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March 2009

Another Death at GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center

The GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center was home to another prisoner death.  According to a story on KRGV ("Valley family speaks out about relative's death in Pecos prison," March 20), Jose Manuel Falcon died while in custody at Reeves earlier this month.

A Rio Grande Valley family continues to search for justice after their nephew died while serving time in a private West Texas prison.

Jose Manuel Falcon was two months shy of his release from the Pecos prison when he died. The 32-year-old died Thursday, March 12, at the Reeve County Detention Center.

Falcon spent five years there. Family members called it a harsh sentence for being caught illegally in the U.S. without papers.

A GEO Group statement has confirmed Falcon's death, and claimed that he died of suicide, though the Texas Rangers have not reached a conclusion, according to KRGV ("Pecos Prison Death," March 20),

A spokesman for the GEO Group, a private prison company that runs the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos released a statement to NEWSCHANNEL 5.

The statement reads: On March 5, 2009, at approximately 6:40PM, inmate Jose Manuel Falcon took his life by self inflicting numerous lacerations with a disposable razor blade. At the time of the incident the inmate was in a single cell and there is no evidence of foul play. In accordance with state law, the custodial death of inmate falcon was investigated by the Texas Rangers and it has been determined through the investigation that the death was suicide.

A Texas Rangers spokesperson tells NEWSCHANNEL 5 they still consider Falcon's death an open case.

Falcon's family was not convinced, saying that they believe that he was murdered in the facility.  Attorney Juan Angel Guerra, who is representing many of the detainees at Reeves agrees, according to a report at KRGV ("Family Says Son Murdered In Prison," March 19th).  

Thirty-two-year-old Jose Manuel Falcon died last Thursday at the Reeve County Detention Center in Pecos. The prison promises a report on the official cause of death by this Thursday. His mother and Attorney Juan Guerra say they're positive he was murdered behind bars.

Santos Aguallo says the prison officials told the family he committed suicide. But she says it doesn't make sense, since he was just two months away from being released.  Attorney Juan Guerra was outside the prison in Pecos protesting what he calls dangerous conditions at the privately-run facility at the time of the death. He says from what he saw, Jose Manuel Falcon died a violent death.

"It's very obvious he has defensive wounds. As a prosecutor, you look at his hands and he has, where he was defending himself, so this was not a suicide. This was a murder. Someone killed him inside," Guerra claims. 

Whether Falcon died of suicide or a murder, it is not a good sign for the troubled facility.  A protest of family members is being planned for this Saturday, March 28th, at 10am in front of the prison.  In addition, see Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Jail Project's press release with recommendations that include:

  1. An investigation into conditions at the facility by the U.S. Department of Justice;
  2. Allowing the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to inspect the facility;
  3. Transparency and accountability during the investigation process;
  4. Visitation access for attorneys, family members of prisoners, and human rights organizations

We'll keep you posted on developments from Reeves County.  In the meantime, see our previous coverage of the facility:

GEO Riots Could Cost Reeves County More than $1 Million, February 27, 2009

Family Members Protest GEO Group in Reeves County, February 14, 2009

Reeves County Denies Access to GEO Prison to Attorney Juan Guerra, February 12, 2009

Reeves County Detention Center on Fire Again, February 6, 2009

Second Riot in Two Months Leaves Injuries, Significant Damage, February 4, 2008

Riots and Mysterious Deaths at GEO's Reeves County facility, December 22, 2008



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More News on Private Prison Labor Bill

We previously posted that state legislators introduced companion bills to drastically alter state prison labor programs. Our pal Scott at Grits for Breakfast, provides an interesting take on this legislation which will be heard in the House Corrections Committee on Thursday morning. 

If the comments on the Grits blog are any indication, tomorrow's hearing might be interesting.  The details for the public hearing are:

COMMITTEE: Corrections
TIME & DATE: 8:00 AM, Thursday, March 26,
PLACE: E2.010

And folks who can't make it to the dome, can watch the hearing online at the Texas Legislature Website.  We will be sure to update y'all after the hearing takes place.

