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July 2008

Proposed Raymondville Family Detention Center Being Pushed by Prison Developer

While we've reported that one of the three new family detention centers proposed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement may end up in Raymondville, I hadn't seen this Valley Morning Story until recently. The story provides more details on the proposed Raymondville lock-up,

City officials are considering a proposal to build a 200-bed, $30 million detention center to hold illegal immigrant families.

Raymondville city commissioners sent a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to support a plan to build the detention center, City Manager Eleazar Garcia said Wednesday. "We haven't committed ourselves to anything yet, except we're interested and would like to know more about it," Garcia said.

Since the mid-1990s, Willacy County has built prisons and a detention center in the Raymondville industrial park. Already there are a 1,000-bed state prison, a 500-bed county prison, a 96-bed county jail and a 3,000-bed illegal immigrant detention center, the largest in the United States.

SAFP Prisons to be Discussed at Fall Legislative Hearing

The Austin Chronicle discusses the origins of Texas' Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facilities (SAFPF) in it's latest edition. The article provides an interesting overview of Texas' treatment prisons which is particularly important given the current focus on prison alternatives. Despite, the current dialogue around diversion, Texas still expanded prison capacity in recent years through SAFPF and other in prison treatment programs.

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), SAFPF are an intensive six-month therapeutic community program (nine-month program for offenders with special needs) for offenders who are sentenced by a judge as a condition of community supervision or as a modification of parole/community supervision.

The Senate Criminal Justice committee will meet this fall to discuss the legislative appropriations to in prison treatment programs administered in SAFPF lock ups. During 2007 the Legislature appropriated $234 million to TDCJ as a part of a prison expansion initiative. The state proposes to increase SAFPF funding by $63.1 million during 2008-09. Vendors like the Chicago based Gateway Foundation manage lucrative contracts with TDCJ to run SAFPF programs.

Currently, TDCJ contracts with Gateway to run the Ellen Halbert Unit in Burnet County. As with many private prison contracts there are reports of mismanagement and abuse at the Halbert Unit. As a result the Senate Criminal Justice committee will to discuss the lockups and the monies allocated to them. The Chronicle states that SAFPF prisoners collected testimonies to disclose their experiences in the correctional facilities. According to the testimonies of former prisoners:

Waco Tribune Editorializes Against Jail Privatization

Via an excellent post at Grits for Breakfast, the Waco Tribune Herald has an editorial ("Costs of Privatization," July 13) in its Sunday edition about the recent controversy over a privatization plan to address jail overcrowding. I'll leave it to the editorial board to explain their position:

Nueces County Negotiating Higher Rates for LCS Prisons

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times ("Nueces County Seeks More Money for Federal Prisoners," July 9) is reporting that Nueces County is attempting to renegotiate a federal contract to house pre-trial federal detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service in two south Texas private jails operated by LCS Corrections - one in Hidalgo County and one in rural Nueces County.   According to the article,

After spending millions to fix the problems with the Nueces County Jail that led to the removal of federal prisoners in June 2006, the county filed an initial request in January seeking the return of the prisoners with a pay increase.

The county wants to recoup as much as $61.49 per inmate per day to house prisoners at the county jail, up from the $45.15 rate negotiated in 1991. Neal also is negotiating additional compensation for two private detention facilities owned by Louisiana based LCS Corrections Services.

Because the federal government does not deal directly with private detention businesses, LCS has a contract with Nueces County that gives Sheriff Jim Kaelin ultimate responsibility for any prisoner transferred to LCS’ Hidalgo County facility. In exchange, the county gets $2 per prisoner, per day from LCS.

McLennan County Opposition to Jail Privatization Plan

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend and provide testimony to the McLennan County Commissioners Court along with members of the McLennan County Sheriff Officer's Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas about a proposed jail privatization plan.

The meeting, for the third week in a row, was packed with Sheriff's Officers opposing the proposal. The front page of Tuesday's Waco Tribune blared "Jailers to Sheriff: No Privatization," a sentiment that pretty accurately described the mood of the meeting.

The agenda started with public comment which included members of the Waco Police Department, other law enforcement agencies, and members of the public denouncing the privatization plan on the grounds of public safety, job security for those that work at the jail facilities, and the rights of those incarcerated at the jail.

At the beginning on the meeting's formal agenda, a county clerk reported that despite sending a request for proposal nearly a dozen private prison corporations, the county only recieved one proposal - from CEC/CiviGenics which already has a jail contract with the county. I found it odd that the big private prison corporations like CCA and GEO wouldn't submit a bid for this contract, but the single bid might have something to do with CEC/CiviGenics close relationship with the McLennan County Sheriff.

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New LCS Prison will Increase Environmental Hazard

Louisiana-based LCS Corrections Services will open up a prison in Nueces County later this year. We recently wrote that the new facility is expected to contribute as much as 150,000 gallons of treated waste water into the Petronila Creek on a daily basis. According to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, locals see problems with the new prison's environmental impact:

... residents living near the creek raised concerns that the additional water from the prison would flood the creek on a more frequent basis...

In an article written by Jaime Powell in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times ("Prison Firm to Clean Up Creek Area," July 4), officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality state that the treated wastewater flowing from the prison into the creek must meet strict state quality standards and will be regularly monitored.

We sure hope that is the case. Strict accountability must be undertaken as this prison goes online and contributes to the environmental decline of Petronila Creek.

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Rusk County Expanding Prison by More than 560 Beds

Rusk County Commissioners recently approved the expansion of the East Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility by more than 560 beds. The current maximum capacity numbers 300 beds in the prison that houses both men and women in Henderson, Texas. The Management and Training Corporation (MTC) operates the private prison.

According to reports the expansion will cost $8 million to $10 million dollars. Once again local officials mistakenly believe that increasing prison capacity will improve economic development by adding jobs to the local economy.

This facility expansion is a result of the focus on treatment that took place during the 80th Texas Legislature, that authorized the expansion of state prison capacity that provides substance abuse treatment.

We explained over a year ago that Texas developed a complicated prison terminology to mask the true size of the state's prison population.

It will be interesting to follow the expansion of state prison beds as a result of the 80th Legislature and the implications for private contracts. We'll keep you posted.