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April 2009

GEO Group remains quiet in face of criticism, but talks to investors about profits

Matt Pulle at Texas Watchdog has this follow-up from his story earlier this week on the GEO Group's connections to two Texas legislators. This time he muses on the GEO Group's silence on his story.  

In our story this week about how two Texas lawmakers have financial ties to the GEO Group, we tried to call the private prison company’s spokesperson Pablo Paez, particularly because we detailed the firm’s many troubles, including inmates’ deaths, riots and dangerous, filthy conditions. We never heard from him.

We don’t take it personally, though. Paez is apparently a man of few words.

In 2007, the Associated Press reported about the suicide of an Idaho man who was doing a stint in a GEO Group prison in Dickens County, Texas. Idaho had been sending its prisoners here to ease overcrowding in their own facilities. An Idaho corrections official referred to the particular GEO Group prison as “the worst facility he had ever seen,” and that it was beyond repair.

Paez declined to defend his company.

Within days, Idaho moved its prisoners out of Dickens County.

GEO Group was similarly mum when the company was indicted for murder in south Texas last year in the Gregario de la Rosa case. That case appears to be continuing after a $42 million civil judgment against the company was upheld last month, and a new grand jury may be looking into re-filing criminal charges in the case ("New jury to review indictments," Brownsville Herald, January 2). 

Still, there's one area in which GEO will talk - profits.  The company held its quarterly conference call today, which is available online for the curious to listen to.  We'll give a report on the company's investor call in the coming days.


Texas Watchdog publishes expose on GEO-Texas lege connections

Matt Pulle over at the Texas Watchdog has published a very interesting four-page expose on the GEO Group's connections to the state capitol.  The report focuses on two personal connections between state legislators and the troubled private prison company.  Here's an excerpt:

Two state lawmakers from South Texas have financial ties to a private prison firm that runs facilities for the Texas state prison system — at a time when lawmakers are debating sweeping new measures to clamp down on corrections companies.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, have financial links to the GEO Group, a Florida-based firm that runs 19 correctional facilities in Texas, including nine under contract for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The report then goes on to detail on a number of issues including,

Riots, deadly beating, filth plague GEO Group facilities, courts and state regulators find 

Carlos Zaffirini: Wife would not let private life influence lawmaking 

GEO Group’s business would be limited, scrutinized under legislative proposals
A good report that is definitely worth a read considering the long list of ongoing GEO Group scandals in Texas.
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The Business of Detention Nominated for Webby Award!

Congrats to our friends Renee Feltz and Stokely Baksh over at the Business of Detention have been nominated for a People's Voice Webby Award for best student website!  The site features great interactive material on the unprecendented growth of the private immigrant detention industry in Texas.

The deadline for voting is April 30th, and Business of Detention has easy-to-follow instructions on how to register and cast your vote.

Who is lobbying for private prisons at the Texas Legislature?

Below we provide a 2009 list of registered lobbyists for the private prisons prison industry, as reported to the Texas Ethics Commission.  In coming weeks, we will run profiles of these individuals to give readers a better sense of who is walking the halls of the Texas legislature in support of private prisons.

Filer ID Lobbyist Name Company Compensation
00050764 Aguirre, Lionel "Leo" The GEO Group Inc. $200,000 - $249,999.99
00055941 Gibson, Stephanie The GEO Group Inc. Less Than $10,000.00
00033567 Miller, William J. The GEO Group Inc. $25,000 - $49.999.99
00056112 Wittenburg, Michelle The GEO Group Inc. $10,000 - $24,999.99
00042780 Keel, Lara Laneri Corrections Corporation of America $25,000 - $49.999.99
00022836 Shanblum, Laurie Corrections Corporation of America $ 0.00
00020586 Place, Allen Management & Training Corp. $25,000 - $49.999.99
00013441 Fisher, Walter Avalon Correctional Services Inc. $50,000 - $99,999.99
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Emerald Not Giving Up on Mineral Wells Detention Center

Emerald Companies is refusing to give up on the idea of a proposed private detention center in Mineral Wells, despite a recent rebuffing by that community's city council ("ICE facility put on chill," Mineral Wells Index, April 16) according to an interview with the company's COO Steve Afeman in the Mineral Wells Index ("Emerald open to alternate locations for ICE center," April 21),

Emerald Companies is open to looking at other site locations in Mineral Wells for the proposed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention center, according to Chief Operating Officer Steve Afeman.

Mayor Mike Allen's decision to postpone any city council action on Emerald's specific use permit application at the proposed location northeast of Mineral Wells Municipal Airport in order to look for other potential sites has delayed the project but not killed it, according to Afeman.

“It's a curve in the road, it's not a dead end,” Afeman said. “It's still a good project, the need's still there.”

Afeman said he has been told that the main opposition from city leaders has been about the location near the airport rather than the prison itself.

Emerald entered into a 90-day option agreement, with the option for an extension, in January with the Industrial Foundation to buy nearly 62-acres northeast of the airport for $1 per acre. Emerald must meet certain criteria, including obtaining a specific use permit from the city, within the deadline to purchase the land.

As I've written before, it is unclear if this proposed facility is actually being solicited by ICE or if Emerald is merely saying that ICE wants a detention center.  Private prison corporations are notorious for building speculative prison beds, a practice that Emerald employed in its failed bid to build a family detention center in Caldwell County.  In that case, Emerald was rebuffed twice before finally giving up on the county and moving on, apparently to Mineral Wells. 

We'll keep you posted on developments from Mineral Wells.