Opposition Emerges to Emerald Detention Center in Mineral Wells

Readers of Texas Prison Bid'ness may remember an Emerald Companies proposed immigrant detention in Caldwell County that was defeated after significant community opposition.  It appears that a similar groundswell of opposition may be rising in Mineral Wells, where Emerald has proposed another immigrant detention center. 

We first reported the new detention center proposal in February.  Now, the Mineral Wells city council has delayed a vote on the facility for 30 days and promised public hearings on the proposed facility, according to a thorough article by Libby Cluett in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE facility permit tabled," March 19).  

Several citizens voiced their concerns Tuesday night over the city issuing a specific use permit to site the proposed Emerald Companies correctional and detention facility in the light industrial area near the Mineral Wells airport.

A group, including neighboring property owners and businesses, shared their diverse concerns, which led to a motion to table the decision to issue Emerald their needed permit to build an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainee facility.

Some questioned the economic expense to the community versus the city’s potential gains. Others questioned moral issues regarding such ICE facilities.

Decision-makers in Mineral Wells may wish to look at the Grassroots Leadership pamphlet Considering a Private Jail? (PDF) or view our previous posts here, here, and here on prisons as economic development before moving ahead with the proposal.  We'll keep you posted 

More Legislative News

During the last week to file new bills, state legislators introduced measures that impact private prisons and jails in the state of Texas. 

  • HB 3247:  Requires counties that contract with private prison companies to run local prisons and/or jails to participate in a collective bargaining agreement with sheriff department employees; and
  • HB 3903:  This bill would require hearings to be held at the county level in each county commissioner's district prior to the commissioner's court vote on a private prison or jail contract.  The measure also penalizes public officials who personally benefit from a contractual relationship with a private prison corporation.
Both bills increase transparency in decisionmaking among local lawmakers considering a private a jail, prison, or detention center.
Also, we have covered previous scandals that may have resulted in the part of HB 3903 that penalizes public officials who benefit from relationships to private prison profiteers.  
As with other legislation impacting the Texas private prison industry, we will work to keep y'all posted about how these measures navigate the Texas legislative process.
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GEO Group's Laredo Detention Center Hit by Riot?

The GEO Group, owner of the Pecos prison that was home to two riots over the past few months, is now apparently being struck with another alleged riot at its Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo, Texas, according to a story from Pro8News, ("LPD called out to Rio Grande Detention Center," March 11th).

Laredo police are called out to the Rio Grande Detention Center for assistance after a situation with the inmates. A helicopter could be seen circling around the prison around seven this evening.

Sources say a riot may have broken out behind the detention center walls but neither representative from the Geo Group nor Laredo police could confirm those details. According to police, officers were called out to assist the situation, which was controlled after 20 minutes.

Pro 8 News tried to obtain details from the Rio Grande Detention Center but were asked to leave the premises.

The Laredo lock-up, dubbed the "superjail" by local media, was subject to much criticism before its opening.  Here's our past coverage of the controversy:

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Sen. Hinojosa Introduces Bills that Impact Texas Private Prisons and Jails

Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa introduced two measures this week that address private prisons and jails in the state of Texas.  The state senator has been a strong proponent of strengthening oversight of privately run correctional facilities and questioning why private prisons are needed at all.

Senator Hinojosa filed the following measures earlier this week:
  • SB 1680:  This legislative proposal requires voters to approve bonds used in the financing of constructed correctional facilities; and
  • SB 1690: The bill extends oversight authority to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to monitor county jails that only house federal prisoners.  This contract relationship is usually undertaken between counties and private prison companies.  Bob recommended a similar solution to the Senate Criminal Justice committee last year.  
We will keep y'all posted about these bills and others that impact private prisons and jails through the end of the 81st Legislature.

CEC Considered to Manage Miller County Correctional Facility

News reports started circulating at the end of February regarding private management of the Miller County Correctional Facility.  The county's sherrif, Ron Stovall, requested that local officials consider allowing CEC, formerly called CiviGenics to manage the county jail. 

