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November 2007

Interim Charges Focus on Corrections Funding

This week, Speaker of the House Tom Craddick (R-Midland) released the interim charges for several House Committees including Appropriations and Corrections. These charges have implications for public and private capacity in the state's prison system.

During the 80th Legislative Session a significant amount of funding was appropriated to corrections that not only included building 3 new prisons but also monies for substance abuse treatment and community alternative programs. At this time the interim charges that have been released include:

Prison Profiteers: New Book by Prison Legal News

Our friends at Prison Legal News have released the third in their series of anthologies on mass incarceration in the U.S., Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration? This time the focus is on who benefits from mass incarceration, including a look at the private prison industry. From the publisher:

Prison Profiteers is unique from other books on the market because it exposes and discusses who profits and benefits from mass imprisonment, rather than who is harmed by it and how.

Why is sentencing reform dead on arrival in every state legislature and congress? What is the biggest transfer of public wealth into private hands in recent history? Read Prison Profiteers and you will know! Hint: It has to do with prisons.

Locking up 2.3 million people isn’t cheap. Each year federal, state, and local governments spend over $185 billion annually in tax dollars to ensure that one out of every 137 Americans is imprisoned. Prison Profiteers looks at the private prison companies, investment banks, churches, guard unions, medical corporations, and other industries and individuals that benefit from this country’s experiment with mass imprisonment. It lets us follow the money from public to private hands and exposes how monies formerly designated for the public good are diverted to prisons and their maintenance. Find out where your tax dollars are going as you help to bankroll the biggest prison machine the world has ever seen.

Burnet County Private Jail Fight

Last Monday, I drove out to Burnet, about an hour outside of Austin in the Texas hill country, to witness a community forum on a proposed 587-bed private jail and detention center. The meeting was called by Burnet County Commissioners and the recently-created Public Facilities Corporation - a quasi-governmental agency which has the ability to float revenue bonds to pay for prison construction - after an apparent groundswell of local opposition to a private jail initiative.

Private jail opposition huge!

After fighting Austin traffic and paying for a toll road, I arrived for the 7:00 p.m. meeting around 6:30 to find the old courthouse nearly full. Opponents of the jail, who seem to be very well-organized, told me they'd mailed out 7,000 fliers and placed by an ad on the local radio station announcing the meeting. I was pleased to see that audience members were being handed Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center, a pamphlet developed by Grassroots Leadership and South Texans Opposing Private Prisons, as well as a chart explaining the jail's proposed financing.

Former Laredo CCA Warden Sues for Wrongful Termination

A former warden at Corrections Corporation of America's Laredo Processing Center has sued the company claiming that he was wrongfully terminated because of his race and age, according to the Laredo Morning Times. According to the article,

Jose L. Hinojosa was the warden for the Corrections Corporation of America's processing center in Laredo, a 350-bed unit on East Saunders St. that handled Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, detainees from 1987 to 2006, according to court documents.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges Hinojosa was ordered to resign as warden because he is a Mexican-American man who, at the age of 62, told superiors he intended to keep his job for 10 more years.

This was done in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the lawsuit alleges. Hinojosa is asking for more than $3 million in damages.

Two things jump out at me after reading this story. First, this is the same facility where Tomas Contreras, the 40 year U.S. resident who was detained coming back from visiting family in Mexico, was allegedly beaten after raising concerns about conditions.

JFA Report Offers Ways to Reduce the Prison Population

The JFA Institute released a new report this month entitled Unlocking America: How to Reduce America's Prison Population. The report analyzes why the prison system has grown so significantly in recent years and offers specific recommendations for how states and the federal government can reduce the number of people incarcerated. The report's recommendations include:

  1. Reducing time served in prison;
  2. Eliminate the use of prison for parole or probation technical violators;
  3. Reduce the length of parole and probation supervision periods; and
  4. Decriminalize “victimless” crimes, particularly those related to drug use and abuse.

