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July 2008

More Problems for CEC/CiviGenics in McLennan County

We've reported about the controversy over the proposed privatization of the jail system up in McLennan County. Seems the lone bidder to build the private jail, CEC/CiviGenics, is having some major problems of it's own.

The company already operates a jail facility in McLennan County which is now under investigation by the McLennan County Sheriff's Office for allegations that private prison guards have been delivering drugs into the facility and having sex with female inmates. According to an article in yesterday's Waco Tribune ("Sources: McLennan County Investigating Complaints About Guards...," July 30) by reporter Tommy Witherspoon,

The investigation was launched earlier this month after a 29-year-old inmate at the downtown jail facility reportedly was caught with a marijuana cigarette in her bra. While investigators were trying to find out how she got the drugs into the jail, the woman, who has at least two felony convictions for drug possession, reported that guards are having sex with female inmates and selling drugs to inmates, four sources familiar with the investigation told the Tribune-Herald.

The 329-inmate facility is operated by Community Education Centers, formerly CiviGenics, in a contract with the county that expires Oct. 1. The investigation is being conducted as the county negotiates solely with CEC to build and operate a new, 1,000-bed facility next to the county jail on State Highway 6, retain operation of the MCDC on Columbus Avenue or several other options being considered by the county to help ease its burgeoning jail population.

The article goes on to list some of the other CEC/CiviGenics problems has had operating facilities in the past here in Texas.

Three guards at a CEC-operated facility in Liberty County recently were arrested on charges of having sex with inmates, and two others were arrested on allegations that they sold drugs to inmates, according to published reports.

In November 2001, Sherman Lamont Fields escaped from the MCDC, then operated by CiviGenics, and killed Suncerey Coleman, a young mother of three children, after bribing a guard to help him escape. Fields, a federal prisoner at the time of his escape, was captured and given a federal death sentence.

Fields escaped from the downtown jail when Benny Garrett, a jail guard, slipped him a key to the fifth-floor fire escape door after Fields promised to give Garrett $5,000 after his escape.

At the same time, yesterday McLennan County Commissioner Joe Mashek called on the county to take over control of the CEC/CiviGenics jail in order to give the county more time to discus options for dealing with it's jail overcrowding problem. According to the Waco Trib blog,

The downtown jail is currently operated privately by Community Education Centers. While this contract is set to expire on Oct. 1, a clause in the contract allows McLennan County to resume control of this facility by giving 10 days notice.
Mashek said doing this would give the county an additional four- to five-year window to “explore other options and make a sound decision.” This would put plans to construct a new 1,000 bed jail on hold.

And this from a commenter at the Waco Trib blog:

I personally attended this meeting and I cannot believe how misinformed our county officials are in regards to prisoner population and it’s projected growth,along with the actual dollar amounts it costs to run our county’s jails. Judge Lewis took his numbers from CEC, who claims Mclennan County will see about a 2000 inmate increase over the next 5 years. Commissioner Mashek said that the Texas Jail Commission projected more like 150 inmates and that they are the people who regulate our jails in the state of Texas.

That's pretty damning stuff. If the County is taking jail capacity projections from the private prison corporation with a clear interest in expanding the jail and not from the state agency responsible for overseeing its jail, then we're very unlikely to have a reasonable debate about the need for a new jail in McLennan County.

Thankfully, the Sheriff's officers and Commissioner Mashek seem to be a little more clear-headed on the subject. As we've reported here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, and Grits for Breakfast has covered extensively here and here, common sense solutions to jail overcrowding exist, and they don't include privatization and expansion. We'll keep you posted on developments from McLennan County.

Update: Grits also has a good post this morning on the subject worth checking out.  

New Hutto Contracts Block Detainee 9-1-1 Calls

Via the T. Don Hutto blog and from an excellent report by Taylor Daily Press ("ICE Blocks 9-1-1 Calls from T. Don Hutto," ) reporter Philip Jankowski, a new contract signed by Williamson County would ban detainees at Corrections Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto family detention center from making 911 emergency calls. According to the story,

Outgoing 9-1-1 calls placed by immigrants detained at T. Don Hutto Residential Facility in Taylor will soon be blocked after Immigration Customs Enforcement changes the phone system in the former prison.

The block affects telephones used specifically by immigrants housed in the facility. Also blocked will be all incoming phone calls.

The change came as part of a change in the contract between Williamson County and Immigration Customs Enforcement billed as "Modification ... relating to Low Cost Telephone Services" on the county commissioners' agenda Tuesday.

The commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of the item with no discussion of the matter. After the vote, County Judge Dan Gattis said he was unaware the alteration in the agreement effectively blocked outgoing 9-1-1 phone calls.

Of course, this new agreement is especially controversial given the sexual assault scandal at the facility in 2007. The issue is raised in the issue in the article by LULAC activist Jose Orta.

Local League of United Latin American Citizens member and T. Don Hutto critic Jose Orta said ICE and Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the facility, were "covering themselves" from any possible calls to police.

He referenced an alleged sexual assault that occurred in the facility in May of 2007. That incident led to the firing of a CCA employee after he was caught on a surveillance camera sneaking in and out of a detainee's cell.

No charges were ever filed against the employee in that instance because of a now-corrected loophole in federal law.

Check out the debate over in the comments section of T. Don Hutto for more analysis on the need for 911 phone access at T. Don Hutto.

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A Riot at CCA's Mineral Wells Facility?

We've received a steady stream of reader tips about unsafe conditions at Corrections Corporation of America's Mineral Wells' prison, a TDCJ-contracted facility. The latest comes from a reader who reports:

There was a major prison riot in Mineral Wells on 07-23-2008 involving over 50 inmates. CCA was unable to handle the situation as usual and the inmates where ship back to TDCJ.

Racial tensions were the motive for the riot. The white offenders ended up at the Byrd Unit in Huntsville and the black offenders ended up at the Goree Unit in Huntsville, after the riot.

These inmates all had low custody and trustee custody levels being G1-G2. This shows again, CCA is unable to even handle minimum custody offenders.

We're unable to verify these claims at the moment, but have submitted an Open Records Request to determine what exactly is going on at Mineral Wells. As some readers may remember, Mineral Wells was home to a major disputurbance last summer and an escape in May 2007, and drew reader concerns over safety after metal coverings were placed over dorm windows in March. We'll keep you posted on developments from Mineral Wells and all CCA prisons.

 

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Mother Jones Features Business of Detention, CCA's Houston Processing Center

The MoJo Blog at MotherJones.com features a story from Business of Detention about the impact on families of detention and deportation. It features my colleague at Grassroots Leadership and friend Luissana Santibanez telling the story of her mother's detention at Corrections Corporation of America's Houston Processing Center and subsequent deportation, and features audio of Luissana's mother telling her story. Check it out:

 
 

Balanced Perspective on Nacogdoches Private Prison Proposal

Recently, the Daily Sentintenal published an article detailing the politics surrounding the latest Nacogdoches private prison proposal, entitled "Dollars and Sentences: Prisons more than just an issue of economics".

The article's author, Andrew Goodridge, critically analyzes the public policies surrounding prison privatization. The piece also quotes our own Bob Libal who states:

.. Libal described "terrible conditions" in some MTC prisons, including maggots in prisoners' food in the Raymondville, Texas, facility. That prison, which housed illegal immigrants, dubbed a "tent-city" by the media because the facility was not a building, but a series of Kevlar tents that held 200 detainees each, according to an article in The Texas Observer.

Our pal, Scott at Grits for Breakfast also offers an analysis of the article. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety as it provides a great overview of the issue with nuances and all.

Mother Jones Covers Private Prisons

The latest edition of Mother Jones magazine contains several articles related to prison privatization including, "Why Texas Still Holds 'Em," The article discusses the prevalence of family detention and the T. Don Hutto prison. In an excerpt from the article, the author Stephanie Mencimer states:

But Hutto, like [Corrections Corporation of America] CCA itself, has risen from the ashes thanks to a sudden source of new business: the Bush administration's crackdown on immigrants. Historically, Mexicans caught illegally entering the country have been dumped back across the border, while immigrants and asylum seekers from other countries were processed and released to await their court dates.

For those following trends in incarceration, the latest edition of Mother Jones provides a good overview.

Immigrant Detention Concerns as Hurricane Dolly Arrives in South Texas

As Hurricane Dolly pounds parts of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas today, major concerns exist about the potential evacuation of the thousands of immigrant detainees and prisoners being held in the area. Up to 4,200 detainees are held in several detention centers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service in the Valley, including up to 1,200 ICE detainees at the Port Isabel Detention Center, a capacity of 3,000 at the MTC's Willacy County Proccessing Center in Raymondville, as well as more than 500 U.S. Marshals detainees at the Willacy County Regional Detention Center and state and county prisoners held at other prison facilities in the area. Significant concerns about the evacuation and treatment of these detainees exist including:

1) ICE has announced the evacuation of the PIDC detainees but has not announced whether the Raymondville detainees are being evacuated. This is of special concern because 2,000 of the Raymondville detainees reside pods made of window-less Kevlar tents, which are unproved in Hurricane-like weather conditions.

