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January 2008

GEO Group Brings In Execs, Buses For Laredo Meetings

As Nicole reported several weeks ago, the debate over the GEO Group Laredo "superjail" continues. I was among several people to testify at both the December 10th Webb County Commission meeting and again at a December 17th Laredo City Council meeting as an invited member of a Laredo citizen's group opposed to the U.S. Marshals-contracted lock-up.

Other members of the citizens group on the 10th included civil rights attorneys, TAMIU professors, journalists, a resident of the colonias located near the prison site, and a family member of Gregario de la Rosa, the young man who was killed in a Wackenhut/GEO Group prison four days before his release. A similar, albeit smaller group, testified on the 17th.

Opposition testimony centered on arguments that the city and county should not have to provide city special use permits and county water hook-ups to a private detention facility - especially one operated by a company with a track record like GEO. Other arguments included quality-of-life concerns and arguments that the prison would not have a positive economic impact.

The GEO Group countered at the December 10th County Commission meeting by flying in CEO George Zoley and CFO Wayne Calbrese who testified in along with GEO attorney Carlos Zaffirini (husband to state Senator Judith Zaffirini), in favor of the facility. The three, flanked by a small army of lawyers from around the state, argued that GEO was a good corporate citizen and threatened legal action if the county and city backed out of utility and zoning permits.

At the December 17th meeting, GEO also bussed in about 50 construction workers from the facility billed as Laredoans in support of the facility (although it was later reported that most were not from Laredo).

More recent web coverage of Laredo superjail story:

We'll keep you updated on developments from Laredo...

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Idaho Moves Prisoners Back Home

Nearly 50 Idaho prisoners were allowed to return to prisons in their home state. We have reported on the develpments involving Idaho prisoners in Texas facilities, including the suicide of Scot Noble Payne. According to reports, the prisoners were allowed to go home as a result of programming needs.

The 48 inmates were selected by IDOC [Idaho Department of Corrections] Virtual Prison Program staff based on their need for educational and treatment programs, and how close they are to release. Some of the inmates had been in out-of-state facilities for more than two years.

We wonder what this development means for the planned move to the Val Verde Correctional Facility. According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, a total of 429 Idaho prisoners were held in Texas jails last month.

It seems that the detention of Idaho prisoners in Texas continues to be a moving target. We will follow these developments.

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More on Caldwell County Residents' Opposition to Emerald Detention Center

We reported last week that Caldwell County had rejected a proposed 1,000 bed detention center proposed by Emerald Corrections after a strong showing by residents opposed to the prison at a late December public meeting about the proposal.

We received this list of frustrations from the group opposed from the facility, the Concerned Citizens in Caldwell County:

As a group of concerned citizens of Caldwell County, we also attended the Dec. 27, 2007 Lytton Springs session. We, however, were very impressed by the control of the participating frustrated area residents! Numerous “frustrations” were, in our opinion, justified.

Frustration #1: Only a six (6) day window was given to three (3) area residents informing them of a “ Question and Answer Session” that had been planned for Lytton Springs, and at this session an Emerald representative would answer questions.

Frustration #2: This preplanned session was to be held two (2) days after Christmas.

Frustration #3: A request was made asking that this session be delayed two (2) weeks to allow out-of-town residents to return home and/or residents entertaining relatives and guests in their homes to attend. The session date was non-negotiable. The reason given was that no other date was convenient for Emerald.

Frustration #4: To our knowledge, very little notification (if any) of this session was provided to the area residents. Had it not been for this quickly formed group of concerned citizens, who hastily printed and disbursed fliers throughout the community, very few residents would have known of the session.

Frustration #5: Information reported in the Austin Statesman for their Dec.11, 2007 article on the proposed detention facility, erroneous stated that the proposed site was sparsely populated and only one or two homes were located within a two (2) mile radius of the site. In reality, there are at least forty-five (45) homes located along a road located one (1) mile from the site…less than ½ mile if measured “as the crow flies.” This count does not include several homes located directly on the proposed road site.

Frustration #6: On Dec. 20, 2007, the editor of the Post Register reported, “according to Emerald, the detainees would be neither families nor violent offenders…” At the session, when the Emerald representative was asked if violent offenders would be held at this facility, Mr. Moore declared that neither Emerald nor the county had any control over the decision on the status of who would be held there!

