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January 2013

Sign-on Letter on Dawson State Jail Catches Press

Last week, a coalition of 25 national and state groups released a letter calling for the closure of the Dawson State Jail, a Corrections Corporation of America-operated facility in downtown Dallas.  

Criminal justice, civil liberties, policy, labor, and faith-based organizations signed onto a document delivered to Texas legislators.  The letter cites the exceptionally poor conditions at the facility for both staff and incarcerated people, cost savings, and a significant decrease in the Texas state jail population.  Signatories included the ACLU, ASFCME, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Grassroots Leadership, and Justice Strategies.  You can read the letter and a full list of signatories here.

Ginger Allen, who has been covering the scandals at the Dawson State Jail, interviewed Bob Libal for CBS DFW.  Bob, executive director of Grassroots Leadership and columnist for this blog, said in the Skype interview:

"It has become abundantly clear this facility is unsafe for the people who are incarcerated in the facility and there is a growing momentum around the state and the country to close this facility."

The Dallas Morning News also picked up the story:

"State leaders have been trying to reduce the number of inmates in recent years because of cost concerns. In 2011, a prison unit was closed for the first time without replacement. At the same time, Dallas city leaders have been eyeing the property where the Dawson jail sits on the edge of downtown for redevelopment." 

The Texas Tribune quoted Ana Yáñez-Correa, director of Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (a signatory to the letter), as saying:

"Closing a facility like Dawson State Jail would save taxpayer dollars that can be better spent on programs that work."

Even CCA weighed in.  They released a statement calling the coalition "closed-minded" and claimed to provide "safe housing and quality rehabilitation programming at a cost savings to Texas taxpayers."  (Insert your own joke here).

Littlefield Police Chief put in charge of troubled Bill Clayton Detention Center

The police chief in Littlefield, Texas has resigned amongst and internal investigation and has taken over control of the troubled Bill Clayton Detention Center, according to a news story from KCBD ("Littlefield Police Chief Abel Cantu resigns," January 19) in Lubbock, Texas:

"Littlefield Police Chief Abel Cantu resigned on Thursday following an internal investigation conducted by the Littlefield Police Department. [...]  

Following his resignation, Cantu was given another job with the City of Littlefield, as administrator for the Bill Clayton Detention Center. He was given that position temporarily so he could fulfill the time required for his retirement on June 15, 2013."

The Bill Clayton Detention Center has been a headache for Littlefield, TX, since 2008, when Idaho cancelled their contract with the formerly GEO Group-operated prison after two men commtted suicide there.  GEO Group pulled out in 2010, leaving the town's citizens without revenue and responsible for an $11 million building project that they have yet to pay off (as covered by NPR).  The town tried to auction the empty facility in 2011, but the only bidder pulled out.

It's still unclear what led to Cantu's resignation or whether he'll soon have incarerated men to oversee.  We'll continue to update you as more details come in.

Top 5 Private Prison Industry Lobbyists in the Lonestar State

With the Texas legislative session underway, Texas Prison Bid’ness is shining the spotlight on five of the

Texas Capitol
Texas Capitol
top private prison lobbyists in our state.  As we’ve covered before, GEO Group, CCA, CEC, and MTC pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for lobbying services and campaign contributions for state and federal legislators.  Here are five men and women who profit the most from peddling private prisons, jails, and detention centers in Texas:

1. LIONEL AGUIRRE

Leo is no stranger to the Texas Prison Bid’ness blog.  He’s been earning top dollar as a GEO Group lawyer for years; his $200,000+ contracts with GEO are some of the fattest in the state.  He reported a $100,000-$150,000 salary in 2011 and $50,000-$100,000 in 2012.

Aguirre was married to the late Lena Guerrero, a three-term state representative and the first Latina chair of the powerful Texas Railroad Commission, the agency in charge of regulating the oil and gas industry.  Lionel himself was the executive of the state comptroller’s office before moving into the private sector.

2. MICHAEL TOOMEY

Last year, CCA paid Toomey $50,000-$100,000 to lobby for them in the Texas state government. He’s earned himself a lot of press as one of Rick Perry’s inner circle, including articles in the New York Timesthe Huffington Post, and Mother Jones.  Between 2008 and 2011, Toomey’s clients won $2 billion in state government contracts, according to a study by the NYT and the Texas Tribune. 

