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September 2009

Sheriff Agrees to Not Take Additional Money from Private Prison Company

Tommy Witherspoon at the Waco Tribune is documenting unsavory practices between county sheriffs and private prison profiteers.  According to recent reports, McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch will not take additional money from Community Education Centers (CEC) ("Sheriff will not receive additional stipend when new jail opens" Waco Tribune, September 26, 2009). 

A known practice in Texas is the payment of funds to county Sheriffs by private prison companies.   According to state law, Sheriffs must authorize a private detention company's presence in the county under its jurisdiction. 

Lynch had been on the private prison payroll for years; CEC paid him and his predecessors a monthly stipend of $1,000 in addition to their annual salaries.  The kick-back paid to county sheriffs has been a source of tension in McClennan County for years. McClennan County sheriffs collect private prison profits through the contract agreement between the county and private prison companies.  CEC acquired CivicGenics. 

In 2008, local officials debated whether to authorize the construction of a new privately operated jail in the area.  And former State Representative Kevin Bailey, then Chair of the Committee on Urban Affairs, requested an opinion of the Attorney General.  Bailey's request can be found hereIt seems that the AG never issued an opinion.

While not all county sheriffs who contract with private prison companies receive an addtional stipend, Witherspoon's investigative reporting has uncovered that CEC operates a 1,000-bed facility in Limestone County. Sheriff Dennis Wilson, whose county annual salary is $49,457, is paid a $24,000 stipend yearly by the county in its contract with CEC, Wilson said.

Perhaps now is a time for another request from an elected official interested in holding county sheriffs and private prison companies accountable.

Witherspoon is doing a good job of tracking this information.  A bill introduced last session that outlawed such practices died on the House floor.   If such a policy gets resurrected in 2011 it will be interesting to see what the AG has to say. 

Related stories:

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Robstown's Coastal Bend Detention Center Fails Inspection

On Monday, an announcement surfaced regarding a recent failed inspection of the Coastal Bend Detention Center. Prison company LCS Corrections owns and operates the facility and contracts with the U.S. Marshals, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Border Patrol in order to maintain their largely immigrant inmate population.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) director Adan Muñoz explained,"I have to bring any remedial order before the [jail] commission, but this borders really close to complete incompetence" ("Robstown Prison Fails Inspection," Corpus Christi Caller-Times, September 21, 2009).

The inspection revealed a total of 17 compliance issues:

1. Inmate toilet and shower areas have insufficient privacy shields.

2. Jailers are not being trained properly for fire drills.

3. Jailers are not being trained properly in the use of air packs.

4. No documentation outlining generator testing or the transfer of the facility’s electric load at least once a month.

5. Inmates were not classified correctly.

6. Classification reviews were not conducted within 90 days of initial inmate custody assessments.

7. Classification workers didn’t receive the required four hours of training.

8. Internal classification audit logs were not kept.

9. No tuberculosis screening plan had been approved by the health department.

10. Twenty-four officers did not have a required jailer’s license or temporary jailer’s license.

11. Hourly face-to-face prisoner checks were not performed.

12. The facility did not meet the state mandated 1-to-48 jailer-to-inmate ratio.

13. Personnel did not conduct required contraband searches.

14. Disciplinary hearings for minor inmate infractions were conducted by a single person rather than a disciplinary board.

15. Jail did not respond to inmates with grievances within 15 days or resolve issues within 60 days as required.

16. Inmates did not receive one hour of supervised physical education three days per week as required.

17. A fire panel doesn’t show an inspection tag.

While each of these issues is important, some of them are outright travesties.  Not testing for tuberculosis or giving adequate exercise time are both grossly negligent to the health of the inmates, and jailers without licenses not making face-to-face checks or searches for contraband combine to form ideal conditions for a riot to erupt and a subsequent failed attempt at subduing it.

This marks the second failed private prison inspection in Texas this month. In both cases, the TCJS deemed the facilities non-compliant after inspection for mostly the same reasons of negligence in inmate supervision. Coastal Bend Detention Center's warden Elberto Bravo defends, "I know the report looks bad. They say it is the worst they have ever seen. But honestly, we are going to be OK. It’s just going to take me a little bit of time to do it" ("Robstown Prison Fails Inspection," September 21, 2009).

