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October 2013

TPJ Files Ethics Complaint Against GEO PAC for Campaign Contribution Reporting

Last week, Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint (PDF) with the Texas Ethics Commission claiming irregularities in reporting by the Political Action Commission of private prison corporations GEO Group.  

The complaint alleges that GEO reported that it had given State Representative Harvey Hildebran and State Senator Troy Fraser campaign donations of $1,000 and $5,000 respectively.  However, neither donation showed up on the candidates filings, indicating that the donations may have been returned, a fact that GEO's PAC should have reported.

The donations occured in the midst of a heated fight over a bid to private the Kerrville State Hospital by GEO subsidiary GEO Care.  Kerrville is represented by both Hilderbran and Fraser, and both opposed privatization of the hospital.  After outrage from mental health and criminal justice organizations (including Grassroots Leadership, my organization), local residents, and elected officials, the privatization proposal was scrapped.

Curry County, NM Looking to Send Prisoners Shuttered Littlefield Jail?

Curry County, New Mexico

is looking at sending 200 incarcerated people to a currently empty jail in Littlefield, Texas, according to Littlefield City Manager Mike Arismendez  ("Littlefield City Manager Says Jail Proposal Would Save County Almost $2 million per year," October 15, 2013).  

According to the article, Curry County Commissioners are currently searching for ways to alleviate their overcrowding problem. County commissioners have not yet reached a decision regarding the proposed contract, which was suggested by Arismendez. According to Arismendez, WestCare, a private company, has agreed to contract with Littlefield to operate the facility.  It remains unclear what kind of record WestCare has in the corrections field as it doesn't appear that they currently operate any corrections facilities.  

To finalize the deal, Curry County would have to enter into a contract with Littlefield. That contract, with $42 alloted for each prisoner per day, would cost Curry County $3 million annually. The county's current budget for its adult detention facility is $5 million, according the article. The county jail's average population is between 240 to 260 people, according to Captain Keith Farkas, a command staff member at the facility.

Arismendez also claimed that Littlefield would house prisoners convicted of violent offenses, as well as those who might need to be placed in administrative segregation for any reason, including those with mental health concerns. Transportation of individuals from Curry County to Littlefield, according to him, will take place roughly twice a week.

Littlefield's Bill Clayton Detention Center, build in 2000, was originally a state prison for juveniles, but the Texas legislature decided to remove juveniles from the facility in 2003. A for-profit company operated the facility until 2009, housing adults during that time. The facility closed in 2009 after the company lost contracts in both Idaho and Wyoming.  

The Bill Clayton Detention Center's history has been troubled at best. Randal McCullough, 37, committed suicide at Bill Clayton after nearly year in solitary confimenent. Soon after, the Idaho Department of Corrections cancelled its contract with the GEO Group and removed its prisoners from Bill Clayton. Idaho's audit uncovered a routine falsifying of reports; guards claimed to be monitoring prisoners at regular intervals, but were often away from their assigned posts for hours on end. In 2011, the building was up for auction

Despite Bill Clayton's less than pristine track record, however, that the facility may be up and running again soon. As my colleague Holly Kirby wrote in September regarding the pending deal between Curry County and Littlefield

Since Littlefiend's disaster with GEO Group, the city has been stuck with an empty 372-bed jail and a $65,000 monthly bill to pay for it. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that Littlefield officials are eager to reach an agreement that would fill those beds and minimize that debt. However, a deal that would allow Curry County, New Mexico prisoners to be housed in Littlefield. TX-though it may appear to some as a "win-win"-is troubling. 

We'll keep you posted on developments from Littlefield as they come about. 

GEO Group Contributions to Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar Scrutinized

The Dream 30, a group of 36 activists who crossed the Texas-Mexico in Laredo border to protest the

Obama administration's "record" deportations and to prompt Congress to work toward immigration reform were recently reportedly denied support from Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar. The group called on Cuellar to write President Obama to accelarate the release of the remaining 27 activists who are still detained, according to NBC Latino's Julio Ricardo Verala ("Opinion: The DREAM 30, a Congressman and Private Prisons"). 

Cuellar, a Democrat who represents Laredo and supports immigration reform, as of yet has refused to support the activists, who are a part of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA). Cuellar stated that he does not condone what he thinks is the Dream 30's use of minors in taking a political stand on immigration.  

