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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. 

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.

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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 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.

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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.  ...

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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.

 

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