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September 2011

Bill Clayton Detention Center sale falls through

I've been covering this story over at the Grassroots Leadership blog. Last month, Williams & Williams Worldwide Real Estate Auction thought they had sold the Bill Clayton Detention Center - formerly operated by the GEO Group - for $6 million to an anonymous online buyer.  You can watch the auction, where prisoners are referred to as “product,” here.

Now, the City of Littlefield has announced that the buyer has backed out the deal.  According to a story yesterday at KCDB.com (“Littlefield Detention Center bid falls through,” September 16, 2011):

“The private buyer made the offer via telephone during the July auction.  Thirty days after the bid, the contract on the property was supposed to close.  However, the City received word that the deal had fallen through.

‘It didn’t happen and the reason it didn’t happen was because the person who put in the highest bid basically backed out on their bid and kind of put us in a tailspin,’ City Manager Danny Davis said.

After years of mismanagement and broken contracts, the $11 million dollar detention center sat vacant. The city was left to foot the bill, still owing more than $9 million on the property.  The city was certain the bid of $6 million would help close the gap on their debt.  The news of the bidder’s change of heart is frustrating for Davis.”

As we've written about in the past, Littlefield has been paying back loans it floated to build the prison facility before its closure in 2008. That year, the state of Idaho pulled its prisoners from the facility, then operated by GEO Group, 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.  One has to wonder why, given this history, a different owner would be more successful in turning this "turn-key detention center" into a financial success. 

We'll keep covering this story as more details emerge.

Welcome to new Texas Prison Bid'ness bloggers Krystal Gomez and Frank Knaack

We would like to welcome our two newest Texas Prison Bid'ness bloggers Krystal Gomez and Frank Knaack.  Both Krystal and Frank work at the ACLU of Texas and bring with them substantial knowledge in the areas of prison and detention privatization, immigrant rights, and constitional questions.   

Krystal Gomez is the Advocacy and Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Texas and staffs the Lower Rio Grande Valley office.  Krystal leads the organization's Immigrant R

ights campaign focusing on issues such as Customs and Border Patrol Abuse, conditions of confinement for non-citizens in custody, and the increasing criminalization of immigrants.  Krystal earned her J.D. from St. Mary's University School of Law where she received the 2010 Francisco Leos Award for Clinical Excellence for her work in the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic. Learn more about Krystal here.

Frank Knaack is the Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy for the ACLU of Texas.  In that role, Frank manages t

he organization’s statewide grassroots advocacy and coordinates the ACLU of Texas’ four strategic campaigns: Criminal Law Reform, Immigrants’ Rights, Youth Rights, and Religious Freedom.  During the 82nd Legislative Session, Frank led the ACLU of Texas’ efforts at the Texas Capitol to seal the school-to-prison pipeline. Frank received his MA in International Human Rights Law from The American University in Cairo BA from the University of Vermont.  Read more about Frank here.

Former Hutto supervisor pleads guilty to federal charges of molesting detained women

A former Corrections Corporation

of America supervisor at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor has pled guilty to federal charges of sexually molesting detained women as they were being transported to the Austin airport.  According to the Statesman blog post (Claire Osborn, "Former worker at detention center pleads guilty to molesting women," September 7, 2011) on the story,

"A former residential supervisor at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor pleaded guilty this week to molesting women he was transporting them from the center to the airport or bus terminal.

Donald Dunn pleaded guilty to two federal deprivation of rights charges, according to a press release from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Dunn admitted to touching illegal female immigrants “in a sexual manner” between December 2009 and May 2010, the release said. He said that he would stop the vehicle along the way, order them to get out and convince them he was conducting a legitimate search, it said.

Dunn has not been sentenced but faces up to one year in federal prison and a fine of up to $100,000 for each charge, the release said."

Dunn has already served a year in state prison for the crimes.  See our previous coverage of sexual abuse at Hutto:

Is the private prison boom going bust?

Mitch Mitchell raises the issue of the Texas speculative prison boon goin

g bust in an excellent story in Saturday's Fort Worth Star Telegram ("Texas prison boom going bust," September 3).  The story starts by covering the state's closure of GEO Group's North Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility as part of broad cuts to the prison system by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. 

