February 2012

On Leap Day, Texas protesters to tell Wells Fargo to leap out of private prison investments

Tomorrow, I'll participate in an Austin protest at the Wells Fargo near the University of Texas as a part of a state-wide day of action urging the bank to divest from private prison corporations GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.  Here's a description of the event:

"On this Leap Day, a coalition of immigrant rights, human rights, faith, and student organizations will hold a protest at Wells Fargo on 24th and Guadalupe in Austin in conjunction with a statewide day of action calling on Wells Fargo to divest its holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.  The private prison industry profits greatly from the detention of immigrants.  More than 33,000 immigrants are detained every day in the United States, destroying families and costing taxpayers more than $1.7 billion this year.

According to SEC filings, Wells Fargo currently holds over 4 million shares in GEO Group and 50,000 shares in Corrections Corporation of America, with a combined value of $120 million.  GEO and CCA are the world’s two largest private prison corporations. Wells Fargo, a recipient of billions of bailout dollars, is a major contributor to politicians who have championed the increased incarceration of immigrants. The protest will call on Wells Fargo to invest in our communities and divest from the private prison industry."

The Austin protest is part of a state-wide day of action that includes protests by Students United for the Dream Act in San Antonio and a protest of the 287(g) immigration enforcement program and the private prison industry in Houston.   Here is a list of times and locations:

Austin: 3:30-4:30pm, Wells Fargo, Guadalupe & 24th

San Antonio: 3:00-5:00pm 423 N New Braunfels Ave. 78202

Houston: 12:00-1:00pm Wells Fargo, Louisiana & Lamar St

An event is also being organized in Dallas later in the week, I'm told.  The protests are part of a national prison divesment campaign launched last year.  We'll post some pictures of the protests later in the week.

LCS warden suspended while under federal investigation

This is how Jared Taylor's recent article in the McCallen Monitor ("Criminal inquiry into East Hidalgo warden prompts suspension," Feb. 27) begins: 

"The warden at Hidalgo County’s only privately owned detention center has been suspended with pay amid a federal investigation into criminal allegations.

Elberto E. Bravo, 52, was suspended with pay from his post at the East Hidalgo Detention Center late last week amid a federal inquiry into fraud, bribery and theft allegations, a law enforcement official familiar with the situation said.

The federal inquiry into Bravo came after the U.S. Marshals Service began investigating the privately owned detention center last month. Further details about the federal inquiry were unavailable late Monday evening."

Last October, a nurse was of smuggling marijuana into the facility.  However, there is no indication the two investigations are related and there is clearly much more information needed on this story.  We'll keep you updated as we find out more.  In the meantime, check out our 2007 article, "A Closer Look at LCS Corrections," about the company that operates East Hidalgo.

Anonymous Briefly Takes Down GEO Group Website

Last week, Anonymous hacked into the GEO Group’s website.  The latest action was one of several to target the Department of Justice in their opposition to anti-piracy legislation. 

According to the Huffington Post, the domain www.geogroup.com was replaced with a black screen headlined by the symbol "#antisec," a term for the Anti-Security Movement, which is affiliated the Anonymous online coalition. 

A statement briefly posted by Anonymous to the Geo website read:

"While most folks are suffering under the economy, many billions of dollars are being funneled into this sinister conniving alliance of capitalist and statist forces," stated a message on the hacked site. "What they did not figure into their plans was a determined effort to shut them down."

This was an interesting development in the broadening coalition of interests monitoring and tracking for profit prison companies.  We will keep y’all posted on any other actions.

CCA Letter Highlights why the For-profit Prison Model is a Bad Idea

Corrections Corporation of AmericaCorrections Corporation of AmericaCorrections Corporation of America (CCA) is offering a heck of a deal to states across America.  As the Huffington Post ("Private Prison Corporation Offers Cash In Exchange For State Prisons," February 14) reported earlier this week, in exchange for a 20 year management contract and guarantee that the prison will remain at least 90% full, CCA will buy your prison.  Sounds almost too good to be true … well, that’s because it is.  While the deal may be bad for states, it is actually great for those of us who oppose the for-profit prison industry.  It highlights one of the fundamental flaws of the for-profit prison model: the need to maintain high numbers of incarcerated individuals regardless of the impact on our tax base and our communities. 

With skyrocketing corrections budgets, lawmakers in states across the country have reassessed their criminal justice systems.  Like in Liberty County, these lawmakers have found that over-incarceration is both extremely expensive and counterproductive to the goal of protecting public safety.  Instead of locking people up for low level, non-violent offenses, like drug possession, lawmakers have turned to evidence-based approaches to addressing the issue.  As the ACLU pointed out, the results of this reassessment for Texas have been extremely positive.  “Since 2003, the Texas Legislature has passed a number of bills aimed at reducing the number of individuals incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, including drug offenses. Instead of building new and costly prisons, the legislature has increased the use of probation and provided increased funding for nonviolent offenders to attend residential and nonresidential treatment programs. And, as the numbers show, concerns about any coinciding decrease in public safety are unfounded: as Right on Crime pointed out, ‘serious property, violent, and sex crimes per 100,000 Texas residents have declined 12.8 percent since 2003.’"  Oh, and these smart on crime reforms have also saved the state more than two billion dollars

But, as the saying goes (to the for-profit prison industry) … two billion dollars saved by taxpayers is two billion dollars not earned by the for-profit prison industry, thus CCA’s need for its very own mandatory minimum.  If Texas were to accept CCA’s offer, it would also have two options: (1) undermine its smart on crime reforms or (2) maintain its reforms and pay CCA to maintain empty cells.  Taxpayers lose either way.  We thank CCA for highlighting this fundamental flaw.

