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December 2009

2009 Top Private Prison Stories, #1 Family detention ends at T. Don Hutto

Another year has passed here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, and what an exciting year it has been. As we have done in the past, the bloggers here at TPB would like to recap our favorite or perhaps the most memorable stories/topics over the past year.  Over the next few days, we'll be posting 2009's top five stories related to private prisons.

The end of family detention at Hutto was TPB's biggest story of 2009. 

 #1 Family detention ends at CCA's T. Don Hutto detention center

By the beginning of 2009, perhaps no private prison in the country had become as controversial as Corrections Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas.  The former medium-security prison was converted into a family detention center in 2006, and had been the site of dozens of vigils, a major lawsuit, two critical documentary films, intense media scrutiny, and a national movement to end family detention. 

So, when the government decided to stop sending immigrant families to Hutto, it was big news. The New York Times lead with this line on August 6th:

[T]he government will stop sending families to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a former state prison near Austin, Tex., that drew an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit and scathing news coverage for putting young children behind razor wire. ...

The decision to stop sending families there - and to set aside plans for three new family detention centers - is the Obama administration's clearest departure from its predecessor's immigration enforcement policies."

Although the facility continues to hold immigrant women, the August  announcement was a huge victory for the movement to end family detention.  The efforts to close Hutto have morphed into a broader movement against private immigrant detention centers, including vigils and protests at the Willacy County Processing Center, the Houston Processing Center, and other facilities around the state. Here's to a 2010 with more victories like the one at Hutto!

2009 Top Private Prison Stories, #2 - Protests of conditions at GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center

Another year has passed here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, and what an exciting year it has been. As we have done in the past, the bloggers here at TPB would like to recap our favorite or perhaps the most memorable stories/topics over the past year.  Over the next few days, we'll be posting 2009's top five stories related to private prisons.

This is the second biggest story of 2009. 

#2 Protests and riots at the GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center

2009 started out with second riot at GEO's Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas by prisoners angered at multiple deaths and a lack of medical care at the facility.  By year's end, nine immigrant prisoners had died in the facility in the last four years. The riots could cost the county, which owns the facility over $1 million in repair costs.  In the wake of the riots, the ACLU of Texas requested a Department of Justice review of the facility, and attorney Juan Angel Guerra was denied access to clients in Pecos.

Several major investigative pieces covered the issue, including Forrest Wilder's Texas Observer piece ("The Pecos Insurrection," October 2) which chronicled last year's December 12th riot after the death of prisoner Jesus Manuel Galindo, and Tom Barry's Boston Review story ("A Death in Texas," November/December 2009) puts Galindo's death and the subsequent disturbances in the context of how Pecos got into the prison-building business in the first place.  Barry later spoke to Terry Gross about Reeves and private detention on NPR's Fresh Air.

Conditions at the Reeves County Detention Center continued to make headlines into December, thanks to protests organized by the Southwest Workers Union, the ACLU of Texas, Grassroots Leadership, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Protesters gathered at the GEO Group's regional headquarters in New Braunfels on December 10th with coffins to represent the nine prisoner deaths at the facility in the last four years.  Texas Prison Bid'ness blogger and Grassroots Leadership organizer Bob Libal joined Maria Reynaga, the sister of a prisoner at RCDC, and ACLU of Texas director Terri Burke to deliver a letter to GEO executives calling on the company to to submit to a Department of Justice investigation into immigrant prisoner deaths and the conditions of confinement at RCDC, implement a transparent grievance system, and allow civil rights groups to monitor conditions at the facility.   

Family members and protesters also gathered in Pecos on December 12th, the anniversary of the death of the Jesus Manuel Galindo.  Galindo's death sparked the first of the two major riots at the prison in protest to a lack of medical care and abusive conditions. At the same time, the ACLU of Texas met with prisoners at RCDC, who described atrocious conditions at the facility, according to an op-ed by the ACLU's Tracey Hayes ("ACLU Texas advocate reveals inside look at inhumane conditions and profiteering at GEO managed detention center," Restore Fairness),

Prison officials keep medical costs down by making it almost impossible for inmates to get adequate medical care. They keep food costs down by serving low quality food in insufficient amounts.  They keep administrative costs down by restricting access to grievance processes with English-only requirements and by punishing English speakers who assist mono-lingual Spanish speakers in filling out the forms.  Bi-lingual speakers who try to help others must eventually choose between being thrown into solitary confinement or ending their translation assistance.

