October 2011

CEC guard pleads guilty to smuggling drugs into Liberty County facility

A Community and Education Centers guard has plead guilty to smuggling drugs into the Liberty County Jail, according to a story in the Cleveland Advocate ("Liberty County jailer guilty of smuggling drugs," October 18th). 

"James Allen Roach pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield on Tuesday, Oct. 18, to attempting to provide a federal inmate with a prohibited object.

According to information presented in court, on Feb. 24, 2011, Roach, a correctional officer for the Liberty County Community Education Center (CEC), was arrested for arranging to deliver marijuana and tobacco into the Liberty County CEC to a federal inmate in exchange for money. Roach was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 2, 2011 and charged with federal violations."

This is not the first time that CEC's Liberty County Jail has had problems.  Earlier this year, the facility failed its Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection for multiple violations.  The Warden at the facility was not licensed as a jailer at the time.  See our previous coverage of the Liberty County Jail here:

ACLU of Texas Defends Against Sexual Abuse of Immigrant Women; Just Tip of the Iceberg, Says Attorney

(Orginally posted on the ACLU of Texas Liberty Blog)

Today, the ACLU of Texas filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of women immigrants seeking asylum from sexual abuse and violence who have suffered sexual assault at the hands of detention officers. Horrific as these women’s cases are, they are symptomatic of a much larger problem.

Last night (Oct. 18, 2011), PBS Frontline correspondent Maria Hinojosa took a penetrating look at the Obama administration’s vastly expanded immigration net, punitive approach to immigration enforcement, and the secretive world of immigration detention that is so rife with serious problems and abuses.  Among those problems is the sexual abuse of immigration detainees, which the ACLU has helped expose by acquiring government documents through the Freedom of Information Act that provide a first-ever window into the breadth of this national shame.  ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero was featured during the program, titled "Lost in Detention," discussing those FOIA documents and the Obama administration’s record on immigration more generally.

ACLU of Texas Senior Staff Attorney Mark Whitburn said, “Unfortunately, we believe these complaints are just the tip of the iceberg. Government records reveal that since 2007, 185 complaints have been made to the Department of Homeland Security about sexual abuse in ICE custody, 56 of which were from facilities in Texas.  Immigrants in detention are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, and those holding them in custody know it,” Whitburn added.  “Many do not speak English, many – like our plaintiffs – have fled violence in their home countries, and are terrified of being returned.  They may not be aware of their rights or they may be afraid to exercise them.”

The ACLU today launched a page on the www.aclu.org website devoted to the issue of sexual abuse of immigration detainees and a special blog series that will run through October examining the consequences of locking up tens of thousands of civil detainees every day.

Also last night (Oct. 18, 2011), CNBC debuted a new documentary entitled "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prison Industry," a critical investigation of the multi-billion dollar corrections industry and how mass incarceration is a windfall for one particular special interest group: the private prison industry.  Among other things, the program featured an ACLU case challenging the brutally violent conditions at the Idaho Correctional Center, operated by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison company.  As part of its promotion of the documentary, CNBC has posted on its website an op-ed by the National Prison Project's David Shapiro discussing the nefarious reality that private prison executives rake in multi-million dollar compensation packages while over-incarceration continues to harm the nation as a whole.

Later this month, ABC will air a special program on immigration detention that will feature several pieces of ACLU work, and as more information about air time becomes available we will let you know.

Private Profit, Public Debt … The Story of Willacy County's Tent City

The Bureau of Prisons and Management and Training Corp. of Utah (MTC) recently announced a $532 million deal to convert “tent city” in Willacy County from a facility contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement into a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility.  The first wave of new prisoners have begun to arrive ("New prisoners begin arriving at 'tent city'" McAllen Monitor, October 10).  Under the new agreement, the Willacy facility will continue to be managed by MTC and will house immigrant prisoners convicted of federal crimes exclusively. 

This is great news for MTC.  As an MTC representative stated, “[t]he Bureau of Prisons has good contract system; they need beds, we need the stability” ("New jail contract described as a win-win deal for county, MTC," Raymondville Chronicle, June 22).  Unfortunately, while this may be good news for MTC, Willacy County, that funded the construction of the facility through revenue bonds issued by a Public Facilities Corporation, continues to receive the short end of the stick. 

Under the Willacy County’s first contract with MTC, the facility housed undocumented immigrants under an agreement with ICE and, according to Willacy County Judge John Gonzales, “the income the county had hoped to gain from the facility fell far short of expectations.”  In fact, the facility never reached 50% capacity (Monitor, October 10).  To add to the county’s loss, earlier this year MTC handed out pink slips to almost 20% of its local staff.  Under the new plan to convert the facility into a BOP unit, MTC will reduce its local staff by more than 32% below the number of employees it had prior to handing out pink slips (Raymondville Chronicle, June 22). 

