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November 2010

Sentence rendered for Hutto guard convicted of groping detained women

In September, we covered a story regarding Donald Charles Dunn, a guard employed by CCA at their T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor, TX who allegedly groped inmates while transporting them. On the 9th of this month, Dunn pleaded guilty to three counts of official oppression and two counts of unlawful restraint, and was sentenced to a year in jail--the maximum sentence for a Class A Misdemeanor in Texas--and two years of probation following his release.

Dunn also agreed to relinquish his private security license and not seek to get it back during his jail term or probation period, Hobbs said.

As part of his job as resident supervisor, Dunn drove men, women and children who were out on bail from the detention center, which is overseen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, officials said...

...Dunn has not been charged with a crime related to the alleged Travis County incidents, said David Escamilla, the Travis County attorney. Escamilla said he has been waiting to see whether the U.S. attorney's office would charge Dunn with a federal crime related to the allegations.

Daryl Fields, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said an investigation is ongoing.

Steve Owen, a spokesman for Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the facility for the immigration agency, said Tuesday in a statement that the company, "has a longstanding zero-tolerance policy for any form of staff-resident sexual misconduct." Dunn was fired from the company as soon as allegations surfaced, officials said. (Miguel Liscano, "Man gets jail for groping detention center residents," Austin American-Statesman, 9 November 2010).

For more details, be sure to read a more lengthy detail of the allegations in our September story. For more information on T. Don Hutto, visit the facility's page on our map.

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Third escape from GEO's Reid Correctional Center


he GEO Group's Ben A. Reid Community Correctional Facility in Houston was home to the third escape in two years, according to a report on the Houston Free Press ("Anthony Ray Ferrell, The Good Samaritan Killer: Third Escapee From His Halfway House In 20 Months," November 16).

The man charged with killing a Good Samaritan during a purse-snatching is the third person to escape the same state-contracted halfway house in the last 20 months. Anthony Ray Ferrell had fled a "halfway house in the 10900 block of Beaumont Highway" in October, according to the Houston Chronicle. The home in that block is the Ben A. Reid Community Correctional Facility, from which sex offender Bruce McCain escaped in October 2010 and Richard Williamson Griffin Jr. escaped in February 2009. (McCain was arrested in the Rio Grande Valley three weeks after his escape).

The home was operated by private prison group Cornell Companies, which was bought by its main competitor, the Florida-based GEO Group, last April.  The facility "provides temporary housing, monitoring and transitional services for 500 minimum-security adult male offenders," according to Cornell Companies literature. Its "security measures include 24-hour custodial supervision, 12-foot perimiter fence, outdoor lighting, close circuit cameras, secure entrances and frequent census checks."

Cornell Companies/GEO also operate Houston's Leidel Comprehensive Sanctions Center. In 2005, before GEO bought Cornell, a Leidel resident who got a day-pass for church and never bothered to return; he fled to Fort Worth, where he killed three men.

Ferrell is accused of murdering Sam Irick at a Meyerland convenience store last week. Irick tried to intervene as Ferrell allegedly was robbing a customer.

It's entirely unclear to me why a recently arrested capital murder suspect was being held at a privately operated "half-way house" in Harris County.  We'll keep you posted on any details as they emerge.

Dawson State Jail's contract renewed for next seven years

Earlier this year, we wondered what would come of the Dawson State Jail's contract in light of the plans for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's plans for budget cuts. As Grits for Breakfast noted earlier in March, 

Dawson State Jail's contract with Corrections Corporation of America is up for renewal next January [2011]. This ill-placed facility is located in downtown Dallas on the banks of the Trinity River in prime real estate the city hopes to redevelop. So the fact that Dawson's contract ends on January 15, 2011 is a significant date for the city of Dallas: If the state renews the contract, the proposed riverfront redevelopment could be put on hold indefinitely. It's possible, then, we may see members of the Dallas delegation and related development interests pushing for non-renewal, though certainly CCA will have its own lobbyists on the other side.

Unfortunately, it appears Scott's prediction will not come to fruition. Despite Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's dedication to budget cuts, and the Dallas citizens' outcry to move the prison off the valued real estate, TDCJ renewed their contract for the Dawson State Jail, operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

the Dawson State  Jail ain't going anywhere: The Texas [Department] of Criminal Justice awarded CCA a new contract for operations of the Dawson State Jail at its meeting last month, TDCJ Director of Public Information Michelle Lyons tells Unfair Park. (Minutes from that meeting are supposed to be available; they are not.) She says the contract will run for the next seven years. (Robert Wilonsky, "The City Would Love to Get Its Hands On the Dawson State Jail. It'll Have to Keep Waiting," Dallas Observer, 16 November 2010.)