Texas legislators and voters recently approved the construction of three new prison units to meet the need of the state's growing prison population. The report offers a good overview of how the prison population can be controlled and ultimately reduced without new expansion.

The report also cites the financial interests that undermine efforts of sentencing reform that can lead to the reduction in the prison population. In the concluding remarks, the authors state:

We also recognize that as the system of imprisonment has grown, so too has the investment and the vested interests that support its operations and growth. In order to reverse the current trends we will have to find a way to re-allocate the money, political influence, and jobs that the current system provides. This will not be easy and it will take many years to wean us off the excessive use of imprisonment.

Related posts include:

Laredo City Council Rejects GEO's "Donation"

We reported on Monday that the Webb County Commissioner's court had rejected a $250,000 "donation" from the GEO Group after the transaction was criticized as "dirty" by Laredoans and in the excellent monthly publication LareDOS.

Word from Laredo is that the Laredo City Council has followed suit. The Council quitely rejected a similar $250,000 donation after South Texans Opposing Private Prisons organizer Ricardo Soliz and Laredo lawyer Ron Rodriguez, who has represented several families of inmates abused in GEO prisons, spoke against the donation. According to the Laredo Morning Times:

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Another Hutto?

In spite of the growing infamy of ICE's T. Don Hutto prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America, there is yet another proposal that includes a new prison for the whole family. The SAVE act (H.R. 4088 submitted Nov 06, 2007) would authorize another prison that could hold immigrant parents and children. From the bill (with emphasis added):

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Problems Haunt GEO's Val Verde Correctional Center

Karen Gleason from the Del Rio News Herald reported Saturday that a former GEO Group guard has been indicted on federal civil rights charges for twice striking a federal detainee while employed at the Val Verde Correctional Center in October of 2006.

According to the article, 20 year-old Emmanuel Cassio (meaning Cassio was a 19 year-old correctional officer at the time of the alleged assault) was indicted by a federal grand jury on one felony count of deprivation of rights under the color of law, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Of course, this isn't the first incident at the Val Verde Correctional Center. 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. The settlement from the Tapia suit included a full-time county monitor to the prison.

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Guards at MTC's "Tent City" Accused of Immigrant Smuggling

We'll add this one to the "ain't that ironic" category. Four MTC "Tent City" detention center employees have been accused of smuggling undocumented workers using an MTC van. According to the story in the Valley Morning News:

The four, all employees of Utah-based Management Training Corp., are accused of involvement in transporting 28 illegal immigrants from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, federal officials said.

Garcia and Sanchez attempted to smuggle the 28 in a MTC company van and told authorities that they were prisoners from the detention center en route to San Antonio, federal officials said. Officials said the 28 were picked up at locations around Harlingen.

The four are accused of harboring and smuggling illegal immigrants in criminal information documents, but have not been indicted because their cases have not yet been presented to a grand jury, Herrera said.

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GEO Group Continues to Draw Fire Over Laredo "Superjail"

GEO Group's Laredo "Superjail" continues to draw fire from local opponents and the South Texas press, and it looks like Laredo decision-makers may finally be starting to take notice. As Kathleen reported back in May, GEO Group CEO George Zoley visited Laredo and distributed $250,000 checks to the city and county governments, a visit that coincided with zoning permits and utility hookup awards.

An article in last Wednesday's Laredo Morning Times outlines how Webb County Commissioners rejected the $250,000 "donation" from the GEO Group after it was criticized by local attorney Ron Rodriguez, who has represented several victims of abuse in GEO prisons, amongst others. From the article:

"Commissioners, this is not a donation, this is a payment," said Ron Rodriguez, who represents the families of Guillermo De La Rosa, an inmate who died while serving time in a Geo Group facility in Willacy County.

"This transaction is dirty, the money is dirty and everybody that touches it will have dirty hands," Rodriguez continued.

The Commissioners then voted unanimously to reject the "donation." Word from Laredo is that the Laredo City Council, who was also offered a $250,000 "donation," will likely vote tonight on a proposal to reject the money as well.

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