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February 2008

"Hutto: America's Family Prison" Screening Tonight in Taylor

Hutto: America's Family Prison, the short film by Lily Keber and Matthew Gossage, will screen tonight at the Taylor's downtown Howard Theatre at 7:00pm. The film will be part of a series sponsored by the East Williamson County Democrats. This months subject is immigration issues and will include Los Trabajadores, a film about day laborers in Austin. A discussion after the film will be moderated by Taylor resident Jose Orta.  More information at the Hutto blog.

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Grayson County Considering Private Jail

Grits for Breakfast has been doing some excellent reporting on a proposed private county jail and detention center in Grayson County, in the far northeast part of Texas. County Judge Drue Bynum has been promoting the prison scheme as a way tax-payers can avoid having to foot the bill for a new jail.

Although the articles don't specifically mention it, I'm assuming that the facility would be financed using a Public Facilities Corporation, an increasingly common way of financing private prison proposals. PFCs are quasi-governmental agencies that can float bonds for "revenue-generating" projects without public approval. How does a jail generate revenue? By importing prisoners from other jurisdictions, most federal detainees from Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the U.S. Marshals or another state, possibly Idaho?

Of course, the down-side of these financing schemes is that if the prisoners fail to materialize, or the private prison operator poorly performs (remember Dickens County?) and the contracting agency pulls its prisoners, the county is left with millions of dollars in prison debt. In Willacy County, every resident caries a staggering $8,700 in debt for the county's multiple private detention centers financed this way.

A close look at Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center? might be a good idea for public officials and residents in Grayson County.

Top Private Prison Lobbyists in Texas

Watch Your Assets, a new report from Texans for Public Justice and Grassroots Leadership on private prison oversight and effectiveness in Texas, contains some interesting data on the top private prison lobbyists in Texas, as listed here:

Texas’ Private-Prison Lobby in 2007

Hutto Resolutions at March 4th Caucuses

An opportunity has arisen to bring the issue of the families detained at the T. Don Hutto to the caucuses coming up on March 4th. Here's how it works. On March 4th, after the polls close, people will gather at their respective precincts for caucuses. Anyone who attends the caucus can introduce resolutions and platform issues. Once a resolution is submitted, those who attend will debate the proposed resolution as well as vote. If the item is approved, it will be passed on to the County platform committee, which will discuss incorporating the proposal at the County level. At the County level, if approved, it will be forwarded on up to the State level.

More on the process is available at the blogs Grits for Breakfast (check out Grits for other prison-related resolutions) and Burnt Orange Report. Anyone can introduce a resolution at the caucuses, but it helps tremendously for the resolutions to be submitted in many precincts around the state. Below is a draft resolution for the Democratic caucuses that can be easily adjusted for the Republican caucuses by changing the party name.

Resolution re: Alternatives to Detention of Immigrant and Asylum-seeking Children

WHEREAS, The Texas portion of the border between the United States and Mexico comprises more than half of the nearly 2,000-mile boundary between the two countries; as a result of this proximity, the State of Texas is uniquely aware of the importance of border protection to the security of the nation as a whole and sensitive to the impact of immigration on the economic and social well-being of both countries; and

Williamson County Republican Candidate Opposes Hutto

Voters in the Williamson County's Republican primary will have a choice when it comes to the controversial issue of detaining immigrant children and their families at Corrections Corporations of America's T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.

According to last week's story by reporter Melissa Mixon from the Austin American-Statesman, Republican challenger for Precinct 1 Commissioner, Steve Laukhuf, an advertising executive and current chairman of the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce, opposes the county's involvement in operating Hutto. Laukuf is challenging Commissioner Lisa Birkman, who back in October voted along with the rest of the commission to continue the county's contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Sheriff gets $12K a year from Civigenics

Due to the election cycle, we stand to learn a great deal about public officials and their relationships to private prison companies. A prime example are the recent reports found in the Waco Tribune that disclose private prison corporation CiviGenics paid $12,000 a year to McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch.

... Lynch’s salary being boosted by an extra $12,000 a year and paid by CiviGenics, a private detention company that has been leasing the downtown county jail since before Lynch became sheriff.

In the article, Lynch states that the CiviGenics payments go back ten years before he became Sheriff, netting Lynch and his predecessor a total of $120,000. According to the Sheriff, the stipend is a feature of the contract authorized by the McClennan County Commissioners Court.

