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81st Legislative Wrap of Private Prison Bills

The regular session of the Texas Legislature ended in early June, and at final adjournment there was little improvement in the accountability and oversight of private prisons. While several legislators filed bills this year that would have strengthened private prison oversight, it seems that the private prison lobby undermined some really good attempts at legislative reform.

Bills introduced this session that addressed private prisons included:

  • HB 1714: This bill filed by Rep. Harold Dutton would have prohibited counties from contracting with private prisons.  The bill did not get a hearing this session and died in committee.  
  • HB 3903: Filed by Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr, the bill subjected private jails to the same open records laws as public facilities.  The bill was voted out of the County Affairs committee only to be killed on the House floor by Rep. Tracy King, whose district includes several private jails and detention centers, Rep. Jim McReynods, chair of the House Corrections Committee, and Rep. Jerry Madden former chair of the House corrections committee:
  • SB 1169 and HB 1914: These companion bills were filed by Sen. Robert Nichols and Rep. Jim McReynolds, chair of House Corrections, to alter state prison labor programs.  HB 1914 was signed by the Governor and abolished the Texas Private Sector Industries Oversight Authority and transfer oversight of the state’s PIE program to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. The board would be under a new requirement to ensure that private sector prison industries programs were operated in a way to avoid the loss of any existing jobs for free-world employees in Texas.
  • SB 1680: This bill filed by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa would have required voters to approve bonds used in the financing of constructed correctional facilities.  This bill did not receive a hearing and died in committee; and
  • SB 1690:  Additionally, Sen. Hinojosa filed this measure, which also died in committee, that would have exteneded oversight to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to monitor county jails that only house federal prisoners.


As I mentioned above, there was little movement on these measures during the 81st Session.  We received word that lobbyists working for private prison companies were roaming the Capitol in an effort to undermine these very reasonable reforms. It is unfortunate that even reasonable changes to the law, such as extending open records statutes to cover private jails, generated opposition from elected officials.

Navigating the legislature is just one avenue to improving oversight and accountability at Texas private prison facilities.  We will continue to monitor developments that use this process.  It may take additional public education and support to balance the interests of elected officials who serve the private prison industry with those who are interested in reasonable and responsible correctional reform.

Previous posts on legislation that impacted Texas private prisons: 

 

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INCARCERATING PEOPLE "FOR PROFIT" IS IN A WORD....WRONG! Even if one does not ask or pretends not to see the rope and the flashing red flag draped around the philosophical question standing solemnly at attention in the middle of the room, it remains apparent that the mere presence of a private “for profit” driven prison business in our country undermines the U.S Constitution and subsequently the credibility of the American criminal justice system. In fact, until all private prisons in America have been abolished and outlawed, “the promise” of fairness and justice at every level of this country’s judicial system will remain unattainable. We must restore the principles and the vacant promise of our judicial system. Our government cannot continue to "job-out" its obligation and neglect its duty to the individuals confined in the correctional and rehabilitation facilities throughout this nation, nor can it ignore the will of the people that it was designed to serve and protect. There is urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of indifference, apathy, cynicism, fear, and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope. My hope is that you will support the National Public Service Council to Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) with a show of solidarity by signing "The Single Voice Petition" http://www.petitiononline.com/gufree2/petition.html Please visit our website for further information: http://www.npsctapp.blogspot.com –Ahma Daeus "Practicing Humanity Without A License"...