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October 2015

Debate over prison privatization hits San Antonio court room

The national debate over private prisons may soon heat up a San Antonio court room sometime soon, according to a WOIA from this morning:

"A national debate over for-profit prisons has boiled over in San Antonio, where the warden of a unit run by The GEO Group was hauled before a federal judge and dressed down in open court over accusations that defendants were not receiving adequate health care.

"Your company gets millions and millions and millions and millions of dollar and we should get quality care," Judge Orlando Garcia sternly noted, announcing that a federal hearing would be held, where prison leaders would have to answer questions about the healthcare provided.

Companies like the GEO Group have recently been under fire for everything from poor conditions to cronyism to, in San Antonio's case, a lack of medical care.  The warden, in court, said a doctor was only on staff Monday through Thursday.  On Fridays and weekends, there were physician assistants available.  The day before, Federal Judge Fred Biery lashed out at the lockup, saying he believes some of the problems are because the prison is privately owned.  Assistant Federal Public Defender Donna Colthorp agrees.

"It appears that decisions are made based in how much things cost."  

The debate is part of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders platform.  This year, he authored the Justice Is Not For Sale Act."

Certainly, cutting corners at for-profit prisons in Texas is nothing new and has real and sometimes deadly consequences.  As we reported way back in 2009, state-contracted private prisons had an astounding 90% annual staff turnover rate.  These cost-cutting measures can lead to volatile facilities and Texas has sure seen its host of them, including in federally-contracted facilities like the Central Texas Detention Facility, the GEO Group facility in question.   

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GEO supervisor in Del Rio indicted on sexual assault charges

Protestor at Val Verde County Correctional Center
Protestor at Val Verde County Correctional Center
A GEO Group supervisor has been charged with sexual assault of a detainee in the company's Val Verde Correctional Center in Del Rio, according to a report in the San Antonio Express-News ("Supervisor at detention facility indicted," October 15) last week:

"A federal grand jury on Wednesday charged a supervisor at the federal detention center in Del Rio with having sex with one of her prisoners. Leticia Martinez Garza, 58, of Del Rio is charged with one count of sexual abuse of a ward. She faces up to 15 years in prison if she’s convicted.

Martinez Garza was the laundry, property and supply supervisor at the facility, which is operated by the Geo Group Inc.

In an affidavit for her arrest filed last week, an FBI agent alleged that in September 2014, a prisoner at the detention center told officials he’d had sex with Martinez Garza. Witnesses, surveillance video and Martinez Garza herself backed up the claim, the affidavit alleges."

This is certainly not the first scandal in a GEO Group facility, nor even at the Val Verde Correctional Center.  Back in 2007, when the state of Idaho moved prisoners to Val Verde, the facility had been plagued with scandal including employee who sued claiming racial discrimination after a superior displayed a hangman’s noose in his office and took pictures in KKK garb while posing in GEO Group (then called Wackenhut) uniform, and another lawsuit brought on behalf of the family of a detainee who committed suicide after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted, beaten, and denied medical care. 

In 2009, two former GEO gaurds ended back in the facility on smuggling charges and in 2012 another guard was indicted on smuggling charges as well.


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