This is not the first time the LCS Corrections has had troubles with this facility, though. Earlier this year in January, the facility had to lay off 35 employees in order to cover for their lack of filled prison beds. Later in March, just a couple months later, the facility rehired 40 more employees in an attempt compensate for a large influx of prisoners after earlier having too few. Warden Bravo claims he will have his facility in compliance with the Texas standards by the end of October, and you know we will be watching.

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GEO Group pulls out of contract for Jefferson County lock-up, leaves County scrambling

The GEO Group has pulled out of a contract to operate the Jefferson County jail in Beaumont leaving the county in precarious position, according to an article yesterday in the Beaumont Enterprise ("County has 60 days to find firm to run jail," September 14):

Jefferson County has less than 60 days to find an operator for the jail at the courthouse in Beaumont if it wants to keep a contract to house Harris County prisoners.

The contract, signed last month, called for Jefferson County to house about 400 of Harris County's overflow inmates in the downtown Beaumont jail at the courthouse.

The jail operator, Geo Group Inc., was to charge Harris County $42.50 per inmate per day. Of that money, Jefferson County was to receive $9 for each inmate per day. The total contract was estimated to be worth $2.5 million.

Geo notified the county last week that in 60 days it will terminate its contract to run the jail.

We'll keep you posted on developments from Jefferson County.

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Bexar County Commissioner flirts with jail privatizaion

A Bexar County Commissioner made news earlier this month when he proposed privatization the county's jail system in an effort to save money.  According to the San Antonio Express-News ("Jail privatization on table," September 5th),

Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff is proposing the privatization of the county jail, a politically tricky maneuver that he said would largely eliminate the need to cut jobs and trim employee's paychecks. Facing a shortfall of $14 million that officials fear is likely to grow, county commissioners are considering laying off as many as 70 county employees, eliminating an additional 100 unfilled positions and trimming employee wages between two percent and five percent.

Wolff provides no evidence of how or why privatizating would save money.  The article makes it clear that Wolff faces an uphill battle to privatization the county jail with opposition from the Sheriff and his unionized jail officers.  Even his father, County Judge Nelson Wolff says his son isn't likely to get far with the proposal.  Still, with a county as large as Bexar, home to Texas' third largest city in San Antonio, it's certainly something that we'll keep our eyes on.

In memory of Dee Hubbard

Texas Prison Bid'ness was saddened to hear of the passing of Dee Hubbard late last month. Dee was truly one of the stalwarts and unsung heroes in the movement against prison privatization.  Dee served as president of the Private Corrections Institute, and worked tirelessly in her home state of Alaska and around the country to expose the corruption so often involved in private prison deals. 

Her work was largely below-the-radar, but several news stories have captured how important her work often was.  Here's how the Alaska Daily News ("Low-key anti-corruption campaigner is dead at 62. DEE HUBBARD: Activist assisted FBI investigating private prisons syndicate," September 1) described Dee,

While Hubbard is hardly a household name, she was well known to the legislators, FBI agents and reporters who were trying to unravel the complicated syndicate that moved from one Alaska community to another, seeking a willing locale and beneficial financing to build a private prison. ...

"Dee Hubbard played a very low-key role in educating the federal folks into what was going on behind the scenes in the state of Alaska, good and bad," said State Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage. "She played a part in helping to clean up the state."

Dee was always full of information, tenacity, and energy.  We'll miss you, Dee Hubbard.

Grayson County Jail Bond Election Canceled; Privatization Proposal May be Dead

Kathy Williams reports that Grayson County's jail bond election is canceled, and County Judge Drue Bynum's desire to build a new private jail may be squelched. From the Sherman Herald-Democrat ("Grayson County jail bond election canceled; entire process could begin anew", Sep. 10):

There will be no Grayson County Jail bond election Nov. 3. County Judge Drue Bynum said Thursday he also holds little hope of getting a privately built and operated jail approved. So Grayson County will begin anew the process of deciding what to do with an aging jail and future inmate populations.

