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April 2013

GEO ups the ante on facility purchases in Montgomery County

As we reported earlier this month, Montgomery County has been trying to sell off the Joe Corley Detention Center.  So far GEO Group is the only bidder, with an offer of $65 million.  Now, GEO Group has extended a $35 million offer to buy the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Center.  The county is looking to the sale of these facilities to pay off massive debt; it already uses the $15 million it receives annually from the state to operate MCMHTC to pay interests on its bonds.

MCMHTC is operated by GEO Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group, and is the state's first and only privately-run psychiatric hospital.  It has been plagued with problems since it opened.  As the Austin-American Statesman reported in 2012,

Since March 2011, the Montgomery County hospital has been comprehensively reviewed three times by State Health Services. All three visits have found problems, including unauthorized restraint and seclusion of patients, incomplete medical records, failure to show patient consent for medications and failure to report serious injuries to the state.

Mental health care in other GEO Care facilities is no better, as evidenced by reports of horrific deaths in South Florida State Hospital.  Statements from Montgomery County officials speculate on how the county's finances will be affected if this deal goes through, but we have to wonder what would happen to those inside the facility.

Mineral Wells officials lobby to keep troubled and unneeded CCA prison open

Officials in Mineral Wells are rallying to keep their town's troubl

ed Corrections Corporation of America prison open, according to a story today in the Mineral Wells Index ("Time for last-minute push to save CCA," April 24),

"With time running out before state legislators make a decision on its future, local leaders say now is the time to make the case for Corrections Corporation of America's Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.

Mayor Mike Allen said there are still opportunities for city leaders and residents to speak out in favor of the facility, which provides more than 300 local jobs at full staff."

The article quotes an array of local officials clamoring to keep the facility open.  As we've reported, the Senate budget, which passed earlier this month, zeroes out funding for Mineral Wells and CCA's Dawson State Jail. The House budget would not only keep them open but would also allot $19.5 million for the purchase of the now-empty prison Jones County.  The fate of the prisons will now be determined by a conference committee, whose members were announced over the past few days.  

Powerful State Senator John Whitmire, a member of the Conference Committee, has argued that Mineral Wells should be closed, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "We just simply don't need those beds.  We have 12,000 empty prison beds across the state that are owned by the state of Texas."

Another reason the facility has come under scrutiny is routine security and operational problems.  We've reported on many here at Texas Prison Bid'ness.  Here's a selection:

We'll keep you posted on developments related to the closure of Mineral Wells and Dawson.  

GEO Group Could Buy the Joe Corley Detention Center


Montgomery Co

unty is trying to sell off the Joe Corley Detention Facility, an immigrant detention center that's been the subject of a federal investigation and a money-drain on the county.  The only company to make a bid on the facility -- billed at $55 million -- was GEO Group, the for-profit private prison currently running it.  The Montgomery County Courrier reports that

The Joe Corley center, which opened in August 2008, was put up for sale in January when it was discovered the bonds used to finance the $44.8 million project would lose their tax-exempt status.

County officials established a minimum purchase price of $55 million to cover the jail’s outstanding debt (less than $38 million) and approximately $7 million in fines for losing that tax-exempt status.

We've been reporting on the Joe Corley facility since 2008, when Montgomery County began contracting to detain people for the United States Marshalls Service in addition to ICE and the Bureau of Prisons.  Since then there have been a string of incidents, including a suicide attempt; a lawsuit when air conditioning was shut off during the summer; the financial burden of an empty prison; and allegations of financial misconduct.

Our friends at LIFT-Houston will be holding a vigil outside of the Joe Corley Detention Facility on Saturday to protest the immigrant detention system and show solidarity with those trapped within it.  From their Facebook event page:

Join LIFT-Houston and community allies in a vigil to show support for the families of Jayron Lopez and Pablo Ortiz-Matamoros. Pablo, detained at the facility for nearly 3 months, died of lymphoma in early February 2013. Jayron is currently detained and we demand his immediate release. 

We are calling on ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion and release Mr. Lopez to be back with his family and community. In addition, we ask that all low-priority detainees be released immediately.