3. FRANK R. SANTOS

Santos, the founder of Santos Alliances, calls himself the top Hispanic lobbyist in Texas, and was named the #3 Lobbyist in the State by the San Antonio Express-News in 2006.  Santos is the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Senate Hispanic Research Council; the chief national consultant and strategist for the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.  He is also one of GEO Group’s top paid lobbyists in Texas, earning $50,000-$100,000 in both 2011 and 2012.  GEO Group operates seven detention centers and twenty prisons in Texas.

4. LARA LANERI KEEL

Ranked as the 2011 Top Female Hired-Gun Lobbyist in the state by Capitol Inside, Keel took in $50,000-$100,000 from Corrections Corporation of America in both 2011 and 2012.  Keel is a member of the powerful Texas Lobby Group and director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute.  She’s married to John Keel, the State Auditor since 2004.

5. DEAN McWILLIAMS

Co-founder of McWilliams Governmental Affairs Consultants, McWilliams has earned a spot as a top grossing lobbyist in this state; he held a $50,000-$100,000 contract with Community Education Centers (CEC) in 2011 and 2012.  On his website, Dean boasts of his close ties to the government, having served on the Legislative Budget Board Task Force on Health Care Reform and the Lieutenant Governor’s Task Force on Prison Overcrowding.

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CCA employee at T. Don Hutto detention center suspect in murder of girlfriend

In a tragic case in Austin, a

man who was apparently an employee at Corrections Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto detention center has been indicted for the murder of his girlfriend.  According to a report by KXAN ("Murder suspect is former Marine," January 4):

"The man suspected of murdering his girlfriend in Southwest Austin on December 29 is a former Marine who worked as a guard at the T Don Hutto Detention Facility in Williamson County, according to Austin police.

Ryan Clarke, 27, is charged with first degree murder in the killing of Cassandra Clark, 26. An arrest warrant for Clarke revealed Williamson County deputies found him in a white Chevy Trailblazer at the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park on Saturday morning. Clarke was slumped over the driver's seat of the vehicle. According to the arrest warrant, Clarke was covered in blood and holding a knife.

Clarke was then transported to Seton Hospital in Williamson County. The following day, Clarke told a hospital social worker he had injured someone at an apartment complex on West William Cannon in South Austin. When Austin police arrived at the apartment, they found Clark dead in the bedroom, with obvious physical trauma."

It's unclear based on the report if Mr. Clarke was employed at Hutto at the time of the alleged murder.

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Rundown: Our Top 6 Stories of 2012

As we prepared to start in 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness highlighted the top Texas private prison stories of 2012, based on stories covered by our blog.  Here's the list with links to the full posts.  

#1 - Momentum Builds To Close CCA's Dawson State Jail

In the wake of tragic deaths at the facility, more and more voices are calling for the closure of the Dawson State Jail, including Senator John Whitmire and AFSCME.  Advocates, politicians, and community leaders have been speaking out for several years and will be continuing their work into the 2013 legislative session; stay tuned for updates.

#2 - GEO Group Loses Bid to Expand Mental Health Care Operations, Take Over Kerrville State Hospital

A major victory over GEO Group in Texas: this October, a coalition of mental health advocates, unions, religious organizations, criminal justice reform groups, and other community organizations successfully halted the privatization of the Kerrville State Hospital, which houses state patients with mental illnesses.

#3 - CCA Offers To Buy State Prisons in Return for 90% Occupancy Guarantee, Gets Rejected

Early last year, CCA wrote to 48 governors promising quick financial gains in return for 20-year contracts with 90% guaranteed occupancy rates in the facilities they would operate.  To date no one has taken them up on the offer.

#4 - Conditions at Two Texas Detention Centers Highlighted In "Expose and Close" Campaign

In tandem with Detention Watch Network’s Expose and Close campaign, immigrant rights activists in Texas are speaking out against two detention centers in our state listed among the ten worst in the nation.  Over a hundred protestors gathered outside of the Polk County Detention Center to call for the closure of that facility as well as the Houston Processing Center.

#5 - Momentum Grows Against Private Prisons Nationally

Mass privatization bills were defeated in Florida and Lousiana and have thus far been staved off in New Hampshire and Michigan, while more and more faith groups are speaking out formally against for-profit prisons.

#6 - The Ballad of Liberty County

As Liberty County works to reduce the number of nonviolent offenders in its jails, CEC is ramping up their fees to discourage this effort; a study out of Texas A&M found that the corporation are charging nearly twice the appropriate amount.  Liberty County renewed their contract in April but is looking at de-privatization.

 

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Big Stories of 2012 - #1 - Momentum Builds To Close CCA's Dawson State Jail

As we usher in 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of 2012, based on stories covered by our blog.  Our number one story of the year is the growing number of voices calling for the closure of Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail.   

TPB Big Story #1 - Momentum Builds to Close CCA's Dawson State Jail

For several years, advocates, legislators, and community leaders have advocated for the closure of

Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail.  As Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast put it in 2010:

"This ill-placed facility is located in downtown Dallas on the banks of the Trinity River in prime real estate the city hopes to redevelop. So the fact that Dawson's contract ends on January 15, 2011 is a significant date for the city of Dallas: If the state renews the contract, the proposed riverfront redevelopment could be put on hold indefinitely. It's possible, then, we may see members of the Dallas delegation and related development interests pushing for non-renewal, though certainly CCA will have its own lobbyists on the other side."

Senator John Whitmire also publicly floated the idea that the prison could be closed.  However, despite these calls and Dallas citizens' outcry to move the prison off the valued real estate, TDCJ renewed CCA's contract for the Dawson State Jail in 2010.   

In 2011 and 2012, a series of tragic and heartbreaking deaths of women incarcerated at the facility have put Dawson back in the spotlight.  The deaths and related scandals have been chronciled by Ginger Allen of Dallas’ CBS 11 and put together by my colleague Kymberlie Quong Charles at the Grassroots Leadership blog who had this to say about the facility: 

At Dawson, however, far too many people have entered what are supposed to be six-month to two-year stints, and have died inside the prison of medically treatable conditions.  The most heart-wrenching of these deaths is that of a four-day old premature baby girl who was born without any medical staff present.  While there seems to have been a code of silence for years about prisoner neglect at the facility, one Dallas journalist recently began diligently exposing these stories in an effort to seek justice for those who have died, as well as those still incarcerated there, and for the families that are affected by the mistreatment of their loved ones while they are under state supervision.

Senator Whitmire has again called on the facility to be closed along with CCA's Mineral Wells pre-parole transfer facility, and AFSCME, the union that represents correctional officers in Texas, has joined the call for closure.  We will undoubtedly be covering this story well into the 2013 legislative session and beyond, so stay tuned to Texas Prison Bid'ness for updates.

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Big Stories of 2012 - #2 - GEO Group Loses Bid to Expand Mental Health Care Operations, Take Over Kerrville State Hospital

As we usher in 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of 2012, based on stories covered by our blog.  Our number two story of the year is GEO Group's failed attempt to take over operations at the Kerrville State Hospital.   

TPB Big Story #2 - GEO Group Loses Bid to Take Over Kerrville State Hospital

This summer, media in Texas reported tha

t GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison corporation GEO Group, had plans to take over the management of a Texas State Hospital, where indigent people with mental illness and forensic patients incompetent to stand trial are rehabilitated.  The takeover would be pursuant to a rider snuck into the 2011 legislative session that mandated the privatization of one state hopsital.  It quickly was discovered that GEO Care had submitted the sole bid on to take over one facility - the Kerrville State Hospital. 

Pointing to GEO's troubled record, mental health care advocates and criminal justice reform groups immediately worked to stop the privatization effort.  A coalition of Texas organizations, including Grassroots Leadership, a co-sponsor of this blog, sent a sign-on letter urging state leaders to halt privatization efforts.  In September, more than 700 people from across Texas signed an online petition to stop private prison corporation GEO Group from taking over the Kerrville State Hospital.  State and local officials spoke out against privatization, and the media across the state ran exposés on GEO’s  troubled record operating prisons and jails.

The organizing efforts paid off.  In October, state leaders announced that they rejected GEO Group’s bid to take over the Kerrville State Hospital.  However, Kerrville and other state hospitals may not be out of the woods yet.  GEO Group continues to tell investors that they see opportunities in mental health facilities in Texas.