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May 2008

Clarksville City Council Considers Private Prison

Clarksville City Council, in Red River County, is considering a private prison facility. According to recent reports in The Paris News city officials are competing for Emerald Correctional Management to build the facility in their backyard.

Clarksville City Council gave its approval to the submission at a May 20 meeting. If approved, the facility will be under private contract for 10 years. After bond retirement, the title reverts to the city.

From reports, it seems that Emerald will target its efforts to federal agencies to imprison undocumented immigrants and be the latest site for expanding national detention capacity.

The facility would house 2,500 [undocumented immigrants] and would be considered a medium/minimum security facility.

Officials mistakenly think that building this prison in their backyard would contribute to economic development and increase jobs in the area.

Folks in Clarksville need to learn from the research that debunks that myth. For example the research published by blog contributor Bob Libal and his colleagues at Grassroots Leadership. They developed the report Considering a Private Jail, Prison, or Detention Center as a resource for public officials considering these decisions. The report debunks the myth that prisons contribute to economic growth.

The research reveals that prisons have not played a prominent role in economic growth in either metropolitan or rural counties. Moreover, new prisons actually impeded private and total economic growth in depressed rural counties. Contrary to the widely held beliefs about this subject, there was no evidence at all that prisons helped to lower unemployment rates, raise median family incomes, or increase earnings.

It will be interesting to track the developments that happen in Clarksville and whether Red River County will be the latest location for a private prison.

 

ICE Plans Three New Family Detention Centers

The ever-informative T. Don Hutto blog has documents showing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has issued a pre-solicitation notice for up to three new family detention centers. UPI has a story on the notice, issued in April and with a response date of June 16th.

The U.S. government is accepting bids for up to three new detention centers that would house as many as 600 men, women and children fighting deportation cases.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a call for proposals last month and set June 16 as the deadline, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

The new facilities are being considered on both coasts and on the southwestern border. There currently are two family facilities -- a former nursing home in Pennsylvania and a former prison in Texas.

The planned minimum-security residential facilities would provide a "least restrictive, non-secure setting" and provide schooling for children, recreational activities and access to religious services, the request for proposals says.

The notice is an effort on ICE's part to add to its family detention capacity, and possibly faze out family detention at the notorious T. Don Hutto detention center, the converted medium security prison which has drawn numerous protests, media scrutiny, and a lawsuit by the the ACLU and the University of Texas Immigration law clinic (it's important to note that the settlement agreement only covers Hutto and not other family detention centers).

The proposed facilities would add up to 600 beds, a move that seems unwarranted as the two existing family detention facilities (Hutto and the Berks, PA detention center) have a combined ability to hold about 330 prisoners in the family units. In fact, thanks to the lawsuit settlement, the number of people in the family unit at Hutto has reportedly dropped to around 150, while Berks only had a total capacity of just over 80.

So, where is the need for these new family detention beds coming from? And, more importantly, why is ICE soliciting new detention beds when Congress has said multiple times that effective, less-costly alternatives to family detention should be implemented whenever possible?

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Three Events Against Family Detention

Three upcoming events from different organizations in the next week will target the policy of family detention and the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas. Information below:

Hutto Protest in Taylor

Saturday, May 24th meets at Heritage Park at 11am, march leaves at noon, protest and music at T. Don Hutto

 

Musicians James Perez y Karnaval, Karma, Arma Musical, Xemilla, and hip-hop act Iztli will all perform. Sponsored by the Texas Indigenous Council, César E. Chávez March for Justice, MADRES, Amnesty International, LULAC, Code Pink, T5, Dialog Makers, Houston Sin Fronteras, and others. For more information, contact Jina Gaytan (210) 396-9805 or Antonio Diaz (210) 396-9805.

 

 

Film Screenings in Taylor

Sunday, May 25th, 8pm

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 708 Sturgis Street, Taylor, TX

 

The East Williamson County Democratic Club invites you to "Documentaries Under the Stars" featuring The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez and Hutto: America's Family Prison, short films exploring the issue of immigration. The films hope to spark a discussion about U.S. Immigration policy and the T. Don Hutto detention center. America's Family Prison film-maker Matt Gossage and Iraq Veterans Against the War member Hart Viges will be on hand to lead the discussion.

