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March 2008

Is a Private Detention Center Good for Caldwell County's Economy?

The debate over the recently proposed Caldwell County detention center, proposed by private prison corporation Emerald Companies, has largely centered on the inflammatory comments of Charles Law, mayor pro tem of the City of Mustang Ridge and a local water board official. Law called the detention center a "holding pen for wetbacks" and has been rightly condemned for his comments. In January, a similar proposal was defeated after widespread community opposition on the other side of the county.

Ignored in the debate about the current Emerald proposal has been one of the key driving forces behind detention center expansion in rural Texas - the idea that building a prison will stimulate the local economy and create jobs. Which begs the question, does building a prison or detention center in a rural community help the local economy? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is no. And it points to one of the most persistent myths surrounding prisons and detention centers - that they are good for rural economies. In fact, the exact opposite appears to be true.

According to multiple studies on prisons and economic development, rural counties that build prisons actually end up worse off than those that do not. According to one of the most comprehensive study on the topic, The Prison Industry: Carceral Expansion and Employment in U.S. Counties, 1969-1994, rural counties with slow-growing economies that built prisons actually fared worse than comparable counties that did not build prisons. In faster-growing areas, prisons had no positive economic benefit.

The reasons for this outcome aren't entirely known, but researchers have offered several hypothesis.

  1. The so-called "prison-town effect" where large prisons deter more beneficial businesses from wanting to come to a community while at the same time scaring off tourism and other industries reliant on a positive community image.
  2. Prisons can drain scarce public resources such as water hook-ups and other utilities, law enforcement, and road construction monies.
  3. These factors are compacted by private prisons where "profits" from the facility are taken out of the community and given to shareholders or invested in future prison and detention center expansion efforts.

Unfortunately, Carceral Expansion is not online in its entirity, but you can read a review of the study by University of Texas LBJ School professor Michele Deitch in the Considering a Private Jail? resource guide. These studies should provide food for thought for local public officials dealing with private prison or detention center proposals.

GEO Guard Charged with Smuggling Marijuana into Val Verde County Jail

The Del Rio News ("Jailer Arrested" March 25) reports that a 20 year-old GEO Group guard at the Val Verde Correctional Center has been charged distributing marijuana within the prison. According to the article:

Jose Alberto Ybarra, 20, 102 Gilchrist Lane, was arrested Friday and charged with the offense of prohibited substances and items in adult or juvenile correctional or detention facility or on property of Texas Department of Criminal Justice or Texas Youth Commission, said Val Verde County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Larry Pope, who heads the VVSO’s criminal investigations division.
Pope said Val Verde County Sheriff A. D’Wayne Jernigan Friday asked him to meet with John Campbell, warden of The GEO Group’s Val Verde Correctional Facility, about Ybarra. “The warden suspected a jailer of bringing (marijuana) into the jail,” Pope said. “We set up a surveillance and when the suspect jailer arrived at work Friday, he was stopped and escorted into a conference room.”
Pope said Ybarra was found to be carrying 1.1 ounces of marijuana concealed in the rolled-up cuff of his left shirtsleeve. Pope said Ybarra was also carrying four $50 bills. “He later admitted that this is what he was being paid to deliver the marijuana,” Pope said.

While 1 ounce of Marijuana smuggled into a correctional facility doesn't seem particularly egregious, this incident is reminiscent of a more serious incident where another 20 year-old guard was charged with federal civil rights violations for repeatedly striking a prisoner in the face. It is also part of a long and growing list of problems at Val Verde, a reputation that earned it the "worst jail in Texas" award from the Texas Jail Project back in October 2007.

Selected previous Texas Prison Bid'ness coverage of the Val Verde Correctional Center:

What's Happening at CCA's Mineral Wells Prison?

Several readers have contacted us over the last month with concerns about developments at Corrections Corporation of America's Mineral Wells pre-parole transfer facility. The facility, housing state prisoners awaiting transfer, was the site of a major multi-day disturbance last fall.

This time readers, including some with family members in the prison, are worried that CCA is constructing metal coverings over the dorm windows, creating a safety hazard. One reader sent pictures to illustrate the point.