Furthermore, GEO’s cost-cutting has led to a long and steady rise in the company’s profits while atrocities continue unabated.  For example, detainees spoke of medical staff prescribing “two Tylenol” to detainees who complain of stomach ulcers, blood in the urine or stool, and metastasizing lumps spreading over aging bodies.  And inmates with previously diagnosed chronic and serious conditions were also prescribed “two Tylenol.” When they press their cases to obtain the medicines they need, detainees are often thrown into solitary where they are unable to ask for further medical attention or submit grievances.

It certainly doesn't sound like things have improved much at RCDC.  The facility's contract with the Bureau of Prisons is up in March, 2010, so we're likely to see more stories about RCDC in the new year. 

2009 Top Private Prison Stories, #3 Private prison proposals defeated in Texas communities

Another year has passed here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, and what an exciting year it has been. As we have done in the past, the bloggers here at TPB would like to recap our favorite or perhaps the most memorable stories/topics over the past year.  Over the next few days, we'll be posting 2009's top five stories related to private prisons.

While the private prison industry continues to grow, several Texas communities said no to private prison sitings in Texas this year. This is the third biggest TPB story of 2009. 

 #3 Private prison proposals defeated in Texas communities

1. Emerald pushes Mineral Wells detention center three times in 2009... 

In Mineral Wells, private prison corporation Emerald Corrections first approached the city about building a speculative immigrant detention center in early 2009.  The company met tough opposition by local businesses and community members, who argued that the economic expense was too great for any benefits the community might receive.  The proposal was withdrawn, but not for long.  Emerald's second proposal for a private detention center was rejected when a motion to continue negotiations with the company died for lack of a second after city leaders balked at being asked to finance the prison through revenue bonds.  The company was not to be deterred however, and is moving into 2010 with yet a third private detention center proposal under negotiations. Emerald also had two similar speculative prison proposals defeated in Caldwell County last year.

2) CLEAT and community opposition defeat Southwestern jail in Grayson County...

In September, we reported that Grayson County's jail bond election had been canceled, and efforts to build a new Southwestern Correctional jail may have been squelched.  The move was a major victory for the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) and other opponents of jail privatization.  CLEAT had indicated that it would file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Grayson County Commissioners Court meeting that occurred on August 31.  In that meeting, Grayson County had approved a November public jail bond election at that meeting, but Commisioners were hedging their bets on the bond proposal. They also approved several items that would have moved privatization of the 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 Southwestern Correctional to build and operate the Grayson County Jail.  While Grayson is still debating its jail's future, privatization does not seem the most likely option today. 

3) Feds Reject Proposed MTC Prison in Nacogdoches

Opponents of a controversial MTC-proposed federal prison in Nacogdoches celebrated in May after the Federal Bureau of Prisons pulled the plug on the proposed facility.  While public offials were generally in favor of the proposed 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. .

Stay tuned for the second biggest TPB story of 2009...

2009 Year in Review - Top Private Prison Stories, #4 Small Companies, Big Scandals

Over the next few days, we'll be posting 2009's top six stories related to private prisons.  This is the fourth biggest story of the year. 

#4 - Small Companies, Big Scandals

Some of the smaller private prison corporations had the biggest controversies in 2009.  From debates over CEC's payments to the McLennan County Sheriff to LCS's flagship failure and big problems at Southwestern Correctional, it's been a tough year for the small private prison companies. 

