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October 2008

GEO Keeps Quiet on Murder Indictment

The GEO Group appears to be saying very little about last week's unprecedented indictment of the company for murder in the case of Gregorio de la Rosa at the company's former Willacy facility. According to an article in the Valley Morning Star ("Three count indictment accuses prison in murder," October 27),

Inmates killed de la Rosa, who was serving a six-month sentence for drug possession, on the prison grounds just four days before his scheduled release in April 2001. In 2006, a jury ordered the company pay de la Rosa's family $47.5 million in a civil judgment described as the largest jury award in Willacy County history.

A jury handed down the verdict against Wackenhut Corrections Corp., accused of negligence in de la Rosa's death. Ron Rodriguez, the attorney who represents de la Rosa's family, argued that inadequate inmate searches and short staffing led to the April 26, 2001 beating.

The GEO Group was formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections Corp. The GEO Group did not respond to a message requesting comment Monday afternoon.

Similar non-statements were made by GEO officials in last week's AP story and as we've reported, the indictment is one of a growing string of scandals happening in GEO Group's Texas prisons over the course of the last several years. Some of those incidents include:

  1. In August, Idaho inmate Randall McCullough committed suicide at GEO's Bill Clayton lock-up in Littlefield, Texas. McCullough had been held in solitary confinement for over a year as administrative punishment for a fight that was not criminally prosecuted.

  2. In May, WOAI reporter Brian Collister reported allegations of widespread sexual abuse of female immigrant detainees at the company's South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall. The allegations were verified by a number of former guards at the facility. The same Pearsall detention center was the subject of a lawsuit in September, 2007 alleging that a mentally disabled prisoner was proper denied medical care and generally mistreated.

  3. The Texas Youth Commission shuttered GEO's Coke County Juvenile Correctional Center "filthy" and "unsafe" conditions including feces on walls and fire exits chained shut were found at the facility. In the wake of the scandal revelations that the TYC monitors at the facility were former GEO employees, State Senate John Whitmire called hearings on private prison oversight. GEO Group responded by sending in lobbyists, and substantially increased its lobbying expenditures in the state over the following months. Seven youths then sued the company over conditions at the facility.

  4. The suicide of Idaho inmate Scot Noble Payne last spring at GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center lead to an investigation into the facility's operation. The Associated Press's expose on the prison described the facility as "squalid" while Idaho's Department of Corrections Director of Health Care called the prison the worst he's ever seen and "beyond repair." Noble Payne's family has subsequently sued GEO over conditions at the prison.

  5. In November 2007, a former GEO Group guard has been indicted on federal civil rights
    charges
    for twice striking a federal detainee while employed at the Val Verde Correctional Center. The Val Verde Detention Center had been subjected to two well-publicized lawsuits in the past several years. In a 2005 suit, an employee reported that his superior displayed a hangman’s noose in his office and took pictures in his prison uniform donning KKK garb. The second lawsuit was brought by a civil rights organization on behalf of the family of LeTisha Tapia, a detainee who committed suicide after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted and denied medical care. GEO settled both suits. The settlement from the Tapia suit included a full-time county monitor to the prison.

  6. This summer, Val Verde was again rocked after four inmates came down with a mysterious illness. Three of the inmates later died, but a state investigation could find nothing at the prison linking the prison to the illnesses.

  7. In March 2008, a 20 year-old Val Verde GEO Group guard was indicted for smuggling marijuana into the correctional facility. Similar charges were filed against two other GEO Group jailers who attempted to smuggle liquor and contraband into the facility.

Mineral Wells Profile, Pt. 1

This is the first of a three-part report to Texas Prison Bid'ness based on research on the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility conducted by Grassroots Leadership. The Mineral Wells facility is a contract-facility under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. For more information, please contact Nick Hudson using our contact form.