Cuellar's reaction to the Dream 30's requests prompted a video conference with NIYA, as well as a sit-in at Cuellar's office. Police officers reportedly escorted activists off the premises, and no arrests were made. 

These events resulted in NIYA and other affiliated groups to disclose that The GEO Group, one of the most prominent private prison companies in the world that makes a direct profit from immigrant detention in the United States, is one of Cuellar's campaign donors. As was reported on the Grassroots Leadership blog this summer, Cuellar was the third biggest recipient of GEO money in the House of Representatives last year.

In fact, Cuellar has received at least $30,000 from GEO since 2009, according to NBC Latino. It turns out that GEO also operates the Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo, which, though built before Cuellar's tenure as Congressman, employs much of his district. According to Cuellar's office, 

"[The Rio Grande Detention Center] is a large employer in in Representative Cuellar's District and not unlike many other  large employers in Representative Cuellar's district, [GEO Group] donated to his campaign. However, the total contributions by GEO are miniscule within each campaign cycle in total."

La TUYA, a group of undocumented youth affiliated with NIYA, are keeping folks up-to-date on their Facebook page about developments with the campaign to garner Cuellar's support for the DREAM 30. 



Former MTC Guard Receives Probation for Candy Exchange

A former private prison guard received probation for accepting a candy bar as a bribe from a prisoner at the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility, according to the Lubbock Avalanche Journal ("Ex-prison Guard gets Probation for Taking Inmate's Candy Bar Bribe Offer," October 18, 2013). 

The charges alleged that a prisoner bribed Cesar Ceja, a former employee at the Dalby facility, in an effort to convince him to bring contraband into the prison in 2012. He also claimed that a prisoner offered him a Snickers bar in order to obtain chewing gum. Many facilities label chewing gum as contraband because it can be used to jam locks. 

"You know I'm giving you a break," U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings told Ceja, following defense attorney's Rod Hobson's suggestion that a lengthy probation would be as effective as incarceration. Ceja could have served a maximum sentence of two years for exchanging candy. 

The Dalby Facility is owned by Garza County and is operated by Utah-based Management and Training Corporation (MTC). It is a federal facility that houses prisoners who are often awaiting deportation. 

America's Best Kept Secret: Immigration Detention Bed Mandate

Every day, people are bought and sold like commodities on American soil, and taxpayers are footing the bill, according to a new video produced by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).  

The video details how the private prison industry has exerted significant influence over Congress, and how that body requires  34,000 immigrants be incarcerated on any given day. These men and women are not permitted free legal services, phone calls and visitaiton are often limited, and medical needs are often neglected. Here's the video: 

What’s more, the House of Representatives has approved a $5.4 million budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Operations in FY 2014. Over $2 billion of that amount will be allocated to immigrant detention.   According to Representative Ted Deutch, “No other law enforcement agencies have a quota for the number of people they must keep in jail.”  Here's the CIVIC video:




Private Prison Deal Continues to Cost McLennan County

McLennan County officials are working to save money in their criminal justice system, but continue to be burdened with a private prision deal that costs the county, according to an article at ("McLennan County: Officials Looking for Jail Savings, Saddled by Private Jail Deal" 9/30/13). 

According to the article, the county aims to streamline its justice system to save money. The county commission approved a new budget in August. Included is a five cent increase in the tax rate and $4.5 million in budget cuts.

McLennan County Judge Scott Felton created the McLennan County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee--which includes law enforcement personnel, judges, and prosecutors who all want to lower jail costs--after the jail ended up $2 million over budget in this fiscal year. That money can be saved by reducing the jail's population by ten percent, according to the article.  

Unfortunately, any savings from that reduction in population would be countered by a deal that McLennan County made with LaSalle Corrections to operate the county's privately-operated Jack Harwell Detention Center. According to the deal, the county has agreed to pay LaSalle Corrections to house 325 prisoners, whether or not the cells are actually in use. Felton claimed that the deal allowed taxpayers to avoid paying the entire bill, which is the bond payment that LaSalle makes on the facility, according to the article.

"Having LaSalle as operator and us having to guarantee a threshold is better than not having anyone at all," Felton said. Felton is sure that the county-run Highway 6 jail can ensure savings for the county. "There are ways that we can cut back on offset some of that," Felton says.   

The private prison industry continues to cause trouble for many communities in which they operate. Clearly, McLennan County is no exception.