"The Texas Department of Criminal Justice earlier this year announced $40 million in expense cuts. Those reductions included not renewing the contract for the North Texas ISF, department spokesman Jason Clark wrote in an e-mail.

"We have enough vacant beds available to cover our operational needs and maintain current ISF operational levels into 2012," he wrote.

The city of Fort Worth, which owns the 424-bed prison building, plans to seek a new tenant or tenants once the lease with the GEO Group, the firm that managed the prison, expires at the end of September, said city spokesman Bill Begley. The facility has been vacant since Feb. 28, when TDCJ's contract with the GEO Group expired, said Bobby Lumpkin, who works with the state's private prison contractor division.

GEO officials declined to comment."

The story then highlights four other counties that are in trouble because they floated debt to build speculative private prison facilities. At least two of them have had private operators bail on them when the going went bad. In Littlefield, problems at the Bill Clayton Detention Facility caused the state of Idaho to remove its prisoners.  Then the operator, GEO Group, ended its contract for the facility, leaving the city holding bag.  According to Mitchell's article:

"The West Texas city of Littlefield auctioned off its 373-bed minimum security prison, the Bill Clayton Detention Center, on July 28 because of a lack of inmates. The winning $6 million bid is a little more than half the $11.5 million the city paid in 2000 to build the prison, said City Manager Danny Davis. The money will go toward the bond debt, but the city of a little more than 6,000 residents will have to pay $290,000 a year until it pays off the $3.5 million balance, Davis said.

"It will sure beat the $780,000 we're paying every year right now," Davis said."

In Jones County, CEC's facility appears to be in trouble as well:

"The more than 1,100-bed detention facility in Jones County, built by Community Education Centers at a cost of about $35 million, has never had inmates, said Dennis Brown, the county auditor. The facility, near Abilene, was supposed to open last September along with a new 96-bed jail, but the state never placed inmates there, county officials have said. Jones County officials are seeking immigration detainees and prison inmate transfers from California and Texas to keep the center afloat, according to published reports.

The county faces the prospect of defaulting on bonds, issued by the county's Texas Midwest Public Facility Corp., that financed the project. The bonds were to be paid from revenue from housing inmates, however, and taxpayers are not on the hook. Ratings on bonds for both facilities have been dropped to CC -- highly vulnerable."

Read the full article - including updates on the struggling LaSalle Southwest Corrections facilities including the Burnet County Jail and the Johnson County facility formerly operated by CEC - here.

Mother Jones explores Perry's Connection to the Private Prison Industry

Texans should not be surprised by this recent article in Mother Jones (Tim Murphy, "Flush With Prison Industry Dollars, Rick Perry Pushed Privatized Prisoner Care," September 1) that explores the governor's relationship to the private prison industry. The article delves into recent developments that happened during the last Texas legislative session, specifically moves by Governor Perry to privatize the prison health care system.

"Perry's rush to privatize prison health care is consistent with the approach he's taken throughout most of his ten years as governor: slashing public services under the guise of austerity, and then contracting those services out to the well-connected businesses that have made his rise possible. As he put it during his re-election campaign in 2010, as the private prisons industry filled his war chest with donations, "Texas is open for business." To his critics, those words have never rang truer."

According to Mother Jones several prison privatization bills failed to move forward and policy changes that would have empowered the governor's office with new authority.  One effort would have transferred the authority for the state’s prison health care board to Perry by giving him the power to appoint the majority of the committee members.

The article also touches upon the limits in authority for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  According to our pal at Grits for Breakfast, before 2003 TCJS had statutory oversight over five private prisons that housed only federal or immigration detainees through intergovernmental agreements with counties. The Mother Jones article quotes Texas criminal justice advocate who states:

"One of the things that the commission has always wanted is to have control over the private prisons," says Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which monitors prison reform in the Lone Star State. "Obviously [the Governor’s office] didn’t like that so this session they tried to dilute the power of the commission by merging it with two other entities."

The article provides quite a read.  Here's hoping that Perry's presidential aspirations will continue to bring the relationship between the governor's office and private prison companies to light.