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May 2011

Grits for Breakfast: Lege to Reinvest Money from Prison Closure into more Private Prison Beds

Following up on the state's continuing contract with the Dawson State Jail more details regarding the decisions of lawmakers to close state prisons is coming to light.  Mike Ward at the Austin American Statesman reported earlier this week that:

Senate and House budget negotiators have agreed to close the 102-year-old Central Unit near Sugar Land to save $50 million, the first such closure of an entire maximum-security lockup in state history.

Our pal Scot Henson at Grits for Breakfast found news in the recent events to be disapointing:

Savings from prison closures should go to diversion programming, not private prisons. The goal should be to reduce incarceration levels, not to plan for failure.

Did CCA's medical negligence contribute to Pamela Weatherby's death at the Dawson State Jail?

That's the question that Patrick Michels at the Dallas Observer asks in his hard-hitting blog post yesterday ("Family of Diabetic Inmate Who Died at Dawson State Jail Sues Private Prison Operator," May 18).  Michels reports that a lawsuit (attached) filed by Weatherby's family against CCA claims that despite her status as a "unstable insulin dependent diabetic," Weatherby was denied regular insulin shots (receiving instead oral diabetes medication) and a proper diet to control her illness while incarcerated at the Dawson State Jail.  According to the article:
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NY Times: Private Prisons Offer Little in Cost Savings

NY Times
NY Times
In a front-page article in today's New York Times ("Private Prisons Found to Offer Little in Savings," May 19th), reporter Richard Oppel lays out a fairly  devastating case against the claims by the private prison industry that it offers states significant cost-savings.  According to the article,

"The conviction that private prisons save money helped drive more than 30 states to turn to them for housing inmates. But Arizona shows that popular wisdom might be wrong: Data there suggest that privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates.  ...

Despite a state law stipulating that private prisons must create “cost savings,” the state’s own data indicate that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1,600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state-run prisons.

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Update on Hutto Guard Convicted Charges Related to Sexual Oppression

We have covered previously that Donald Dunn, a former CCA guard at the T. Don Hutto Facility, was convicted of charges related to sexual oppression of immigrant detainees.  Last September, Dunn 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.

Last week Federal charges were filed against Dunn who is still serving his state sentence in a Williamson County facility.  According to recent reports:

A former T. Don Hutto Correction Center employee is accused of fondling female undocumented immigrants in his custody.  Former residential supervisor Donald Dunn of Austin has been charged with federal deprivation of rights.  He allegedly touched the victims in a sexual manner for self gratification while conducting illegal searchers from December 2009 to May 2010.  He faces prison time if convicted.

We will keep y'all updated as this plays out in federal court.

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Detention Watch Network releases date on private prison influence on immigration detention


Source: Detention Watch Network
Source: Detention Watch Network
he Detention Watch Network has released some terrific data and graphs on the private prison industry's role in the United States' immigrant detention system.  (Full disclosure: I'm on the Steering Committee of DWN, and Grassroots Leadership helped compile this research).  Amongst the interesting findings, 49% of all immigrant detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations. That is higher percentage of privatized beds than nearly any other state or federal agency.

Texas has more private immigrant detention beds - more than 10,000 - than any other state.  Furthermore, some of the largest immigrant detention centers in the country are in Texas, including MTC's Willacy County Processing Center and GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center. The report includes a complete breakdown of every major private detention center by average daily population.

Furthermore, the report tracks the federal lobbying and influence exerted by the private prison industry to ensure its  interests are met.  According to the report:

Around the web: Stories TPB readers will want to read

Here are some stories from around the criminal justice web that may be interesting to Texas Prison Bid'ness readers:

ACLU intervenes in suit for documents related to GEO's Reeves County detention center

The ACLU of Texas intervened in a suit to attain access documents related to the GEO Group's troubled Reeves County Detention Center in west Texas.  According to the ACLU's press release Monday,

"The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas has intervened in litigation concerning Reeves County’s refusal to disclose documents related to medical care, staffing, and the deaths of several prisoners at the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC), a privately-managed prison owned by the county.

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Positive alternatives to privatization and jail overcrowding in Harris County

Last week, we wrote about Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack's proposal to study privatization of Harris County's massive jail system.  Harris County already has more than 1,000 prisoners in private jails in Louisiana and east Texas. (According to statistics provided by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the county currently ships 1027 prisoners out-of-county, including 575 males 27 females to CEC's Newton County Correctional Center, 33 females to a jail Epps, Louisiana and 392 males to a jail in LaSalle, Louisiana).

Harris County officials have repeatedly sited overcrowding to justify these transfers and proposals for further privatization.  However, a terrific op-ed in the Houston Chronicle (Marcia Johnson, Janis Bane, and Nicole DeBorde, "Let’s reduce jail crowding," April 30) on Saturday debunks some of these arguments and shows how the county could safely reduce its jailed population:

GEO will hold 2011 Q1 earnings call on Wednesday

GEO Protestor at Val Verde
GEO Protestor at Val Verde
Readers of Texas Prison Bid'ness are well aware of the some of the major problems that private prison contractor GEO Group has had in Texas.  Still, the company has continued to expand by winning contracts, buying competitors, and expanding into new markets. The company holds quarterly conference calls to discuss its earnings and outlook.  The next GEO call will be this Wednesday, May 4, at 2pm EST/1pm in most of Texas.  According to the company's press release:

The GEO Group, Inc. (NYSE:GEO) ("GEO") will release its first quarter 2011 financial results on Wednesday, May 4, 2011 before the market opens. GEO has scheduled a conference call and simultaneous webcast for 2:00 PM (Eastern Time) on Wednesday, May 4, 2011.

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