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May 2010

ICE investigating CCA for sexual assaults against women detained at T. Don Hutto

Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement yesterday that it is investigating Corrections Corporation of America for repeated incidents of sexual assault against female detainees at the company's T. Don Hutto detention center.  According to the AP story ("ICE investigating alleged sex assault of detainees," May 28) by Suzanne Gamboa,

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is investigating allegations that a guard at a central Texas detention facility sexually assaulted female detainees on their way to being deported.

Agency spokesman Brian Hale said Friday the guard has been fired and Corrections Corporation of America, which manages the prison, is on probation pending the investigation's outcome.

Several women who were held at T. Don Hutto detention facility in Taylor, Texas, were groped while being patted down and at least one was propositioned for sex, ICE said.

"We understand that this employee was able to commit these alleged crimes because ICE-mandated transport policies and procedures were not followed," David Sanders, the Homeland Security Department's contracting officer said in a letter to Corrections Corporation of America obtained by The Associated Press.

ICE has ordered Corrections Corporation of America to make changes, including not allowing male guards to be alone with female detainees.

There are many questions still to be answered about this deeply troubling incident.  As readers of the blog will remember, Hutto was the site of another sexual misconduct case in 2007.  We will be following up on this story with much more over the next few days.

Texas lock-ups part of GEO Group strip search class action settlement

Several current and former Texas GEO faciltiies are subject to a class action lawsuit settlement challenging the company's strip search policy of low-level inmates.  I first saw the story as part of a Philadelphia Inquirer story ("Settlement reached over Delco Prison strip-searches," May 20),

A company that formerly operated the Delaware County Prison has settled a federal class-action lawsuit involving strip-searches of incoming inmates charged with minor crimes.

The $2.9 million settlement awards up to $400 each to about 10,000 inmates at six GEO Group facilities.

Prisoners at the Delaware County facility, now operated by Community Education Centers of West Caldwell, N.J., who were strip-searched between Jan. 30, 2006, and Jan. 30, 2008, may be eligible for settlement awards.  The lawsuit named five other GEO Group prisons, in Texas, New Mexico, and Illinois.

... Those eligible to apply for settlement include prisoners who were not accused of drug, weapons, or violent crimes; those involving probation or parole violations; and those who did not behave in a manner that would give guards cause to conduct strip searches.

According to Class Action Lawsuits in the News ("The GEO Group Jail, Correctional Facility & Detention Center Strip Search Class Action Lawsuit Settlement," May 24), those eligible for the settlement payment include folks who were strip-searched for minor infractions at the Frio County Detention Center in Pearsall, the Dickens County Detention Center (now operated by CEC) in Dickens, and the Newton County Correctional Center in Newton between January 30, 2006 to January 30, 2008.  According to the site:

The GEO Group Jail Strip Search class action settlement, if finally approved by the Court, reportedly would entitle each settlement class member who submits a timely (by September 14, 2010) and valid claim form to a payment of up to $400.00 as their share of a $2.999 million Settlement Fund (after payment of administrative costs, an incentive award to the representative plaintiffs, and attorneys’ fees).

In addition, the GEO Group has agreed to revise its allegedly unlawful strip search policy going forward, and has agreed to an injunction to ensure that detainees being admitted to the Jails are only strip searched where there is reasonable suspicion to justify the search.

Settlement information is at www.multistatestripsearchsettlement.com.

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Death at GEO's Central Texas Detention Facility

A federal inmate has died at GEO Group's Central Texas Detention Facility in San Antonio, according to a report last week from KENS 5 ("Heroin overdose suspected cause of inmates death,' May 21)

Guards found the 25-year-old dead in his cell early Wednesday morning. His family wants to know what went wrong. Federal authorities arrested Albert Martin Gomez Jr. On January 20. He was accused of making and passing fake $100 bills. He and a co-defendant were charged in a counterfeit-money ring.

Gomez was released, but was back at a federal holding facility in March, awaiting sentencing. Around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday guards found Gomez unresponsive. Sources say Gomez died from an apparent drug overdose, but nobody is talking.

