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March 2013

Montgomery County puts Joe Corley Detention Center Up for Sale

Montgomery Co

unty has put its troubled Joe Corley Detention Center - currently operated by GEO Group and detaining immigrants under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement - up for sale, according to a report from Montgomery County Courier ("Multiple firms show interest in Corley facility," March 23rd)

"When Montgomery County commissioners voted to put the Joe Corley Detention Center up for sale in January, County Judge Alan B. Sadler expressed confidence the jail would attract several suitors in spite of its $55 million asking price.

Since then, eight corrections companies have shown a preliminary interest in the 1,288-bed facility, and three firms on the county’s “plan holders” list have inspected the jail within the past two weeks."

Officials at the facility have received interest from eight companies including private prison corporations GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, and Community Education Centers.  The facility has a troubled history and is currently under federal investigation over allegations of financial misconduct, according to the article.

"Financed with $44.8 million in tax-exempt bonds, the jail was built on projections of growth in the inmate population in Montgomery County. Those assumptions haven’t panned out, however, so commissioners have advertised a minimum bid of $55 million to cover the jail’s outstanding debt (slightly less than $38 million) and to pay any fines from losing the tax-exempt status of those bonds.

The county also would profit approximately $10 million from the sale, county officials have stated.  The Joe Corley center, located at 500 Hilbig in Conroe, houses federal prisoners from the U.S. Marshal’s Office and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The county received its tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service when it promised local inmates would account for 30 percent of the Corley’s population by August of this year.

That isn’t expected to happen.  ....  GEO Care is a subsidiary that operates the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Center. Both facilities have been the focus of an investigation for alleged financial misconduct."

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

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Houston Processing Center and Solitary Confinement in the News

Houston Processing Center, run by Corrections Corporation of America, was the site this weekend of a protest by undocumented youth known as DREAMers.  The protesters railed against immigrant detention policies and the inhumane conditions within the facility.  Along with the Polk County Detention Center, HPC was cited as one the nation's ten worst detention centers in Detention Watch Network's Expose and Close campaign.  Univision covered the protest:

 

While the DREAMers protested outisde the facility, the New York Times covered a troubling aspect of so-called civil detention policy - prolonged administrative segretagion (better known as solitary confinement).  Immigrants in detention - including those at the Houston Processing Center - can be placed in isolation for a number of reasons, from disciplinary infractions to concerns for their safety (including mental health concerns and sexuality).  ICE reports that 300 immigrants are being held in segregation on any given day, and according to the article,

Nearly half are isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm, with about 35 detainees kept for more than 75 days.

Juan Mendez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture, identified the solitary confinement of immigrants as a "breach of [the United States's] obligations under the torture convention."

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Committee Hearing on Bill to Change Privatization Procedure in Counties

Last Thursday, the Texas House County Affairs Committee heard testimony on HB 1544 [online text has been corrected], which would change the way counties contract with private vendors to operate prisons and detention centers.  

As it stands now, sheriffs of counties with a population under 2.8 million (every county besides Harris) have a "seat at the table" when it comes to privatization; in Harris County, decisions about privatization are left to the County Commisioners and the Commision on Jail Standards.  The bill, introduced by Alma Allen, would eliminate the exception placed on Harris County.

Caitlin Dunklee, policy analyst at Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and Harris County Sheriff Garcia both spoke in favor of the bill, citing sheriffs' expertize and responsibility for the workings of a prison.  Harris County is the seat of the largest sheriff's office in Texas and the third largest in the nation, as well as the state's largest jail.

Limestone County CEC facility loses federal contract

A Community Education Centers detention center in Limestone County has los

t its contract to incarcerate federal prisoners at the Limestone County Detention Center, according to a KWTX story ("Jail Employees Notified Jobs In Limbo Come May," March 21) today:

"Community Education Centers notified the county recently that the Bureau of Prisons will no longer fund the privatization contract between CEC and Limestone County.  CEC has been running the private jail which holds about 1,035 male inmates.

County Judge Daniel Burkeen told News 10, the county is working to confirm why the funding is cut.

Burkeen says he was told CEC sent out notices to 227 employees who work for the Limestone County Detention Facility that on May 31st, they will no longer be employed by CEC.  When the jail was run by the county before, about 160 people were employed at the detention center.

The County Judge said the county will plan to run the center like before, but, he wasn't sure on how many employees will be kept.  Burkeen says other options are being explored." 

There's no indiciation on why the contract has been cut, but we will continue to keep you posted.  