1. LCS Corrections' "Flagship" Facility FailuresThe Coastal Bend Detention Center, LCS Corrections' so-called "flagship facility" had an assortment of problems in 2009. In January, LCS had to lay off 35 employees, who they re-hired in March.  In September, the facility failed a Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection, leading the normally diplomatic commission chief Adan Muñoz to say of the facility, "I have to bring any remedial order before the [jail] commission, but this borders really close to complete incompetence."   In November, Coastal Bend accidentally released an inmate, a mistake that wasn't noticed for three weeks.  The facility remains on "At Risk" status, meaning the TCJS has full authority to conduct unannounced inspections.

2. Southwestern Correctional Problems in Burnet County.  Southwestern Correctional's Burnet County jail rivaled LCS's Coastal Bend facility as the most rebuked private jail for 2009.  In November, the company drew a fairly sharp rebuke from Texas Commission on Jail Standards head Adan Muñoz for not providing medical care to a pregnant inmate or providing medication to inmates with mental health problems.  In September, the Burnet facility was deemed non-compliant by TCJS after an escape lead to an inspection.  At that point, Muñoz said “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism."  The facility drew broad opposition in Burnet County even before it was built with residents siting the pitfalls of jail privatization and the potential dangers in floating debt for private jail expansion.

3. Community Education Centers, the private prison corporation formerly known as CiviGenics, had another dramatic year.  For years CEC has been paying McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch (and his precedessors) a "stipend" for the nominal oversight of additional prisoners in the company's downtown facility.  According to state law, Sheriffs must authorize a private detention company's presence in the county under its jurisdiction. In 2008, Waco Sheriff Larry Lynch continued to receive the kickback despite a contentious debate over whether to build a new CEC facility in McLennan County.  Former State Representative Kevin Bailey, then Chair of the Committee on Urban Affairs, requested an opinion of the Attorney General, and a bill was filed in 2009 (though ultimately wasn't successful) to outlaw the practice.  Debate flared once again this September, when Tommy Witherspoon at the Waco Tribune reported that long-standing payment practice of the Sheriff by CEC would not expand despite a new CEC lock-up opening in McLennan. Witherspoon's investigative reporting also uncovered that 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.

CEC also had problems in Kinney County, where a bribery lead to an escape and the facility's closure. On October 23rd, an inmate escaped from Community Education Centers' (CEC) Kinney County Detention Center in Brackettville, TX. Shortly after the escape, the warden of the facility, Mickey Hubert, resigned from his position on November 2nd. CEC closed down the facility temporarily with no word on if or when they plan to re-open, leaving all employees without work. The U.S. Marshals moved the remaining inmates who were left behind to other nearby facilities.

Stay tuned for the top three private prison stories of the year...

2009 Year in Review - Top Private Prison Stories, #5 The 81st Legislative Session ends without increased oversight

Another year has passed here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, and what an exciting year it has been. As we have done in the past, the bloggers here at TPB would like to recap our favorite or perhaps the most memorable stories/topics over the past year.  Over the next few days, we'll be posting 2009's top five stories related to private prisons. 

We would like to thank the loyal and casual readers who gather their information from our website. We have great plans for 2010, including a new interactive Texas map that has information on each private prison facility and we are looking into the plausibility of branching out in to video podcasting. We would like to wish all our readers a happy new year in 2010, and good fortune in the days to come.

-- Judy, Bob, Nick, Nicole, and Andrew

#5 - The 81st Legislative Session ends without increased oversight of private lock-ups

Despite several bills filed that would have provided some much-needed oversight to the private jail and detention systems in Texas, the 81st legislative session ended without much in the way of increased accountability of the private prison industry.  We chronicled the role that private prison lobbyists most likely played in killing a number of these bills.  Here's the run-down.  

HB 1714: This bill filed by Rep. Harold Dutton would have prohibited counties from contracting with private prisons.  The bill did not get a hearing this session and died in committee.  

HB 3903: Filed by Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr, the bill subjected private jails to the same open records laws as public facilities, mandated public hearings before privatization of county jails, and made it illegal for a public servant such as a Sheriffs to be paid by a private prison corporations in addition to their regular salaries.  The bill was voted out of the County Affairs committee only to be killed on the House floor by Rep. Tracy King, whose district includes several private jails and detention centers, Rep. Jim McReynods, chair of the House Corrections Committee, and Rep. Jerry Madden former chair of the House corrections committee.