The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) indicated on Wednesday it would file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the entire Grayson County Commissioners Court meeting that occurred on August 31 in state district court. Andrew wrote last week that Grayson County approved a November public jail bond election at that meeting, but Commisioners were hedging their bets on the bond proposal. On August 31, commissioners also approved several items that would have moved privatization of the County Jail forward, including a new public facilities corporation (PFC) that would have sidestepped voters by financing a private facility with revenue bonds, and the form of a contract with Southwest Correctional to build and operate the Grayson County Jail (for more on Public Facility Corporations, check out Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center? A Resource Packet for Community Members and Public Officials).

According to CLEAT, the County Commissioners Court violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by posting its August 31 agenda at least one minute short of the 72-hour advance notice required by law. If CLEAT won a declaratory judgment against Grayson, the County Commissioners Court would have to void all actions taken during the August 31 meeting. This would require the county to postpone any jail bond election until May of 2010.

County Judge Drue Bynum, who indicated to the Herald-Democrat on Wednesday that he was ready to confront the legal challenge from CLEAT, conceded Thursday that the Commissioners Court did, in fact, violate the Texas Open Meetings Act.

From the Herald Democrat:

As much as I hate to acknowledge it, we were late and we didn't meet the letter of the law. I think we certainly met the spirit," Bynum said in a telephone interview. "I am willing to void the entire 31 Aug. agenda. ... Obviously we won't need to ratify the entire bond election, because it's too late for that. Bynum said the Court will have to discuss Monday where to go from here on the jail issue.

We'll be following developments from Grayson County closely.

A special note-- Kathy Williams at the Sherman Herald Democrat deserves our high-praise for doing such a stellar job of reporting on the Grayson County Jail saga. Thanks, from all of us at Texas Prison Bid'ness!

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The GEO Group's 2009 Q2 Conference Call Outlines Plans for Profit

On August 3rd, The GEO Group held their second quarter conference call for investors. In this meeting, the company outlined the deals that have been enacted so far this year as well as plans for future profit. Their total Q2 revenue came to $276 million, which they stated would rise to $300 million by the end of next quarter. The company CEO, George Zoley, attributed this expected rise in revenue to the 5,900 additional beds created in 2008 which have been filling up. He additionally noted the significance of the 100 bed addition to the Florida's Broward Transition Center contracted with ICE, as well as the 192 bed expansion to Georgia's Robert Deyton Detention Facility which is contracted with the U.S. Marshals.

The most discussed change within the investors (if the question and answer portion of the call is any indication) was the U.S. average per diem cost increase for holding detainees, up to $53.97 from $53 during this time last year. The per diem rate is what a private prison company charges its clients per day for each detainee in their facilities. This rate is a key component of how a company accrues its income, and is different for each contract, as each state has their own rules, regulations, and costs of living (but the per diem rates are also largely negotiable and dependent on the hardball negotiations of those doing the "dealings"). The per diem rate is a lump sum includes services for inmates such as food, healthcare, utilities, etc. as well the costs of staff salaries and facility maintenance. If a per diem is too low and expenses too high, the company will begin to lose money. Additionally, if a per diem is too high, the company's services will seem less appealing to their clients who think they could do the same job for cheaper--the key is to find the lowest per diem rate that will both cover the necessary expenses for running a prison while giving a desirable profit for the company without gouging their clients. One reason that GEO board members attributed this rise in per diem rates to was the increase in the Department of Labor's mandated salary requirements. Because their prison employees are required to have higher wages, prison companies are asking for more money to cover the pay difference. The GEO representatives stated that staff turnovers in their facilties are low (meaning that there are less new guards who need training--an expense) except for in two unnamed Texas facilities where employment is low. Having low staff turnovers means they have less required expenses for training, and more room for profit. However, a critical investor was worried that the cost of living in a recessing economy might surpass the per diem rates (if not now, maybe in the future), but GEO's representatives skirted the comment without declaring their average per diem or total expenditures and simply reassured the caller that their low staff turnover and refined staff vacation policies are sufficient enough to keep their expenses below their per diem rates.

