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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.

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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.

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:

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.

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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,"

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.

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