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September 2007

More Protests of Private Detention Centers Planned

As Kathleen pointed out yesterday, this Saturday will see another vigil at Correction Corporation of America’s T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas.

It will be the first in number of upcoming protests against private detention centers in Texas. A list has been posted by our friends at the Texas Civil Rights Review.

Saturday, October 6: Val Verde County's GEO Detention Center protest. Texas Jail Project, Grassroots Leadership, and Freedom Ambassadors are collaborating on a protest against the notorious Val Verde County GEO facility.

Friday & Saturday, October 12-13: Raymondville Walk II. The Raymondville tent prison camp is the most repugnant of all prison camps. We will conduct a walk from Harlingen on Friday the 12th and Saturday the 13th...and hold a vigil midday on the 13th.

Sunday - Tuesday, October 14-16. Hutto Walk III. The most flagrant of all prisons in America. Innocent children are victims of a government without a conscience. We will conduct a walk from the Hutto family prison camp in Taylor, Texas on Sunday, October 14-and arrive at the County Commissioners Court in Georgetown on the 16th. We will then support the local residents of Williamson County as they challenge the County Commissioners that signed and renewed the contracts and leases to imprison innocent children.

LULAC National and the Cesar Chavez Legacy Foundation are collaborating with Freedom Ambassadors with these walks and vigils.

Texas Prison Bid’ness will be at many of these demonstrations and will send reports.

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Sheriff’s Confidant Pleads Guilty in Bexar County/Premier Management Scandal

The San Antonio Express-News had a revealing story yesterday reporting that John Reynolds, long-time campaign manager and friend to indicted now ex-Bexar County Sheriff Ralph Lopez, pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft in conjunction with his role in the Premier Management bribery scandal.

According to the article, Reynolds

"told Premier to pay the equivalent of 1 percent of commissary sales to Lopez's campaign fund and give three payments of $7,500 each that Reynolds said were donations to the Optimists, when, in fact, the money went into his own bank accounts.

Williamson testified that he called Reynolds this past spring, as the investigation was heating up, and asked him for receipts for the three $7,500 donations.

Williamson said there was dead silence until John Reynolds stated, 'You're killing me; you're killing me,' at which time Ian Williamson claimed it was then that he realized that John Reynolds had never delivered the donations," according to court documents.

At one point, Williamson stated, Reynolds demanded a consulting fee of $5,014. When Williamson asked why he shouldn't write a check for a round $5,000, he said Reynolds replied: "that $5,000 looked too funny."

Other filings by the district attorney's office have shown checks made out to Reynolds' accounts and signed by Michael LeBlanc, who is an owner of Premier along with his brother Patrick, and by Chris Burch, who replaced Williamson as Premier's CEO."

Sheriff Lopez recently pleaded no contest to receiving an inappropriate $10,000 trip to Costa Rica paid for by Premier. Premier ended their contract with the County after the scandal broke. As we’ve noted, Premier Management is owned by Pat and Michael LeBlanc, owners of private prison firm LCS Corrections.

As part of his guilty plea, Reynolds will be required to speak openly to investigators about all of the business dealings of Premier, the LeBlanc brothers, and LCS Corrections, amongst other companies he was involved in.

Our previous coverage on the Bexar County scandal:

A Closer Look at LCS Corrections

Premier Private Commissary Scandal Keeps Growing

Bexar County Sheriff Indicted

Private Commissary Contracts Lead to Corruption in Bexar County

And from Grits for Breakfast:

Bexar County Bribery Allegations Over Jail

"Hutto still flawed" Explains Local Activist

The Taylor Daily Press has published a guest editorial from Jose Orta, who has been actively involved in the campaign to close down Correction Corporation of America's Hutto lockup:

Since I learned that T. Don Hutto had reopened and was imprisoning innocent children for profit, I, and many other concerned citizens from across the state and nation tried to bring media and public attention to T. Don Hutto by conducting vigils, marching, protesting and lobbying.

For over nine months, we did everything conceivable to bring attention to this flawed facility. It has been an exhaustive and extremely trying time. Read more...

As Bob has previously pointed out, many observers are noting that the settlement is a good first step, but not an adequate solution to the problems of Hutto.

Orta mentions the next vigil at Hutto will be this Saturday at 11 AM. Read more about it here.

There is also online talk of another possible "walk" against Hutto, scheduled for October. Read about it at Progressive Austin.

