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December 2007

2007 Texas Prison Bid'ness Year in Review

As 2007 comes to an end, we thought we'd look back at our first year at Texas Prison Bid'ness and compile some the most important stories we covered this year. Below is list of the top 5 private prison stories in Texas as we saw them, in no particular order.

Many thanks to our readers and other bloggers who have been supportive of our first year. We also would like to thank Kathleen Pequeño, a founding blogger at Texas Prison Bid'ness who departed in November. Her excellent work and writing was key in developing the Texas Prison Bid'ness site and blog. Happy New Year!

- Nicole, Bob, and Judy at Texas Prison Bid'ness

#5 - 80th Legislature: Lawmakers introduced several measures during the legislative session that impact private prisons. Amongst the highlights:

Latest Developments Among Idaho Prisoners

The Houston Chronicle recently reported that Idaho prisoners on the way to Val Verde Correctional Facility were delayed due to further review of contract obligations by local officials.

Prisoners were being moved to Val Verde after an investigation following the suicide of Scot Noble Payne at the Dickens County Correctional Center in Spur, Texas. That facility was managed by GEO Group and Mr. Payne's suicide has resulted in increased scrutiny by Idaho and Texas public officials.

Despite the reported transfer the details had not been finalized by county officials in Del Rio where the prison is located.

Because a Texas county official has yet to approve the contract to house Idaho prisoners at Val Verde, they have first been sent 100 miles away to the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas.

GEO also manages the Val Verde prison and according to reports has a strong incentive to protect the company’s relationship with the Idaho Department of Corrections.

The company hopes to win contracts with Idaho to build a large new prison here [Texas] to help accommodate the state's 7,400 inmates.

It is quite remarkable that despite the list of GEO prison scandals in Texas, states are continuing to contract with this company. Even more striking is that Idaho continues to do so.

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Correctional Concepts, Inc. Proposes "Faith-Based" Private Prison in Leonard, Texas

A non-profit private firm, Correctional Concepts, Inc. has proposed a "faith-based" private prison in Leonard, Texas in Fannin County. At a December 13th Leonard City Council meeting, no action was taken on the prison issue despite a large turn-out from opponents of the prison who had collected 400 signatures opposing the prison from around the town of 2,000. From the Leonard Graphic,

Leonard City Council members took no action on four agenda items concerning a faith-based prison that could be located in the community. A motion to withdraw from contract negotiations with Corrections Concepts Inc. by Steven Bolin died for lack of a second and two other items, one calling for a referendum in the May municipal election and one for calling for a public hearing died for lack of a motion

More than 70 people packed the Leonard City Council chambers Tuesday evening as the council took up discussion on the items relating to an agreement with Corrections Concepts Inc. and the construction of a faith-based prison in Leonard.

Of course, a faith-based prison raises constitutional questions that could limit the prisons ability to attract contracting clients. According to an article in The Herald News, Fannin County, along with another 8 Texas counties and communities, have already rejected CCI's offers to place a religious prison in their communities.

According to another article in the Leonard Graphic:

Staffing Problems at GEO's Pearsall Detention Center?

Via a tip from our friend Frank Smith at the Private Corrections Institute, it appears that the GEO Group is having some pretty serious staffing problems at the South Texas Detention Center, an immigration holding center in Pearsall, Texas. According to GEO Group's website, positions are currently open as:

  • Human Resources Generalist
  • Training Administrator
  • Grievance Coordinator
  • Recreation Specialist
  • Business Manager
  • Assistant Shift Supervisor
  • Assistant Business Manager
  • Assistant Facility Administrator
  • Chief of Intake
  • Food Service Cook
  • Inmate Accounts Clerk
  • Major
  • Lieutenant
  • Detention Officers
  • Shift Supervisor Lieutenant
  • Maintenance Technician

As Scott Hensen at Grits for Breakfast has reported, staffing problems run deep in both Texas prisons and juvenile facilities. Pearsall has its own challenges when it comest to staffing the 1,900 bed detention center. The town of 7,000 is located 55 miles south of San Antonio, with no major population centers nearby. Staffing problems at prisons and detention centers can lead to less effective and more volatile prison conditions.

Caldwell County Commissioner Pitches Emerald Detention Center Idea

Caldwell County Commissioner Joe Roland is quoted repeatedly in an article in Thursday's San Marcos Record promoting the idea of a private 1,000-bed detention center in rural Caldwell County to be operated by Emerald . According to the story, local residents don't need to be concerned about the prison because "they aren’t hard core criminals, after all. Just people who crossed a border in order to make a better life."

As we reported last week, Emerald and its supporters have said that the facility would hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees. However, ICE is not commenting on such speculation. ICE Spokesperson Nina Pruneda was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman as saying "no such discussions have taken place in any meaningful sense."

Of course, the larger question is why the government is spending so much money to incarcerate "people who crossed a border to make a better life." As we've reported, private prison corporations are benefiting handsomely from punitive border policies.

Luckily, public hearings are scheduled before the County moves forward in approving the detention center project. I've already heard from several people concerned about the prison, so we will probably see some lively public debate on this issue. We'll keep you informed on what's happening in Caldwell County.

Hutto Anniversary Vigil Brings Out Large Crowd; Protesters Enter Prison to Deliver Toys

I was lucky enough to be involved in this Sunday's vigil at Correction Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas. Of course, Hutto has gained infamy for being one of only two immigrant detention centers in the U.S. to hold immigrant families, including children as young as toddlers.