Zoley also went over their newest additions for the year as well as outlined upcoming projects that are scheduled for completion in the near future. In January, the company completed a 192 bed expansion at the Robert Deyton Detention Facility in Georgia, as mentioned before, and stated that it will add $4 million to their operating revenues. This year, the company has also assumed management of the 256 bed Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre in the United Kingdom, and stated that they plan to expand it by another 364 beds by the end of June 2010. Other noted important expansions are with Florida's Graceville Correctional Facility where another 384 beds will be added to the already existing 1,500 by the end of the year. Also, The Geo Group's 1030 bed immigrant detention facility, the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA is planned to see an additional 545 beds by the end of the year. Lastly, in Aurora, CO, the company plans to expand its 400 bed facility almost 200% by adding 1,100 beds to their Aurora ICE Processing Center by the year's end. Zoley cited that the Tacoma and Aurora facilities are expected to have "a material impact" on the company, and The GEO Group plans to put the majority of their remaining fiscal yearly budget of $84 million into these facilties over the next two quarters, as they are planned to be the largest money-makers for the company.

George Zoley discussed why these expansions were necessary and had the following to say:

"The main driver for the growth of new beds at the federal level continues to be the detention and incarceration of criminal aliens. The U.S. Marshals service and the [Bureau of Prisons] both house criminal aliens facing criminal charges or are serving time as a result of a conviction. The ICE population includes approximately an equal number of undocumented aliens and criminal aliens who have completed their Federal or state sentences and are awaiting deportation. More than 2/3rds of the 10,000 aliens housed at our federal facilites are criminal aliens with less than 1/3rd being non-criminal aliens."

With the $1.4 billion in federal funding for ICE's Secure Communities Initiative, The GEO Group is wasting no time to get their piece of the proverbial pie.

Since the conference call and the end of the company's second quarter, GEO's subsidiary company GEO Care has bought out Just Care, Inc. for $40 million. GEO Care is The GEO Group's project to house mentally-ill inmates as well as sex offenders in separate housing facilities to try and rehabilitate them in a more conducive atmosphere for their illnesses. The acquisition is expected to increase the yearly revenues by $30 million, meaning the company's projected 2009 total yearly revenue is expected to exceed $1.1 billion. With the Federal prisons operating at 137% total capacity, some serious legislative work for crime control and alternative sentencing is needed to decrease the prison population or else we can expect to see these staggering numbers rise in the near future.

See the latest economic developments for GEO Group's largest competitor, Corrections Corporation of America here.

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Southwestern Correctional has major problems in Burnet; Are Grayson Commissioners watching?

At the same time as Grayson County has opened privatization talks with prison company Southwestern Correctional, the company is being hammered after a recent escape ("Officer resigns from Burnet jail after inmate escape," Austin American-Statesman, September 4) at its new Burnet County jail. The Burnet Bulletin ("County jail cited for not meeting state standards," September 3) is reporting that the facility has been deemed non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards

Only four months after opening its doors to the public with tours, speeches and a ribbon cutting, the Burnet County Jail has been cited by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for a different kind of open house: Improper supervision of inmates after a prisoner escaped Sunday night and fled past nearby residential neighborhoods and to freedom.

The controversial privately run jail – a facility that many nearby residents unsuccessfully fought during its development – now is officially deemed noncompliant with Texas jail standards, confirmed Adan Munoz, a former sheriff who serves as executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  ...

The Burnet County Jail’s issues fall under the heading of “supervision of inmates,” a key section of the 600 standards regulated by the commission. Munoz said.  “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism,” Munoz said

Burnet County officials ignored broad opposition when negotiating their deal with Southwestern Correctional. Here's hoping Grayson officials will take some time to re-evaluate their decision to move ahead with a decision to contract with Southwestern Correctional.

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CCA Projects Success in 2009 Fourth Quarter Investor Call

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) hosted its 2009 fourth quarter investor call last month.  Bob posted earlier that CCA's stock received a favorable outlook despite bad press.  According to company officials, this year's fourth quarter was marked by significant developments that will impact capacity.  Some of those developments include changes at Hutto, but others are continued federal agency demand as a result of immigration policy and state fiscal issues.