After receiving a steady stream of reports about unsafe conditions at Corrections Corporation of America's Mineral Wells Unit, and a reader's report of a large disturbance at the facility in July, Grassroots Leadership filed an open records request for data on the 2,100-bed Pre-Parole Transfer Facility. This report documents the pattern of abuse and mistreatment suffered by prisoners at Mineral Wells that has been corroborated by multiple family members of people held at Mineral Wells.

We requested any documents referencing major uses of force, sexual assaults, riots, or criminal cases at the facility between January 1, 2006 and July 23rd of this year. The documents we received indicate that, between January 1, 2006 and July 23, 2008, the CCA-managed prison reported one sexual assault allegation, opened eight criminal cases involving sexual contact between guards or facility personnel and prisoners, recorded thirty-one major uses of force by officers at the facility, and detailed one large disturbance in August of 2007 involving 36 prisoners and 20 staff members that lasted almost four hours and ended only after CCA staff used chemical agents.

We weren't able to confirm through documents the large disturbance reported by one of our readers in July. TDCJ received our request on or around the day of the reported riot, though, and it's probable that the agency excluded it from disclosure based on the original date printed on our request. If we are able to confirm that the riot occurred, it would be the second large riot at the facility in less than a year. We're following up with further inquiry.

This will be a three-part report. Today, I'll be reporting on sexual assault and sexual contact data. Next Monday, we'll investigate use of force allegations at the facility. On November 10, we'll report on details of the August 2007 disturbance.

Reported Sexual Assault and Sexual Contact Between Guards and Prisoners at Mineral Wells

We were provided basic information on nine files referencing either sexual assault or sexual contact between Mineral Wells staff and prisoners at the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility between January 1, 2006 and July 28, 2008.

One criminal file we received regarded an allegation of sexual assault at the facility during the period of our request. We weren't provided with any information on how the case proceeded, but we will work to determine whether it resulted in any convictions. Below is a brief summary:

#06-2153 a case regarding allegations that a prisoner was sexually assaulted by four other prisoners every night for a period of about six months.

In addition to the criminal case above, we received information on eight criminal cases pertaining to sexual contact between guards or facility personnel and prisoners at Mineral Wells; the contact in all cases was ostensibly consensual, but sexual contact is understandably classified as a violation of the prisoners' civil rights punishable as a state jail felony in Texas. At least one of the cases referenced resulted in the prosecution of a staff member from the facility.

One of the eight reported sexual contact cases remains inexplicably open. An allegation of sexual contact was made in January of 2006, and the case file remains unresolved by the OIG almost three years later.

Two of the eight sexual contact cases, both from 2007, were declined for prosecution; they did not result in a conviction or deferred adjudication. The case files still contain information to support future reconsideration of criminal charges against employees, though.

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Texas Senate Committee To Hold Private Prison Hearings on November 13

From the Texas Senate Commitee on Criminal Justice's website,

COMMITTEE: Criminal Justice
TIME & DATE: 10:00 AM, Thursday, November 13, 2008
PLACE: E1.016 (Hearing Room)
CHAIR: Senator John Whitmire

The committee will meet to hear invited and public testimony for the following:

Interim Charge 1: Determine how private prisons are complying with state laws and how cost, safety, living conditions and rehabilitative services at private prisons compare with state-run facilities. Include an assessment of the staff turnover rates and compensation of private contractors when compared with state-operated facilities, and of the contract bidding processes used by the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Interim Charge 4: Monitor the implementation of the new and expanded programs provided to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) within the Fiscal Year 2008 and 2009 budget, and identify their impact on the criminal justice populations. Study security issues within TDCJ, including staffing issues, use of lock down procedures, the control and containment of infectious diseases and the introduction and control of contraband within the institutions. Review the use of career ladders for employees of TDCJ and issues surrounding the retention of professional corrections staff. Study the issues of independent oversight of TDCJ, including the use and effectiveness of the TDCJ ombudsman system. Provide recommendations for the reduction or elimination of barriers to an effective corrections system.

