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June 2008

Sheriff's Deputies Protest Privatization Protest in McLennan County

KWTX has a story ("Sheriff’s Officers Concerned About Private Jail Proposals" June 24, 2008) about McLennan County Sheriff's Deputies protesting turning over even more of the county's jail system to a private company. According to the article,

Sheriff’s officers packed the meeting of the McLennan County Commissioner’s Court Tuesday to air concerns about proposals that would turn operation of county jail facilities over to a private company.

A private firm now operates the downtown jail, but other facilities are still county-run.

But the county is under mounting pressure to solve its jail-overcrowding problem and one option commissioners are considering is construction of a new jail big enough to hold a thousand prisoners.

The price tag for the facility could run as high as $60 million. Among the options on the table is hiring a private company to build and operate the new jail.

Without the new facility, County Judge Jim Lewis projects that by 2010, the county will be renting space for almost 450 prisoners it doesn't have room for, at a total cost of nearly $27,000 a day or almost $10 million a year.

We believe that a county can't build its way out of an overcrowding problem. And, as both Nicole on this blog and Grits for breakfast have noted here and here, common sense solutions to reduce the incarcerated populations exist in nearly all Texas counties.

New Family Detention Center in Raymondville?

KGBT is reporting ("Detention Center Plans for Raymondville," June 26) that one of the three new family detention centers proposed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, similar to the notorious T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, might be located in Raymondville, Texas. According to the story,

A new facility to house illegal immigrants and their children could be coming to Raymondivlle if city leaders have their way.

Federal officials recently put out a bid to construct three new detention facilities modeled after one in Hutto, Texas.

Raymondville leaders are putting in a bid to land one of them right here in the Valley.

If approved the facility would be built on city-owned land next to a jail complex that already houses 46-hundred local, state and federal inmates.

Nashville Scene Exposes CCA, ICE on Hutto

The Nashville Scene, Corrections Corporation of America's hometown alternative weekly, has published a blistering expose ("Locked and Loaded," June 19th) on the company, with particular attention paid to CCA's T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas. The story draws heavily on court documents from the lawsuit against the facility, including this heart-breaking testimony:

After she arrived in Taylor, Elsa and her family shared a tiny living area, where they’d be loudly awoken at 5:45 a.m. Elsa, Richard and Angelina then had 20 minutes to eat breakfast. When they didn’t finish on time, guards would just snatch their food and throw it in the trash. “When this happens, the children cry and cry,” Elsa later explained in an affidavit that chronicled her plight.

The detention center was very cold, so much so that the guards walked around wearing gloves. But they’d yell at Elsa if she asked for a blanket. One time they came into her cell and confiscated two of her sweaters.

“They don’t care that we are cold,” she said. “They don’t care if we eat or if we don’t eat.”

Elsa and her children wore prison uniforms and spent hours in their pod, often with no toys or books for the kids. One day, Elsa and her family were in the doctor’s office, where all the kids were playing with crayons. Angelina drew a picture, but a guard grabbed the girl’s artwork. She cried a lot at Hutto, wondering what her family had done wrong.

“Mommy, where is God that he doesn’t want to help us? Mommy, tell God to come and take us out of here and take us to our house,” Elsa recalled her daughter saying. “Mommy, why do they have us as prisoners if we have never killed anybody?”

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Texas Increases Private Prison Population

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released its latest numbers in June regarding the national rate of incarceration and provided state level data as well. According to the BJS the total number of prisoners in custody during 2007 numbered 2.3 million.

As usual, Texas ranks high among the number of prisoners incarceated in state custody. Prisoners in Texas comprised nearly 173,000 of the total number of people in federal and state custody. Additionally, 18,720 of Texas prisoners were detained in private facilities (see chart below); a total 0f 10.8% of prisoners in the state. During 2006, Texas imprisoned about 18,220 prisoners in private facilities for percen-change of plus 2.74% in a single year.

Last year, lawmakers passed reforms meant to reduce the state's reliance on incarceration. Those policies have been lauded by the recent Pew Report and other states as a model. Time will tell if Texas is able to minimize it's overal prison population, and the number of people in private lockups as well.