Meanwhile, toxicology reports are pending. Bexar County records show Gomez was also arrested in 2005 on an assault charge.

The autopsy was completed, but details aren't being released. The Central Texas Detention Facility where Gomez was being held is operated by the GEO Group, Inc.  A spokesperson had no comment on the death, only to say it is under investigation.

While all deaths in custody deserve serious investigation, the obvious question in this case is how the drugs, assuming they were the cause of Mr. Gomez's death, were introduced into the facility.  We'll keep you posted on developments from this story.

Employee lawsuit at MTC detention center in Raymondville

The Brownsville Herald ("10 guards suing Management & Training Corp," May 21) reported last week that guards are suing the Management and Training Corporation for wrongful termination.  According to the Herald story,

Ten former security guards at Willacy County Regional Detention Facility have filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Management & Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah, and two company officials claiming they were fired for refusing to make false statements.

Peter Zavaletta, the attorney for 10 of the 11 guards who were fired, said his clients lost their jobs for refusing to sign statements saying other guards were gambling while on duty.

"None of my clients were gambling and when they refused to sign statements accusing each other of gambling, they were terminated," he said.

Zavaletta said he doesn’t know who the 11th guard is or who his attorney is, but was told by MTC there is an 11th guard who was fired. None of the guards had ever been disciplined and several had been promoted to supervisory positions at the privately owned and operated prison, the lawsuit states.

The Willacy County Regional Detention Facility is one of two large MTC prisons in Raymondville.  The other, the Willacy County Processing Center, labeled by the press "Tent City" after being built of a series of Kevlar pods, is the nation's largest and one of its most notorious immigrant detention centers. "Tent City" has come been protested many times by immigrant, faith, and human rights organizations. 

We'll keep you posted on developments from this lawsuit. 

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Calling Home is Big Business in Texas Prisons

We have previously covered the private telephone contracts that have been installed throughout Texas’ state prison system.  According to Securus Technologies, Inc.  the phone installation was the  largest of its kind and represented the most lucrative phone contract ever signed in the prison telecommunications sector.  Additionally the contract involves:

  • Seven (7) year term with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
  • Installation of nearly 5,500 phones to make outgoing phone calls;
  • 120,000 Texas prisoners were considered eligible for the privilege.  That is 70% of the current prison population which numbered over 172,000 late last year.  Presumably the prisoners not eligible for the privilege are excluded because of inmate classification policies; and
  • According to the company the telephone installation took about a year and required an investment of $30 million.

However, with a market of 120,000 prisoners the potential to earn a return on the investment is more than likely.  In fact, Mike Ward of the Austin American-Statesman ("Inmates get e-mail? Lawmakers want details," May 7th) reported earlier this month that telephone profits generated approximately $2.1 million in revenue from September 2009 thru May 2010; compared with $200,000 during the previous year – prior to the completion of the installation.

Ward also addressed a little known policy that allows Texas prisoners to receive e-mails.  Legislators reported to be exploring the policy and the details of the contract.  According to the Statesman, 111,000 e-mails were sent to state prisons.

At the federal level, the Bureau of Prisoners has permitted prisoners to receive emails for a while.  And other state prison systems like Colorado and Ohio have similar policies.  In theory allowing prisoners to receive email would make it easier for correctional officials to deliver and monitor prisoner communication.

Since installing the telephone and email system, TDCJ has established rules and procedures that govern the privileges.  Those rules include:

Phones are available from 7:00 AM – 10:00 PM, unless conditions dictate a change;

  • Calls are limited to 15 minutes;
  • To receive calls, the telephone number owner must be listed on the prisoner’s Visitors List. Additionally, the name on the Visitors List must match the name on registrant’s driver’s license or state identification card. Additionally, this information must also be reflected on their telephone listing or bill; and
  • Families and friends can enroll in the program online here

We have been alerted that some folks are having issues with the program including difficulties getting their phone numbers approved and other issues. We will be exploring these reported issues and making information available as we learn of it.

While issues may be surfacing with the current telephone contracts it is surely better than what was previously in place – which was no telephone contact at all.  However, the costs to prisoner’s families have been a widely discussed topic for years in states that have had telephone policies in place.