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Reporter Who Broke CCA Abuse Case Nominated for Texas Emmy

The Laredo Morning Times is reporting that local Univision reporter Wendolyn Morales has been nominated for a Texas Emmy for her work covering the case of Tomas Contreras.

As readers of Texas Prison Bid'ness might remember, Contreras is the longtime U.S. resident who detained while re-entering the country on a 18 year-old minor drug conviction. He was subsequently held for months at two Laredo detention centers run by Corrections Corporation of America and beaten when reporting poor conditions.

After Morales' report, U.S. representative Tammy Baldwin became involved in the case and Contreras was released soon after.

Congrats to Ms. Morales on this nomination and we wish you the best of luck covering stories of importance like this.

The Hidden Costs of Private Prisons

The Mineral Wells Index reported that local officials issued reimbursement requests for responding to the prison riot at the privately managed pre-parole facility in town. According to reports, the Mineral Wells Police Department and the Palo Pinto County Sheriff’s Department submitted requests to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), asking for reimbursement for their officers’ overtime as well as the damage to a police patrol car.

Mineral Wells Police Chief Jerry White said they are requesting reimbursement for 42 hours and 36 minutes of overtime that were accrued between the additional dispatcher and 14 officers that were called in to assist. The request for reimbursement for personnel totaled $1,543.36.

Additional costs include replacing the rear window of a police car damaged during the riot to the tune of $260. According to reports, local officials had to respond to other riots as well and in 2005 requested $1,780.85.

It also appears that officials may not be getting reimbursed completely for the expenses incurred. For example, a request issued by Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer did not include itemizations for his time, the chief deputy and four deputies who were on-duty at the time and responded to the riot.

Many times these extra costs are not considered when lawmakers decide to contract out incarceration to private companies like CCA. Considering all possible costs should challenge lawmakers not to transfer responsibility of incarcerating prisoners to for-profit corporations.


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A Closer look at LCS Corrections

As Nicole reported earlier this month, the scandal involving the indicted and now-resigned Bexar County Sheriff Ralph Lopez receiving illegal gifts from jail commissary company Premier Management seems to be growing.

Premier’s owners are Pat and Michael LeBlanc, Louisiana businessmen who also own the private prison company LCS Corrections. The bribery scandal now appears to have spread to Nueces County (which includes Corpus Christi) and Kleberg County, where private commissary and future detention contracts may have been influenced with similar inappropriate gifts.

Pat LeBlanc is currently running for Louisiana state House of Representatives on a platform as a “pro-business, pro-life, law and order Republican” who is a “strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment, adamantly opposes illegal immigration, and is opposed to any state sponsored attempts to expand gambling into Lafayette Parish.” (Interestingly, it looks like Premier Management is not on Pat’s list of business experiences…)

So, who is LCS Corrections and what are their interests in Texas? According to their website, LCS is

“an industry leader in the development and operation of privatized correctional facilities. The company offers a complete range of prison and correctional related services to local, state, and federal agencies.”

Well, an industry leader might be a bit of a stretch. According to our map of private prisons in Texas, LCS currently operates three detention centers in south Texas (compared to nearly 20 operated by GEO Group and nearly 15 by CCA). LCS also has a handful of prisons in Louisiana and at least one in Alabama.

The company’s record in Texas is far from seamless as well. According to list of private prison incidents, LCS prisons in Texas have experienced the following problems:

Brooks County Detention Center (Fallfurrias, TX)

  • An immigrant detainee escaped from Brooks County Detention Center; the resulting manhunt involved over 100 officers from the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department, the Department of Public Safety, the Border Patrol, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and the local fire department (2004)

East Hidalgo Detention Center (La Villa, TX)

  • Five undocumented immigrants and a former police officer escaped from the privately run South Texas jail. The escapees were alleged members of the drug gang Raza Unida charged with drug trafficking crimes (2006).
  • The facility was repeatedly found in noncompliance with state standards. An inspection conducted eight days after six prisoners escaped cited the prison for employing too few guards, adding an unauthorized number of bunks, and keeping unlicensed guards on the payroll.
  • (2006) A prison guard and two other people were arrested for aiding in the escape of six prisoners from the facility (2006).
  • An 18-year-old guard overseeing the six prisoners who escaped from the correctional facility had been on the job less than three months and had not yet undergone a training course mandated for Texas jailers. The guard reported being overpowered by inmates. (2006)

We’ll keep you updated on news about LCS and the Premier management as it comes to us.

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How Do You Explain a Problem Like Hutto?

Periodically I scratch my head and ask myself, “What is the official explanation for a prison that holds children who haven’t been convicted of a crime?” So I decided to vistit the ICE website to see. Here's an excerpt from a description of Hutto that ICE posted to their site earlier this year:

This state-of-the-art facility was designed for families who have been placed in administrative immigration proceedings and is one of the major reasons the Department of Homeland Security has been able to successfully end the “catch and release” of illegal aliens at the southern border.

The "design" of this “facility” was based on modifying an existing medium-security prison that had too many empty prison beds and wasn’t making enough money for CCA. In the rush to get the beds filled and generating income, there were some glaring problems:

  • Is placing a crib into a cell now considered "state of the art?" (The photo here on the right is from an ICE promotional video about Hutto).
  • Are open toilets in cells conducive to a family-friendly setting? The privacy curtains are part of this summer's settlement agreement, so that parents and do not have to use the toilet in front of their kids.
  • The razor wire on the fence came down earlier this year, but only because of numerous complaints by advocates. At a vigil there earlier this year, an ICE spokesperson explained that the razor wire around the lockup was for the protection of the families confined there… since many of them speak English as a second language. (really, you can listen to it).

Okay, just one more paragraph of rationalization by ICE:

Before ICE opened the Hutto facility, alien families caught illegally crossing the border were often released with “Notices to Appear” before federal immigration judges. However, they rarely appeared for these hearings. This “catch and release” policy created a border vulnerability that alien smugglers sought to exploit by bringing children across the border along with groups of smuggled strangers, attempting to pass the groups off as family units. By bringing the children, the smugglers hoped to avoid detention if captured.

If these smugglers are just grabbing children and pretending to be a family (a horrible thing, for sure) than why are the kids at Hutto there with their parents and why does ICE so often insist that Hutto helps keep families confined together? But, at least, thanks to the litigation, now they are releasing people on bond faster who can prove they have a "credible fear" of being returned to their homelands.

And so ICE continues to spin hype about Hutto, instead of closing it down like they should.

The next vigil at Hutto is scheduled for September 29th.

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Jail Alternatives Can Save County Money

KCEN-TV is reporting that McClennan County Officials are looking for alternatives to jail crowding that include electronic monitoring to reduce costs.

McLennan County Commissioner, Ray Meadows says the proposal could save the county $800,000. When the county jail is filled to capacity inmates are brought to the Civigenics Detention Center. It’s estimated that the county has 100 inmates there, but of course they have to pay for that. It’s estimated they pay $1.2 million per year. …"If we could do it with an ankle bracelet, through electronic monitoring is a better … possibly we could save the county $800,000." McLennan County Commissioner Ray Meadows said.

Meadows couldn't be more right. County officials and jail administrators can control the number of individuals cycling in and out of the jail by implementing programs like electronic monitoring. Supervising defendants in the community maintains public safety while minimizing incarceration expenditures.

Other counties experiencing similar problems should follow McClennan County's lead and put into practice programs that free up county jail space while protecting the public. Other programs counties could consider include jail diversion for substance abuse defendants and low-cost personal bond programs for low-level, nonviolent jail detainees.

County and city officials like the sheriff, district attorney, judges, and police chief have the ability to control the county jail population. What is lacking is the innovative leadership to implement such methods in many counties around the state.

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CCA Spends $1.3 million on Lobbying in First Half of 2007

Forbes is reporting that Corrections Corporation of America has spent $1.3 million in the first half of 2007 lobbying the federal government. The story reports that CCA, the largest and oldest of the private prison companies, has lobbied both Congress and executive branch offices like the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees contracts for immigrant detention centers.

Maybe it's no wonder that CCA seems to be profiting handsomely from the boom in immigrant detention centers, despite allegations of abuse in Laredo, protests outside the Houston Processing Center, and lawsuits and demonstrations of T. Don Hutto family detention center.

We'll keep you updated on the role that CCA and other private prison corporations are playing in federal, state, and local politics.

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New Hutto Website, Next Hutto Vigil

There's a new blog to educate people about the numerous problems at the T. Don Hutto detention center where entire families are held by Corrections Corporation of America for profit. They have a post about the next vigil at the lockup:

Saturday, September 29th, 10 AM
Meet at Heritage Park for a cookout
Vigil will be at the prison from 1 PM to 4 PM

For more information, you can also visit Free the Children's website, the primary group coordinating the monthly vigils at Hutto.

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