SB 1680: This bill filed by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa would have required voters to approve bonds used in the financing of constructed correctional facilities.  This bill did not receive a hearing and died in committee.

SB 1690:  Also filed by Sen. Hinojosa, this bill which died in committee as well. The bill would have exteneded oversight to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to monitor county jails that only house federal prisoners, a reversal of 2003's HB 3517, a bill that stripped the Commission from such authority.

We'll be back with Top Private Prison Story #4 soon.

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LCS's Coastal Bend Detention Center Moved to "At-Risk" Status

The Coastal Bend Detention Center, LCS Corrections' so-called "flagship facility," will be under extreme scrutiny over the next 90 days following a failed inspection and the unauthorized release of an inmate because of mistaken identity, which went unknown for three weeks. LCS hired Alberto Bravo as a new warden shortly before the failed inspection in hopes of changing the facility for the better and improving their standards. Bravo's work temporarily paid off as they passed their second round of inspections. However, shortly after passing the second inspection, they mistakenly released an inmate and did not realize what had happened for three weeks prior to the "escape."

Because of this, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has defined the facility as being "at-risk," meaning over the next 90 days the TCJS will have full authority to conduct unannounced inspections at any day or time. If no citations are filed from the inspections over this time, then the facility will be taken off the list. If there are citations or failures found, then more actions will be taken, depending on the offenses. Warden Bravo in investigating the release, and has narrowed his focus to specific employees. He told the Caller-Times, “We are trying to narrow it down to where it happened,” Bravo said. “It was human error. The procedures we had in place, they failed to follow the procedures" ("Robstown prison faces unannounced inspections after inadvertant inmate release," The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 18 December, 2009).

We will remain aware about the status of this facility and relay any information we find through these unannounced inspections.

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Coastal Bend Detention Center Inmate "Escapes", Unknown for 3 Weeks

The LCS Corrections-operated Coastal Bend Detention Center in Robstown, TX has been in the public eye recently. After initially failing their first jail standards inspection, the facility, equipped with a brand new Warden, passed their second inspection with the commendation of Adan Muñozthe Texas Commission on Jail Standards director. However, the CBDC is not out of the woods yet.

Jamie Powell at the Corpus Christi Caller Times first reported on the problem of an inmate who "escaped" from the facility ("Robstown prison discovers three weeks later that prisoner is missing," The Caller Times, December 11, 2009). The inmate escaped on November 19th, unknown to the facility until December 10th. To make matters worse, the inmate didn't dig a hole and crawl to freedom like in the movies, rather, the facility willingly released him because they confused his identity. The facility failed to return Ms. Powell's telephone calls, as well as my own personal attempts via telephone and email.

The escape of this prisoner is interesting because one of the reasons that CBDC failed their initial inspection was because they failed to perform the required face to face check-ins with each inmate. Additionally, the facility also failed to correctly classify the inmates. These two reasons combined are a recipe for incidents like this where an inmate walked out the door because of poor organization and classification, and why it took so long for the facility to realize what had happened.

Where once Muñoz was impressed with the facility's turnaround after failing the inspection, he now appears disappointed withthe facility:

It doesn’t appear that Estrada Martinez escaped on purpose, said Adan Muñoz, the jail commission’s executive director, after reviewing LCS’s preliminary escape report. He was released.

“What transpired between the wrongly released inmate and the releasing officer is something that LCS will have to investigate,” Muñoz said. “There is no overt action shown by the mistakenly released inmate to indicate he made any statements to the releasing officer that he was attempting to disguise who he was while being released.

“And why the receiving transport service did not verify the inmate’s identity is also something that needs to be ascertained and investigated,” Muñoz said.

LCS contacted the jail commission within 24 hours of the discovery, which is required by law. The company must submit a written report detailing why and how the escape happened, Muñoz said.

