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May 2009

More on Texas-based prison developer Corplan in Arizona

Phillip Franchine at the Sahuarita Sun ("Prison project involving developer was tinged," May 27) today continues that paper's excellent investigative coverage of Texas-based private prison developers pushing a proposed immigrant detention center on Tohono O'odham Nation land in Arizona.  Earlier this week, we covered the host of Texas private prison characters, many of whom tied to the more controversial Texas prison deals, working to bring a detention center to Tohono O'odham land.

The recent Sun article delves into Corplan's relationship to former Webb County (Texas) Commissioner David Cortez who was convicted of funneling bribes to Willacy County (Texas) Commissioners in relation to a detention center in Raymondville.  According to the article,

"The (Tohono O'odham) project is spearheaded by Corplan Corrections of Argyle, Texas, which has developed dozens of privately operated prisons across the country. Corplan President James Parkey confirmed that one of his contractors, David Cortez, a former Webb County (Texas) Commissioner, was convicted of federal bribery charges arising from the development of the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility in Raymondville, Texas. Parkey denied any wrongdoing on his part or that of his company.

Parkey said in an e-mail last week, “Mr. Cortez was one of thousands of subcontracts that have been hired by Corplan Corrections during the last 30 years of business operations.”

A Nov. 21, 2006, press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brownsville, Texas, said Cortez admitted channeling money to two Willacy County commissioners who also were convicted from “a corporation involved in soliciting a consulting contract regarding the Center in Willacy County.”

Parkey said in the e-mail that “the corporation (named) is not Corplan! I have never been nor has any member of my corporation ever been interview by a Federal or State official in regard to your stated information surrounding Mr. Cortez and his sole admission of guilt.” "

We'll keep you posted as we find more.

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Texas private prison developers pushing detention center on Tohono O'odham Nation

A group of Texas private prison developers are behind a controversial proposal to build a detention center on Tohono O'odham Nation land near Sahuarita, Arizona.  The group includes well-known prison developers, including underwriter Municipal Capitol Markets Group, design firm Corplan, and prison "consultant" Richard Reyes from Innovative Government Strategies.

While it appears the plan may be faltering under pressure from local opponents, the private prison developers still hope they will be able to build a detention center on the tribal land. A recent article in the Sahuarita Sun ("Public pressure crushed detention center," May 22nd) indicates that the initial location proposed for the facility has been withdrawn, but that "the northwestern part of the District has been mentioned as a possible site" alternative.  According to an earlier article in the Arizona Daily Star ("Prison plan opposition grows," May 18), the proposed detention facility succeeded in uniting a diverse group of opponents,

"Community activists, immigrant-rights advocates, tribal critics and local elected officials don't want to see a federal detention center built near Pima Mine Road on the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Opponents, including residents of Rancho Sahuarita and the Rev. Robin Hoover of Humane Borders, asked the Pima County Board of Supervisors last week for the county's help in stopping the prison's construction. The county's power lies only in raising questions and asking the federal government to require more study of the impact before signing off on the project. The county has no direct jurisdiction over projects built on sovereign Indian territory." 

The private prison pushers are being called "the folks from Texas" by opponents of the prison, and they include people involved in Texas' most controversial prison deals. They include James Parkey of prison design firm Corplan and Chris Cuny of prison engineering firm Cuny Corp.  According to reports, Parkey sold the complicated and controversial bond deal that led to the Willacy County Detention Center. The Willacy facility was featured in an excellent expose by Forrest Wilder in the Texas Observer ("Jailbait: Prison companies profit as Raymondville's public debt grows," October 20, 2006).

Underwriting the proposed Arizona detention center is Municipal Capital Market Groups, led by Michael Harling.  Harling recently pitched an immigrant family detention center in Willacy County and advocated for a controversial jail privatization scheme in McLennan County, Texas. MCMG was a major player in the earlier Willacy deal that led to bribery convictions for two County Commissioners from Willacy and one from Webb County, according to the Associated Press ("Webb official sentenced to prison," Nov. 24, 2006). No company involved in the Willacy deal, including Corplan, MCMG, construction firm Hale Mills, or private prison operator MTC were ever indicted in the case.    

Also in the mix is Richard A. Reyes, a former Webb County Commissioner and a "consultant" with Innovative Government Strategies out of Boerne, TX.  Reyes reportedly received over $700,000 for his "consulting" role ("Doing Borrowed Time: The High Cost of Back-Door Prison Finance," Prison Legal News, November 11, 2008) in putting together the troubled prison financing deal in LaSalle County, Texas.  County officials from LaSalle are still wrangling in court with private prison company Emerald Corrections over the Reyes' LaSalle arrangement.  