Clearly, conditions that make prisoners and families feel unsafe are not good in prisons, a special importance at a facility like Mineral Wells which has experienced some major disturbances in the past years. We'll keep you posted on developments from Mineral Wells In the meantime, read our previous posts about Mineral Wells:

Laredo ISD Challenges Sale of Webb County Juvenile Detention Center

Laredo Independent School District trustee Jose A. Valdez expressed concern about the proposed sale of Webb County Juvenile Detention Center to Cornell Companies last week, citing the accompanying change in makeup of the facility from juveniles to adults as cause for concern due to the close proximity of the detention center to two elementary schools.

The Laredo Morning Times Reports:

"The detention center's location, in the 4100 block of Juarez Avenue, is too close to nearby schools and raises safety issues, Jose Valdez said.

"Our concern is that one block to the south is an elementary school, Santa Maria. On Chicago (Street), one block to the west is Farias Elementary," he said. "We don't want a prison there."

The proposed contract stipulates that the facility be used for re-entry of adult prisoners under jurisdiction of the United States Bureau of Prisons. Webb has been trying to sell its County Juvenile Detention Center for more than a year in order to pay for operation of a new juvenile detention center-- the Webb County Youth Village Complex.

On a slightly encouraging note, the issue of prison privatization seems to be getting a critical look in Webb County. Bob wrote earlier this month about the County Commissioner races going on in Webb, where some candidates are making opposition to Geo Group an important piece of their platforms. And this was in the LMT article:

"Martinez said the recent political climate and the controversysurrounding the GEO Group's new detention facility in south Laredo ishelping to fuel to the issue"

LISD trustee George M. Beckelhymer said it is always good to examine intent with respect to contracts, especially if one entity is a for-profit business.

Good indeed.

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Hutto Resolution Passed Over 60 SD 26 Precincts

The Burnt Orange Report reports that the Hutto resolution, calling for alternatives to detention of immigrant children and their families, passed in over 60 Democratic precinct conventions in Senate District 26, covering Bexar County, and will be debated at Democratic County Conventions this Saturday.  If the resolution passes in a sufficient number of county conventions, it could become part of the state Democratic Party platform.  

According to BOR, the resolution passed in the following SD 26 precinct conventions:

Submitted to and Adopted by 61 precincts (1001, 1005, 1006, 1010, 1079, 1080, 1087, 1088, 1093, 1098, 1101, 1104, 1108, 1112, 1113, 2004, 2021, 2026, 2034, 2035, 2058, 2060, 2078, 2084, 2087, 2090, 2093, 2094, 2097, 2106, 2118, 2125, 2132, 2139, 3003, 3010, 3016, 3031, 3032, 3037, 3038, 3095, 3107, 3113, 3127, 3129, 3136, 3138, 3139, 3140, 3141, 3147, 3168, 3172, 4006, 4013, 4014, 4017, 4018, 4075, 4157); and Amended and Adopted by Precinct 2140, in Senate District 26, Bexar County, Texas, March 4, 2008. Amended by the Senate District 26 Resolutions Committee, March 16, 2008 and combined with resolutions that had been Submitted to and Adopted by Precincts 2045 and 2140 in Senate District 26, Bexar County, Texas on March 4, 2008. Amended by the Senate District 26 Resolutions Committee March 19, 2008.

We had already heard that the resolution passed in these other precinct conventions around the state:

Travis County - 136, 152, 235, 239, 250, 274, 410, 424, 426, 427, 423, 442, 431, 315, 334, 345

Harris County - 57, 268, 361, 732

Williamson County
- 427, 425, 357

Brazoria County - 58

Bexar County - 3024, 3098

We'll keep you posted on how the Hutto resolution fares at the Democratic Party county conventions this Saturday.

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Report on CCA 2007 4th Quarter Conference Call

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest prison provider, held its 2007 4th Quarter conference call earlier this year. During the call, CCA updated investors regarding capacity and addressed new beds the company was bringing online as a result of increased demand for new prison beds. Company representatives emphasized that while the country is an economic downturn, the prison system is not impacted by negative economic cycles.