2) We've heard that female detainees from Port Isabel are being transfered to Laredo, and that male detainees are being transferred to facilities around the country. Have their family members and lawyers been contacted in advance about the transfer of their clients to other facilities?

3) A large number of detainees with mental illnesses are held at the PIDC. In light of recent reports of some immigrant detainees being drugged in transit and a general lack of mental health and medical care at many ICE detention facilities across the country, it's important to ask if these detainees receiving mental health treatment during their evacuation and if they are being drugged during their transit.
We'll keep you posted on developments from Hurricane Dolly. If you have any news and/or information regarding the evacuation, lack of evacuation, lack of medical care or other issues with evacuation, please let us know.
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LULAC Passes National Resolution Against Hutto

The League of United Latin American Citizens has passed a resolution opposing the T. Don Hutto detention center and the policy of family detention. Members of local LULAC chapters as well as the organization's national leadership have been involved in the Hutto vigils for more than a year. Read the text of the resolution signed by national President Rosa Rosales,

WHEREAS, LULAC promotes and defends universal standards of human rights including the rights and humane treatment of undocumented children and their mothers, and

WHEREAS, the lengthy detention of undocumented children, pregnant women and nursing mothers at a private facility called the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Tayler, Texas has reportedly traumatized numerous undocumented children and their parents, and

WHEREAS, this private prison facility called T. Don Hutto Detention Center is reportedly serving as the model for the further expansion for the incarceration of thousands of undocumented families throughout the United States, and

WHEREAS, 200 to 300 families a day are currently being detained for periods of 12 months or longer at T. Don Hutto Detention Center and

WHEREAS, the corporate owner of the T. Don Hutto Detention Center which was formerly a medium security prison, charges the United States Government $200 per day per person detained and

WHEREAS, there are less restrictive alternatives for monitoring the whereabouts of undocumented children and their parents while they await pending immigration hearings

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT LULAC Councils, District, State and National Administration will do everything in their power to close the T.Don Hutto Detention Center immediately and

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that LULAC Councils, District State and National Administrations support petition drives, peaceful public demonstrations, town hall meetings that call for the immediate closure of the T. Don Hutto Detention Facility; AND petition members of the United States Congress to review and reform immigration laws and regulations to include for a path to citizenship and cease the incarceration of innocent children and parents.

Approved this 11th day of July 2008.

Rosa Rosales
LULAC National President

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GEO Group Gets Federal Contract for Montgomery County

Despite an almost unbelievable string of horrendous incidents at GEO Group prisons in Texas, the company announced last week that it had received yet another federal contract at its new Montgomery County detention center.

According to the press release,

The GEO Group, Inc. announced today the execution of an Intergovernmental Agreement ("IGA") between Montgomery County, Texas (the "County") and the United States Marshals Service ("USMS") for the housing of up to 1,100 USMS detainees at the new county-owned 1,100-bed Joe Corley Detention Facility (the "Facility") located in Conroe, Texas.

GEO will manage the Facility under a two-year agreement with the County subject to continuing two-year extensions. GEO expects to begin the intake of USMS detainees in the third quarter of 2008. GEO expects that the Facility will generate approximately $14.0 million in annual operating revenues at full occupancy.

We'll keep you posted on developments from Montgomery County and all GEO Group prisons.

 

Cornell Companies Gets Close to Obama

Recently, University of Houston Associate Professor of Law Tony Chase, joined Senator Barack Obama's National Finance Committee. In addition to various responsibilities, Chase sits on the board of directors for Cornell Companies Inc. As we all know, Cornell is one of the nation's private prison profiteers.

According to Chase (CBS News, "U. Houston Prof Joins Obama's National Finance Committee")

"I've known (Obama) for quite some time, and I was one of the people he asked whether if he should run," Chase said. "Because of that, this is very personal, and I genuinely believe he is best for this country"

Hmmm. Let' s see how Chase and his private prison cronies work to influence Obama's positions on criminal justice policy including federal detention practices. We'll be watching....

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