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Is LCS's Robstown Prison Being Bailed Out by Operation Streamline Detainees?

An influx of federal prisoners from the United States Marshals Service will help bailout a troubled south Texas private prison, according to a story in the Corpus-Christi Caller-Times ("Prison Firm Rehires 40," March 6th),

As federal prisoners began arriving at the privately owned LCS detention facility in Robstown on Friday, a company official said employees who were laid off in January have been rehired.  In response to the influx of prisoners into the 1,100-bed facility, which has sat empty since it opened in September, the prison has called back some 40 employees who were laid off in January, bringing the current number of employees up to 75, said Dick Harbison, LCS vice president of operations.

“It’s full steam ahead right now,” he said. And beginning Monday, the company plans to hire another 80 employees with starting pay at $11 an hour.  The news comes a week after Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal and the U.S. Marshals agreed on a temporary price tag for prisoner housing.

LCS will get roughly $44 per prisoner per day under the terms of an addendum to the contract already in place for housing prisoners in Hidalgo County.  Harbison on Friday could not confirm how many bus loads of prisoners were being delivered to the facility.

While the story doesn't make it clear where these prisoners will be coming from, U.S. Marshals prisoners are mostly pre-trial federal detainees, meaning people awaiting trial for federal violations.  As several sources have noted, an enormous increase in the number of low-level non-violent border-crossers being criminally prosecuted under a Department of Justice program called Operation Streamline has pushed the detention system to the max.   

In fact, as Bloomberg News-Service noted a year ago ("Bush Crackdown on Illegal Aliens Stretches Marshals to Limit," March 12, 2008), these criminal prosecutions are already overwhelming the U.S. Marshal system.

The 600 marshals stationed on the border with Mexico are dealing with as many as 6,000 new defendants a month. That's taking them away from other tasks such as capturing escaped prisoners and rounding up sex offenders, according to Justice Department documents obtained by Bloomberg News. 

Data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse and reported in the New York Times ("Push on Immigration Crimes Is Said to Shift Focus," January 11) confirms that the mandatory prosecution of border-crossers is taking resources away from other, more serious criminal prosecutions,

Immigration prosecutions have steeply risen over the last five years, while white-collar prosecutions have fallen by 18 percent, weapons prosecutions have dropped by 19 percent, organized crime prosecutions are down by 20 percent and public corruption prosecutions have dropped by 14 percent, according to the Syracuse group’s statistics. Drug prosecutions — the enforcement priority of the Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations — have declined by 20 percent since 2003.

Of course, all these criminal prosecutions mean a drastic increase in detention bed capacity, and no one is making out richer on this policy in Texas than the private prison corporations.  According to the Department of Justice, U.S. Marshals detention bed capacity has increased from 18,282 to 56,290 between 1994 and 2007.

Companies like the GEO Group - with a new 1,500 bed detention center in Laredo, an expansion in Val Verde, and a new 500 bed detention center in Maverick County - and smaller companies like LCS - Robstown and Brooks County - are expanding capacity and making money off this trend. 

The question remains, however, will the Obama administration turn off the spiget and begin to reverse Operation Streamline and the ever-increasing demand for detention beds?  If it does, it could spell trouble for the private prison companies and communities like Robstown that have gambled their futures betting for prisoners.

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