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Future of Dawson State Jail Now up to Budget Conference Committee

Both the House and Senate of the Texas legisla

ture passed their budgets this week; now they're on their way to the conference committee to work out their differences.  One difference sticks out. While the Senate budget zeroes out funding for the privately operated Dawson State Jail and Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, the House budget would not only keep them open but would also allot $19.5 million for the purchase of the now-empty prison Jones County.  

Grits for Breakfast reports:

Including the extra money to bail out Jones County, the House decision to buy a prison instead of closing two will mean an extra $116.8 million in incarceration costs over the biennium for those line items compared to the Senate budget.

The Dawson State Jail has been the target of a closure campaign since reports of tragic deaths surfaced last year.  Along with Senator Whitmire, a coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, union, and other advocacy groups has arisen in support of closure, most recently in a vigil outside the Dawson State Jail.  You can read a report about the facility, co-released by Grassroots Leadership and the Sentencing Project, here.

We'll keep you posted on developments.  

Organizations Send Letter to Sec. Napolitano: Close Polk!

Protesters outside PCDCThis week, a sign-on letter was publicly delivered to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.  The letter, signed by 37 national and Texas-based organizations, calls for the immediate closure of the Polk County Detention Center.  This facility, run by for-profit private prison company Community Education Centers, was highlighted on a list of ten of amongst the worst in the nation by Detention Watch Network due to the inhuman conditions revealed in a November 2012 report by Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families.  The letter states that"

"ICE should prioritize release of immigrants into alternatives to detention and community support programs that are far more humane, less costly, and are effective at ensuring immigrants are able to appear at their hearings.  As a first step toward ending inhumane detention, we call for the closure of the IAH Polk County Secure Adult Detention Center."

The diverse list of signatories includes Catholic Charities of Central Texas; Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association; the United Methodist Church, General Board of Church in Society; Detention Watch Network; the Texas Civil Rights Project; and both supporting organizations of this site.  A press release about the letter is available here.

Texas Prison Bid'ness has been covering the campaign to close the detention center in Polk for months now, including a protest in December that drew over 100 community members from Houston and Austin.  We'll keep you updated as this story develops.

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Will Ellis County privatize its jail?

A debate that we've largely missed has been brewing in Ellis County, just south of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  The County Commission has been discussing the possibility of privatizing its local jail since at least January, according to a story by Andrew Branca in the Waxahatchie Daily Light ("County debates privatizing jail," March 12, 2013): 

"The Ellis County Commissioners Court continued its discussion of using a jail management company for the Wayne McCollum Detention Center at a workshop meeting Monday morning.

Proponents of privatizing the county jail told commissioners that using a jail management company could provide a significant savings to the county and to taxpayers.

The operation of the detention center is currently run by the detention bureau, which is a division of the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office. The detention center operates under the direct supervision philosophy, which means a detention officer is present inside the housing unit at all times to directly supervise and interact with the inmates.

The county has had exploratory meetings with LaSalle Correction and Community Education Centers to learn more about their jail management services."

Regular readers of Texas Prison Bid'ness will be familiar with the records of both LaSalle Southwestern Correctional and Community Education Centers.  Not all in Ellis County are mesmerized by privatization.  Former Republican Precinct Chairman Dave Vance penned an op-ed ("Privatizing county jail a bad idea," March 19, 2013) in the paper highlighting some of the problems with privatization: 

"As has been identified in numerous studies, reducing the salaries and benefits of detention officers results in increased turnover, a decrease in qualified applicants and substandard performance. Quality of service is significantly reduced. Reducing staffing levels results in the same problems.

I urge the Ellis County Commissioners to research LaSalle’s past problems and problems other for-profit correctional companies have created. The reputations are far from stellar.

I believe LaSalle cannot provide taxpayers the same level of services while also making a profit. Additionally, we would be turning over control of the jail to a company that profits from increased incarceration when the goal should be to reduce crime and reduce jail occupancy. Instead, we are creating an incentive to incarcerate individuals."

Of course, Vance is right on both accounts - privatization has been shown to result in dramatically higher turn-over rates amongst correctional officers and there are some pretty clear-cut examples of how privatization has incentivized keeping higher incarceration rates.  Sources from Ellis County tell us that a vote could be coming soon from the County Commissioners on privatization, and an RFP has been issued.  We'll keep you posted on developments.