This story is the latest example of how private prison contractors acquire influence with public officials at all levels of government using money and other strategies. According to the article, the county has sent 100 prisoners to CiviGenics for the past six months despite 250 beds being available downtown in recent weeks.

We will continue to post information regarding the relationship of public officials to private prison companies. It is more than likely that these details will continue to surface over the next few months.

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TYC Conservator Leaves from Private Prison Post

The Houston Chronicle recently reported that Texas Youth Commission (TYC) conservator, Richard Nedelkoff, resigned from Florida-based Eckered Youth Alternatives -- a private, youth correctional agency. Nedelkoff's resignation came after being questioned by lawmakers during a legislative hearing.

Lawmakers questioned whether his personal business relationships with national experts he's brought in to assess the agency presented a conflict of interest.

According to lawmakers, several of the national experts had relationships to private prison agencies. Despite, denial that the private prison officials consulted by Nedelkoff contributed to bad decision making, he resigned soon after being quizzed by public officials.

In a statement, ... Nedelkoff said he was resigning his position as chief operating officer with the Florida-based Eckerd Youth Alternatives Inc. "to avoid any appearance of impropriety."

This is was an interesting development in the reforms being undertaken by TYC officials. We will keep you posted regarding on any relationships between the agency and private prison contractors.

New Report Shows Lax Texas Private Prison Oversight, GEO Lobbying Efforts Increasing

A new report by Texans for Public Justice and Grassroots Leadership on private prison oversight, effectiveness, and influence in Texas shows a some interesting trends. The full report is available online.

Amongst the findings:

Private Prison Lobbying Expenditures Increase in Wake of Scandal. The report shows that private prison corporations with state prison or youth detention contracts spent up to $1.1 million on lobbying in Texas in 2007, three times the amount from the previous legislative session. The GEO Group, in particular, increased its lobbying expenditures after the Coke County scandal forced the state to close the company's youth lock-up. We reported on this back in October when Senator John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee complained that GEO had sent in its lobbyists after the scandal focused scrutiny on the company.

Three Upcoming Screenings of "Hutto: America's Family Prison"

Three upcoming showings of Hutto: America's Family Prison, the short film about the T. Don Hutto family detention center, are in the works for the coming month. Here's a schedule:

  • Tonight, Thursday, February 7th, at 7:30pm - a shortened version of the film will be shown on KLRU's Docubloggers. KRLU is the Austin PBS station, channel 18 or channel 9 if you have cable.
  • Saturday, February 9th, at 7:00pm - a Houston screening of the film at MECA followed by a presentation will benefit a family formerly incarcerated at Hutto. This should be quite an event, so I encourage you to come by if you're in Houston. More info at Houston Indymedia.
  • Thursday, February 28th, at 7:00pm - a screening will take place in Taylor, the home of T. Don Hutto. More details to come.

As always, the T. Don Hutto blog has lots of information on Hutto-related activities.

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Thursday Morning Meeting of Prison Industries Oversight Committee

An enlightening note from a reader:

On Feb 7, 2008 at 10:00 AM there will be an important hearing regarding the misuse of Texas prison labor for private industry. The State Legislative Committee on PRIVATE SECTOR PRISON INDUSTRIES OVERSIGHT AUTHORITY will meet at:

Building 7W Room 111
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd
Austin, TX, 78757.

The hearing will focus on prisoner labor being a factor in the shutdown of the Lufkin Industries Truck Trailer Plant. Lufkin Industries is claiming that Direct Trailer & Equipment Company used prison labor from the TDCJ Micheal Unit to assemble truck trailers from china, which lead to an unfair trade practices, since Lufkin Industries was unable to under cut the use of prison labor. Now 150 jobs are being cuts as a result.
Direct Trailer & Equipment Company's president is John Nelson. John Nelson was Director of TDCJ's Industries (TCI) in the 90's.

I have noticed a pattern of TDCJ contractors hiring or being former TDCJ administrators. A prime example of this is Geo Corp hiring Garry Johnson after he expanded contracts with the Geo Corp.

This hearing will be a prime place to voice the need for laws to prohibit former TDCJ employees from being employed by private TDCJ contractors after leaving employment.

For more information on this scandal please check out the Lufkin Daily News.
We reported on GEO's hiring of former TDCJ head Gary Johnson back in December. We'll keep you updated on the scandal out of Lufkin and results from the hearings in coming days.
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