greater sense of fear and intimidation in this facility than perhaps any other I have been to," Mr. Harrell wrote. He also noted that:

  • Some young inmates were kept in "malodorous and dark" security cells for five weeks. They were allowed to leave, in shackles, only once a day for a shower.
  • There was an "over-reliance" on the use of pepper spray.
  • Inmates "complain regularly of discovering insects in their food."

Here at Texas Prison Bid’ness, we certainly hope that the light continues to shine on the GEO Group’s prisons.

I’ll be attending a protest, press conference, and tour of GEO’s notorious Val Verde prison in Del Rio this Saturday. More information is here. We’ll have a report on Sunday.

Comments

my brother is currently in the colubia sc facility. he is severely injured and because of poor care there he now has an infection in his heart valve. we are terrified he will die in there. he has a broken hip and shattered  pelvis he sustained in county jail in scott county iowa. has been thru 5 surgeries and shipped to columbia sc.. where the food is not fit for an animal and they took him off anitbiotics to soon .he had temp of 105.9 when they finally moved him to the hospital packed in ice. now the heart infections. his life is literaly in danger. we cant seem to get federal marshalls or anyone to help us. please. , if you can advise us of where to go for help. i will be forever grateful... sincerely, brenda kindred.

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