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August 2008

Teen Uses Football to Smuggle Contraband into CCA Prison

This story should be added to the always growing list of private prison scandals, Mineral Wells Index ("Teen Caught with pot near prison" August 25, 2008):

A 14-year-old male was taken into custody late Thursday night near the Corrections Corporation of America facility after they were notified of a “suspicious person” in the 700 block of Heintzelman Road.

According to police reports the youth attempted to send two footballs stuffed with marijuana and cell phones.

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Another Idaho Inmate Commits Suicide in a GEO Group Texas Prison

Yet another Idaho prisoner has committed suicide in a GEO Group prison in Texas, according to an article in the Times-News ("Inmate suicide could be second for prison program" August 21),

The state's Virtual Prison Program is only a year old and the Monday death of inmate Randall McCullough, 37, could be the second suicide involving the initiative outside of Idaho.

Idaho prison officials said Wednesday they're still investigating if McCullough committed suicide at a private contracted facility in Texas - Bill Clayton Detention Center run by the GEO Group Inc. - which is holding 371 inmates each at $51 per day under a contract that expires in July 2009.

The Virtual Prison Program started in July 2007, but the state started putting inmates in non-state owned facilities in October 2005, said Idaho Department of Correction Spokesman Jeff Ray.

Six state inmates have committed suicide since July 2006, not including McCullough, Ray said.

This death follows the tragic death of Scot Noble Payne a year ago at GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center. After Noble Payne's suicide, a subsequent investigation revealed squalid conditions and the Idaho Department of Corrections Health Director called the prison the worst facility he'd ever seen. Incredibly, and against our advice, Idaho didn't bring its prisoners back home, it moved them to other GEO prisons in the state.

House Corrections Committee Hearings Thursday

The Texas House Corrections Committee will be holding an interim meeting tomorrow (Thursday, August 20th) to discuss several items. None are specifically about private prisons, but the conversation about Texas State Jails, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's prisons for felonies carrying a sentence of two years or less, should of interest to Texas Prison Bid'ness readers. Here's the information from the Committee's website:

COMMITTEE: Corrections
TIME & DATE: 9:00 AM, Thursday, August 21, 2008
PLACE: E2.016
CHAIR: Rep. Jerry Madden

The House Committee on Corrections will hear invited and public testimony
on the following interim charges:

1. Explore the use of technology practices that improve efficiency, safety, and coordination of criminal justice activities on the state, local, and county levels.

2. Consider new strategies for meeting prisoner reentry challenges in Texas, including the evaluation of programs with documented success. This review should include the availability of housing and occupational barriers.

3. Provide a comprehensive analysis and study of the Texas state jail system, including original intent for use, sentencing guidelines, and effectiveness. Develop suggestions for changes and improvements in the state jail system.

Scott Hensen over at Grits for Breakfast covers the hearings including a statement from Texas Criminal Justice Coalition about findings regarding prisoner re-entry programs that they will release at tomorrow's hearings.

Feeling the Heat, Corrections Corp. Launches "The CCA 360" to Respond to Critics

Corrections Corporation of America has launched The CCA a website for the corporation to respond to critics. You'd think that a leading corporation in a billion dollar industry such as private prisons would be able to come up with something more catchy than "The CCA 360" for a website, but apparently not. The website is a response to ongoing criticism of the private prison industry generally and CCA's operations more specifically. According to a front-page post by CEO John Ferguson:

For people seeking the unfiltered, full 360-degree view of CCA, we have created this Web site - This site provides greater detail about news coverage of CCA, including the publicized tragic death of an inmate in a CCA facility, and viewpoints we’ve shared with our customers and employees.

The website apparently was developted to take on criticism of the company's operations by non-governmental organizations and activists though Texas Prison Bid'ness has not yet made the company's hit-list! Our friend Alex Friedmann, the former CCA prisoner whose efforts seem to have de-railed the federal judicial nomination of former CCA chief counsel Gus Puryear has. The website also addresses critics of CCA's T. Don Hutto family detention center claiming, as ICE has in the past, that improvements at Hutto had nothing to do with public protests, a litigation settlement, or widespread media scrutiny.

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CCA Spends $240K on Federal Lobbying Last Quarter

We reported last week that Corrections Corporation of America was still betting on the trend of increasing immigration detention after the change in presidential administration next year. It appears that CCA isn't waiting to see if the trend continues. According to the Associated Press ("Corrections Corp. spent $240K lobbying in 2Q," August 15), CCA spent $240,000 on federal lobbying in the second quarter of 2008.

That doesn't quite keep up with the breakneck lobbying pace CCA exhibited in 2007, when the company spent $2.5 million on lobbying Congress and federal agencies such Immigration Customs and Enforcement, the Justice Department, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. which operates a terrific lobbying database, puts CCA's total 2008 lobbying number a bit higher at $480,000, while GEO Group has spent $120,000 thus far in 2008 and Houston-based Cornell has spent $60,000 in federal lobbying.