The first step in moving the Miller jail to private management was a tour by  Bowie County Correctional Center Warden James McCormick.  Community Education Centers (CEC) formerly called CiviGenics, manages the Bowie County jail.

Before making a final decision Miller County officials should consider the scandals that plagued privately managed prisons and jails, including those operated by CEC/Civigenics, in Texas.  They include:

  • A guard was indicted at CiviGenic's McLennan County Detention Center for having sex with a female prisoner (2004).  A prisoner who escaped from the facility was charged with killing a woman while he was a fugitive and a guard was charged with facilitating the escape (2001)
  • A guard at the Bowie County Correctional Center annex was arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle marijuana, tobacco and cigars into the jail (2007)
  • 30 prisoners at CEC/CiviGenics Kinney County Detention Center rioted after refusing to return to their cells from an indoor recreation area (2008).

And an excellent resource for Miller County officials is the Grassroots Leadership publication "Considering a Private Jail, Prison, or Detention Center?" written by TPB contributor Bob Libal with an article on prisons as economic development by University of Texas Professor Michele Deitch. We will keep you posted on developments in Miller County.

Is LCS's Robstown Prison Being Bailed Out by Operation Streamline Detainees?

An influx of federal prisoners from the United States Marshals Service will help bailout a troubled south Texas private prison, according to a story in the Corpus-Christi Caller-Times ("Prison Firm Rehires 40," March 6th),

As federal prisoners began arriving at the privately owned LCS detention facility in Robstown on Friday, a company official said employees who were laid off in January have been rehired.  In response to the influx of prisoners into the 1,100-bed facility, which has sat empty since it opened in September, the prison has called back some 40 employees who were laid off in January, bringing the current number of employees up to 75, said Dick Harbison, LCS vice president of operations.

“It’s full steam ahead right now,” he said. And beginning Monday, the company plans to hire another 80 employees with starting pay at $11 an hour.  The news comes a week after Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal and the U.S. Marshals agreed on a temporary price tag for prisoner housing.

LCS will get roughly $44 per prisoner per day under the terms of an addendum to the contract already in place for housing prisoners in Hidalgo County.  Harbison on Friday could not confirm how many bus loads of prisoners were being delivered to the facility.

While the story doesn't make it clear where these prisoners will be coming from, U.S. Marshals prisoners are mostly pre-trial federal detainees, meaning people awaiting trial for federal violations.  As several sources have noted, an enormous increase in the number of low-level non-violent border-crossers being criminally prosecuted under a Department of Justice program called Operation Streamline has pushed the detention system to the max.   

In fact, as Bloomberg News-Service noted a year ago ("Bush Crackdown on Illegal Aliens Stretches Marshals to Limit," March 12, 2008), these criminal prosecutions are already overwhelming the U.S. Marshal system.

The 600 marshals stationed on the border with Mexico are dealing with as many as 6,000 new defendants a month. That's taking them away from other tasks such as capturing escaped prisoners and rounding up sex offenders, according to Justice Department documents obtained by Bloomberg News. 

Data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse and reported in the New York Times ("Push on Immigration Crimes Is Said to Shift Focus," January 11) confirms that the mandatory prosecution of border-crossers is taking resources away from other, more serious criminal prosecutions,

Immigration prosecutions have steeply risen over the last five years, while white-collar prosecutions have fallen by 18 percent, weapons prosecutions have dropped by 19 percent, organized crime prosecutions are down by 20 percent and public corruption prosecutions have dropped by 14 percent, according to the Syracuse group’s statistics. Drug prosecutions — the enforcement priority of the Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations — have declined by 20 percent since 2003.

Of course, all these criminal prosecutions mean a drastic increase in detention bed capacity, and no one is making out richer on this policy in Texas than the private prison corporations.  According to the Department of Justice, U.S. Marshals detention bed capacity has increased from 18,282 to 56,290 between 1994 and 2007.

Companies like the GEO Group - with a new 1,500 bed detention center in Laredo, an expansion in Val Verde, and a new 500 bed detention center in Maverick County - and smaller companies like LCS - Robstown and Brooks County - are expanding capacity and making money off this trend. 