The facility is contracted out by the state for a price of $23,177,553 per year, which over seven years comes to a grand total of $162,242,871. The city/state might be surprised at what could get accomplished over seven years if they spent $162 million on environmental restoration. Nevertheless, unless something changes between now and January 15, 2011, Texas will keep the Dawson State Jail around for longer.

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MTC guard accused of smuggling drugs into Willacy detention center

An employee of the Management and Training Corporation has been been indicted on federal charges that he planned to smuggle cocaine into the company's Willacy County Regional Detention Center in Raymondville (Michael Barajas, "Guard charged with smuggling 4 pounds of cocaine into detention center," Valley Morning Star, November 15)

A Willacy County Regional Detention Center guard went before a federal judge in Brownsville Monday on charges that he planned to smuggle more than 4 pounds of cocaine into the facility he guarded, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Monday.
A federal indictment shows that Christopher George Gonzalez, 29 of Harlingen, was arrested Nov. 10 following an undercover sting in Harlingen.
Prior to his arrest, Gonzalez had been under investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force and U.S. Marshals, the U.S. Attorney's Office stated.
Records state that Gonzalez met an undercover Houston police officer at the Harlingen Lowes parking lot who had offered to pay Gonzalez $2,000 to smuggle drugs into the detention center. Gonzalez took the money and two wrapped bundles of what appeared to be cocaine and then left the parking lot, court records state.
According to his indictment, Gonzalez had agreed to smuggle two ounces of cocaine at a time into the detention center.
Gonzalez was later stopped by a DPS trooper, arrested and taken into federal custody, records show. He was released after his hearing Monday on a $50,000 bond, the U.S. Attorney's Office stated.
The Willacy County Regional Detention Center in Raymondville is a privately-run facility contracted by the U.S. Marshals Services to Management & Training Corporation, a contractor that manages private prisons throughout the country. The facility houses inmates with pending federal charges.

MTC operates two facilities in Raymondville.  The Regional Detention Center is contracted by the U.S. Marshals Service and is 540 beds.  That facility is dwarfed both in size and notoriety by the Willacy County Processing Center, MTC's Immigration and Customs Enforcement-contracted facility that has been dubbed "tent city" in the media because of 2,000 of its 3,000 beds are located in a series of Kevlar pods.

Austin event: Texas prison system at a crossroads - Where do we go from here?

I'm looking forward to this event tomorrow at the University of Texas' School of Social Work, which will address both privatization and the broader questions about the future of the Texas prison system:  

WHAT: The Texas prison system is at a crossroads: Where do we go from here? Please join us for a TEACH-IN with experts on the issue.
WHEN: Friday, November 19th at 12:00 pm

WHERE: UT School of Social Work, Utopia Theatre

WHY: UT MSSW students are working on a research project in collaboration with Grassroots Leadership to recommend a private for-profit Texas prison facility for closure. The teach-in will offer an interactive opportunity to hear about and discuss current issues within the prison system, including conditions of confinement with Erica Surprenant of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition; exoneration of the wrongfully accused with Scott Henson, Grits for Breakfast blogger; and MSW student, formerly incarcerated person, and prison reform activist Jorge Antonio Renaud, addressing the lack of moral support, training, or practice in Texas prisons. Last but not least, hear why now is a unique time to get involved!

OPTIONAL: Stay for a post-teach-in film screening beginning at approximately 1:30. Peace Productions has re-released WAR ON THE FAMILY: Mothers in Prison and the Children They Leave Behind. The documentary reveals in painstaking detail the destructive impact of incarcerating poor women of color for non-violent drug offenses. Along with the reflections of various advocates, the voices of these women paint a devastating picture of the far-reaching effects imprisonment has not only on the incarcerated women, but also on their children left behind.
The UT School of Social Work is located at 1925 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin, Texas 78712. Off-campus garage parking is available at the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Trinity St. The Utopia Theatre is located just inside the main entrance to the left.