Interim Charge 9: Review the processes for re-entry of criminal offenders into communities. Identify barriers to the successful return to law-abiding behavior, including the absence of employment opportunities created by restriction on obtaining certain state occupational licenses.Provide recommendations for improvements to our current statutes governing this matter.

GEO Group Indicted for Murder in De La Rosa Case

The title says it all.  From the Associated Press ("Private Prison Company Indicted for Texas Murder," Houston Chronicle, October 24),

A private prison company based in Florida has been indicted in the death of a Texas prisoner just days before his release.

The indictment released Thursday alleges The GEO Group let other inmates fatally beat Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. with padlocks stuffed into socks.

He died four days before his scheduled release from a facility in Raymondville on the southern tip of Texas.

A jury ordered the company to pay de la Rosa's family $47.5 million in a 2006 civil judgment. He died in 2001.

Calls to The GEO Group and the Willacy County District Attorney's Office were not immediately returned Friday. The GEO Group was formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections Corp.

It's extremely rare that a private corporation is indicted for murder in the United States.  We'll keep you posted on this very important story as we hear more.   

Why Did TYC Spend $1.26 Million on Empty Private Prison Beds?

That's an excellent question asked in an article by Mike Ward in Saturday's Austin American Statesman (Lawmakers demand that TYC cancel contract that pays for empty beds," October 19).

As a new controversy exploded over the Texas Youth Commission spending more than $1.26 million to lease prison beds that remained empty for three months, key lawmakers demanded Friday that the contract be cancelled.

Although top Youth Commission officials stopped short of agreeing to do so, they vowed never again to use taxpayer money to pay startup costs for a vendor — as they did for Youth Services International, the Florida-based company that runs the lockup in Eagle Lake that is still mostly empty.

Youth Commission spokesman Jim Hurley said 18 youths were moved into the lockup Friday — far fewer than the 119 needed to cover the $22,500-a-day cost to taxpayers under the contract.

He also said that the agency would not provide startup costs in the future.

The controversy erupted after the American-Statesman disclosed details of the contract, which was set up for taxpayers to pay for empty beds for three months to cover the company's startup costs — something other state agencies prohibit.

The company, which operates programs for troubled youths in at least seven states, previously ran the lockup under a contract with the Youth Commission that ended about two years ago, a state report showed.

Youth Services International is a former subsidiary of the GEO Group, the private prison company that had its own TYC contract rescinded after revelations of unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the company's Coke County Juvenile Justice Center. 

More Contraband Issues Outside CCA's Mineral Well's Facility

Corrections Corporation of America's Mineral Wells pre-parole facility has had its third attempted contraband smuggling incident in recent months, according to a story in the Mineral Wells Index ("Man arrested after early morning chase," October 16),

A high-speed chase through Mineral Wells early Wednesday morning ended in the arrest of a Grand Prairie man on multiple charges.

The activity began when officers were responding to a call at 2:44 a.m. to Corrections Corporation of America regarding a man throwing contraband over the fence, Mineral Wells Police Lt. Patrick Adams said. CCA is located in the 700 block of Heintzelman Road in Wolters Industrial Park.

... This is the third time in three months CCA has discovered people throwing prohibited items over their fences. In August, a 14-year-old Lancaster youth was apprehended with two footballs stuffed with contraband – including marijuana - in his possession. A 15-year-old was caught in September attempting to throw a black duffle bag over the fence. He told authorities a Houston woman paid him $1,000 to toss the bag over but it was too heavy for him.

A request for comment to CCA was unreturned as of Wednesday afternoon.

 

While it doesn't appear that there was any wrong-doing on the part of CCA staff in this incident, there is clearly a trend of contraband smuggling being established here. Readers have alerted us to many alleged problems at Mineral Wells, and we'll be posting a multi-part report in recent weeks on the results of open records requests about the facility. Keep checking for those posts.

