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June 2007

Who's Lobbying for Texas Private Prisons?

Our friends at Private Corrections Institute (PCI) have released a newly-updated list of corrections lobbyists nationwide (in Excel). Of particular interest to us, of course, is the list of Texas private prison lobbyists, including Robert "Ray" Allen, the former legislator who now is earning hundreds of thousands of dollars as a lobbyist, and his former chief of staff, Scott Gilmore. Plus, Allen was lobbying on the federal level in 2002 and 2003, representing the National Correctional Industries Association while he was still in the Texas legislature (in his defense he said that he was lobbying on the issue of prison labor, not prison privatization).

According to the list compiled by PCI, there were three dozen lobbyists working the state capitol in 2007 on behalf of companies with some connection to corrections (not all of them working for private prison companies). Of the private prison companies with paid lobbyists working the capitol on their behalf this session:

Raymondville Private Prisons and Prison Scandals Have Long History

Yesterday, Kathleen reported that detention center protests have spread from big protests outside T. Don Hutto and civil disobedience at CCA’s Houston Processing Center to a 75-person strong rally in front of the Willacy County Processing Center in Raymondville.

The 2,000-bed ICE detention center, operated by MTC, first drew headlines when it was announced that it would be built in only 90 days and would consist of a series of windowless Kevlar pods. The project then drew fire from Willacy County Attorney Juan Guerra who warned county officials that they couldn’t spend excess project funds on other county projects, as they had planned.

MTC’s Processing Center is by no means the first private prison or prison scandal to engulf Raymondville. Already home to a 1,000-bed private state prison, a 500-bed private federal jail, and a 96-bed county jail, the county is known, even by county leaders, as Prisonville.

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Protesters Target Private Prison in Raymondville

About 75 protesters from across the state gathered outside of the Willacy Detention Center in Raymondville this weekend. The private prison, which attracted national attention when it became operational in a mere 90 days, holds 2,000 people. The protesters very aptly described it as a "tent city" --- the prison is not made up of buildings, but a series of windowless structures made of fabric stretched tight over frames. These tents, in turn are surrounded by razor wire (see the photo below).

The 2,000-bed prison is the largest immigrant detention prison in the United States, and part of a broader plan by ICE to imprison more people than ever for immigration violations. The prison has attracted national attention for problems with conditions inside (you can read Democracy Now's interview with Jodi Goodwin or the rawstory.com's excellent story about conditions at Willacy last month).

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Protests Grow at CCA’s Hutto Detention Center

This past Saturday, I joined more than 400 protesters gathered for a spirited vigil in honor of World Refugee Day outside the T. Don Hutto detention center.

As reported here at Texas Prison Bid’ness, Hutto, which holds migrant and refugee families with their children, has been the site of growing protests and problems inside the facility. Saturday’s vigil was sponsored by Amnesty International, and co-sponsored by a number of other groups.

A “freedom bus” from San Antonio, and two buses from Dallas joined protesters from Taylor, Austin, and Houston at the vigil. Amongst the most powerful speakers were Elsa and her children, who spent 6 months incarcerated at Hutto, and Selhadin, an African refugee formerly detained at the GEO Group’s Pearsall Detention Center. National LULAC president Rosa Rosales also gave a fiery speech and Elizabeth Kucinich, wife of presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, lent her support to the cause.

Hutto’s publicity problems continue to grow in the press as well. Today, The Daily Texan added its voice to the chorus of press outlets calling for the closure of Hutto, calling CCA a “member of the club of misery profiteers.”

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Study Shows New Prisons Won't Keep Texas Safe

The Texas Observer recently blogged about the impact of state policies on incarceration rates. The post centers on a recent report released by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) that compares youth crime statistics in California and Texas.

CJCJ found that Texas’s practice of tough sentencing for youth over the last decade focused on long sentences for nonviolent crimes. Meanwhile, the folks in California decreased the overall number of juvenile prisoners by using prison time only for youth convicted of the most violent crimes. They diverted many young adults who formerly would've been imprisoned.

 

Did these two different strategies produce different results? They did in terms of youth prison growth and prison spending, but the two states had identical drops in youth crime. You can read the six-page report to see the detailed numbers.

Another Hutto Protester Arrested, Free the Children Publishes Protest Footage

A protester arrested in Austin joins the growing number of people drawing attention to the plight of families locked up in the T. Don Hutto prison. The protest at the state capitol was partly a response to an anti-immigration gathering that was already there, as reported by the Daily Texan.

The article's passing reference to criticism of Hutto says, "Some civil rights groups have claimed that the conditions at the Hutto facility are inhumane and unconstitutional." The article didn't give much context for the Hutto protesters, although the Daily Texan has covered Hutto more completely in the past (for example, this fairly comprehensive article from April about the lawsuit filed by the Hutto families).

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More Bad Press for GEO on Laredo Superjail Deal

LareDOS, an award-winning monthly alternative paper in the Texas border town of Laredo, has published a scathing indictment (PDF only) of the GEO Group’s recent deal with the City of Laredo and Webb County to build a 1,500-bed private US Marshals federal detention center.

As reported earlier here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, GEO president George Zoley showed up in Laredo last month wielding $250,000 checks for both the City and Webb County -- but Zoley did not leave Laredo empty handed. Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas presented him with a building permit and Webb County Judge Danny Valdez gave Zoley an agreement to provide the prison with water and electrical hook-ups.

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Activists Need Support Following Protest at CCA Prison Earlier this Month

The two activists who were arrested at the June 4 protest at the Houston Processing Center are now each facing a felony charge and will need help with legal expenses. The protesters have many allies, including Free the Children, who has posted information about how to make donations to their legal fund. Although the protest was in Houston, it drew attention to the families trapped in the Hutto prison in Taylor, which, similarly to the prison in Houston, is run for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by Corrections Corporation of America.

 

The June 4th protest was timed to coincide with this month's G8 meeting in Germany, and call attention to how economic policies are increasingly creating winners and losers, and forcing millions of people to migrate from their homes. It's hard to imagine a more clear example of policies that enrich some people at the expense of others, than the rush to increase immigrant detention here in the U.S. and the private companies that have rushed in to collect many millions in profits.

 

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Legislature Fails to Improve Oversight of County Jails

During the 80th Legislative Session, Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) filed several unsuccessful bills that would have increased accountability over the state’s county jail systems. The measures included:

  • HB 2244 – would have standardized the correctional officer-prisoner ratio
  • HB 2699 – would have required county jails that failed 3 annual inspections to acquire a special monitor to oversee jail operations and security protocols

The Texas county jail system is regulated by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS). We have previously written about the need for improved oversight of private jails where companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) historically have poor hiring practices and weak track records regarding public safety.

Former GEO Group Guard Convicted of Providing Contraband

A former GEO Group guard has been convicted of providing contraband to an Idaho prisoner in GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center, and has been implicated in another prisoner's escape. He's facing five years of probation, 1,200 community service hours, and a fine for an ongoing illegal business running contraband into the GEO Group prison in Spur, Texas.

The guard, John Ratliffe, was fired after the escape from Dickens County Correctional Center last December. There's no indication that he'll face additional charges for his possible role in the escape. Tragically, the prisoner who escaped, Scot Noble Payne, was put in isolation for weeks as punishment for his escape, and committed suicide in March. He was part of a group of Idaho prisoners that had been previously incarcerated at another GEO Group prison in Texas and were moved to the Dickens County prison following reports of abuse by guards.

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