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August 2007

Disturbance at CCA's Mineral Wells Private Prison

Hundreds of prisoners caused a disturbance by refusing to leave the yard at Mineral Wells Monday night, and two workers at the prison were later treated for injuries according to the Associated Press. The minimum-security lockup is operated by Corrections Corporation of America, as a 2,100-bed pre-parole facility.

Dallas Morning News reported that the Mineral Wells police were summoned to the prison at 9:15 PM.  Another AP story reports that fires were visible in the yard, and that the prison is now on lockdown. The article quotes CCA spokesperson Louise Grant:

It took about 3 1/2 hours and the use of "approved, non-lethal chemical agents" to bring the situation under control and begin processing the inmates back into their housing units, Grant said.

"At this time, no indication has been provided for the cause of the participants' actions," Grant said.

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Williamson County Commissioners to Discuss Hutto Prison for Profit

A special Williamson County Commission meeting this Tuesday morning will allow comment on the T. Don Hutto lockup and Williamson County's relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Corrections Corporation of America.

Excerpt from the email from Sherry Dana:

NOTICE TO THE PUBLIC
WILLIAMSON COUNTY COMMISSIONER’S COURT
AUGUST 14TH, 2007

The Commissioner’s Court of Williamson County, Texas will meet in special session on Tuesday, Aug. 14th, 2007 at 9:30 a.m. in the Justice of the Peace, Pct. #3 Courtroom, 301 S.E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown, Texas to consider the following items:

2. Citizen comments. Except when public hearings are scheduled for later in the meeting, this will be the only opportunity for citizen input. The Court invites comments on any matter affecting the county, whether on the Agenda or not. Speakers should limit their comments to two minutes. Note that the members of the Court may not comment at the meeting about matters that are not on the agenda.

Texas Jail Project Advocates to improve County Jail Conditions

The Texas Jail Project is holding an event tonight at Jovita's in Austin, TX. According to the Austin Chronicle, TJP organizers hope these types of events, not direct lobbying of legislators, will lead to substantive changes in jail conditions.

TJP's work contributes significantly to ensuring that jail detainees are confined in humane and safe facilities through out the state. Texas has 254 counties and 268 jail facilities with a combined rated capacity of over 84,000 beds. The state legislature mandated the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) to oversee county jails.

However, the level of independent oversight in Texas continues to be in short supply as detainees cycle in and out of jails on a regular basis and are often exposed to inadequate living conditions. This week the Harris County Jail was quarantined due to an unknown infectious disease that posed risks not only to prisoners but staff.

According to TCJS, 19 county jails are privately managed and 13,270 detainees were confined in private jails on August 1st.

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Mysterious Illness Leaves Two Dead, Two More Hospitalized at GEO’s Val Verde Detention Center

San Antonio Express-News reporter Don Finley is reporting that a mysterious illness has killed two prisoners and hospitalized two more at the GEO Group’s Val Verde Detention Center. All four of the prisoners -- three foreign nationals and a county inmate -- were healthy when they entered the facility.

The 850-bed lockup holds prisoners for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service, and Val Verde County. According to the story, the inmates’ “symptoms began with erratic behavioral changes, followed by incontinence and dehydration.” The Texas Department of State Health Services is leading the investigation into the inmates’ deaths, and has requested help from the Center for Disease Control.

As we’ve reported, the Val Verde Detention Center has been subjected to two well-publicized lawsuits. In a 2005 suit, an employee reported that his superior displayed a hangman’s noose in his office and took pictures in his prison uniform donning KKK garb. The second lawsuit was brought by a civil rights organization on behalf of the family of LeTisha Tapia, a detainee who committed suicide after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted and denied medical care. GEO settled both suits.

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Family of Idaho Prisoner who Committed Suicide in Texas GEO Group Prison Files Suit

The Associated Press’ John Miller is reporting that the mother of Scot Noble Payne, the Idaho prisoner who committed suicide in GEO’s Dickens County Detention Center, has filed suit against the Idaho Department of Corrections for $500,000, the maximum amount allowed under the state law.

The suit alleges "inhumane treatment and illegal and unconstitutional conditions of confinement" in the prison. The AP article quotes Shirley Noble, Scot Noble Payne’s mother, as saying “Just being in the filth and degradation of that cell was sufficient to drive somebody into suicide.”

