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January 2009

GEO Guards Threaten to Strike in Pearsall

Months of negotiation seem to be at a stalemate in South Texas. Guards at the GEO owned South Texas Detention Complex are considering a strike after not achieving the pay raise they have asked for. According to local station News 4 WOAI (Private Prison Personnel Could Walk Off Job, January 14, 2009):

The union's chief negotiator Howard Johannssen says, "This employer refuses to give them a pay raise of any sort."

The pending strike is another example of the extra cost associated private prisons. According to news reports, if guards do strike the immigrant detainees held in the private prison lockup will be moved across the state at taxpayers' expenses. ICE issued a statement to News 4 WOAI that reads:

"Discussions are underway between the GEO Management staff at the South Texas Detention Complex (STDC) in Pearsall, Texas, and the union that represents its bargaining unit employees. GEO is under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to operate and maintain STDC. The employees involved in these discussions are not employed by ICE or the Department of Homeland Security. ICE is not directly involved in these discussions. Any questions regarding specific issues under discussion should be directed to GEO or to its union."

"ICE is committed to ensuring that all ICE detainees — at the STDC and throughout the country — are maintained in a safe, secure and humane environment. Whatever the result of the ongoing discussions at STDC, ICE is prepared to respond appropriately to ensure the continuation of safe and secure operations at the facility."
"ICE encourages all the parties involved to continue their efforts to reach a fair and equitable agreement. However, it would be inappropriate for ICE to comment or speculate regarding hypothetical situations, especially while discussions and negotiations are underway.”

We will keep y'all posted as developments around this pending strike continue.

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CEC/CiviGenics Misused Jail Repair Money?

This interesting tidbit comes out Cleveland Advocacy ("Liberty County Commissioners pay for jail repairs," January 15),

Additionally the commissioners addressed a complicated item regarding payments for repairs to the County Jail. At issue were repairs that had to be performed to the Liberty County Jail after the change in management that occurred in 2007.

“The company that ran the jail until 2006 hadn’t made some repairs so we held onto the payment in exchange for the repairs,” said County Judge Phil Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald stated that the county was releasing the funds to Community Education Centers (CEC), the company that used to run the jail, because they paid Civigenics, the company that now runs the jail, to make the repairs.

Maybe no one told the Liberty County Commission that CEC acquired CiviGenics back in 2007. So, in 2006 the county payed the jail operator to make repairs to the facility. The company didn't do it. Now, the county is trusting that the company, now operating under another name, to do the same repairs. We'll keep you posted on how this turns out...

McLennan County One Step Closer to Private Jail?

A split-decision has allowed McLennan County to float revenue bonds to pay for a new CEC/CiviGenics prison, according to an article by Waco Tribune writer Regina Dennis. The article ("McLennan County approves sale of $49 million in bonds for new county jail," January 13) states,

McLennnan County officials approved the sale of $49 million in project revenue bonds Monday to finance a new jail on State Highway 6.

The bonds are being sold at a coupon rate of 6.625 percent. Investment banking firm Municipal Capital Markets Inc., which is handling the sale, will buy the bonds and resell them to other investors, said Executive Vice President Michael Harling.

Texas Prison Bid'ness readers may recognize Municipal Capital Markets' Harling from our July story on Willacy County's push to be home to a new family detention center. In that story, Harling, a prison-pusher whose fingers have been in many controversial private prison deals throughout the state, was defending ICE's controversial family detention policy.

In this case, according to the Waco Trib, the bond issue did not have unanimous support on the committee,

The sale was approved by a 2-to-1 vote by a three-member pricing committee appointed by the commissioners court in November to ensure that the bond rate did not exceed 6.98 percent. County Judge Jim Lewis and commissioner Ray Meadows voted for the sale. County Treasurer Bill Helton dissented, insisting that the county should not accept the first offer and that waiting 60 more days would be in the county’s favor.

Helton also took issue with the amount of bonds being sold. Originally, the bond package was for $46 million.