Reyes was the subject of a San Antonio Current article called "The Buzz in Boerne" (the article is no longer on line, but we have a copy). It argued Reyes' La Salle deal was not as sweet as first sold,

"Kendall County Judge Eddie J. Vogt said before the county joins the federal prison industry, it would closely scrutinize La Salle County, where Sean Chadwell, Encinal city councilman, has opposed the project from the beginning. He criticizes the private prison firms, the financial underwriters, and Reyes, who represented La Salle County in the Encinal project, for picking a "provincial" location as an easy target to dupe the taxpaying public into funding a for-profit detention center. "Prison companies come to town and say to the county, 'You borrow the money through a public finance corporation, which is an arm of county government. You can do that without a vote and you're not obliging tax money.' The logic is pretty sensible, and it enables poor municipalities to borrow money. The problem is in building something as big as a prison, where counties encounter all sorts of other costs."

Chadwell charges that La Salle County spent $50,000 in legal fees during negotiations and construction of the La Salle County Regional Detention Center. He says the county is hemorrhaging money to service debt and finance charges. "Any population that is less than a constant 420 prisoners is losing money," Chadwell said "It also puts a damper on future development, residential or commercial. The early promise is to spur economic development in town."

Encinal's water supply company has committed so much water to the federal detention facility that it only has 40 hookups for other residential or commercial developments in town. Chadwell says that rural economies all over Texas are making themselves dependent on incarceration. "It's happening all over the country, but Texas is especially bad. Once little places are solely dependent on prisons, you can't change that very easily."

This is certainly a troubled cast of characters Texas' private prison development industry has exported to Arizona.  We'll keep you posted on developments. Best of luck to our Arizona friends working to expose the industry!  

Two former GEO guards end up at company's Val Verde lock-up

Two former guards at the GEO Group's troubled Val Verde Correctional Center have been indicted on separate charges, according to an article in the Del Rio News-Herald ("Jailers jailed," May 20th),

Two former jailers recently became guests of the facility where they once worked, after one of them was arrested for burglarizing the home of a friend and the other allegedly tried to smuggle a bottle of cheap wine and love letters to an inmate.

Cristela Ramirez, 20, no address available, was arrested following an indictment on a charge of burglary of a habitation, and Bertha Alicia Martinez, 25, Lot 10 Cerezo St., was arrested on a felony charge of prohibited substances and items in an adult or juvenile correctional or detention facility, investigators with the Val Verde County Sheriff’s Office said.

Read some the previous Texas Prison Bid'ness coverage of the Val Verde Correctional Center:

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CEC/CiviGenics Texarkana guard indicted on drug charges

A guard at the CEC/Civigenics in Texarkana has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of attempting to take drugs into a prison owned by the facility, according to a story in the Texarkana Gazette ("Former jail guard indicted: Former Bowie County employee faces drug charges," May 15),

A former Bowie County jail guard was indicted last week by a grand jury.  Amber Hinds, 20, “turned around and went back to her car when she realized her supervisor intended to search employees that day as they came to work,” according to a probable cause affidavit.

Officials with the jail, which is run by Civigenics, contacted the Bowie County Sheriff’s Office about Hinds’ conduct, the affidavit said.

Emerald proposes second site in Mineral Wells for supposed ICE detention center

Private prison operator Emerald Corrections has proposed a second site for a purported immigrant detention center in Mineral Wells, according to an article in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE site land deal closer," May 20).  A previous detention proposal by the company was rejected last month after widespread community opposition.  According to the MWI story,

Plans are progressing to purchase 187 acres in the northeast corner of Wolters Industrial Park to bring a maximum security facility to hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees to Mineral Wells.

“We’ve got the property under contract,” Steve Butcher, a recruiter for the Industrial Foundation, said. “It appears to be on track.”

The Industrial Foundation hopes to give roughly 30 acres to Emerald Correctional Management to build a 1,000-bed facility to house ICE detainees before they are flown out of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

They are currently doing a survey of the land, Butcher said, and have submitted a specific use permit application with the permission of the owners.

A public hearing on a specific use permit application has been scheduled for the planning and zoning commission on June 1. If it passes the planning and zoning commission, the city council will likely vote on the application at their June 2 meeting.

While clearly Emerald is telling city officials that this will be an ICE detention center, my reading of this and other stories is that there is most likely no contract with ICE for detainees.  That feeling is compounded by signals from Washington saying that there will not be a massive detention expansion this year. 

Of course, the private prison industry's motto is often "if we build it, they will come," so Emerald most likely just wants the facility built and then will find an agency to provide prisoners, a type of speculative prison building that can drive prison expansion.  We'll keep you posted on how this story develops.  

HB 3903, private jail accountability bill, killed on house floor

HB 3903, a private jail accountability bill, suffered an inglorious defeat on the house floor on Tuesday

Amongst those effectively killing HB 3903 were Tracy King, whose district includes several private jails and detention centers, Jim McReynolds, chair of the House Corrections Committee, and Jerry Madden, the former chair of the House Corrections Committee.  The bill was one of over 80 bills to be heard as part of the Local, Consent, and Resolutions calendar. 