 

 

Contraband smuggling in GEO's San Antonio lock-up leads to guilty pleas & indictments

GEO Group's Central Texas Detention Center was in the news last week, with smuggling charges bringing guilty pleas and indictments.  From the San Antonio Express-News ("Mexican Mafia members had cell phones, drugs in fed jail," Feb 9) story on events at the facility:

"Two members of the Texas Mexican Mafia pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that they got cell phones and drugs smuggled into a federal jail with help from a guard. ...

Hernandez's plea deal said he made a number of phone calls while awaiting trial on drug-related charges at the Central Texas Detention Facility, a federal jail in San Antonio run by Florida-based The GEO Group. ... Hernandez also asked his wife to contact another Texas Mexican Mafia member to let him know that Hernandez had identified three “snitches” who cooperated with police, the plea deal said. One of the three was later found murdered, the deal said. ...

Three people were charged in the smuggling and await trial, including former GEO employee Jack Shane McNeal, inmate Antonio Molina-Ortega and Marisol Reyna Mermella, records show."

Burnt Orange Report covers Littlefield private jail debacle

Former Texas Prison Bid'ness blogger Nick Hudson has a new post over at the Burnt Orange Report ("For-Profit Lock-Up Leaves Littlefield Taxpayers With Texas-sized Headache," February 8) on the Bill Clayton Detention Center.  Here's an excerpt from Nick's piece:

"For the past three years, the small West Texas town of Littlefield has had to come up with $65,000 a month to service a loan on an empty prison it never needed. To avoid defaulting on its prison loan, Littlefield has laid off workers, cut every department's budget, raised property taxes, increased fees, raided its municipal sewer and water fund, and even delayed its purchase of a new police car.

With just 6,507 residents during the 2000 census, Littlefield did not need a new prison. The city's elected officials decided to build one anyways. Littlefield issued $10 million in revenue bonds for construction of a 310-bed for-profit detention center as part of the city's economic development strategy in 1999. Revenue bonds are a special type of municipal bond that do not require voter approval, because they are backed by the expected revenue a project will generate. Littlefield's politicians built the prison believing it would pay for itself, pump money into the local economy, and expand job opportunity.

As a result of this experience, Littlefield's bond rating was downgraded to junk status, and Littlefield taxpayers were saddled with millions in debt after discovery of mismanagement by for-profit prison operator Geo Group led the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) to terminate its contract and remove its prisoners in 2009. When IDOC cancelled its contract, Geo Group bailed on Littlefield by terminating its contract and laying off 74 workers."

Here's hoping that Nick continues to blog on these topics at BOR.  Nick even rounds out the post with a Molly Ivins quote that inspired this blog's name:

"You get nightmare public policy consequences, as well. What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons. The result is even more idiocy, like the three-strikes law and long terms for small-time drug possession."

Bad News From Liberty County

Last week we wrote about Liberty County’s battle to reign in its excessive county jail budget (A line in the sand in Liberty County).  Its solution makes sense – don’t lock up individuals accused of low-level, non-violent crimes.  The community would save millions of dollars as long as it stood up to the for-profit prison industry’s attempts to undercut the savings by raising the rate to house inmates. 

On Monday, according to The Cleveland Advocate ("County extends jail contract for another 60 days," 2/7/12), the county commissioners court voted to extend the for-profit jail contract for another 60 days.  County Judge Craig McNair said the 60 day extension will give the commissioners more time to gather information.  Liberty County Precinct 1 Commissioner Todd Fontenot agrees that it is time for the extensions to stop.  As the The Cleveland Advocate reported, “Fontenot said that he believes that the best decision would be to have the sheriff directly operate the county jail. … Fontenot reasoned that the private company marks up the cost of operations to generate a profit and that if the county took the facility over, they would not have to pay the increased cost but use it for the needed personnel.” 

Actively trying to undermine smart on crime reforms is nothing new to the for-profit prison industry.  Liberty County now has the opportunity to send a clear signal to the for-profit prisons industry – taxpayers care about the safety and well-being of their communities and have no interest in ensuring profit for the for-profit prison industry. 

A line in the sand in Liberty County

Jail dollarJail dollarWith the goal of lowering the operating costs of the Liberty County Jail, 253rd District Court Judge Chap B. Cain initiated a plan to reduce the number of non-violent individuals housed in the jail.  This sounds like a great plan, one where the county saves millions, public safety is not harmed, and non-violent individuals are not locked up.  Everyone wins … right?  Wrong! 

As The Cleveland Advocate reported ("County’s jail inmate population down, but companies now asking for more money per inmate," 1/21/12), for-profit prison companies have reacted by telling the community that they will not let the county’s smart on crime approach undermine the profitability of the county jail.   As 75th District Court Judge Mark Morefield, who supports the inmate reduction plan, stated: “’One bid said that if the inmate population goes below 200, the cost per inmate goes from $63 to $68 per day. If we work really hard to decrease the inmate population, the cost will go up to $70 per day, … [t]hey are taking all the incentive out of it.’”  With profit as their main goal, it comes as no surprise that for-profit prison companies have actively lobbied against some criminal justice reforms and for the continuation of the failed “tough on crime” approach to criminal justice.  Liberty County is just one more casualty in the for-profit prison companies’ race to maximize their bottom line. 

But, Liberty County may not bow down to the for-profit prison industry.  According to The Cleveland Advocate, Judge Morefield believes the county can manage its jail.  For Texas Prison Bid’ness readers in Liberty County – this is your opportunity to take a stand by supporting the effort to kick the for-profit prison companies out of Liberty County!