Since Payne’s suicide, Idaho’s prison health care director described the Dickens conditions as the worst he’s ever seen and said that physical conditions in Payne’s cell “would have only enhanced the inmate's depression that could have been a major contributing factor in his suicide." Idaho has since moved about half of the prisoners at Dickens to another GEO Group detention center, and will move the rest to the lawsuit-ridden Val Verde detention center.

Read some of our previous coverage on Idaho prisoners in Texas GEO Group prisons:

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Feds Knew about TYC Scandal

Recently, the Capitol Annex posted coverage on the Department of Justice's awareness that scandals were rampant at the Texas Youth Commission. Additionally, state officials were well aware of the problems too.

Why is it so easy for federal and state officials to dismiss reports of physical and sexual abuse? It is clear that as these abuses could continue, it is time for a system of independent oversight.

Check out our previous coverage on TYC related scandals:

  1. TYC has Interesting Definition of What is a "Problem" at Youth Private Prisons
  2. County Officials must Rethink Juvenile Justice Policies
  3. Mass Firing of Texas Youth Commission Staff Makes National News --- But What about GEO Group's Past Record?
  4. Harris County Searching for Juvenile Detention Beds
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CCA's Latest Financials: Read 'Em and Weep

Corrections Corporation of America has announced their financial successes from the second quarter of 2007. The report is astonishing in its volume: CCA now has close to 75,000 prison beds in operation, drawing profits in on over 6 million "person days" of other people's lives. They pulled in over $360 million in revenue in this three-month period, compared to $323 million for the same period one year ago.

Here are some "highlights" direct from their press statement:

  • "Federal revenues were positively impacted by a new management contract from ICE at our Stewart Detention Center that began receiving detainees in October 2006 and a full quarter impact of a new management contract at our T. Don Hutto Residential Center that became effective in May 2006."

Hutto: that would be the Texas prison holding children for about $5,400 per child per month (estimate from Daily Texan).

  • "Total portfolio occupancy increased to 99.0% during the second quarter of 2007"

That would be because some prisons are below capacity, while others are overcrowded with people to maximize their profitability.

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More Protests at CCA’s Houston Processing Center

A group of Houston activists calling themselves Houston Sin Fronteras has posted a story and pictures of another protest at CCA’s Houston Processing Center, an immigrant detention center which was the nation’s first private prison. KHOU also covered the protest.

This month’s protest was the third this summer. The first, in June, included an act of civil disobedience in which two activists locked themselves to the facility's gates. While a Houston grand jury refused to indict the protestors on felony charges, they are still facing misdemeanor charges, and several thousand dollars in legal fees are still outstanding.

Contact Houston Sin Fronteras through their myspace page to make a donation to the legal defense fund.

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Latest Hutto Protest Report, While Senate Republicans Call for More Immigrant Detention

Never in our Names has published an excellent description of the July protest at the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center, complete with a photo gallery on the protest. This latest protest also got coverage in the Daily Texan, as noted at the Real Cost of Prisons blog.

The Daily Texan has had a number of articles on Hutto, and let's not forget their excellent editorial on the need to close Hutto back in June. But despite the growing number of calls for closure, ICE shows no sign of closing it, and meanwhile, Senate Republicans are calling for a budget for 45,000 detention beds.

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Idaho’s Reinke calls Val Verde a “Pleasant Surprise”

After visiting GEO Group's lawsuit-prone Val Verde Detention Center in Del Rio, Texas, Idaho Department of Corrections head described the facility as a “pleasant surprise.” As we reported earlier in the week, Reinke announced that he would actually visit the Val Verde prison before sending 56 Idaho prisoners there.

The Val Verde facility has already settled lawsuits over racial discrimination and sexual assault and neglect. As a result of the lawsuits, the county must now provide a monitor for the facility.

Idaho was forced to move its prisoners from GEO’s Dickens County lock-up after an inmate suicide revealed “squalid” conditions at the jail. Idaho prisoners formerly at Dickens have also being sent to GEO’s Bill Clayton Unit, which itself has seen escapes and disturbances by out-of-state prisoners upset at conditions.

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