HB 3903, filed by Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr., was fairly moderate measure which would have subjected private jails to the same open records law as public facilities, mandated that counties hold hearings before privatizing their county jails, and made it illegal for public officials such as sheriffs to be on the payrolls of private prison corporations.

King, Madden, and McReynolds were amongst seven signatories on a card to remove the bill from consideration and send it back to the Local and Consent Calendar Committee, a move that will ensure the bill's defeat at this late stage in the legislative session.  None has given any public reason for their rejection of the bill.

In coming weeks, we will publish a full list of Texas legislators who have received money from the private prison industry this legislative session.

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HB 3903, private jail accountability bill, to be heard by Texas house

HB 3903, a private jail accountability bill filed by Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr, will be heard by full Texas House tomorrow during the Local and Consent portion of the House session.  The bill takes a number of steps regarding to private jails including:

  1. Subjecting private prison corporations to the same open records law as public facilities.  Currently, private jail records are not subject to open records law,
  2. Mandating public hearings before a county may privatize their jail facilities, and
  3. Making it illegal for a public servant such as a Sherrif to be paid by a private prison corporation in addition to his/her salary.
We will post as soon as we know the results of the house vote tomorrow. 
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CCA Holds 2009 First Quarter Investor's Call

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) held it's investor's call for the first quarter of 2009 earlier this month.  During the call, CCA officials emphasized a positive outlook that drove stock prices to increase by 19% following the conference call.

According to CCA, 9,300 new beds were brought online during 2008 and 2009, and the average daily compensated population increased for the quarter to 4.2% from the the previous year.  CCA remains the nation's largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities, managing 64 facilities, 44 of them CCA-owned, designed to house approximately 86,000 prisoners.

On the call, company officials informed investors of a 10,000 bed vacancy among current capacity.  However, folks at CCA implied the for profit business strategy of building prisons on speculation in anticipation of demanded capacity would positively impact investment.

Specifically, CCA officials mentioned the federal stimulus package's assistance in helping states avoid budget shortfalls should help attract new demand to fill currently vacant beds.

CCA reps are projecting the potential demand may come from the 19 states -- including Texas -- the company currently does business with.  According to the company's analysis those states' prison populations will grow in excess of planned capacity past 2013.

It will be interesting to see if CCA's projections bear out.  We will keep following the company's contracts particularly those in Texas.  Stay tuned...

Michael Moore to tackle private prisons in new film?

Will Michael Moore make private prisons the focus of his newest documentary expose?  That's the question the film-indusry blog slashfilm.com:

A film crew for Michael Moore’s next yet-to-be-titled documentary was in Wilkes-Barre, PA last week interviewing people involved with the Luzerne County Courthouse scandal. According to FilmBuffOnline, Moore wasn’t present during filming. For those who don’t know, county judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. accepted a $2.6 million from two privately owned juvenile detention centers in exchange for helping secure contracts worth upwards of $30 million.

Details about Moore’s new documentary have been kept tightly under wraps, but it was announced as a quasi-follow-up to Fahrenheit 9/11, focusing on a post-Bush administration world and the financial crisis. Privately owned prisons have become a big business over the last decade, but what does outsourcing government services to the private sector have to do with the big picture? The Geo Group has recently come under fire for possible mistreatment of prisoners, which may have resulted in inmate deaths at some of their facilities.

We'll keep you posted on developments... 

Controversial MTC federal prison will not come to Nacogdoches

Opponents of a controversial MTC-proposed federal prison in Nacogdoches were celebrating last week after the Federal Bureau of Prisons pulled the plug on the project, according to Nacogdoches Daily Sentinal ("Federal government rejects plan for prison in Nacogdoches," May 1),

The proposed private federal prison — the subject of months of debate in Nacogdoches — will not be built here, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said.

The federal government rejected a proposal by the private prison operator Management and Training Corporation to build the facility because it was not competitive enough, according to an April 28 letter from Amanda J. Pennel, a contracting officer with the bureau of prisons. "After evaluating this proposal in accordance with the terms of the solicitation, it was determined that this proposal was not among the most highly rated proposals," the letter said. "A proposal revision will not be considered," the letter continued.

While public offials were generally in favor of the proposed facility, a facility for immigrants to be deported following their sentences, community opposition to the facility was fierce and included an effort to bring the issue to a referendum vote by amending the city's charter and gathered over 2,700 signatures on their website, and impressive feat in a town of less than 30,000 total population.   

While the FBOP doesn't acknowledge the opposition in its reasoning, it's of no doubt in my mind that the community opposition was a factor in this decision.  Opposition makes these projects more expensive and therefore less competitive. Congrats to the Citizens Opposed to the Prison group!   

See our previous coverage of the private prison controversy in Nacogdoches:

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