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Why Did TYC Spend $1.26 Million on Empty Private Prison Beds?

That's an excellent question asked in an article by Mike Ward in Saturday's Austin American Statesman (Lawmakers demand that TYC cancel contract that pays for empty beds," October 19).

As a new controversy exploded over the Texas Youth Commission spending more than $1.26 million to lease prison beds that remained empty for three months, key lawmakers demanded Friday that the contract be cancelled.

Although top Youth Commission officials stopped short of agreeing to do so, they vowed never again to use taxpayer money to pay startup costs for a vendor — as they did for Youth Services International, the Florida-based company that runs the lockup in Eagle Lake that is still mostly empty.

Youth Commission spokesman Jim Hurley said 18 youths were moved into the lockup Friday — far fewer than the 119 needed to cover the $22,500-a-day cost to taxpayers under the contract.

He also said that the agency would not provide startup costs in the future.

The controversy erupted after the American-Statesman disclosed details of the contract, which was set up for taxpayers to pay for empty beds for three months to cover the company's startup costs — something other state agencies prohibit.

The company, which operates programs for troubled youths in at least seven states, previously ran the lockup under a contract with the Youth Commission that ended about two years ago, a state report showed.

Youth Services International is a former subsidiary of the GEO Group, the private prison company that had its own TYC contract rescinded after revelations of unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the company's Coke County Juvenile Justice Center.