You are here

February 2011

Two troubled former GEO jails continue to sit empty

Two  former GEO Group-operated jails - the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield and the Dickens County Correctional Center - continue to sit empty more than 2 years after being closed in the wake of suicides by Idaho prisoners.  A story last week by KCBD ("Taxpayers held prisoner by their own prisons," February 3).

About an hour from Lubbock, the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield hasn't had a single inmate in the last two years.  "This was not built to house local inmates; it was built to house inmates from other parts of the state or other parts of U.S. It was built to bring economic development to the city of Littlefield," said Danny Davis, Littlefield city manager.

For a while it did bring money into Littlefield, until the State of Idaho decided to remove its inmates from the center when the economy tanked back in 2009. "Everybody was cutting back it seemed, and it was very difficult to find other inmates from out of state to come in and fill the facility," said Davis.

Nearly 100 people lost their job in the area, and with $9 million left to pay for the now empty building, residents are stuck paying the price through increased taxes and fees."Jokingly I've told people when I took this job I weighed a lot more and had a lot more hair, so that's how I guess you can say how the frustration level is. It has been a frustrating situation for the whole community," said Davis.

What the story doesn't mention is that Idaho pulled its prisoners after the suicide of Randall McCullough, who, according to news reports, had spent more than a year in solitary confinement.  GEO was later hit with a massive lawsuit over in the McCullough case. Since the facility's closure, Littlefield has had its bond ratings dropped and turned to two different private prison companies in an effort to fill the prison beds. 

The fate isn't much better for the Dickens County.  That facility was initially closed in 2007 after an investigation of the suicide of Idaho prisoner Scot Noble Payne found "squalid" conditions.  CEC (then CiviGenics) took over the jail, but dropped the contract last year.  In its coverage, the KCBD makes a argument against speculative prison building:

About two hours away Dickens County faces a similar fate. Their contractor CEC didn't renew their contract with the Dickens County Correctional Center. ... So far Dickens County hasn't had to increase taxes to foot the prison's one million dollar bill each year, but that option might soon surface

So how can Lubbock County fill its newly built facility while these two and others around the U.S. are failing? It comes down to why these facilities were built in the first place. Littlefield and Dickens County didn't have an inmate population for the large prisons they built; instead they were built to make a profit for the towns by contracting out the prison cells to other parts of the state and U.S.

We couldn't agree more.  We'll keep you posted on developments from Littlefield and Dickens.