Under the new agreement, the county will receive a minimum of $104,900 a month, much more than the $970,000 the county received from ICE over the past year.  While this may seem like a lot of money, it will only put a small dent in the outstanding debt obligation of $75 million (after the most recent refinancing goes through) incurred by the county to finance the facility’s construction (Raymondville Chronicle, June 22).  

Things must be really bad in Willacy if this deal can be reported as a win for the county.

CNBC Special on "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prisons" explores Prison Privatization

Last night, CNBC aired "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prisons,".  The special focused on the profit motive involved in various aspects of the corrections industry including prison privatization.  Specifically, the CNBC show explored the relationship between the private sector and government and raised issues on whether private prison contracts are good public policy.

CNBC's website features two articles from Dave Shapiro with the ACLU's National Prison Project and Leonard Gilroy with the Reason Foundation write opposing views on prison privatization. 

Shapiro's piece, For-Profit Prisons: A Barrier to Serious Criminal Justice Reform.  In the article Shapiro charts the growth of the private prison population nationally,

As incarceration rates skyrocket, the private prison industry expands at exponential rates. The number of inmates in private prisons increased by roughly 1600 percent between 1990 and 2009. In 2010, the two largest private prison companies alone took in nearly $3 billion in revenue, and their top executives each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million.

Gilroy's article, Embrace Competition to Lower Costs, Improve Performance in Prisons, continues to support the use of private prisons and cites Texas as an example:

research by the Texas Legislative Budget Board found that, since 2003, the average cost of housing inmates in private prisons has been 3 percent to 15 percent lower than in comparable state-run prisons.

Yet we know that other researchers have concluded that the savings achieved from private prisons are not as significant as Gilroy claims.  A 2001 study by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) found that “rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only 1 percent” and “the promises of 20-
percent savings in operational costs have simply not materialized.” The study found that these modest savings “will not revolutionize modern correctional practices.”

The CNBC special is a good overview of different issues related to the money that drives the nation's corrections industry.  It airs again on October 21st at 8pm EDT and program highlights can be found here at the station's website. 

 

Tonight: Two must-see programs on for-profit detention industry

Tonight, monitors of the private prison industry will have their TIVOs set to PBS and CNBC for what look like hard-hitting exposés of the for-profit detention industry.

CNBC will air “Billions Behind Bars: Inside the American Prison Industry” at 8pm CST.  According to the preview, CNBC reporter Scott Cohn

"travels the country to go inside the big and controversial business of prisons. He investigates the business model behind a private prison in Idaho, dubbed a “gladiator school” by inmates and former prison employees who cite its extraordinary level of violence. We also look at allegations of improper corporate prison industry influence over a tough immigration enforcement law in Arizona, and chronicle what happens when a hard hit town in Montana accepts an enticing sales pitch from private prison developers. In Colorado, we profile a little-known workforce behind bars, and discover that products created by prison labor have seeped into our everyday lives -- even some of the food we eat. We also meet a tough-talking judge in the law-and-order state of Texas who’s actually trying to keep felons out of prison and save taxpayer money, through an innovative and apparently successful program."

And, on PBS's Frontline tonight at 8pm CST, Maria Hinojosa "takes a penetrating look at Obama’s vastly expanded immigration net, explores the controversial Secure Communities enforcement program and goes inside the hidden world of immigration detention."  Here's a preview:

 

Watch Lost in Detention Preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

CCA hires Former BOP Director Harley Lappin

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) recently hired Harley Lappin who used to direct the Bureau of Prisons (BOP); the country’s largest prison agency.  The new hire emphasizes the sphere of influence that CCA can control by employing former government officials who strengthen the company's relationships with lawmakers and administrators.

Private prison companies like CCA look to the BOP as a client with continuing potential.   Unfortunately, it's a client that relies on incarceration and displacing people from their home communities.  We have reported before that with state fiscal crises one of the few prison systems expanding is the federal one.  The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other nation in the word.  During the last 30 years the federal prison population has exploded and now incarcerates over 210,000 people at a cost of $6 billion each year – an increase of 700% in population and 1700% in spending. 

Lappin's new CCA job will only open doors between the company and the BOP as the agency looks to address capacity issues.  Despite debates over the deficit, Congress is not as pressed to contain corrections costs as some states are.  As a result, there may be an opportunity to expand to CCA federal contracts with Lappin's role at the company.  Especially, as the FY 2012 appropriations process comes to a close.  Currently, the Senate has set aside funding for reentry programs and increased the BOP's budget by $300 million to support new prison construction over the next four years.  We will keep y'all posted.

 

Occupy Wall Street - The Private Prison Connections

As the Occupy Wall Street movement gains steam in several Texas cities (in Austin, Houston, McAllen, for instance), I thought we'd highlight the banking sector's role in the private prison industry.  To start, here is a terrific video from Cuentame about the role of Wells Fargo in the private prison industry: