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July 2012

Despite fines and failures, Texas contemplates more GEO Care contracts

Sunday's Austin American Statesman featured a front page story by Andrea Ball on fines being leveled against GEO Group's Montgomery County psych facility and plans to privatize a state mental hospital moving through an RFP process.  Here's the lead:

"Sixteen months after the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility opened in Conroe, the state's first publicly funded, privately run psychiatric hospital is facing at least $53,000 in state fines for serious shortcomings in patient care.

The private operator, Geo Care, is a subsidiary of Geo Group, a private prison company that has drawn attention in recent years because of deaths, riots and sexual abuse at some units in Texas and other states." ("As East Texas public-private psych facility struggles, state plans more privatization," July 21)

More disturbingly, the state is not considering pulling out of the contract with GEO, but actually privatizing a state mental health hospital.  According to Ball's article:

The problems come to light as the Department of State Health Services prepares to privatize one of the 10 public psychiatric hospitals it oversees. If Geo Care bids on the ongoing privatization effort — and it has expressed interest to public officials in doing so — its work in Montgomery County could be a harbinger of what taxpayers can expect if a for-profit company wins control of a public state hospital.

This week, the agency will accept bids from contractors seeking to run one of those facilities for at least 10 percent less than the current cost, a move that could save the state millions of dollars each year. If an offer is accepted, a private company could be running a state hospital by the end of the year.

We'll keep you posted on developments on the fight over privatizing a mental hospital in Texas. 

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New Report from The Sentencing Project on For-Profit Detention Growth

Dollars and detaineesLast week, The Sentencing Project*, released new report titled Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention.  The report documents how immigration enforcement and changes in policy have led to a 59% increase in the number of detainees being held by the federal government between 2002 and 2011.

Specifically, the report examines how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) have increasingly relied on private companies to detain these individuals, as well as the complex network of facilities that house federal detainees, and the failings of private detention. The report’s major findings include:

  • Between 2002 and 2011 the number of privately held ICE detainees increased by 208%, while the number of USMS detainees held in private facilities grew by 355%;
  • In 2011, 45% of ICE detainees and 30% of USMS detainees were held by private companies;
  • Federal detainees are held in a complex network of facilities in which information on where individuals are being held, and by whom is often unavailable or incomplete; and
  • The private detention industry is dominated by the same companies that are regularly criticized for their management of private prisons.

The full report, Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention, includes a list of the privately-operated facilities actively employed by ICE and USMS, as well as detailed graphs and data on the growth of private detention, and the lobbying activities of Corrections Corporation of America.  

*The author of this blog post works as the Director of Advocacy for The Sentencing Project.


"Minor Fight" at GEO's Reeves County Detention Center

A "minor fight" between incarcerated immigrants at the GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center is being reported by the Odessa American-Statesman ("Inmate fight results in injuries at Reeves County prison Sunday," July 16)

"A minor fight involving several inmates resulted in minor injuries at the Reeves County Detention Center Sunday, officials from the Geo Group, Inc., the private company that operates the facility, reported.

During the day Sunday, a minor “inmate-on-inmate fight” broke out in the recreation yard, reported Pablo E. Paez, vice president of corporate relations reported. The fight resulted in minor injuries to “less than half a dozen inmates.”

“Staff at the facility responded promptly to quell the fight which did not result in any injuries to staff or damage property,” Paez reported."

GEO has good reason to respond quickly to this incident.  The Reeves County Detention Center was made infamous in 2008 and again in 2009 after major prisoner uprisings were sparked by alleged medical neglect and the death of Jose Manuel Galindo, an epileptic prisoner incarcerated for re-entering the country after deportation.  Those uprisings burnt part of the facility to the ground, resulted in protests by immigrant and prisoner activist groups, and a major lawsuit.

We'll keep you posted on developments from Reeves County. 

Premature baby born at CCA's Dawson State Jail with no medical personnel died after four days

Horrendous stories continue to pour out of Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail. According to another expose by CBS 11, a baby born to Autumn Miller, incarcerated after a drug crime and a probation violation, was born prematurely with no medical personnel on staff at the facility.  

Her baby, named Gracie, died after only four days she was born.  Miller's mother spoke to CBS 11:

"...  Burr says her daughter tells a chilling story of what happened during the early morning hours when she began to bleed and cramp inside the jail and had trouble walking.  “They took her down to the medical unit on a stretcher. When she got there, there was a doctor on the screen,” Burr said.

But Miller told her mother that the doctor, who was available through a teleconference, never had a chance to see her.