As of February 2008, CCA 41 owned facilities with 50,909 beds and 24 managed only facilities with 26,751 beds. The company managed contracts with 20 states, all three federal agencies, and the District of Columbia. Further, of the beds that CCA owned or managed in 2007 about 6.64% were in Texas.

CCA likes to emphasize its strong presence in the private prison industry; controlling approximately 47% of the private prison and jail beds in the nation. The company acknowledged it's own contributions to the growth of the private prison industry where staff mentioned that in 1990 private prisons numbered 10,973 and in 2007 that number increased to over 164,000 beds.


Total Capacity

U.S. Market
Owned and
Controlled Beds
CCA 77,660 47.2% 50,909
The Geo Group Inc. 43,402 26.4% 19,902
Cornell Companies 16,024 9.7% 14,017
Management & Training Corp. 11,945 7.3% 506
All Others 15,581 9.4% unavailable

Source: CCA Q4 2007 Investor Presentation

CCA officials stated that new reports relating to a reduction in Texas prison capacity will not impact CCA contracts since the the private prison company was not planning any local expansion. However, CCA staff emphasized that the state continues to operate its prison -- public and private -- at capacity.

The call also addressed trends at the federal level, including those that would facilitate capacity expansion and benefit CCA's bottom line. Specifically, the recently passed federal FY 2008 budget supports an increase of the immigrant detention population of 32,000 prison beds up from 27,000 beds from FY 2007 and an increase from the President’s previous budget. Further, the budget authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue future budget requests for additional capacity if needed and requires the agency to update Congress monthly on immigrant detention capacity.

Additionally, the President recently released his FY 2009 budget that increases detention population beds to 33,000. In 2005, funding for detention beds numbered only 19,000. As a result, there will be an addtional 1,000 to 1,500 new immigrant detention beds that will come online by 2009.

The call highlighted trends at the state and federal level and painted an overall picture of the direction of CCA. As advocates working to address the problem of mass incarceration and how private prison operators contribute to that growth it is truly disturbing to observe the comments of CCA represenatives who relish the nation's projected prison prison growth.

Emerald Proposes Another Caldwell County Detention Center; Mustang Ridge Official Condemned for Racial Slur

A number of readers have alerted us about this story. Emerald Corrections is proposing yet another 1,000 bed immigrant detention center in Caldwell County ("Area's 2nd Immigrant Holding Center..." KLBJ, March 21) just months after a similar proposal was defeated after widespread community opposition on the other side of the county. This time, Emerald has proposed the private detention center in Mustang Ridge, a small town on the border between Caldwell and Travis Counties.

The issue was thrust into the public eye last week after an agenda item appeared on Creedmoor-Maha Water Supply Corporation agenda calling the proposed facility a "holding pen for wetbacks." The copy of the agenda is online. The man who put the offensive item on the Water Supply Corporation meeting agenda is Charles Laws, who in addition to his role as Creedomore-Maha Board of Directors, is also the Mayor Pro Tem of Mustang Ridge and a founder of the town which was incorporated in 1985.

Laws refused to apologize or step down after his comments drew condemnation as "open bigotry" from public officials ("Mustang Ridge Official..., Statesman, March 22) such as Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez, state Sen. Kirk Watson, and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez. Creedmore-Maha's water contracts with the city of Austin and other entities could be in jeopardy. Not everyone in Mustang Ridge seems happy about Mr. Laws comments either. According to a News 8 story ("Mustange Ridge Residents React", March 22), several residents of the city think Mr. Laws should resign.

Lisa Munoz and her family have called Mustang Ridge home for nine years. She called the use of the phrase "very offensive." "No he does not deserve to stay in office. I don't think so," Munoz said.

The population of Mustang Ridge is just under 1,000 people. According to the Mayor more than 60 percent are Hispanic, including himself. "It was a shock to me," Mustang Ridge Mayor Alfred Vallejo said.