So in Texas we will continue to monitor these policies and their impact on prisoners and their families.  Stay tuned!

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CCA releases their 2010 first quarter federal lobbying expenditures

Corrections Corporation federal lobbying figures were recently released for the first quarter of 2010, and CCA was reported to have spent a quarter of a million dollars this quarter alone. According to Forbes (Associated Press, "Corrections Corp. spent $250,000 on 1Q lobbying," May 13, 2010):

The company reported lobbying officials on provisions in a Homeland Security funding bill dealing with immigration detentions. It also lobbied on Justice Department funding related to private prisons.

Corrections Corp. also lobbied on a bill by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, to require private prison operators to comply with open-records laws.  And it lobbied on a bill by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, to let states request the jamming of wireless signals in prisons. Federal law lets federal agencies jam phone signals, but doesn't extend that power to state or local agencies. Hutchison's bill passed the Senate last year but is stalled in the House...

...Corrections Corp. lobbied Congress, the Homeland Security Department and the Bureau of Prisons.

Source: OpenSecrets.orgAt this current rate of $250,000 in a quarter, CCA would continue their trend of spending around $1 million each year on Federal-level lobbying efforts. As this graphic from Open Secrets illustrates, CCA had a significant drop in lobbying expenditures around the time of the economic recession's start, and if the other three 2010 quarters play out like the first one, we can expect to see a similar number for this year. 

Another consistent factor withing the lobbying sphere is H.R. 1889. CCA has been lobbying against the Private Prison Information Act since 2007. This act, if passed, would subject private prisons to the same laws as public prisons with regards to the retrieval of federal information. This resolution is the same one mentioned in the Associated Press article, written just a few days ago.

I was interested to see if CCA's trend of the steady funding of Federal lobbying was also true on the Texas State level. What I found was a smaller effort to lobby Texas officials (the maximum value of contracts column refers to the total maximum payments given to the lobbyists via their contracts, and the lobbyist contracts column refers to the number of registered lobbyists in the State of Texas).

CompanyMax. Value of
Contracts in 2005
Lobbyist
Contracts
in 2005
Max. Value of
Contracts in 2007
Lobbyist
Contracts
in 2007
Max. Value of
Contracts in 2009
Lobbyist
Contracts
in 2009
CCA$180,0005$235,0006$49,0002

CCA went from six registered lobbyists in 2007 to two in 2009. However, as of the end of Q1 this year, CCA has three registered lobbyists -- whether this means we can expect 2010 to have higher lobby expenditures than the previous two years is purely speculative. I will keep an eye on it. What we can see, however, is that the focus of CCA is by and large on the Federal level contracts over the Texas State contracts. This makes sense, given the growing trend of immigrant detention and rising number of illegal immigrant detainees. Their biggest competitor, The GEO Group, has spoken directly about their intentions to move the majority of their focus into this realm, and it is likely CCA will do the same. 

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The GEO Group's 2010 Q1 Conference Call Focuses on Cornell Merger

The GEO Group Logo
The GEO Group Logo
The GEO Group's 2010 Q1 call was fairly uneventful, filled with more of the common prepared remarks to reassure shareholders. The big news was obviously their planned merger with Cornell Companies which they hope will "prove beneficial to both parties," as they said about five times. GEO also said that once the merger is completed they will go under some re-branding to think of a new way to market their company. During the question and answer session, one of the investors asked about their customers and whether or not they disapproved of the deal. GEO stated that no customers disapproved of the deal when GEO called them.

To get into the details, their Q1 revenue was $288 million, up from $259 million this time last year. With regards to their stock buyback program, 2.7 million shares were bought up at $54 million of the available $80 million. 

Wayne Calabrese did the business overview section, and he had some notable quotes about speculative building in Michigan and Colorado (which was also covered in the 2009 Q4 call):

"In Michigan, our 530-bed Northlake facility is being expanded by 1,225 beds. As you may know, we previously submitted this expanded facility in response to the Bureau of Prisons' CAR-9 procurement. In March, the Bureau decided to cancel CAR-9 due to a funding shortfall, but we believe the agency continues to have a strong need for additional criminal alien beds. We are continuing our efforts to market the facility to state and federal agencies and we are hopeful that the Northlake facility will be activated later in the year or some time next year.