“The lady that was down there in the medical unit in charge told the doctor they did not need him for this patient and they just turned this off … She was crying, complaining that she was feeling pressure, pain, bleeding and something was bad wrong [sic]. They needed to do something,” Burr told CBS 11. ...What happened next, according to Burr, has changed all of their lives forever. And, she says, it was something no one at the jail was prepared to handle at that time.

After Miller went to the bathroom, “the baby came out and went into the toilet and she started screaming,” Burr said."  (Ginger Allen, CBS 11, "Premature Baby Born At Dawson Jail without Medically Trained Personnel," July 10)

The story doesn't end there.  Miller is handcuffed in pictures during she and her baby's stay at the hospital.  After 4 day old Gracie died, Miller was put into solitary confinement at Dawson State Jail:

"Once at the jail, Miller was placed in solitary confinement for two days, her mother, overwhelmed with emotions, said.

“This is still a woman with the afterbirth and bleeding and stitches where she’d had a tubal … and they locked her in there for two days … and then they took her to see a psychiatrist and said, ‘Well, you’ve been on suicide watch,’ “ Burr said."

CCA and TDCJ are staying predictably mum about the case.  This is certainly not the first problem at Dawson.  In May, it was reported that the death of Pam Weatherby at Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail in 2010 was the seventh death at the facility since 2004. Weatherby was serving a one year sentence for drug possession when her health conditions - she was a brittle diabetic - rapidly deteriorated.

Last month, CBS 11 reported that an additional family of a young incarcerated woman at the facility is blaming jail administrators for her death.  According to the report, 30 year-old Ashleigh Shae Parks died with six months remaining on her 18 month drug possession sentence.

Dawson has been subject to calls for closure over the years, and we wonder if this string of horror stories may increase those calls.

More private prison debt problems – this time in Montgomery County

Last weekend, the Conroe Courier reported (Feds investigate 2 county facilities, July 7, 2012) that Montgomery County’s decision to construct the Joe Corley Detention Facility may have left the County with a large financial burden.  The facility, operated by The Geo Group, was constructed using $45 million in bonds exempt from federal taxes.  But, there was a catch.  As the Courier reported:

“the approval by the Internal Revenue Service in 2006 was based on a ruling request stating federal prisoners – including those from the U.S. Marshal’s Office and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement – would occupy an average of 70 percent of the 1,100 beds in the facility, according to county documents. … In that same ruling request … after the initial five-year operating period, ‘(the) county expects that the number of county prisoners or prisoners of other local governmental entities in the county housed in the Jail will exceed 30 percent of the beds. Eventually, County expects that non-federal prisoners will occupy close to 100 percent of the beds in the Jail.’”

Well, the facility opened in August 2008 and guess how many county inmates are in the facility?  Zero.     

Unfortunately for the county, and despite similar predicaments faced by other Texas counties, the county commissioners, according to County Judge Alan B. Sadler, “did not anticipate” the potential loss of its tax-exempt status.  According to Sadler, if the county loses its tax-exempt status “the tax implications would be huge.”

Stay tuned to Texas Prison Bid’ness for updates in Montgomery County.  


Another family accuses CCA's Dawson State Jail of neglect in prisoner death

In May, we reported that the death of Pam Weatherby at Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail in 2010 was the seventh death at the facility since 2004. Weatherby was serving a one year sentence for drug possession when her health conditions - she was a brittle diabetic - rapidly deteriorated.

Now CBS 11 is reporting ("Another Family Blames Dawson State Jail For Inmate Death," June 14) that an additional family of a young incarcerated woman at the facility is blaming jail administrators for her death.  According to the report, 30 year-old  Ashleigh Shae Parks died with six months remaining on her 18 month drug possession sentence.

Her family says Ashleigh had pneumonia and they believe her death could have been prevented if she had simply gotten antibiotics sooner.  Their suspicions are based, in part, on letters they received from inmates at Dawson.

“I thought all she needed was medication, and all my daughter needed was antibiotics,” said Reni Palmer, Parks’ mother.

Parks’ family blames the staff at Dawson State Jail for not recognizing Ashleigh’s illness sooner.  They say they filed a lawsuit but later dropped it.

“The medical personnel in ICU told me there was basically nothing they could do for her. And these are the people at the hospital (who) told us that the prison killed my sister,” said Grady.  His anger and grief was renewed in April when he saw a CBS 11 investigation which raised troubling questions about a lack of medical care at Dawson State Jail.

CBS 11 says they've spoken to 20 people formerly incarcerated at Dawson who wanted to talk about medical conditions at the facility.  We'll keep you posted on developments in this ongoing story.  


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