Largest 20 State Private Prison Populations 2007

State Number of Private Prisoners
% of all State Prisoners

New Mexico

Abuse Allegations Could Cost Cornell Youth Detention Contract

Houston-based Cornell Companies appears to be losing its contract to detain immigrant youth at its Hector Garza center according to an excellent article by Hernan Rozemberg in Sunday's San Antonio Express-News ("Youth Center Director Cites Suit in Feds' Decision," June 15). The facility holds unaccompanied minors apprehended in the United States for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of Health and Human Services.

The center has seen its supply of detainees shrink since a lawsuit was filed against the company, its warden, and employees alleging neglect and abuse. According to the Express-News story:

Unlike other HHS-contracted “shelters” or dormitory-style campuses, the Hector Garza center is designated “staff secure” because it's a more restrictive setting meant to handle problematic youngsters.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Antonio in April, came as a result of a brawl between center residents and staff in February. Staffers called police to help quell the mayhem, which concluded with four minors under arrest.

According to the suit, filed by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, excessive violence used by staff and police symbolized incessant abuse that minors reported to supervisors to no avail. State and federal officials are accused of covering up abuse reports.

Incredibly, the warden of the facility seems to be blaming the lawyers in the case for the allegations of abuse:

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State Democratic Resolutions Committee Passes Hutto Resolution

Earlier this month, a combined version of resolutions calling for alternatives to family detention passed through the Resolutions Committee at this year's Democratic State Convention.

As Bob wrote in April, we knew that versions of the resolution had passed through Senate District Precincts in Travis County (Senate Districts 14 and 25) and Williamson and Brewster Counties. The next step was the State Convention.

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Potter County Sheriff Bribed by Jail Commissary Manager

Our pal Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast recently posted on another jail commissary scandal - this time in Potter County. According to Grits,

An all-woman jury yesterday in Amarillo brought back a guilty verdict against Potter County Sheriff Mike Shumate for taking bribes from the Dallas-based commissary manager, Mid-America Services. The "bribes" the state was able to prove were mostly meals, though quite a few of them...

Texas Prison Bid'ness and Grits have covered several private commissary contracts in the past year. According to Scott:

Commissary contracts have been a big source of alleged corruption in Texas Sheriff's Departments in the past year. In Bexar and Kleberg Counties, a Louisiana based company called "Premier" allegedly bribed the Bexar County Sheriff with swank golfing trips and gave the Kleberg Sheriff private consulting contracts after he left office.

It seems that the amount of scandal at the local level is signicant when it comes to private jail contracts. With limited accountability and oversight at the county level, who knows what scandals remain to be covered at the state's many county jails.

Previous Commissary Posts:

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Barbara Hines: New Family Detention Centers a Step in Wrong Direction

The Dallas Morning News ran an op-ed by Professor Barbara Hines on Monday against ICE's proposal for three new family detention centers of up to 200 beds each. Hines is a professor at the University of Texas' Immigration Law Clinic and was an attorney for detained children in the lawsuit challenging conditions at Hutto.

Here's a highlight from the article:

Women's Commission Issues Statement Opposing New Family Detention Centers

The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children has issued a strong statement (PDF) opposing Immigration and Customs Enforcement's proposal to construct three new contracted family detention centers around the country.

The facilities would dramatically expand the system of family detention made notorious at Corrections Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor. Bids for the facilities are due next Monday, June 16th. According to the release,

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LCS Opening 1,100-bed Detention Center in Nueces County

The Corpus-Christi Caller-Times has an article about the opening of a new 1,100 bed private detention center in Robstown, a small city in rural Nueces County.  

The new LCS Detention Center near Robstown is scheduled for completion late this summer following a series of setbacks.

Off County Road 2826 in what used to be a cotton field, the new 1,100-bed facility likely will be the destination for prisoners brought there by federal agencies such as the U.S. Marshals, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol.

Once it opens, the facility is projected to create more than 200 jobs and pump more than $1 million a year into Nueces County coffers via prisoner contracts and property taxes, county officials said.

LCS Corrections Services is one of the largest private prison operators in the nation, with six other prisons -- one in Brooks County, one in Hidalgo County, three in Louisiana and one in Alabama.

Two things jump out at me from this passage.  First, the story says that the facility is "likely" to hold federal detainees from the U.S. Marshals and ICE and prisoners from the BOP.  The use of the term "likely" to me indicates that the company may not have a contract in place to bring prisoners in.  I wonder, given LCS's record of failing U.S. Marshals assessments, if that agency is rethinking sending prisoners to these facilities.