Idaho Removes Some Prisoners from Texas Private Prisons

This story is a few weeks old at this point, but it certainly is worth a mention.  Idaho, the state with the most out-of-state prisoners held in private lock-ups in Texas has decided to bring some of its inmates back to prisons within its borders.  According to the Associated Press ("Idaho brings 80 inmates back from Texas, Oklahoma," October 1),

For a decade, Idaho has been shipping some of its prisoners to out-of-state prisons, dealing with its ever-burgeoning inmate population by renting beds in faraway facilities.

But now some groups of prisoners are being brought back home. Idaho Department of Correction officials are crediting declining crime rates, improved oversight during probation, better community programs and increased communication between correction officials and the state's parole board.

The number of Idaho inmates has more than doubled since 1996, reaching a high of 7,467 in May. But in the months since then, the population has declined to 7,293 -- opening up enough space that 80 inmates housed in the North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre, Okla., and at Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas, could be bused back to the Idaho State Correctional Institution near Boise. The inmates arrived Monday night.

Of course, shipping inmates over 1,000 miles away to a largely unregulated private prison system can create pretty gruesome consequences.  Idaho's "virtual prison program" and Texas' private prison system more generally came under scrutiny after the tragic suicide of Scot Noble Payne, who died at GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center in 2007. 

Another Idaho inmate, Randall McCullough, killed himself in GEO's Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield earlier this year after being held in solitary confinement as an administrative penalty for a fight.  According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards September 1st population report, the Bill Clayton center held 371 contract prisoners, presumably all Idaho prisoners, meaning a significant amount of Idaho prisoners will remain in Texas for the time being.

Why Texas continues to allow the importation of out-of-state prisoners to state private prisons when we clearly have our own in-house problems baffles me.  We'll keep you posted on developments. 

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Update on Texas Treatment Prison Beds

Texas is currently undergoing a large prison bed expansion. During 2007, state lawmakers authorized more than 8,500 new beds in the form of treatment prisons. We have written previously that this expansion is a mix of public, private, and not-for-profit beds.

Scott, at Grits for Breakfast, recently posted that while the money is available private vendors are not bidding for the contracts.

We have attempted to provide a list of the treatment prison beds that are currently online in the table below. Note that of the 8,500 beds which were appropriated money in 2007, only 4,102 have been filled.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Diversion Beds/Slots
As of October 3, 2008
Facility Name
Facility Type
For Profit/Not for Profit
Vendor # of Beds
El Paso (South)
Halfway House
For Profit
Avalon/SCS 200
East Texas (Henderson) Intermediate Sanction Facility (ISF) For Profit
MTC
224
North Texas (Ft. Worth) ISF
For Profit
GEO 24
West Texas (Brownfield)
ISF
For Profit
MTC
25
Estelle (Huntsville)
Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility (SAFPF) Not For Profit
Gateway
24
East Texas (Henderson)
SAFPF
For Profit MTC 588
Henley (Dayton)
SAFPF
Not for Profit
Cenikor
64
Henley (Dayton)
In-Prison Therapeutic Community (IPTC)
Not for Profit
Cenikor
128
Havins (Brownwood)
IPTC
Not for Profit
Gateway 576
Ney (Hondo)
IPTC
Not for Profit
Gateway 296
East Texas (Henderson)
DWI
For Profit
MTC
500
Dominguez (San Antonio)
State Jail Substance Abuse (State Jail)
For Profit
Turning Point
174
Gist (Beaumont)
State Jail For Profit Turning Point 116
Hutchins (Dallas)
State Jail For Profit Turning Point 232
Lychner (Humble)
State Jail For Profit Turning Point 396

Plane (Dayton)

