You are here

December 2015

Corrections Corporation of America just got bigger in Texas

On October 29, 2015, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) sealed a $157.5 million deal on a major expansion with its acquistion of Avalon Correctional Services, Inc., a private community corrections company.

Now the nation's oldest and largest for-profit prison corporation will own or operate seven community correctional facilities in Texas: Austin Residential Reentry, Austin Transitional Center, Corpus Christi Transitional Center, Dallas Transitional Center, El Paso Multi-Use Facility, El Paso Transitional Center, and Fort Worth Transitional Center.

The acquistion adds 3,157 re-entry beds in Texas and is expected to boost revenue by $35-$45 million.  We'll be updating our map to note that the former Avalon facilities are now operated by CCA. 

Not so fast, San Jacinto County votes against for-profit immigrant detention center already approved in Shepherd

Emerald Correctional Management is coming up against more community opposition to its proposed immigrant detention center north of Houston. This time, their proposed new immigrant lock-up has found opposition from the San Jacinto County Commissioners Court.

San Jacinto County Commissioners passed a resolution on December 8 in opposition to the proposed new immigrant detention center, according to The Cleveland Advocate (SJC commissioners approve resolution to oppose immigration detention facility in Shepherd area, Dec. 9, 2015).

The vote comes just weeks after the prison company’s representatives persuaded the city of Shepherd, which sits inside San Jacinto County, to let the company pursue a bid with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a new detention center in the city.

County Judge John Lovett said at the December 8 meeting that the proposed location for the project lies mostly within an unincorporated area of the county and outside of the city limits of Shepherd. County Judge Lovett also pointed out at the hearing that the special meeting called by Shepherd had little public attendance.

The Advocate also reported that residents of both Shepherd and San Jacinto County have protested the project for various reasons. One person who spoke against the proposal to the Shepherd City Council in November was Cleveland Mayor Niki Coats. Cleveland City Council voted against the proposal when Emerald was shopping it around to them in October.

Mayor Coats told Shepherd officials in November that “What they told us was sweet.” He also said that his own research into Emerald Correctional Management and the immigrant detention system at large led him to vote against letting the company pursue a bid in his city.

For-profit prison company Emerald Correctional Management LLC is based in Shreveport, Louisiana and has been at the center of a lot of back and forth in trying to find a home for their new immigration lock-up. During a October 6 at Cleveland City Council Emerald Companies’ Executive Vice President Hull Youngblood explained why a bid in Cleveland was offered, then revoked and then offered again. Youngblood told council members that an offer to nearby Plum Grove was rejected by the landowner, causing them to return to Cleveland. When Cleveland City Council voted against the bid, Emerald took their pitch to Shepherd, which gave Emerald the thumbs up just six days later.

Shepherd takes the plunge, OKs Emerald’s immigrant detention bid despite company’s past

Less than a week after Cleveland City rejected a proposal from Emerald Correctional Management, neighboring Shepherd voted 4-1 in favor of letting Emerald pursue a bid on a new 1000-bed immigrant detention center in the small city, according to the Houston Chronicle (One community welcomes bid for detention center, another rejects it, Oct. 29, 2015).

Emerald CEO Steve Afeman told the Houston Chronicle that his company was bidding on a 10-year federal contract, with a guaranteed 750-bed occupancy rate, avoiding problems that have plagued other private prison or detention facility contracts in years past as inmate populations have dwindled.

Mayor Niki Coats, who cast the vote that doomed the proposal in Cleveland City, told the Chronicle, "After doing all the research about the industry and the company and the individuals with the company, I was strongly against it,” Coats said. "They approached us with all these numbers, but it doesn't add up.”

Debra Hagler, Shepherd City Secretary told the Chronicle that if Emerald did walk away from the facility or their obligation, as the company did in Encinal, the small city "would try to lease it, sell it, to some other company that can use it."

Hagler and other Shepherd officials would have done well to learn what happened to another Texas town that had to face this contingency. Littlefield, Texas struggled for years after private prison company the GEO Group pulled out of the troubled Bill Clayton facility.

Cleveland City narrowly rejects for-profit immigration detention proposal

Cleveland City Council in October rejected a bid from Emerald Correctional Management LLC of Shreveport, Louisiana, to build a new for-profit immigrant detention center in this community 50 miles northeast of Houston, according to a report from YourHousonNews.com (Cleveland City Council rejects immigration detention center proposal, Oct. 21, 2015)

Those who came to speak against the proposal talked about what the detention center would do to the community’s image and the company’s dubious track record (which includes leaving Encinal, Texas and $20 million in debt). Even the usual private prison promise of “bringing jobs” drew sharp rebuke. Cleveland attorney Mollie Lambert said that only meant 300 home foreclosures would follow in the future.