 

 

Austin Press Conference Opposing SAVE Act and More Family Detention Centers

Wednesday, May 28th, 10am

Federal Building, 300 E. 8th St, Austin, TX

 

Texans United for Families is holding a press conference opposing the SAVE Act's provision to create more "Hutto-like" family detention centers around the country. Local immigrant rights organizations, faith leaders, and advocacy groups have signed on to a national letter opposing the SAVE Act and will deliver that letter to Congresspeople in the U.S. Federal Building in Austin. Thus far, the letter has been signed locally by Ponce Law Office, Grassroots Leadership, Texans United for Families, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, Proyecto Defensa Laboral, La Nueva Raza, LULAC, Texas Jail Project, Texas Civil Rights Project, American Friends Service Committee, Code Pink Austin, MADRES, and leaders from the faith and civil rights communities. Contact Bob Libal at blibal@grassrootsleadership.org or (512) 499-8111 for more information or to add your group to the list of signatories.

As always, see tdonhutto.blogspot.com for more information on Hutto and the campaign to end detention of immigrant children and their families.

GEO Group Convenes First Quarter 2008 Call

Recently, The GEO Group, INC. held a conference call on earnings during the first quarter of 2008. During the call, company officials gave themselves a pat on the back for growing financial interests due in part to an increase in the average per diem rate of incarceration to $59.74 from $53.80 last year.

George Zoley, GEO Chairman & CEO, stated that before the end of 2008, the company will activate 5,300 new beds around the nation, contributing to $92 million in additional operating revenue.

Zoley discussed the company's Texas operations at length. Apparently, the prison profiteers have several projects in the pipeline that will increase Texas private prison beds:

County
Capacity
Facilty Type
Anticipated Customer Projected Open Date
Montgomery County
1,100 Managed Only State or Federal Agency
September 2008
Maverick County
654 Managed Only
State or Federal Agency
September 2008
Laredo 1,500
Company Financed
U.S. Marshalls October 2008

Source: The GEO Group Inc.

These new facilities will increase private prison capacity in Texas to over 3,200.

During the Q&A section of the conference call, a curious listener asked about the Coke County facility. Y'all will remember that last year the facility was the center of controversy and GEO lost the contract with the Texas Youth Commission after horrible conditions were discovered. Zoley stated that the facility is empty, and GEO is searching for new customers to occupy the available beds.

As usual, these conference calls provide a great deal of information and allow us a glimpse into the priorities of private prison profiteers. Advocates in other states may wish to listen to the call or read the transcript (find link below) to learn about GEO prison expansion in their backyard.

Links:

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Fort Bend Star on Opposition to Transfer of Prisoners to CiviGenics' Dickens Lock-up

This week's Fort Bend Star ("Grass roots group opposes Fort Bend Sheriff's plan" May 14, 2008) has an article about growing opposition to the transfer of Fort Bend County inmates over 500 miles to the Dickens County Correctional Center, a private jail operated by CiviGenics. As we reported last week, there a number of concerns have been raised by local residents, including Sue Ann Lorig, who was quoted in the Star article.

Sue Ann Lorig, the Fort Bend County resident who authored the letter that prompted the response, did research on the Dickens County Correctional Facility and found a number of alarming situations in the past of the previously owned company.

Lorig not only pointed out the problems for families and legal counsel having to go so far away to have contact with the inmate, but voiced fear that Fort Bend County is opening the county up to lawsuits as well.

The Star's article focuses on letters sent by my organization, Grassroots Leadership, and the Texas Jail Project's Diana Claitor. According to Claitor's letter, available in its entirety here,

It may be that humanitarian concerns about the huge number of miles family or counsel would have to travel to see inmates are not a priority, but commissioners should take a look at the financial impact on your county. While Dickens is under new management, the new private company CiviGenics has almost as bad a record as the previous one. Just last week, Texas Jail Project received reports from people with relatives incarcerated at Dickens; those inmates were evidently locked in blocks with gang members who administered beat downs that were ignored until serious injuries (some requiring surgery) occurred. The families are considering lawsuits against the county that put their prisoners here (Taylor County) as well as CiviGenics. Your county government will be liable if similar situations arise with your inmates.

