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Private Prison Hearings Tomorrow, 10:00am

As we posted last week, the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee will be holding interim hearings on private prisons tomorrow, Thursday, November 13th, starting at 10am. Here are the details:

COMMITTEE: Criminal Justice
TIME & DATE: 10:00 AM, Thursday, November 13, 2008
PLACE: E1.016 (Hearing Room)
CHAIR: Senator John Whitmire

Interim Charge 1: Determine how private prisons are complying with state laws and how cost, safety, living conditions and rehabilitative services at private prisons compare with state-run facilities. Include an assessment of the staff turnover rates and compensation of private contractors when compared with state-operated facilities, and of the contract bidding processes used by the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Word from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee is that invited testimony will come from TDCJ Director Brad Livingston and new TYC Director Cherie Townsend. Anyone is welcome to testify during the public testimony portion of the meetings. I'll be testifying and have been told that family members of individuals who have died in private prisons will also be testifying.

We also received an interesting comment on our previous post from Austin Chronicle reporter Patricia Ruland about the SAF-P contract treatment centers. In part, it reads:

Anyone who'd like to comment on the state's Sub­stance Abuse Felony Punishment Facil­i­ties may testify Thursday, Nov. 13, 10am, before the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice during interim charge hearings concerning "new and expanded [rehabilitation] programs." SAFPFs, operated by the private Gateway Corp., along with the Texas Department of Criminal Jus­tice, ideally rehabilitate offenders in lieu of their doing "hard time."

However, in scores of narratives provided to Austin attorney Derek How­ard since January, inmates charge that SAFPFs are, in reality, state-funded torture. Specifically, they decry the harsh, global punishment of "tighthouse," when inmates must silently sit still, up to 16 hours a day, sometimes for months. The Chronicle reported on the issue this past spring ("Rehabilitation or Torture?" May 23), and Larance Coleman, of Sen. John Whitmire's office, responded by saying the Criminal Justice Commit­tee would "focus on Safe-P programming" during the hearings. But as it turns out, alleged SAFPF abuses will come up only if the public brings them up.

"We won't be looking at that specifically, but feel free and come and talk about it," said committee legislative aide Tara James on Tues­day. Meanwhile, Coleman declined further comment until the conclusion of an investigation by the Office of Inspector General.

Two other interim charges will be discussed tomorrow. They are:

Interim Charge 4: Monitor the implementation of the new and expanded programs provided to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) within the Fiscal Year 2008 and 2009 budget, and identify their impact on the criminal justice populations. Study security issues within TDCJ, including staffing issues, use of lock down procedures, the control and containment of infectious diseases and the introduction and control of contraband within the institutions. Review the use of career ladders for employees of TDCJ and issues surrounding the retention of professional corrections staff. Study the issues of independent oversight of TDCJ, including the use and effectiveness of the TDCJ ombudsman system. Provide recommendations for the reduction or elimination of barriers to an effective corrections system.

Interim Charge 9: Review the processes for re-entry of criminal offenders into communities. Identify barriers to the successful return to law-abiding behavior, including the absence of employment opportunities created by restriction on obtaining certain state occupational licenses.Provide recommendations for improvements to our current statutes governing this matter.
We'll provide a re-cap of the day's events. You can also view the hearings online tomorrow here.

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