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.

It could have to do the prisoners' frustration with the pre-parole system, which we've written about and Scott Henson has also covered in Grits for Breakfast. Problems that led one prisoner to describe Mineral Wells as "the abyss." In fairness to CCA, they haven't set up the pre-parole system, they just profit from it.

Although the story reports that a chemical agent was used against the prisoners, there are no reports at this time of the prisoners receiving medical treatment for any injuries.

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.

46. Discuss contractual relationships expressed in both the Inter-Governmental Service Agreement between the United States Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Williamson County, Texas and in the operation Agreement between Williamson County, Texas and Corrections Corporation of America concerning the T. Don Hutto Residential Facility (EXECUTIVE SESSION as per VTCA Govt. Code sec. 551.071 consultation with attorney.)

50. Discuss and take appropriate action on contractual relationships expressed in both the Inter-Governmental Service Agreement between the United States Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Williamson County, Texas and in the operation Agreement between Williamson County, Texas and Corrections Corporation of America concerning the T. Don Hutto Residential Facility.

The contractual arrangements they are talking about is that Williamson County has subcontracted all the operation of the Hutto lockup to CCA, and is receiving $1 per day per prisoner in the Hutto prison, which means that the county is drawing income off the incarceration of young children. The Hutto lockup has many critics including the judge hearing the lawsuit filed by several families, at least two editorial boards, and the many protesters who keep showing up there.

And mark your calendars: next Hutto protest is August 18th.

 

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.

In the Chronicle article, Texas Jail Project organizers mention the inability of TCJS as an agency to hold sheriffs and county officials accountable for poor living conditions. That is a function of the statute that created the agency -- it only gives TCJS the authority to levy administrative penalties against county jails that are in noncompliance with state administrative standards.

We have previously written about why additional mechanisms are needed to improve the conditions of confinement in these facilities:

  1. Legislature Fails to Improve Oversight of County Jails
  2. Improved Oversight Needed for Private Jails
  3. Tightening Oversight of Texas' County Jails

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.

GEO Group's Val Verde JailGEO Group's Val Verde JailThe 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.

Last month, the state of Idaho announced that it would be moving prisoners to Val Verde this fall from GEO’s Dickens County prison after an inmate suicide at that lockup, and an Associated Press article described conditions there as “squalid.”

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:

And prior coverage from Grits for Breakfast is collected here.

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

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.

  • "Fixed expenses per compensated man-day decreased to $28.10 during the second quarter of 2007 compared with $28.15 per compensated man-day during the same period in 2006, a decrease of $0.05 per compensated man-day. The decrease in fixed expenses per compensated man-day was primarily the result of leveraging our fixed expenses over a higher inmate population, partially offset by start-up costs at our Saguaro facility."

That means that they are spending less (on average) than the previous year incarcerating people. They're spending an average of $28 per day per person locked up in base expenses, which they lowered by cramming more people into existing prisons.

  • "Variable expenses increased to $10.25 per compensated man-day during the second quarter of 2007 from $9.91 per compensated man-day during the second quarter of 2006, an increase of $0.34 per compensated man-day. The increase in variable expenses per compensated man-day was primarily attributable to an increase in inmate medical expenses due to an increase in offsite medical care at select facilities, as well as general inflationary increases."

But then there are other pesky expenses that have to be factored in before CCA can count the profits... expenses like medical costs for prisoners. Those costs increased compared to the same time period last year... reducing profits.

  • "Total revenue for the second quarter of 2007 increased 11.7% to $362.8 million from $324.9 million during the same period in 2006, as total compensated man-days increased to 6.6 million from 6.1 million, and as revenue per compensated man-day increased to $54.08 from $52.55."

Remember those expenses per day per person? They totaled just over $38 per day on average. But CCA was able to charge an average about $54 per day per person. Multiply that charge by just over 6.6 million "person-days" and you get their operating revenue for the quarter: over $360 million dollars.

On the Texas front, CCA is still reporting plans to expand the Eden Detention Facility by 129 beds by early 2008. This is part of a package of almost 8,000 prison beds that CCA has in development. Development plans that they hope will bring even more profits in the future. But, these future predictions come with some caveats:

  • "This press release contains statements as to our beliefs and expectations of the outcome of future events that are forward-looking statements... These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties... [including] ... the public acceptance of our services... "

On that point, CCA and I agree.

Reminder: You can see the locations of CCA's Texas prisons on our Texas private prison map (they're the ones in dark green.)

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 Protester at June Demonstration Outside CCA's Houston Processing CenterProtester at June Demonstration Outside CCA's Houston Processing Centerprivate 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.

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.

Are we looking at more Hutto-type prisons? This press release from Senator Kyl's office suggests a pretty strong interest in using detention as part of an overall strategy to put our country into the hands of Big Brother (in their brave new world, we'll all be registering with Homeland Security every time we take a job). This latest proposal:

 

  • Requires hiring of 14,000 new Border Patrol Agents to secure the borders.
  • Mandates construction of 700 miles of fence, 300 miles of vehicle barriers, 105 ground-based radars, and four unmanned aerial vehicles. Requires 45,000 detention beds.
  • Contains a “Catch and Return” provision requiring Homeland Security to detain illegal border crossers.
  • Requires implementing an entry/exit system at all U.S. ports of entry.
  • Makes illegal presence in the U.S. a misdemeanor offense.
  • Requires mandatory detention of criminal aliens until removal.
  • Makes gang members inadmissible and deportable.
  • Mandates an electronic employment verification system to end hiring of unlawful aliens.

 

All the italics are mine. I also changed the order of this list from his press release to point out that first this bill proposes making it a crime to be illegal and then calling for locking up "criminals." After all, right now, not all immigration violations are a criminal offense -- some, like overstaying your visa, are civil law violations (kind of like when someone breaks an anti-discrimination law --- you don't send in the SWAT team). But this is part of a bigger push to treat immigrants as if they are criminals, especially post-September 11th.

One of the arguments against Hutto right now is that the children and adults locked up there are still waiting for hearings to confirm their status, and they are not there because they've been convicted of a crime. Many reasonable people would argue against locking up children while you figure out their immigration status. But in the eyes of some, not only is it acceptable to lock children up at Hutto, but we should do it even more... and they're willing to pay good money to do it.

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.