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More news on the Dawson State Jail -- Calls grow louder to shut down troubled CCA prison in Dallas

Over the last weeks, advocates to close the Dawson State Jail (including my organization, Grassroots Leadership) have made major headway with a promising vote in the legislature, a vigil, and a lawsuit:

1) Last Monday, we learned that movement to close Dawson is progressing through the Texas state legislature.  In a press release, Senator Royce West of Dallas stated that

[...] the Senate Finance Committee followed the recommendations of a criminal justice workgroup that proposed the non-renewal of the contract with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) that currently has an agreement with the state for the operation of the Dawson State Jail facility.

West called the Senate Finance Committee recommendation to end the state's with contract Corrections Corporation of America a "very important step."

2) Community members from Dallas and Austin -- including representatives from Grassroots Leadership, Texas Inmate Families Association, Texas Civil Rights Project, ACLU Texas, AFSMCE, and Occupy Dallas -- convened outside the Dawson State Jail on Thursday for a candlelight vigil.  On the eve of International Women's Day, they invoked the memory of the women and infant who died inside this awful facility and called on legislators to shut it down.  Journalist Ginger Allen of CBS DFW, who has been covering the facility for months, reported live from the scene:

 

 

3) Autumn Miller, whose baby lived only four days after a tragic pregnancy at Dawson, is filing a lawsuit alleging cruel and unusual punishment.  The courageous young woman told her story in an interview with Ginger Allen and with KERA (NPR in North Texas), detailing how her cries for help were ignored from the time she asked for a pregnancy test until she found herself giving birth alone in the toilet of a holding cell.

Texans can contact their legislators about the issue here, and advocates have started using #CloseDawson on Twitter to send updates around the campaign.  With Senator Whitmire giving closure a "better than 50-50" shot and Senator West declaring that "by the end of the session, it will be closed," there seems to be a distinct possibility that Texas may close a private prison this year.  

Internal review recommends against privatizing the Harris County Jail

In 2010, a County Commissioner in Harris County suggested looking into privatizing the jail as a way to cut costs; a request for proposals yielded four bids, of which only CCA's was found viable.  TPB reported on the potential privatization as our biggest story of 2011.  Now, the Houston Chronicle has uncovered a confidential memo from February 11 in which "[the] evaluation committee concluded that the potential benefit is not sufficient reason to make a change at this time."

From The Houston Chronicle (Mike Morris, "Internal review rejects idea of privatizing county jail," February 21, 2013):

Privatizing the Harris County jail would be risky and may not result in savings, according to an internal county memo recommending that Commissioners Court keep the state's largest lockup in Sheriff Adrian Garcia's hands.

The memo delivered the recommendations of an internal review, which found that the potential cost savings from turning the facility over to Corrections Corporation of America would not be guarateed and that privatization could have "uncertain effects" on the wellbeing of guards and people incarcerated there.  County Judge Ed Emmitt expressed concern that privately-run facilities lack the kind of official oversight needed and that the "public wants to have somebody who's responsible for that jail and not have some private entity run it."  

In addition to running the largest county jail in Texas, Harris County has the largest sherriff's department in the state with over 4,000 employees.  Sherriff Garcia is confident in his department's capabilities, saying that they "have improved operations while saving money, we've passed jail inspections, we haven't laid off any employees and we've reduced in-custody deaths."

At the time the article was published, CCA said that it had not received any official reports.

ICE Begins Release of Detained Immigrants

Men being released from the Polk Detention CenterIn the face of pending budget cuts due to sequestration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released at least 800 people from detention.  ICE has identified those released as “noncriminals and other low-risk offenders who do not have serious criminal histories.”  Manuel Perez, currently detained at CEC-run Polk County Detention Center, has stated that “Lots of us are getting out who were brought in for driving without a license or other small things."  The alternatives to detention ICE is implementing are not only more humane but also more much cost effective; the National Immigration Forum estimates that, while detention can cost up to $163 a day per individual, alternatives range from $14 to as little as 13 cents, a 90 to 99 percent savings.  They work, too: Human Rights First found that 96 percent of members of Alterntives to Detention programs attend their final hearings.

We are particularly glad to hear that immigrants are being released from two Texas detention centers recently highlighted in the Expose and Close campaign as among the worst in the nation: the San Antonio Express News reports that 300 have been set free from the Houston Processing Center and 50 from the Polk County Detention Center.   While the Austin American Statesman reports that neither the Williamson County Sheriff nor facility officials have commented, we've heard from inside the Hutto Detention Center that a number of women have in fact been released without bond.

These actions have raised questions about the 34,000 beds that ICE claims they are mandated to fill.  Emily Tucker of the Detention Watch Network told NPR that ICE has "proven that they don't even believe that themselves by releasing these folks." 

While this is good news, it's important to remember that 30,773 people are still detained solely for their immigration status, half of whom are locked up in private prisons.  Hopefully, these releases signal a move towards a more humane immigration system.

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