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October 2008

DOJ: Prison Expansion Mostly Private

Via an excellent Grits for Breakfast post on Friday, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics has released a new report (Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities) detailing how private prison corporations are seeing large growth even as publicly-administered adult correctional centers are being built far less often than in previous years. From Grits,

The census basically covers the first half of the decade, comparing data between June 30, 2000, and December 30, 2005. Let's run through some highlights. (All quotes are from the report - pdf)

For starters, governments aren't building prisons much any more, but corporations are. "Private correctional facilities (up 151) accounted for nearly all of the increase in the number of adult correctional facilities between June 30, 2000, and December 30, 2005. Most of the growth in private correctional facilities during this period was in facilities under contract to the Federal Bureau of Prisons."

As a result, private facilities have expanded their market share over a very short period of time, DOJ reports, mostly thanks to federal contracts. "From 2000 to 2005, the number of private facilities increased from 16% (264) to 23% (415) of all institutions. About two-thirds of all private facilities were under contract to state authorities and a third were under contract to the Federal Bureau of Prisons."

The Bush administration's push for privatization in many sectors is probably partly responsible for this trend, along with the private prison industry's use of its influence to persuade government agencies to privatize. Last year, CCA spent $2.5 million lobbying federal officials and departments including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Justice, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, all agencies that oversee correctional facilities. That's on top of the industry's state lobbying, which last year was as high as $1.1 million in Texas lobby expenditures alone.

So, what's the impact of this increased lobbying? Possibly the most damning analysis from the Grits post:

Finally, according to these data, private prisons appear to do a poorer job at providing meaningful programming for prisoners than state run facilities. "About 9 in 10 public correctional facilities and about 6 in 10 private correctional facilities offered academic and vocational training programs in 2005."


Organization of American States Investigates Hutto; Williamson Commission Challenger Opposes Hutto

Last Thursday, the Austin American-Statesman ran a story ("Rights group looks into care of immigrants at Taylor center," October 2) on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' investigation into the treatment of detained families at CCA's T. Don Hutto family detention center. IACHR is a division of the Organization of American States, to which the United States is a member. According to the article,

A delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was in Austin on Wednesday on a fact-finding mission on the treatment of immigrant families and asylum seekers at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor and other Texas facilities.

The commission, a body of the Organization of American States, monitors compliance by members, including the U.S., with human rights obligations established by international law.

The mission marks the first time the human rights commission has visited Texas to examine detention issues, said Denise Gilman, a professor at the University of Texas Law School's immigration clinic. She said the clinic and other organizations requested the visit during a hearing last year in Washington.

"It's a very important opportunity to raise some of these human rights issues taking place in our back yard before an international forum," Gilman said of the delegation's Austin visit. "The hope would be that the commission's findings and recommendations would lead the U.S. government to make changes in the way it handles immigrant detainees and asylum seekers."

A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, ICE, which oversees detention of illegal immigrants, could not be reached late Wednesday.

The story does not make it clear whether ICE or CCA allowed access to the facility for the OAS inspectors to investigate the conditions at the center. As we've reported, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants was denied access to the facility on a trip last year.

In related news, the Statesman is also reporting ("Two seats up for grabs on Commissioner Court,"" October 2) that Round Rock real estate broker Greg Windom, the Democratic challenger to Williamson County Commissioner Valerie Covey, would work to end the county's contract with private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America.

The issue came to a pass last October when County Commissioners unanimously voted to continue the Hutto contract after initially expressing concerns about liability in the wake of a sexual assault incident at the facility.

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TDCJ Unable to Expand Treatment Capacity Due to lack of Private Prison Space

According to Scott at Grits for Breakfast, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), reports they are unable to expand in prison treatment ("Lack of private beds shouldn't stop Texas from using treatment, diversion strategies", Oct. 1).

The reason, money for treatment authorized by the state legislature in 2007, depends on private capacity to provide in prison treatment beds. We have mentioned previously and Scott reasserts that a primary factor in supposed 2007 criminal justice reforms depended on private capacity. According to Scott:

I'm not an inherent critic of privatization and tend to consider its merits on a case by case basis. But when that strategy can't meet the state's needs, there's nothing wrong with the state operating those beds itself just like the government owns most Texas' prison facilities. If private capacity has all dried up, that's exactly what they should do.

Scott is certainly right there. But of course the state relying on private capacity to meet it's needs is one of the problems with private prisons period. If Texas was constrained by current capacity and conservative fiscal policy, discussions to expand any prison beds would be very different.

With private prison companies always available to provide beds -- though they aren't bidding for private treatment contracts-- begs the question: Why do Texas officials fall for these failed incarceration policies?

I am quite certain that one of the primary reasons private contractors aren't bidding for the new contracts is due to the cost of providing treatment. They have probably run the numbers and figure they wouldn't make an actual profit.