Frustration #7: The Emerald representative was short material packets to disseminate to the participants. (Perhaps he was surprised that so many had heard about the session given the short time frame in which it was planned, and /or that so many residents had cut-short their Christmas holiday in order to attend).

Frustration #8: Pertaining to the material packets that were dispersed to the participants present, the amount of space allocated for each informational chart was but seven percent (7%) of a normal page size. Therefore, each chart rendered was very difficult to read and comprehend.

Frustration #9: At the opening of the Emerald Presentation, the representative stated that no bonds would be used, as all monies would be coming from private investors. This, he said would eliminate all risk to the county. These three (3) factors were stated on page one (1) of the packet. However, this was not what was presented on page seven (7) of the packet. On that page, the chart depicts a bond agreement was to be made between Caldwell County Elected Officials and the investors. This DOES make the county responsible for payments! When the Emerald representative was questioned about the “bond” issue, he quickly went on to another question.

Frustration #10: When Emerald was asked how the county would benefit from the two hundred (200) plus jobs made available by this detention facility, in light of the fact that the county had trouble filling/retaining employees at the Geo facility (located but eight (8) to ten (10) miles away) in Lockhart, Mr. Moore’s answer was that the Emerald facility would have to “steal “ Geo’s employees!

Further “frustrations” were avoided when a well-known and highly respected Lytton Springs resident asked for a show of hands in favor of the facility. No hands were raised.

Nowhere on the charts was it mentioned the huge toll that would be taken on neither the county’s infrastructure, nor the huge amount of water to be used by this facility. (According to the County Judge in Lasalle County, Emerald’s Detention Facility located there, which is half the size of the facility planned here, uses between 1 and 1 ½ million gallons of water each month). Therefore, the facility here would use between 2 and 2 ½ million gallons of our precious water each month!!

The largest “frustration” however, is this!! If the concerned residents of Caldwell County can research and discover the multiple negatives of this endeavor, why couldn’t (and/or wouldn’t) our elected officials, as well as the local newspaper (who’s job it is to “ keep their readers informed”) inform us of this “HIGH RISK and RESOURCE DEPLETING ENDEAVOR??

Commissioner Joe Roland has agreed to not pursue the project further, so congrats are in order to the Concerned Citizens in Caldwell County for having their frustrations heard! Our previous coverage on the issue:

Taylor ISD Not Responsible for Special Education at Hutto

The Taylor Daily Press's Leah Fillion has a story this week about a Texas Education Association's ruling that the Taylor Independent School District is not obligated to provide special education to students at the T. Don Hutto family detention center. According to the article:

T. Don Hutto, which houses immigrants and their families awaiting asylum or deportation, is a federal facility. However, the education department is classified as a private school, Suzanne Marchman, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency (TEA), said. School districts are not obligated to provide special education services to private schools within their jurisdiction, Marchman said.

Because the detention center is a government facility, however, the TEA was unclear who had responsibility, she said.

That last sentence causes me some worry. If the school district is not providing special ed services (and I don't think they should be required to without federal reimbursement), will the federal government mandate that they are provided? And, who will provide the services - CCA or a local educational authority?

Of course, all of these questions are indicative of the experimental nature of incarcerating children at a detention center that is unlicensed for the care of youths. We'll keep following this story as it develops.

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Caldwell County Residents Defeat Proposed Emerald Immigrant Detention Center

And now for some good news... Via an email from a reader, the Austin American Statesman is reporting today that plans for a 1,000 bed immigrant Emerald Corrections detention center has been scrapped due to overwhelming opposition from local residents. According to the article:

About 150 people attended a public meeting about the project Dec. 27 in Lytton Springs, and at least 90 percent of them opposed the project, Caldwell County Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Roland said.

"They were pretty forceful," he said of the residents.

On Dec. 10, Louisiana-based Emerald Correctional Management LLC, which manages three correctional facilities in Texas, pitched the idea of a $30 million, 1,000-bed facility to be built in northeastern Caldwell County to county commissioners.

Many of the residents were concerned about safety issues, but others raised important questions about the proposed prison's impact on water capacity and the ability of Emerald to staff the prison. A final vote at the January 12 Caldwell County Commissioners meeting will end the prison deal. We'll keep you updated...

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