Moreover, upon release, inmates will be returning to their homes in your area and many will then have the infectious diseases, traumatic injuries and mental and emotional damage resulting from lack of care for which the Dickens jail is notorious. They will require ongoing services that will further impact your county.

My letter, online here, focused on the troubled history of the Dickens Couny Correctional Center, including the tragic death of Scot Noble Payne which revealed "squalid conditions" at the prison and ongoing management problems at CiviGenics jails in Texas. Specifically, my concerns on the deal include:

1) Moving prisoners hundreds of miles from family members is bad public policy. Studies show that isolation of prisoners from their family members increases recidivism and undermines public safety. Children of these inmates will suffer from lack of contact while parents and spouses have additional anxiety from not being able to see their loved ones.

2) Conditions at the Dickens County Correctional Center are historically unsafe and unsanitary. DCCC became the subject of national scrutiny last year after the suicide of Scot Noble Payne, an Idaho inmate held at the prison. A subsequent inquiry by the Associated Press determined that the facility was “squalid.” The Idaho Department of Corrections health director called the facility the worst prison he’d ever seen and “beyond repair.”

3) The current management of DCCC has had a string of management problems at other facilities. Management of the facility has changed ownership from the GEO Group to another private prison corporation, CiviGenics. CiviGenics has had its own record of poor jail operations in Texas. A guard at CiviGenics’ Texarkana facility was indicted on civil rights charges in 2005 for alleged sexual activity with a female inmate. Similarly, At CiviGenics Waco unit, a guard was indicted for sexual contact with a female inmate. And just last month, an inmate took his own life at CiviGenics-managed prison in Ector County, Texas. It is important to note that counties can retain liability for incidents which happen at private facilities.

Interestingly, Fort Bend County's Sheriff's Department doesn't seem too keen on talking about the situation. According to the Star,

It is unknown how many, if any, inmates have thus far been transferred to the facility. Sheriff Milton Wright does not respond to information requests from members of the Fort Bend Star.

We'll keep you posted on the developments from Fort Bend County County and the Dickens County Correctional Center.

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Colbert Satirizes Private Prisons

Colbert took on private prisons and Corrections Corporation of America on Thursday night on The Colbert Report. Take a look:

 

 

 

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CivicGenics Guard Pleads Guilty to Drug Smuggling

A CivicGenics guard at the Bowie County Correctional Facility recently plead guilty to drug smuggling. According to reports in the Texarkana Gazette, Marquise Dushan Hunt only worked at the private lock up for two months.

Hunt, 21, had been working as a correctional officer for CiviGenics for about two months when he was caught bringing three sandwich bags full of marijuana into the jail.

This scandal represents some of the systemic problems that plague correctional facilities managed by private prison companies. Typically, they hire inexperienced staff who may contribute to these scandals.  The faults of Mr. Hunt represent the inherent problems of outsourcing corrections to private corporations who care more about their bottom line than public safety.

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School Board Rejects Hutto Contract; CCA Continues to Work on Reputation

According to recent reports in the Taylor Daily Press, the Taylor Independent School Board (TISD) has rejected an agreement with the T. Don Hutto Immigrant Detention Center. The agreement would have permitted immigrant detainees to be housed in the old middle school gymnasium in the event of an emergency.

The Hutto facility is managed by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Hutto officials are trying to lay the groundwork for an eventual agreement to be reached between the private prison company and school officials.

Several board members including President James “Bo” Stiles, Assistant Secretary Kathy Cotner and Anita Volek, along with Superintendent Bruce Scott and Assistant Superintendent David Krueger, were given a private tour of the facility May 1.

Volek said she was impressed with the facility, its school and the children in it.

“It puts us between a rock and a hard place, because we’re all about kids, too,” she said.

Hutto officials are making a case for why it is ok to house detainees at the school. Ironically, its the same argument for why these people should not be incarcerated at all.

[Hutto Facility Adminstrator Evenlyn] Hernandez stressed that the individuals housed in the facility are non-criminals, and that the CCA screens potential occupants with a background check before they are housed there. Those found to have a criminal history are not placed in the facility, she said.