In Colorado, our 432-bed Aurora Immigration Detention Facility is being expanded by more than 1,000 beds. We believe our federal clients, primarily ICE and the U.S. Marshals, will continue to require beds as they consolidate existing populations into larger facilities such as our expanded Aurora facility. However, we currently do not have a contract for the use of the expanded beds."

The state markets (other than California, Arizona, and Florida) continue to have the lowest need for private prisons, and GEO has specifically stated they are mostly going after Federal contracts, and mostly after the detention of undocumnented immigrants and "criminal aliens". Calabrese also had this quick statement about their Bridgeport facility:

"In Texas, our managed-only 520-bed Bridgeport facility is currently being re-bid with a contract decision expected by the third quarter."

Another notable instance was when CFO Brian Evans stated,

"The Newton County facility, which was about an 850-bed facility, The Jefferson facility, also in Texas, and then the Fort Worth Community Center. Between those three facilities, I'll say it was about 1,700 beds that we exited from that were lower per-diem, lower margin contracts..."

The investors took interest in this statement because they wondered why GEO would just leave a facility and make no money rather than a little money. Their reasoning was that their new speculatively-expanded facilities in Michigan and Colorado would make up for the lost beds in Texas because they claimed Federal contracts were usually more long-term than State contracts. This was also discussed in the 2009 Q2 conference call to more detail.

For the most part the call was uneventful and focused on business dealings with the merger which is under litigation. Fell free to review our coverage of the past few GEO conference calls for a richer business history of the company.

 

Problems continue to plague the Coastal Bend Detention Center

LCS Corrections
LCS Corrections
About two months ago, the LCS Corrections-owned facility, Coastal Bend Detention Center (CBDC) had just finished its "at-risk" status probationary period due to a failed inspection and an inmate walking out of the facility. Despite their new warden and good behavior during the "at-risk" status period, it appears that the problems are not over for this struggling facility. Earlier this month, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) ruled that the facility does not meet state-defined standards, skipping the "at-risk" status altogether after the facility failed to report the deaths of two inmates, while the warden and deputy warden still lack jailers' licenses (along with 72% of the guards). The Caller-Times reports:

Discussions with the deputy warden and the chief of security of the facility revealed that neither official knew of the requirement to notify the state agency of the deaths in custody, Muñoz said.

Jail commission assistant Director Shannon Herklotz told prison officials their lack of reporting was a noncompliance issue.

LCS’ vice president of operations Dick Harbison said the warden and assistant warden were recent hires from out of state who did not know they were required to report the deaths.

Herklotz discovered neither of the top two prison managers had proper state licenses, also a violation of state standards.

“Both the lack of the jailer licenses by the warden and deputy warden, the lack of properly or entirely filling out the inmate screening form and failing to report the April 18, 2010, death in custody within 24 hours as required will immediately result in a notice of noncompliance with minimum jail standards for the Coastal Bend Detention Center,” Muñoz said.

Harbison said after 10 years in the Texas private prison business, he had never been told that his wardens needed jailers' licenses. (Jaime Powell, "Robstown private prison fails state standards again," Caller-Times, 3 May 2010)

With CBDC's rocky history of not faring well with the TCJS, I wanted to find out what this finding meant for the facility and what could happen in the future if CBDC continued to fail their inspections. The TCJS Assistant Director Shannon Herklotz told me that "officials at the Coastal Bend Detention Center have submitted a plan of action and are working towards achieving compliance." However, given that CBDC has a rocky history and continues to promise positive change for the future, I take these promises from CBDC with extreme skepticism. 

He also told me that:

The Coastal Bend Detention Center, along with any other facility found to be in non-compliance, will be give a reasonable amount of time to correct their deficiencies.  If they fail to initiate corrective action, then the Commission has other options that we can pursue.