Citing private prison connections, human rights coalition opposes U.S. Marshals nominee

A coalition of human rights and criminal justice reform groups, including my organization Grassroots Leadership, issued a press release announcing its opposition to the nomination of Stacia Hylton to the head post at the U.S. Marshals.  According to the press release,

Hylton, a former Marshal and Acting Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshals Service with a lengthy career in law enforcement, was employed from June 2004 to February 2010 as the Federal Detention Trustee, where she oversaw the detention of federal prisoners awaiting trial or immigration proceedings. Following her retirement she was nominated by President Obama on September 20, 2010 to direct the U.S. Marshals Service.
During Hylton’s tenure as Federal Detention Trustee, GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest for-profit private prison company, was awarded a number of lucrative contracts to house federal prisoners. These included a sole-source ten-year contract at GEO’s Western Region Detention Facility in San Diego, generating approximately $34 million in annual revenue; a 20-year contract to operate the 1,500-bed Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo, Texas with an estimated $34 million in annual revenue; and a 20-year sole-source contract to manage the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility in Lovejoy, Georgia, generating $16-20 million in annual revenue.
As reported by the Washington Times in an October 25 article, after retiring as Federal Detention Trustee earlier this year, Hylton quickly accepted a consulting job with GEO Group through her Virginia-based company, Hylton Kirk & Associates LLC, of which she is the president and sole owner. In her financial disclosure statement, Hylton reported income of $112,500 for “consulting services for detention matters, federal relations, and acquisitions and mergers.” GEO Group is the only company listed in her disclosure statement in connection with such consulting services.

Organizations included in the coalition opposing Hylton's nomination include Private Corrections Working Group, Detention Watch Network, The Alliance for Justice, Human Rights Defense Center, Private Corrections Working Group, Grassroots Leadership, National Lawyers Guild, International CURE, Detention Watch Network and Justice Policy Institute.

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Shooting at GEO's Big Spring FBOP facility

Details are still murky following the shooting of a prisoner at the GEO Group's Big Spring unit in West Texas.  According to a story on CBS 7 News (Greg Sherman, Geo Group Prison Officials Investigating "Incident" at One of their Big Spring Facilities, November 9),

Officials at the Geo Group are investigating a shooting that took place at one of their Big Spring prison facilities.

Geo Group would not comment on what happened, nor would the Bureau of Prisons in Washington D.C., but Big Spring Fire Deputy Chief David Armstrong say an inmate was accidentally shot in the arm around 1130 Tuesday morning at the Flightline Facility, which is just south of the airport.

The inmate suffered a gunshot wound to the arm, but Armstrong say the injuries were minor and came from a 12 gauge weapon.  What provoked the shooting or better details on what happened are unknown at this time.

Geo Group, formally known as Cornell Corrections, runs several prison facilities in Big Spring, including Flightline, and houses mostly drug and immigration prisoners.

The Big Spring Correctional Facility is a massive 3,500 bed facility housing federal immigrant prisoners.  Two years ago, the facility was rocked by a major disturbance that required local law enforcement to quell.  However, very little information was made available to the public at the time about what caused the disturbance.

Update: According to NewsWest 9 ("Big Spring Inmate Shot in Accidental Shooting," November 10), the shooting injury was accidental, but GEO remaines mum on details.

According to medics, a Hispanic man was accidentally shot by a gun in the upper arm. The wound was not serious, but he was taken to Scenic Mountain Medical Center for a follow up. He was alert and conscious while being transported.

We still don't know how the prisoner was shot. Details are limited at this time, but we've learned the shooting is under investigation.  NewsWest 9 has contacted the Geo Group, which currently runs the prison, and they have not commented on the incident.

Update II: And this from CBS 7 News ("GEO Group Controversy," November 10) is just outrageous,

GEO Group also owns the Reeve's County Detention Center where prisoners rioted in 2009. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons expects details to be released regarding Tuesday's incident but because the prison is privately owned. GEO Group said they can not release information due to company policy.

GEO expands in other states, mental health market but loses two TDCJ contracts

The GEO Group held its 3rd quarter earnings call this morning.  You can read the company's press release here. On the call, GEO CEO George Zoley, Chief Operating Officer Wayne Calabrese, and Chief Financial Officer Brian Evans lead investors through quarterly earnings and analyzed GEO's three major business areas: US Corrections, GEO Care, and International Services.  The company's overall revenues for the quarter were nearly $328 million, up from $294 million a year ago. $217 million of that earnings came from U.S. Corrections, $60 million from GEO Care, and $47 million coming from International Operations.

U.S. Corrections

Zoley was generally optimistic about the quarter, announcing an increased outlook for 4th quarter and the full integration of Cornell facilities after GEO's buy-out of that company earlier this year.  Major developments/expansions for the company included the announced award of a 2,800 Federal Bureau of Prisons contract to the D. Ray James facility in Georgia, and a Florida contract to develop the 2,000 bed Blackwater prison in Florida.  Zoley also announced that the company is "actively pursuing a number of new organic opportunities." Investors congratulated the company on yesterday's news that California will move 2,580 prisoners to GEO facilities to its Baldwin, Michigan facility that was previously shuttered after reports of abuse against youth prisoners.

GEO's Texas' Operations

In Texas news, the company announced the loss of TDCJ contracts for the Bridgeport Correctional Center (which we reported in June) as well as the previously unreported loss of South Texas Intermediate Transfer Facility, apparently to MTC. This marks at least the sixth GEO facility to either be closed or re-contracted to another company in Texas in recent years.

The company anticipates the opening of its Montgomery County GEO Care facility in March 2011 pursuant to an agreement by state and Montgomery County.  Last year, we reported that the earmark for the facility raised many eyebrows.  As Emily Ramshaw, then at the Dallas Morning News and now with the Texas Tribune, reported ("Troubled prison firm's deal for new psychiatric hospital raises questions," July 11, 2009):

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.

"Why would we want to use an entity that hasn't had a stellar reputation?" asked Monica Thyssen, children's mental health policy specialist with Advocacy Inc. "If the process had been more transparent, there probably would have been other state officials who would've said, 'I don't know if GEO is the best use of state dollars."

GEO officials, who run more than 50 facilities in the United States, including five mental health facilities in Florida, declined to comment, saying in an e-mail that they don't discuss "specific business development efforts and/or contracts."

We'll keep you posted on GEO developments from Montgomery County and elsewhere here in Texas. 

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Texas Jail Project holds benefit on Saturday


Texas Jail Project, one of the feistiest criminal justice organizations in Texas, will be holding a benefit on Saturday from 7-10pm at the 3209 Hemlock Avenue, Austin, TX.  Here are the details:

Diane Wilson, an award-winning author and activist, will speak about the history of the Texas Jail Project, her experiences in the Harris and Victoria County Jails, as well as her experience of being arrested in Washington D.C. after disrupting two Senate hearings on the Gulf oil disaster. Diane will also preview her new book, Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth, to be published in the spring of 2011. 

Texas Jail Project is dedicated to improving the conditions for the approximately 70,000 people incarcerated in our county jails on any given day. TJP has been instrumental in passing legislation banning shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth as well as providing resources and information to those currently and previously incarcerated in Texas’ 245 county jails.  Suggested donation: $10.  Legislative Team member: $20.

Stop by and hear about the fight over jail conditions in Texas and support an organization that will be needed in the coming legislative session more than ever.

Texas State Senator speaks out prison industry's involvement in SB 1070

Following yesterday's story about the prison industry's involvement with the

Eliot Shapleigh
Eliot Shapleigh
creation of SB 1070, Texas State Senator Eliot Shapleigh spoke some strong words against the bill and its creation, claiming that he would resist passing a similar bill in Texas. The Rio Grande Guardian (Steve Taylor, "Shapleigh: Private prison industry involvement in SB 1070 'despicable,'" October 29) reports:

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh says stopping a bill similar to Arizona’s SB 1070 from being passed by the Texas Legislature will mean not only battling against racists but also the private prison industry.

“That the private prison industry writes a bill in secret to profit from an immigrant’s day in jail is despicable. America is better than that." 

We encourage you to read the NPR article in its entirety, as it outlines the extent to which private prison corporations were involved with the drafting of the SB 1070 bill which would make the failure to carry immigration papers a misdemeanor and would also broaden the powers of Arizona police to detain those who are suspected of staying in the country illegally. This bill is important for private prison corporations because immigrant detention is the main crux of their business, and with an increase in immigrant detention comes an increase in profits. 

In this same report by the Rio Grande Guardian, the U.S. Attorney General is quoted, challenging the constitutionality of the bill:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder believes SB 1070 is unconstitutional, arguing that Arizona is trying to trump the federal government’s authority on immigration law. Holder instructed the Department of Justice to sue the State of Arizona and has won the backing of the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke.

Arizona Senator Russell Pearce disagrees with the NPR article, and calls it a "lie:"

An NPR story about the origins of Senate Bill 1070 drew an angry response Thursday from its author, who said the radio account exaggerated the role prison lobbyists had in drafting it.

State Sen. Russell Pearce, who first introduced a bill in 2003 to require law enforcement to question individuals about their immigration status, denied a report by NPR reporter Laura Sullivan that "Pearce's idea took shape" last year at a conference of conservative lawmakers and corporate interests.

"It's a lie," said Pearce... (Alia Beard and Casey Newton, "Sen. Russell Pearce: SB 1070 story 'a lie,'" AZ Central, 29 October 2010.)

If you are interested, we have recently investigated the extent to which prison corporations are donating to Texas campaigns politics. You can also see 2009 lobbying figures here. The NPR report on prison companies' involvement with Arizona legislation is extremely disturbing, but it has been an ongoing problem. We are glad that the story has caught the headlines in such a manner so that other Texas legislators, not just Shapleigh, can see the prison industry for what it truly is.