The release counts as an escape and could pose problems for the prison, Muñoz said. ("Robstown prison discovers three weeks later that prisoner is missing," The Caller Times, December 11, 2009)

Questions still remain: why would a facility, shortly after passing an inspection with Texas jail standards, let this seriously negligent event happen? Are the guards falling back into their old routines prior to their inspection? What is happening within LCS Corrections to prevent this sort of release/breakout from happening again?

LCS Corrections calls the Coastal Bend Detention Center their "flagship" facility. If CBDC is their flagship, and inmates are walking out without disguising their identity or breaking through a wall, I am surprised the rest of their "fleet" is even able to stay afloat.

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NPR's "Fresh Air" interviews Tom Barry on the growing private immigrant prison system

I received a flurry of text messages yesterday afternoon telling me to tune in to National Public Radio's Fresh Air ("Questions On Public-Private Prisons For Immigrants," December 10) interview with Tom Barry yesterday on the growing immigrant incarceration system.  Barry's most recent article in the Boston Review and  covered ongoing problems at GEO's Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, the subject of human rights protests this week. The interview is well worth a listen, and touches on many of the issues we cover here at Texas Prison Bid'ness. 

 

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Protests of Reeves County Detention Center and GEO offices planned

Protests are being planned next week for International Human Rights Day condemning human rights abuses against immigrants incarcerated at GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas.  The protests are being organized Grassroots Leadership, the ACLU of Texas, the Southwest Workers Union, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The organizations have launched a new website to chronicle the ongoing troubles at Reeves.

At least nine prisoner deaths in the last four years have been reported at Reeves and the facility was home to two major prisoner uprisings last year.  Prisoners held at Reeves are segregated based on their immigration status.  Many, including several who have died, have served 5 or 10 year sentences for immigration violations.

Two actions are being planned. 

1) International Human Rights Day at GEO in New Braunfels
Thursday, December 10, 12pm-1pm
GEO Offices, 1583 Common Street, New Braunfels, TX
Austin carpool and RSVP: blibal@grassrootsleadership.org

2) March and Vigil at the Reeves County Detention Center
Saturday, December 12, 11a.m.
Reeves County Courthouse,
100 E. 4th Street, Pecos, TX

Reeves was the subject of two major investigative pieces in recent months.  Forrest Wilder's Texas Observer piece ("The Pecos Insurrection," October 2) chronicled last year's December 12th riot after the death of prisoner Jesus Manuel Galindo.  Tom Barry's Boston Review story ("A Death in Texas," November/December 2009) puts Galindo's death and the subsequent disturbances in the context of how Pecos got into the prison-building business in the first place. 

We'll post pictures and know developments from the protests. 

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Emerald targets Mineral Wells for "ICE detention center" for third time

Emerald Corrections has come back to the city of Mineral Wells for a third time in an attempt to construct a 500-1000 bed speculative detention center.  This time, on a divided vote, the city council approved negotiations with the prison company.  According to the Mineral Wells Index ("Emerald receptive to negotiations," December 3),

The project to bring an immigration detention facility to Mineral Wells began moving ahead again Wednesday after the city council gave the go ahead Tuesday night.

Less than two months after the same agenda item failed for lack of support, the city council approved a resolution Tuesday night authorizing the Mineral Wells Local Government Corporation to continue negotiations with Emerald Correctional Management to build a detention facility in Mineral Wells.

Steve Butcher of the Industrial Foundation told the Index Wednesday afternoon the project seems to be moving ahead again.

As we've reported, Emerald has been rebuffed in Mineral Wells twice.  Locals were concerned about the placement of the first proposed facility near a business district, and then balked at Emerald asking the city to finance a prison the second time.  At that time, not two months ago, Emerald had this to say:

“That’s a pretty clear message that the city council has no interest in doing this project,” Steve Afeman, chief operating officer of Emerald, said Wednesday morning. “We’re not about to go back.”

I guess that sentiment didn't last long.  Contacts in Mineral Wells tell me that this fight is far from over.  Well keep you posted on the private prison debate in Mineral Wells. 

See our previous coverage:

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