The Commission meets once a quarter to determine if the actions taken by facilities such as CBDC were sufficient enough to make up for the failed aspects of their inspection. If the responsible party fails to initiate corrective action (in this case, if CBDC fails to get their warden and deputy warden licenses) to the notice of non-compliance, the Commission may issue a remedial order. This order mandates that all or any of the inmates confined in a jail be transferred to and maintained in a compliant facility at the cost of the non-complying entity (the county or the company). According to Herklotz, there is no policy of TCJS stating a limit to the number of times a facility can fail before getting shut down.

CBDC will remain under the eye of scrutiny as the facility systemically fails inspections. Whether or not it will come to a remedial order has yet to be seen. We will continue to bring you the latest news on CBDC to see if LCS Corrections lives up to their promised improvements.

CEC ditches contract in Johnson County for lack of profit

After signing a three year contract with Johnson County, CEC is using an escape clause to end their contract over the next six months because the company was losing money in its operation of the jail. The Johnson County Jail has a capacity of 776 beds with an average yearly inmate population of 450 to 500 people.  It was the empty beds that CEC expected to fill with a contract from Immigration and Customes Enforcement (Pete Kendall, "CEC bailing out," Cleburne Times-Review, 24 March 2010),

“The average population is 450 to 500,” [Warden] Duke said last year. “There are empty beds. That’s attractive to us. We take those empty beds and help the county get contracts with other entities such as Immigration Customs Enforcement. Corrections 2 [block] has 176 beds. We put ICE detainees in those beds. ICE pays Johnson County, and the county reimburses us.

“The county makes $5 off every detainee. The county makes money, and we make money.”

That wasn’t the way it worked out, [County Judge] Harmon said.

“Part of the problem came with the contract CEC had with immigration services,” Harmon said. “CEC thought it would be housing the detainees for a period of time. But [ICE] was calling on CEC to take on the expense of transporting detainees. CEC was being paid mileage to do that, but sometimes they didn’t have time to get the detainees back here and in the jail before [ICE] said, ‘Take the detainees to the border and release them.’ ”

So CEC had fewer bodies to fill the empty beds, and then the empty beds began multiplying.

“When CEC contracted with us, we were running about 600 inmates per day,” Harmon said. “Nobody knows why, but the numbers recently have been running around 400 per day. Incarceration numbers are down statewide and nationwide, from what I understand. You wouldn’t think it would be that way with high unemployment, but it is.” 

As Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast noted,

As of March 1, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Johnson County had just 338 inmates in the jail, so the supposed profitmaker has now become a money suck. By contrast, Cameron County entered into a similar scheme and encountered the opposite problem: Their jail has so many federal prisoners they now must send pretrial detainees three hours away to be housed by other counties at higher costs. So Texas counties have been burned by these deals coming and going. It's never as simple or cheap as it sounds up front when it's pitched. Never.

This scenario illustrates a number of risks which Texas counties should remain aware of. The first is that prison companies are not out to help counties.  Rather, profit is their primary motivation. When their profit is gone, so are they. Secondly, the promise that money will get produced in the future through either a soon-to-be contract with a federal agency is always a risky move for the county and any promises by prison companies should be compared with their history of not living up to these promises.

We will continue to monitor the situation in Johnson County to see if they choose another private company to take over or if the county will do the job.

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Contraband investigation at CEC's Liberty County jail

Liberty County has opened an ongoing investigation into contraband found in it's privately operated jail, according to a story in the Liberty Vindicator (Contraband found in Liberty Co Jail, May 7):

Liberty County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Steve Greene recently reported ongoing investigations regarding contraband found in the Liberty County Jail. 

The jail is managed by a contractor, Civigenics, a subsidiary of Community Education Centers, Inc.

Greene said “basically, we have been getting information that there was a lot of contraband in the jail, and some of it was being brought in by corrections officers. Thursday, (April 29) we searched the evening shift as they were coming in and we had a drug dog pass by their cars. For those cars that the dog alerted on, we asked for consent to search. We searched the vehicles. We have ongoing investigations regarding a couple of guards. Two or three were terminated.” 

Back on approximately April 8, one guard was arrested by US Marshals for taking contraband into the jail. He is being held at a detention facility in Beaumont, on charges equivalent to “prohibitive substances in a correctional facility."

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