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July 2009

GEO's Montgomery County facility's week without air

It has only been about two weeks since the Montgomery County scandal regarding budget shenanigans providing an under the table contract for The GEO Group to open a new psychiatric hospital to shadow the County jail. However, the jail is in the news again, this time because of reports from the counsel of R. Allen Stanford ("Stanford feels the heat in Conroe cell," Houston Chronicle, July 27):

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January death in LCS's Brooks County Jail results in lawsuit

On January 14th, a 41 year old man named Mario A. Garcia was found dead in his cell in LCS Corrections' Brooks County jail, leaving behind a widow and 10 year old son. Garcia had only been in jail a couple weeks after pleading guilty to charges of bid-rigging on December 31st, 2008 while working with the Corpus Christi Army Depot. Despite his detention, Garcia was never formally sentenced prior to his death.

Before his processing into the jail, Garcia had a documented health condition that required he take antidepressants and seizure medication. Because of this medical condition, Garcia was not allowed to live freely outside of prison before his sentencing (as most inmates serving time for similar crimes are allowed to do) for fear that he might kill himself. However, once imprisoned, Garcia was not given access to his medication, and a seizure is the major side effect of the medications if withheld.

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Texas Watchdog looks at the big bad private prison lobby

Matte Pulle at Texas Watchdog published another excellent investigation on the private prison industry's work in the Texas Capitol last month. In his previous reporting on the private prison industry, Pulle detailed the personal and financial links between state legislators and GEO Group. This time, he details the role lobbyists played in sinking common-sense reforms to laws governing private prisons during the 81st legislative session.

In his report, Pulle explains that GEO Group's lobbying team is particularly well-equipped to defeat even modest improvements to oversight of the private prison industry because of its large lobbying expenditures and the close personal relationships its lobbyists have to Texas Legislators. From Pulle's investigative piece:

"’s not just the GEO Group’s expense account that makes it noteworthy. A lot of companies pay top dollar for a crew of lobbyists. But few of them can match GEO’s well-connected team, a team that, over the last two sessions, have helped the outfit expand their business and beat back efforts to regulate their operations."

Welcome to new TPB blogger Andrew Strong

Texas Prison Bid'ness would like welcome our newest blogger Andrew Strong to the site.  Andrew is a recent graduate of St. Edward's University where he studied ethics and the philosophy of cognitive science. He initially became interested in the private prison industry through researching for his senior thesis regarding the ethical arguments for and against the privatization of prisons.

Andrew has also helped to research for and update Grassroots Leadership's 2009 version of "Considering a Private Jail" resource guide and has started the excellent watchdog site Private Prison Watch.  See Andrew's full bio here, and you'll be hearing from Andrew himself soon.

Grayson Commissioners sidestep voters with privatization scheme

The Herald Democrat reported ("Grayson County Jail to be run by private company," July 13) last week that Grayson County commissioners will negotiate a deal with Southwestern Correctional LLC to build and operate a new 747-bed private jail. This decision by the commissioners means Grayson voters will be denied the opportunity to put the issue of jail expansion to a vote.  By deciding to negotiate a deal with Southwestern Correctional, commissioners ignored calls for a bond election by Grayson Sheriff J. Keith Gary, Sherman Mayor Bill Magers, Former Grayson County Commissioner Carol Shea, Former Grayson County Democratic Party Chair Tony Beaverson, the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, and dozens of Grayson residents.

Grits for Breakfast did an excellent job covering the proposed Grayson Privatization scheme offered up by County Judge Drue Bynum (see links at the bottom of this post), and he argues compellingly that the over-reliance by Grayson Judges on pretrial detention continues to unnecessarily fill the county jail and fuel the perception that a larger facility is needed. (The numbers as of June 1, 2009 show 51% of inmates in Grayson County Jail are pretrial detainees).

Judge Bynum was trying to sell Grayson residents a larger facility than the county needed for its inmates, arguing that a private company would need the extra space to profit from incarceration and offset the county's per diem rate. In spite of the cost-saving rationale offered by Bynum, it doesn't seem that Grayson County was made a very good first offer by Southwestern Correctional.

Death at CCA's Willacy Unit

We're a few weeks behind on this story, but from the Valley Morning News ("Attorney: Inmate denied asthma pump," July 2), a story about an inmate death at CCA's Willacy County TDCJ Unit. 

An attorney claimed in a statement Wednesday that an inmate who died here in June was denied the use of his asthma pump.

Thomas Detric Adderson, 32, an inmate at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Willacy Unit in Raymondville, died on June 10 because "his asthma pump was not provided to him," according to a statement released by attorney Juan Angel Guerra, who is representing Adderson's family.

But TDCJ officials and an incident summary released Thursday state that Adderson was given an Albuterol inhalation treatment by nurses using a special breathing machine and was also allowed to use his personal oral inhaler before he went into shock and died about two hours later.

Although the jail is a state prison in the TDCJ system, it is operated by Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company.  The TDCJ summary stated that Adderson's preliminary cause of death was "severe asthma attack."

While Mr. Guerra states in the story that he hasn't seen an autopsy, we'll do our best to obtain one and publish it here. 

GEO uses influence to win psychiatric contract; Advocates raise eyebrows and concerns

Via Grits' excellent post ("Geo Group secretly snagged forensic psych hospital contract in budget conference committee," July 11), we find out that the GEO Group has won a contract for a new state psychiatric hospital in Montgomery County, through it's medical subsidiary GEO Care.  

Here's how the Dallas Morning News's Emily Ramshaw ("Troubled prison firm's deal for new psychiatric hospital raises questions," July 11) starts that paper's Saturday story on the scandal,

A private prison company's history of filthy conditions, sexual abuse, suicides and riots in some of its Texas lockups isn't stopping the state from paying it $7.5 million to run a new psychiatric hospital near Houston.

Lawmakers inserted an earmark into the state budget to fund the future Montgomery County facility starting in 2011. But they said they didn't know until this week that the county had selected the GEO Group to operate it, although GEO lobbyists were pushing for it as early as February.

The new facility came as a post-session shock to mental health advocates, who acknowledge the need for it. But they say they weren't informed about it and never would have signed off if they knew Florida-based GEO was operating it.

Mental health advocates are rightly pissed off about what appears to be an allocation of money behind closed doors and without Department of State Health Services requesting the funding.  

81st Legislative Wrap of Private Prison Bills

The regular session of the Texas Legislature ended in early June, and at final adjournment there was little improvement in the accountability and oversight of private prisons. While several legislators filed bills this year that would have strengthened private prison oversight, it seems that the private prison lobby undermined some really good attempts at legislative reform.

Bills introduced this session that addressed private prisons included:
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