Harling said he did not know why the sale amount changed but said it likely was because the original price assumed a coupon rate of 6.3 percent.

The 816-bed jail will be built and operated by Community Education Centers of New Jersey. The company also is responsible for repaying the interest on the bonds using revenue generated from housing federal and state prisoners in the facility.

We'll keep you posted on developments from McLennan County. See our previous coverage of the jail issue:

Inmate Dies at LCS Corrections' Brooks County Detention Center

An inmate has died at the LCS Brooks County detention center in Falfurrias, according to an article in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times ("Inmate found dead in Brooks County jail," January 14),

The circumstances are unclear. The Nueces County Medical Examiner's Office performed an autopsy Tuesday but has not released a cause of death. The inmate, Mario Alberto Garcia, 42, had been placed on suicide watch at a court appearance.

Garcia pleaded guilty Dec. 31 to submitting fictitious, inflated bids to supply office equipment at the Corpus Christi Army Depot. He submitted the fake bids along with his company's lower bid to win contracts.

Under normal circumstances, a white-collar defendant like Garcia would remain free while awaiting sentencing, but U.S. District Judge Janice Graham Jack ordered him into custody over concerns that Garcia would take his life, said Garcia's criminal defense attorney, Keith Gould.

A physician at the facility removed Garcia from suicide watch Jan. 8. He died Monday, said Al Lujan, deputy U.S. marshal. As part of his agreement to plead guilty, a third count of lying to U.S. Army investigators was dismissed. Prosecutors say Garcia also faxed phony bids in July 2007. He was not prosecuted for those incidents.

Juan Reyna, an attorney representing Garcia's family, said Garcia had a medical condition. Reyna, who declined to identify the condition, said Garcia's family knew of it and warned jail officials about it.  "The family had some major concerns with respect to medical treatment Mr. Garcia was receiving," Reyna said. "The family made it very clear regarding medical treatment."

See our previous coverage of LCS Corrections: 



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Removal of Idaho Prisoners from GEO Jail Threatens County's Finances

In the wake of multiple scandals and suicides involving Idaho prisoners in GEO Group's Texas prisons, the Idaho Department of Corrections finally removed its prisoners from Texas's private prisons last October. One of those shuttered lock-ups was the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield.

Now Littlefield may be suffering after taking out debt in the form of revenue bonds to pay for the facility's construction, according to an article at Lubbock Online ("Littlefield Detention Center to Close," December 13),

"We understand the gravity of the situation and the citizens' concerns, but we are working hard toward a solution," said Danny Davis, Littlefield city manager, who was informed about GEO's decision on Nov. 7.

He said the city has since hired Woodlands-based Carlisle & Associates, a municipal consultant, which has been brought on board to sell the 372-bed prison.

Littlefield, which issued revenue bonds to construct the facility as part of an economic development strategy, still owes $10 million.

However, Davis said, the city had already set aside a year's worth of bond payments as a precautionary measure when it made the decision to build.

"We have enough to make at least the next three payments," adding the city should not have to tap those reserve funds until August.


Of course, this is one of the little-discussed ramifications of floating revenue bonds to construct a prison - if the contract for prisoners falls through, the public agency that floated the debt is still responsible for paying back the debt. See for more on municipals bonds and their implications for counties.

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Williamson County Renews Hutto Contract on 4-1 Vote; Opposition to Family Detention Continues

I was proud to speak along with 22 Williamson County residents and other central Texans at the Williamson County Commissioners Court meeting against the contract renewal for the controversial T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas. On December 23rd, the Commission voted 4-1 to renew, with Commissioner Lisa Birkman voting in opposition.

The Austin Chronicle, covered the vote this way ("T. Don Hutto: Lipstick on a Doberman," January 9),

Before voting to renew a 2006 contract naming the county as administrator of the center (and Correc­tions Corporation of America as operator), officials described the prison as if it were a home away from home where children laugh and play and are provided plenty of gym equipment and 22 computers. "The international language, the smile, hasn't been removed from the children's faces," said Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison. "I talked to a little boy, and he liked it there," said Precinct 2 Commis­sion­er Cynthia Long. Then came a shout from the audience: "How would you like it if your child was in there?"