According to CCA officials, approximately 12,000 beds are in inventory or under development.  As a result, no new plans for speculative prisons were announced in August.  Rather, the prison profiteers seem to be working their relationships with state and federal agencies in an effort to generate new contracts. 

We have covered recent changes at the notorious T. Don Hutto prison, including the fact that the prison will now serve to detain women who are undergoing immigration proceedings.  Recently, Williamson County (where Hutto prison is located) cancelled the existing contract with CCA as they finalize negotiations with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house women in the prison. 

Despite changes at Hutto, CCA believes that continued demand from various federal agencies including ICE and the US Marshals Service (USMS) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will continue to provide the company with more than enough business including:

  • BOP currently operating at 137% of rated capacity.  BOP projects that between FY 2008 and FY 2011 its population will grow by 19,000 prisoners, with just over 12,000 new beds planned for development by 2012.  The President's FY 2010 budget requests $53.4 million to pay for 1,000 new contract beds.  According to CCA, BOP Director Harley Lappin supports contracting with private prisons to deal with overcrowding issues.
  • USMS received an 11.1% budget increase to cover additional costs associated with the it's growing detention system.
  • ICE's budget increased by 9% over FY 2009 levels, resulting in funding for 34,700 detention beds or an additional 1,300 beds.

CCA officials cited the policies of "287g Program" and "Secure Communities Initiative" as factors contributing to the need for additional detention bed space. 

Other contributing factors to CCA's bottom line include state budget conditions. According to CCA, state budget shortfalls will limit new public prison construction.  However, the company continues to cite projections in state prison populations as one of the most salient reasons for increased private prison demand. The company anticipates that a decline in public prison construction coupled with a projected increase of more than 90,000 prisoners over the next few years will lead to new state contracts.  Specifically, company officials determined that current state demand numbers about 10,000 new beds through 2012

A great deal of the CCA call was spin.  As a company trying to generate the best profits, CCA will continue to work their investors in an effort to improve revenue.  However, the call continues to emphasize significant problems relating to the issue of over-incarceration - the fact that this nation has 25% of the worlds prison population and uses incarceration as a social policy option.  Private prison companies have contributed to a growth in prison capacity at the federal, state and local level.  As such even when different approaches to crime control are under taken private prison profiteers have an incentive to fill available prison beds. 

 

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Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center? Grassroots Leadership Releases Updated Guide for Community Members and Public Officials

On Tuesday, Grassroots Leadership released the 2009 edition of Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center? A Resource Packet for Community Members and Public Officials.

The report is intended to serve as a resource for public officials, community members, journalists, and policy-makers in Texas who are faced with building, financing, or operating a private prison, jail, or detention center.

The release of the updated guide coincides with a heated debate over jail privatization in Grayson County, which Andrew and I have been writing about (see the links at bottom of this post for more background). We sent a press release to the Herald Democrat, and we hope public officials in Grayson will read the report before moving forward with a proposed private jail.

Grassroots Leadership first published Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center in 2005. Bob, Andrew and I worked together to compile the latest edition. From our press release (PDF):

Grassroots Leadership’s updated Resource Packet analyzes the economic impact of private prisons on Texas communities, offers alternatives to prison expansion, and compares the safety and conditions at private and government run prisons.

 

The guide includes a review of recent research on the economic impact of prison expansion by attorney and independent criminal justice policy analyst, Michele Deitch. Deitch states that, “The research concludes, quite stunningly, that prisons have no measurable positive impact on economic growth, and may even slow growth in some communities.”

Compared to public facilities, for-profit private prisons and jails have significantly higher rates of staff turnover, higher rates of escape, and higher rates of assault. For-profit prison companies train new hires inadequately and drive experienced jailers out of work by paying them wages as low as fast-food restaurants and grocery store chains. The report says that private prisons are associated with inadequate protection of prisoners’ human rights, degrading prison conditions, and poor employment standards.

We will occasionally refer back to Considering a Private Jail? in future posts, and we'll also be posting sections of the report. We hope you'll take a look!

Previous Posts on Grayson's Proposed Private Jail:

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