State Jail For Profit Turning Point 174
Travis County (Austin)
State Jail For Profit Turning Point 108
Abode Treatment (White Settlement)
Transitional Treatment Center (TTC) For Profit
Abode
72
Centex Alcohol Rehabiliatin Center, Inc. (Temple)
TTC
Not for Profit Centex 15
Cheyenne Center (Houston)
TTC
For Profit
Cheyenne
76
Gateway Foundation (Dallas) TTC Not for Profit
Gateway
8
Land Manor, Inc. (Beaumont)
TTC
For Profit
Land Manor
18
Liberty Lodge (Alice)
TTC
For Profit Liberty Lodge
23
Lubbock Regional MHMR Center (Lubbock)
TTC
Public
Lubbock MHMR
20
Reality Ranch (Corpus Christi)
TTC For Profit
Reality Ranch 5
Spindletop MHMR Services (Beaumont)
TTC
Public Spindletop
7
Volunteers of America (Houston)
TTC
Not for Profit
VOA
9
Total Beds

4,102

More Opposition to MTC's Nacogdoches Prison

Citizens Opposed to the Prison Siting (COPS) turned out in mass on Tuesday to a provide testimony against MTC's proposed federal prison in Nacogdoches at a 30-minutes public hearing called by the County Commission. It certainly appears to me that COPS has provided a thorough set of arguments against building a prison in their community. According to the article in the Daily-Sentinal,

The Citizens Opposed to the Prison Site (COPS) filled the seats and lined the walls in the County Courthouse Annex, and the organized group sent six speakers to the podium, each addressing the court on a different topic, including the effects of prisons on tourism, university enrollment, and property values.

Dick Voigtel, who was an SFA faculty member for 36 years, said the low-paying prison jobs would create a financial burden on the taxpayers. Management and Training Corporation, the company that would build and operate the facility, has stated that the prison would create 300 jobs, with average salaries from $30,000 to $32,000.

"This tells us that these families will be seeking modest housing and will pay very little, if any, taxes unless they own their property. They will also be in need of more social services," he said.

Paul Risk, founder of COPS, recently submitted to the commissioners a petition with 853 unique signatures from Nacogdoches citizens opposed to the prison. He asked the court to consider the voice of the opposition. "You are our elected representatives. Please listen to your constituents," he said. "We want you to rescind your vote of support for this project."

A few proponents (my source in Nacogdoches says there were only two prison supporters) of the private prison also showed up to express support, and they appear to be winning the argument with the commissioners. According to the Daily Sentinel article,

(Commissioner) Cotton said he did not hear anything at the public forum that would prompt him to change his vote to allow the prison, but he would like to see the public continue to voice their thoughts to elected officials.

COPS also continues to utlize the argument that MTC has promised not to move into a community that does not want a private prisons. We'll keep you updated on further developments from Nacogdoches.

MTC Big Winner in TDCJ's Private Prison Swap

Management and Training Corporation, the Utah-based private prison corporation most (in)famous in Texas for the operation of Raymondville's "tent city" immigrant detention center, has acquired three new state contracts to operate Texas Department of Criminal Justice prisons. According to an MTC press release article in the Standard-Examiner ("MTC Adds Three Prisons in Texas," October 2nd),

Management & Training Corp. said Wednesday it has been awarded contracts worth a combined $62.6 million over 32 months to oversee the Billy Moore, Diboll and Estes correctional centers in northeast Texas.

The contracts, awarded by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, contain options that could extend their total combined value to $165.8 million through August 2015.

The company will take over the Diboll and B. Moore units from Corrections Corporation of America and Estes from the GEO Group. CCA and the GEO Group are the nation's two oldest and largest private prison corporations.

It should be noted that Estes is the third GEO facility closed in the state of Texas in the last 18 months. The state of Idaho pulled its inmates from the Dickens County Correctional Center in the spring of 2007 in the wake of the suicide of inmate Scot Noble Payne and a subsquent investigation into "squalid" conditions at the lock-up. In October 2007, the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center was shuttered by the Texas Youth Commission after a damning investigation into conditions.

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