As TISD board members become more familiar with the private prison, I fear that they will become more receptive to contracts with CCA around the Hutto facility. It is certainly something we will be monitoring as developments progress.

What Isn't Going Wrong in GEO Group's Texas Prisons?

Last week's horrendous news that guards have allegedly sexually assaulted female detainees at the GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall made me reflect on the scandals that have rocked the company in the past year and half. Consider that in the last year alone the following events have happened in the GEO Group's prisons, jails, and detention center facilities in Texas:

  1. Last week, WOAI reporter Brian Collister reported allegations of widespread sexual abuse of female immigrant detainees at the company's South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall. The allegations were varified by a number of former guards at the facility.

  2. The same Pearsall detention center was the subject of a lawsuit last September alleging that a mentally disabled prisoner was proper denied medical care and generally mistreated.

  3. The Texas Youth Commission shuttered GEO's Coke County Juvenile Correctional Center "filthy" and "unsafe" conditions including feces on walls and fire exits chained shut were found at the facility. In the wake of the scandal revelations that the TYC monitors at the facility were former GEO employees, State Senate John Whitmire called hearings on private prison oversight. GEO Group responded by sending in lobbyists, and substantially increased its lobbying expenditures in the state over the following months. Seven youths then sued the company over conditions at the facility.

  4. The suicide of Idaho inmate Scot Noble Payne last spring at GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center lead to an investigation into the facility's operation. The Associated Press's expose on the prison described the facility as "squalid" while Idaho's Department of Corrections Director of Health Care called the prison the worst he's ever seen and "beyond repair." Noble Payne's family has subsequently sued GEO over conditions at the prison.

  5. In November 2007, 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. The Val Verde Detention Center had been subjected to two well-publicized lawsuits in the past several years. 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.

  6. This summer, Val Verde was again rocked after four inmates came down with a mysterious illness. Three of the inmates later died, but a state investigation could find nothing at the prison linking the prison to the illnesses.

  7. In March 2008, a 20 year-old Val Verde GEO Group guard was indicted for smuggling marijuana into the correctional facility. Similar charges were filed against two other GEO Group jailers who attempted to smuggle liquor and contraband into the facility.

The list is long enough and filled with enough serious incidents that it makes me wonder why GEO continues to earn lucrative contracts like the three new Texas contracts that Nicole reported on last month. One reason might be the high-priced lobbyists and former state officials that GEO keeps employed. We'll keep you posted on ongoing problems at GEO's Texas facilities.

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Private Prisons Featured on PBS's NOW Tonight

PBS's acclaimed series NOW will have a show on private prisons this evening. The show features commentary from Texas Prison Bid'ness founder Judy Greene, and focuses on a fight over a CCA prison proposal in Colorado. Here's a portion of the release from PBS:

Corporations are running many Americans prisons, but will they put profits before prisoners?

A grim new statistic: One in every hundred Americans is now locked behind bars. As the prison population grows faster than the government can build prisons, private companies see an opportunity for profit.

This week, NOW on PBS investigates the government's trend to outsource prisons and prisoners to the private sector. Critics accuse private prisons of standing in the way of sentencing reform and sacrificing public safety to maximize profits.

"The notion that a corporation making a profit off this practice is more important to us than public safety or the human rights of prisoners is outrageous," Judy Greene, a criminal policy analyst, tells NOW on PBS.

Companies like Corrections Corporation of America say they're doing their part to solve the problem of inmate overflow and a shortage of beds without sacrificing safety.

"You don't cut corners to where it's going to be a safety, security or health issue," Richard Smelser, warden of the Crowley Correctional Facility in Colorado tells NOW. The prison is run by Corrections Corporation, which had revenues of over $1.4 billion last year.

The Crowley prison made headlines back in 2004 after a major prison riot caused overwhelmed staff to run away from the facility. Outside law enforcement had to come in to put down the uprising.

"The problems that were identified in the wake of the riot are typical of the private prison industry and happen over and over again," Green tells NOW.
After the show has aired, you should be able to view it online.
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