The question remains, however, will the Obama administration turn off the spiget and begin to reverse Operation Streamline and the ever-increasing demand for detention beds?  If it does, it could spell trouble for the private prison companies and communities like Robstown that have gambled their futures betting for prisoners.

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Texas Southern University Private Prison Conference Now Accepting Papers

An academic conference discussing the private prison industry will be held at Texas Southern University in Houston August 6-8 of this year.  Here's a description of the conference, entitled "The International Prison Privatization Experience: A Transatlantic and Transpacific Dialogue,"

Criminal justice scholars, community activists, law enforcement personnel, community development specialists, juvenile justice advocates, and immigration officials are cordially invited to attend the first international conference on prison privatization. This conference will highlight the inimical effects of prison privatization on women, minorities, and the poor. Please join us as we explore alternative strategies for sentencing, economic development in rural communities, re-entry prevention, and prison privatization. With nationally and internationally recognized speakers and presenters, conference participants can look forward to thought-provoking, energetic, and cutting-edge discussions and information to share with their organizations and communities.

Conference sponsors include the Barbara Jordan Institute for Policy Research, the Administration of Justice Department from the Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, Grassroots Leadership, and Justice Strategies.
Confirmed Speakers:
  • Judith Greene, Justice Strategies.
  • Si Kahn, Grassroots Leadership.
  • Michael Hallett, Professor and Chair, Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice University of North Florida.
  • Stephen Nathan, Prison Privatisation Report International, published in London by the Prison Reform.
  • Byron E. Price, Texas Southern University, BJ-ML School of Public Affairs Political Science Department.
  • Jeffrey Ian Ross, Fellow of the Center for International and Comparative Law at the University of Baltimore.
Papers should investigate comparative aspects of prison privatization and grassroots initiatives geared toward reducing prison privatization. Proposals should be between 200-400 words and examine critical issues such as race, gender and crime and the impact on families' and prisoners' communities. Papers should fit into one of the following categories:

Session 1:      Financial and Social Costs of an Increasing Use of Imprisonment

Session 2:      Commodification of Prisoners and Human Rights

Session 3:      Constitutional Implications of Private Prisons

Session 4:      The Commercialization of Justice

Session 5:      Interjurisdictional Issues and Common Concerns

Session 6:      Demystifying Prison Privatization

Session 7:      Privatized Detention of Immigrants

For more information contact:

Prof. Byron E. Price, the Conference Chair at 713-313-4809. Please send proposals, preferably as a Word or pdf attachment, to pricebe (at) tsu (dot) edu by April 1st of 2009.
We'll keep you posted as the conference develops.


Legislation would keep Private Prison Labor from competing with Free World Labor

In late February, State Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) and State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), introduced companion bills to drastically alter state prison labor programs.  According to the legislators, both bills, (SB 1169 and HB 1914) would stop job loss and unfair competition by:

  • eliminating sweetheart deals and requiring businesses using prison labor to pay a fair market value for use of facilities;
  •  moving oversight of the program from the Prison Industry Oversight Authority to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) board;
  • preventing TDCJ from approving contracts resulting in job loss anywhere in Texas;
  • allowing employers to submit a sworn statement that their business would be hurt and jobs could be lost by approval of a specific prison industry contract;
  • requiring job and product descriptions be specific so employers can recognize a prison industry contract that would unfairly threaten their business;
  • creating notification for area businesses and posting information about programs online; and
  •  notifying the state senator and state representative in whose districts the project would be located.

The measure would certainly increase transparency and accountability for such contracts.  It is a significant measure from the chair of the House Corrections Committee.

In related materials, the legislators cite a specific example of the company Direct Trailer, which paid only $1 a year to lease 70,000 sqare feet of factory from a local state prison and advertised they could sell their products for less because of prison labor.  

A competitor of Direct Trailer is Lufkin Industries Inc. which claims that it could not fairly compete and sell products for similar prices.  As a result, Lufkin Industies recently closed its trailer manufacturing division and layed off 150 employees.  

We will be tracking the developments of these bills as they navigate their way through the legislature.  Stay tuned...

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