The court's newfound humanitarianism stood in stark contrast to its purely financial justification for signing the contract in 2005 and its panic in 2007 over possible county liability for an alleged sexual assault by a guard and employment of undocumented workers at the center. The new court perspective did little to appease the gathered protesters, who still remember when the first children were spotted in prison garb by Taylor residents and who have since sponsored vigils, walks, and forums that have fueled an international outrage over T. Don Hutto as a prison for children. Only Precinct 1 Com­mis­sion­er Lisa Birkman broke with her past record, casting the lone dissenting vote Tuesday.

The vote took place just two days before Christmas and three days after more than 100 activists gathered for holiday vigil and toy delivery outside the prison. Organizers have vowed to continue pressure to close Hutto and end family detention both locally and nationally. The Austin-American Statesman ("New Citizens Group Forms in County," January 14) reports that another local group, the Hutto Citizens Group, has formed in part to oppose Williamson County's contract for Hutto.

Nationally, Grassroots Leadership's website and the T. Don Hutto blog have more information on a 100 Events to End Family Detention in the First 100 Days campaign. The first event protest will be held on January 21, the day after inauguration day, calling on the Obama administration to make administrative changes for a more just immigration system. See the flyer at La Nueva Raza.

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81st Legislative Session Starts

The 81st Texas Legislature started today and we will be watching closely as committees start to meet in coming weeks. The Senate Criminal Justice studied the issue of private prisons last year, and more than likely will debate the issue this session.

We will be tracking any legislative measures related to private prisons and keep y'all posted.

Good criminal justice blogs that we will be monitoring this legislative include:

Stay tuned as things develop over the next 140 days!


Latest Developments from Willacy County

Drama in South Texas continues into the new year. In coming weeks a new grand jury will be impaneled to review findings of a former grand jury regarding the private prison firm the GEO Group and high level officials like Vice President Dick Cheney. Former Willacy County D.A. Juan Angel Guerra, whose term expired last month, is continuing to pursue an ethics complaint against state senator Eddie Lucio, J.R. (D-Brownsville). We recently posted that Guerra convinced a grand jury to indict the GEO Group, along with Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Lucio on murder charges for an in-custody death in 2001.

Those charges were dismissed by Distric Judge Manuel Bañales who also issued an order prohibiting Guerra from re-indicting the GEO Group and the other defendants. Guerra continue to pursue the indictment until he left office at the end of 2008, appealing to the Texas 13th Court of Appeals arguing that the Bañales order stripped him of his authority under the Texas Constitution.

According to the Brownsville Herald (Emma Perez Trevino, New Jury to review indictments, January 3, 2009):

For DA Pro-Tem Alfredo Padilla, whom Bañales appointed to assess these and fellow cases, tasks on his list this new year is to request the seating of a new grand jury.

"We'll be doing that within the next several weeks," said Padilla, who has left the Cameron County District Attorney's Office to re-enter private practice.
Guerra continues to move forward in attempting to hold officials accountable for the untimely death of a private prisoner who was set to released. The former DA has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission for fees the elected official collected from the private prison profiteer.
"It is just not right," Guerra said of consulting fees that Lucio has received from private firms.
Additionally according to the Brownsville Herald,
Guerra filed a civil suit in Willacy County seeking to seize Lucio's 10.6-acre property in San Benito, alleging that it was purchased with money derived from the commission of a felony.
Regardless of any new developments it is interesting that Guerra has decided to take on the private prison system including public officials who directly benefit from their association with prison profiteers. Lucio was indicted on accepting fees for services that he would not have been able to provide if he had not been an elected official. Further, the ethics complaint that Guerra is continuing to pursue makes those same claims.

The outcome of this case may pose an interesting precedent for holding public officials and private prison companies accountable for the conditions of these facilities. As this case continues to unfold we will post latest developments here.