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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,

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.

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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 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:

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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,

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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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