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United Methodist Bishops Call for End to Private Detention Centers

A group of Bishops of the United Methodist Church recently released a statement directed toward President Obama that calls for the end of all private detention centers.  The statement encourages the president to work for:

  • A pathway to citizenship for immigrants;
  • Reunification of immigrant families who have been separated by immigration itself or due to workplace raids and ensuing indefinite detentions and deportations;
  • More visas for short-term workers to come into the United States in safe, legal, and orderly ways;
  • Legal protection to all workers who come to stay for a certain period of time as well as for those who stay permanently, including the right to bargain for higher wages, protest poor working conditions, and preserve their human rights whether they are documented or undocumented;
  • Elimination of privately-operated, unregulated detention centers;
  • An end to all indiscriminate raids.

We applaud the Bishops in taking a stand to encourage the president to addres immigration and eliminate private detention centers

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25 GEO Prisoners Indicted for December Riot

The title says it all.  From the KWES ("25 Inmates Indicted in Connection to RCDC’s First Riot"),

The U.S. District Court in Pecos has released documents showing 25 inmates at the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) were indicted for their part in the first riot at the prison.

The federal grand jury documents show those inmates conspired to cause the riot that broke out December 12th at RCDC buildings one and two.

Those inmates set fire to several buildings and held two workers there against their will for hours.

At the time, inmates said they were rioting because they wanted better healthcare and asked to speak with the Mexican consulate.

A second riot broke out about a month later on January 31st and lasted several days.

Both uprisings did millions of dollars in damage to the private prison near Pecos.

Of course, this story raise the real question - who at the GEO Group or Reeves County will be held accountable for creating the conditions that led this riot?  Prison riots don't just happen; they are a response to poor conditions and poor security, two things that seem to be increasingly endemic to the GEO Group's Texas operations. 

See our previous coverage of the Reeves County Detention Center: 

Another Death at GEO's RCDC,  March 27, 2009

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

HB 3247 Heard in Committee

Last week, Texas lawmakers heard HB 3247 a measure impacting county jail contracts and requires collective bargaining agreements.  Specifically, the bill voids any county contracts with private prison operators unless:

  •  The county enters into the contract in a collective bargaining agreement between the county and sheriff's department employees.

We hear that the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) supports HB 3247. 

Texas statute already voids contracts if it is proven that county commissioners, elected, or appointed peace officers has a financial interest in the private management company. 

Lawmakers are considering other bills that impact private jail contracts as well.  

We will keep y'all posted on the developments of HB 3247 and other proposed legislation.

HB 3903 Moves out of Committee

Bob reported a few weeks back about HB 3903.  Legislators voted the proposed measure out of committee earlier this week.  HB 3903 is important in light of scandals covered on this blog in recent years regarding the bribes taken by county officials. 

The measure:

  • Outlines conditions that county commissioners courts may enter into contracts with private operators to manage local jails; and
  • Creates a state jail felony for receiving a personal benefit from for private jail contracts; and
  • Holds private jails accountable under Texas open records laws.

TPB recognizes that sentencing enhancements contributes to the same flawed social policy approaches that lead to over incarceration in the first place.  We wonder if there is a way to hold corrupt county officials accountable without contributing to another body in another jail cell.  Of course, the answer is easy for elected sheriff's who manage these jails.  And surely there is away to deal with other corrupt county officials that voters don't elect?

According to the fiscal note provided by the Legislative Budget Board, the sentencing enhancement included in the bill would not significantly impact the state's criminal justice system. 

TPB has previously covered bribery scandals in the following posts:

    We will continue to track HB 3903 as it moves.  Stay tuned....

More Opposition to Mineral Wells Emerald Detention Center

The proposed Emerald Detention Center in Mineral Wells continued to draw opposition at last Thursday's public hearing on the prison proposal, according to an article in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE project gets chilly reception," April 6, 2009). 

Nearly 20 people spoke, almost all voicing concerns with the proposal. “Our concern is property value surrounding it,” Alex McKee, ranch manager for Bunker Hill ranch, said. The facility would be located on the south and east borders of Bob Minyard’s ranch.

McKee said they have cleaned up the area and created a 20-acre lake for possible future home developments in the Harvey Road area and are concerned that a detention facility would devalue property.

“Our concern is visitors,” David Brock, vice president of business development for Hydroscience Technologies Inc., said. Brock said he is concerned about the traffic of visitors to the facility coming and going. “I’m not sure in the long-term interest, this is the right way to go,” Brock said.

Despite the opposition of the majority of the 90 people there, city leaders continue to push the prison,

“As mayor, and I believe that I can speak for some or all of our council members, as well, I feel that this is a project which is worth while and would be beneficial to our community,” (Mayor) Allen said, before introducing Steve Afeman, chief operating officer of Emerald Companies.

“We’re the company that had the escape [last weekend and] … want you all to know that it’s not a perfect science,” Afeman said to start out the night, saying the transportation officer did not follow rules and regulations. “He’ll be lucky to retain his job at this point.” ....

Emerald's Afeman then went into details about the facility which raised questions to me...

The Emerald run facility would undergo several inspections each year, according to Afeman, including an annual ICE audit, an unannounced ICE audit, a 3 day audit by an ICE private contractor, and an annual Texas Jail Commission inspection.

First, does Emerald actually have a contract from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to build this detention center?  In none of the media that I've read about this proposal detention center has an ICE spokesman been quoted saying that the facility has been solicited by the agency.  Second, Afeman is actually incorrect in saying that the Texas Jail Standards Commission would inspect the facility.  As the law is currently written, TCJS cannot go into private facilities housing only federal prisoners, though SB 1690 would reverse that.

If we find the answers to these questions, we'll let you know...