This month's vigil brought out a crowd, up to 150 by some counts, from Taylor and other parts of Williamson County. Attendees also came from Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Corpus Christi, and other parts of the state. The program was opened by the women of PODER, followed by speeches by numerous advocates including Taylor residents, a formerly detained asylum-grantee, LULAC national president Rosa Rosales, Jaime P. Martinez, founder of San Antonio's Cesar Chavez march who also serves as LULAC's national treasurer, Border Ambassador Jay Johnson-Castro, and Mustafaa Carroll of the Dallas Council on American Islamic Relations.

The programs was concluded with a moving candlelighting vigil lead by Rev. Jim Rigby from St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in north Austin. Then, protesters walked into the prison to deliver hundreds of toys, books, and music players to the people detained inside. Greg Moses from the Texas Civil Rights Review has a great story at Counterpunch about the moving action.

Selected Previous Texas Prison Bid'ness Hutto Coverage:

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New TYC Conservator has ties to Private Prison Industry

 

Governor Perry appointed a new conservator to manage the Texas Youth Commission. The Austin American Statesman reported that Richard Nedelkoff has an extensive resume in corrections. Recently, Nedelkoff served as chief executive officer for Eckerd Youth Alternatives, a private nonprofit organization based in Clearwater, Fla.-based that manages residential programs for at-risk youth in 10 states.

 

Nedelkoff intends to stay on with Eckerd, dividing his time as necessary to do the job at the commission, he said. He succeeds Ed Owens, a conservator in semi-retirement who had been waiting for several weeks for a replacement.

Comments on Grits for Breakfast suggest that the Nedelkoff appointment will lead to an increase in contract care for TYC. Time will tell. In the wake of recent scandals such as at Coke County, the agency ended its contract with the GEO Group. TYC reports that 17 facilities are managed by private contractors.

Harris County Sending More Prisoners to Private Facility in Louisiana

The Houston Chronicle reported that Harris County will send an additional 200 prisoners to a private facility in Louisiana. We have recently discussed why this is bad policy and it's implications for the local community.

Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to send an additional 200 county inmates, including 180 women, to a private Louisiana detention center to reduce overcrowding.

The Louisiana facility is owned by Emerald Correctional Management and tax payers will pay $9 million a year to incarcerate 600 prisoners from Harris County. The story states that the cost of incarceration in Louisiana is $37/day -- $5 less than in Harris County. However, officials do not explain whether those expenses include transportation and other costs. Given the history of private prison financing it is highly unlikely.

It is a shame that Harris County officials continue to rely on jail expansion rather than diversion as a strategy to contain capacity. Our pal at Grits for Breakfast has a written extensively on public policies that county officials can use to control for local jail populations.

We will continue to monitor the bad decision-making in Harris County that results in sending prisoners to private facilities out of state.

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GEO Group Attorney Says It's 'Reasonable to Expect' Violations

The Laredo Morning Times recently covered the Webb commissioners court's consideration of a contract with GEO Group. According to an attorney for GEO Corp.:

The violation of GEO Group policies by some of its employees, which court documents allege led to the suicides of former inmates in GEO-run prisons, should be reasonable to expect from a company that employs 10,000 people worldwide. That defense of the company was offered by GEO Group attorney Carlos Zaffirini at the Monday meeting of the Webb County Commissioners Court.

In the hearing, concerned citizens gave testimony relating to the county's "non-standard service contract" with GEO Group to provide water and sewer lines. Concerned citizens raised the issue with Pct. 4 Commissioner Sergio "Keko" Martinez following a series of scandals at GEO prisons in Texas.

Apparently, GEO officials do not believe citizens have the right to oversight of correctional facilities:

Zaffirini .. [stated] the outcries were "steeped in emotion and void of logic," and added the merits of GEO's current troubles in Texas, which include a current lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a GEO prison guard in Coke County, should be discussed in those courts and not in Webb County.

The debate lasted for more than two hours with Commissioners deciding not to investigate the matter further. Commissioners then returned after a lunch break and decided to instruct County Attorney Homero Ramirez to study the county's obligation to provide water services to the private prison corporation.

We will continue to monitor the developments of GEO's activities in Laredo and throughout Texas.

Emerald Proposes a Private Immigrant Detention Center in Caldwell County

Yet another private immigrant detention center is being proposed in Texas, this time in the central Texas county of Caldwell County. Private prison operator Emerald Corrections, a Louisiana-based company that operates three private detention centers in Texas, is proposing the facility. According to an article in Monday's Houston Chronicle,

Emerald's proposal calls for a $30 million, 1,000-bed facility to built between Lytton Springs and Dale, about 30 miles southeast of Austin. The facility would house men and women separately for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Mike Moore, director of business development for Emerald.

Funding would come from private sources. The facility would have a $4 million to $5 million annual payroll, bring 200 to 225 jobs in Caldwell County and 200 jobs for the larger economic region, Moore said.

"I think it's a great proposal," said County Commissioner Joe Roland. "It's a lot of money in Caldwell County that we didn't have."

Caldwell County officials might want to talk to residents of LaSalle County, home to one of the Emerald's other detention centers in the small town of Encinal. The Economic Development Corporation there issued a statement opposing expansion of that prison facility siting concerns that the community would become known as a prison town.

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