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Grassroots Protests in Opposition to Private Prisons Sitings

Our pal Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast posted last week a roundup of grassroots campaigns against private prison sitings. According to Scott:

It's surprising how many acrimonious local debates are going on right now in Texas over jail and prison privatization.

Scott also highlights the grassroots strategies employed by a private prison opposition group in Nacogdoches, Citizens Opposed to the Prison Site (COPS). The community organization is calling for citizens to move their money out of local banks and to boycott the businesses of public officials that are supporting the private prison construction.

Scott goes on to offer additional analysis regarding private prison debate in Nueces County and why the construction of a new prison has a complicated history.

The grassroots actions taking place in Nueces and McClennan Counties are some of the most interesting in the state. The opposition of local citizens to private prison construction proves that this issue continues to resonate with folks in all communities throughout the state and that incarceration policy impacts us all.

CCA Still Betting on Increasing ICE Detention in New Presidential Administration

I just read the Corrections Corporation of America Second Quarter Earnings Conference Call transcript (one can listen to the call online here). While Texas prisons didn't specifically come up in the call, I found several statements by CCA chiefs enlightening.

When asked by an investment analyst representing Avondale Partners what a change in immigration policy in a new McCain or Obama administration might mean for company's interests, CEO John Ferguson answered with this statement:

McLennan County Votes for New Private Jail

Just over a week after McLennan County voted not to privatize their existing jail and only two days after the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas asked for an investigation into suspicious dealings between the county and private prison company CEC/CiviGenics, the McLennan County Commissioners Court has voted to authorize a new 871-bed jail to be operated by CEC/CiviGenics. According to the Waco Trib blog,

A split McLennan County commissioners court voted Wednesday to renew its contract with Community Education Centers of New Jersey to operate the downtown McLennan County Detention Center and authorized CEC to finance, build and operate a new 871-bed jail adjacent to the one on State Highway 6.

With Commissioners Lester Gibson and Joe Mashek voting against the proposal, County Judge Jim Lewis and Commissioners Ray Meadows and Wendall Crunk voted during a budget work session Wednesday to allow the private company to build the new jail at no cost to the taxpayers.

Commissioners recessed their regular Tuesday morning meeting instead of adjourning it, which allowed them to take action at Wednesday’s session.

The fact that this decision was reached in a special session, outside the watchful eye of the law enforcement officers that have opposed privatization, against the advice of the local paper, and with a split Commission will not make this decision any more popular. I have a feeling this isn't the last we've hear on the McLennan County private jail fight.

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More Heat for CEC/CiviGenics in McLennan County; CLEAT Calls for Investigation

McLennan County is shaping up to be the biggest private prison fight in the state right now, and the rhetoric keeps getting hotter. We've reported that a CEC/CiviGenics proposal to take over the existing county jail was defeated last week. Now, a proposal for a new 1,000 bed private CEC/CiviGenics jail is under fire as well.

The Combined Law Enforcement Agencies of Texas or CLEAT, the union representing jailers in McLennan County, is calling for an investigation into potentially improper dealings between county officials and the private prison corporation. According to another good article by Waco Tribune writer Tommy Witherspoon,

A spokesman for the state’s largest law enforcement association is calling for state and federal investigations into dealings between McLennan County officials and a private detention corporation as the county continues to negotiate jail contracts.

“First of all, we don’t believe anything that officials in McLennan County say anymore,” said Charley Wilkison, political and legislative director for the 16,500-member Combined Law Enforcement Agencies of Texas. “The credibility gap in this county is incredible.”

According to the article, the CLEAT's concerns center around Sheriff Lynch's acceptance of additional money from the private prison corporation on top of his county salary, and whether that relationship has tainted his ability to objectively decide on the issue of privatization.

GEO Group Reports on Expanding Capacity in Texas

The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO) held a conference call for investors earlier this month. During the call, GEO reported on policy developments that will impact private prison capacity in Texas and beyond. GEO officials stated that the company's private prison capacity is scheduled to increased by 5,900 beds during 2008, representing a 12% year-to-year increase in bed space. During 2007, the prison profiteer had a capacity of 48,260 and grew to 54,160 beds in 2008.

Several private prison units owned or managed by GEO opened for business in recent weeks, with more prison beds on the way. According George Zoley, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GEO, continued demand from federal clients are driving private prison expansion in Texas and other states. Zoley stated that client demand among the agencies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), United States Marshals Service (USMS), and the Bureau of Prissons (BOP) will lead GEO to open three new major facilities in Texas for an increase of 3,200 beds in the lone star state.

According to Zoley, the desire of federal clients to consolidate prison populations into the same facilities drove the company to construct new prisons that could accommodate customer needs. As a result GEO is bringing online the three new facilities in Texas.