Of course, possibly more offensive than Mr. Laws comments is the proposed detention center itself. Proposed by Louisiana-based private prison operator Emerald Corrections, it appears the private prison would be built on speculation with the idea that it would house up to 1,000 immigrant detainees. KLBJ's story speculates that the facility might hold immigrant families like the notorious T. Don Hutto detention center.

What is more likely in my opinion is that the facility would house a combination of adult immigrant detainees contracted from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service - including immigrants being charged criminally and incarcerated for merely crossing the border under the ludicrously wasteful (and dreadfully misnamed) Operation Streamline. Bloomberg News ("Bush Crackdown on Illegal Aliens Stretches Marshals to Limit" March 12) reported last week that this policy is already diverting resources from traditional Marshals tasks like "capturing escaped prisoners and rounding up sex offender."

We'll have more posts coming on the Mustang Ridge detention center, including a post on the economic impact of the facility. In the meantime, take a look at our previous coverage of Emerald's attempts to build a detention center in Caldwell County:

MTV on Puryear Nomination, Part 2

Here is part 2 of the Think MTV piece on the controversial nomination of Gus Puryear, CCA's former head lawyer, to the federal bench. It features our friend Alex Friedmann of Prison Legal News and the Private Corrections Insitute.



See part 1 here. We'll keep you updated on the developments from the Puryear nomination.

Superdelegate Has Ties to CCA

Tracie McMillan over at the Huffington Post has profiled Superdelegate Joseph F. Johnson, a former Corrections Corporation of America board member. He is a member-at-large of the Democratic National Committee from Chantilliy, Virginia - a suburb of Washington D.C.

Reports indicate that he is supporting Senator Hillary Clinton. However, he has not publicly committed to either Clinton nor Senator Barack Obama. In fact, Johnson has donated to both campaigns:

  • Records show that he and Sharron Johnson (of the same address) each donated a legal maximum of $2300 to Senator Clinton's campaign in late 2007; and
  • In the summer of 2007, Johnson gave $1,000 to Senator Obama.

Johnson was appointed to the board of Corrections Corporation of America, the largest operator of private prisons in the country. While serving in that position from 1996 to 1999, Johnson earned accolades and handsome rewards from CCA for convincing Washington, D.C. to send prisoners to CCA's Youngstown, Ohio prison. Johnson also has a history of lobbying for private prison companies in Texas and around the nation.

The private prison in Ohio had a notorious reputation for violence and escapes. By 1998, there had been two fatal stabbings, 44 assaults, and six escapes at the prison. Despite the egregiousness of the incidents, Johnson claims that no one's was to blame. According to McMillan's article:

Mr. Johnson nonetheless profited from the deal, receiving $2.6 million in stock options for his work linking CCA with officials in Washington, D.C. Calling his work "instrumental" to their receipt of the contract, CCA said that Mr. Johnson had "exceeded his duties and obligations" to the company and also paid him $382,000 for his "consulting services" in helping to arrange the deal, and $991,000 for NCRC's services in another CCA prison in Texas.

What an interesting development in the presidential campaign that keeps on going. As potential president-makers, the Superdelegates continue to face scrutiny. It will be interesting to see if any others are linked to private prison companies.

Odessa CiviGenics Inmate Took His Own Life

21-year old Luis Chavez-Chavez was pronounced dead earlier this month after his body was discovered hanging in the CiviGenics-managed Ector County Correctional Center. CBS 7 is reporting that a preliminary autopsy indicates the prisoner committed suicide.

Current news reports do not mention conditions or staff-levels at the the Civigenics facility during Chavez-Chavez's death, but I was able to locate six immediate full-time job openings for the facility posted online at the beginning of the month. CiviGenics seems to have been searching for three guards and three medical professionals to staff the 223-bed jail very recently.

One reader believes CiviGenics' management of the facility was shoddy:

"While it is difficult to keep inmates from commiting suicide, when jails and prisons are run professionally, these tragic incidents can be kept to a minimum. This reduction requires proactive measures that include screening, observation, suicide watches, special cells that reduce the possiblity of self-harm, etc."

Mr. Chavez-Chavez was being detained for the charge of illegal entry by the U.S. Marshal Service, which has a contract with the Civigenics-managed Ector County Correctional Center.

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