Emerald’s General Council Hull Youngblood spoke before the council and promised that the detention center will have a 75 percent occupancy guarantee and no families housed inside the building, possibly referring to the family detention centers in South Texas that a federal judge earlier this year ordered to release children detained there.

“It comes with a guarantee of 10 years of occupancy,” Youngblood, the Emerald representative, promised council members.

Such guarantees are all too common in immigrant detention centers. A report from Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights explains how insidious such guarantees (sometimes called local quotas) are:

[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE’s contracts with private detention companies have exacerbated the effects of the federal detention bed quota by imposing local “lockup” quotas, contractual provisions that obligate ICE to pay for a minimum number of immigration detention beds at specific facilities, referred to in contracts as “guaranteed minimums.” Because guaranteed minimums require payment to private contractors whether beds are filled or not, ICE faces considerable pressure to fill them. Local lockup quotas that serve to protect the bottom line of private companies thus incentivize the imprisonment of immigrants.

Youngblood previously testified to Cleveland City Council in October that the proposed Cleveland unit, once operational, would have around 295 employees for Emerald and another 100 for ICE. All would be paid at the federal wage scale. For Emerald employees, this would mean an average annual salary of $43,000. As for why ICE wants to build in the area? Youngblood said ICE wants detention facilities to be within 50 miles of an international airport, in this case Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

In August, The Cleveland Advocate contacted County Judges in other Texas communities where similar facilities were built, Polk County Judge Sidney Murphy: why build a new immigrant detention center so close to Livingston where one sits less than half-full? The Advocate reports that Judge Murphy told them:

...in Polk County, the IAH Detention Facility operated by MTC of Utah and built a little more than 10 years ago is required to pay the county a per diem fee per inmate. However, the population of the 1,000-bed facility is so low, with only 300 beds being used, it is no longer generating any income for the county.

The final vote against the detention center in Cleveland was 2-2 with Mayor Niki Coats casting a swing vote against the proposal.

UPDATE: Prison company packs up and leaves LaSalle County, $20 million in debt

In a story earlier this year that reviewed the many examples of private prison companies leaving Texas towns high and dry, Bloomberg Business highlighted the story of the LaSalle Detention Center in Encinal, Texas.

The immigrant detention center was opened in 2004 with almost $22 million in revenue bonds, over the concerns of many local residents who said Emerald Correctional Management LLC of Shreveport, Louisiana, was painting too rosy a picture.

Bloomberg reports that County Judge Joel Rodriguez Jr. said Emerald suddenly pulled out all inmates, leaving the county with empty beds, a leaking roof and almost $20 million in debt issued by the county's public facilities corporation.

“My fear’s always been that this would happen. When this facility was sold to the county, they sold it as a money-making facility that was going to be a great economic boon,” Rodriguez told Bloomberg.

Since then, the county has assumed responsibility for the facility while Emerald still showcases the facility on their webpage. As of the story's publication in August, Bloomberg reports that the 566-bed facility sits almost empty. Encinal has a population of 579 residents.

Emerald’s track record in LaSalle County didn’t scare officials in Shepherd, Texas. The Houston Chronicle reported that the city council voted 4-1 in favor of Emerald’s plans to build the detention center, clearing the way for the company to pursue its bid with ICE.

TX highlights from Corrections Corporation of America's 3rd quarter earnings announcement

On November 5, 2015, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) executives announced their 3rd quarter earnings results, including updates on the company's business in Texas. Check out the latest Texas updates from CCA below. You can find the full transcript here.

  • In October 2015, CCA closed the deal on the acquisition of Avalon Correctional Services, Inc. (Avalon), a for-profit community corrections company. As a result of the deal, CCA now owns or operates 17 re-entry facilities around the country, totaling 4,365 beds. Of the facilities acquired from Avalon, seven are located in Texas — a significant expansion of the company's control of private residential re-entry beds in the state. 
  • CCA hoping for contract renewal at the 1,400 bed Eden Detention Center under Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) CAR-16 procurement. Announcement anticipated 2017.
  • After a federal judge ruled that family detention violates the 1997 Flores Agreement, CCA currently awaits outcome of appeal process. In the meantime, in order to comply with the federal ruling, the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX must operate as a "short term processing center" resulting in a reduction of the average length of stay for immigrant families at the facility. However, CCA is hopeful, stating: "... our government partner [ICE] continues to highlight the need for this facility and praises the high quality services and the open, safe and appropriate environment we provide to our residents at the facility."

 

Lack of institutional control cited in sexual assault lawsuit against LaSalle Correctional's Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco

A formerly incarcerated person at LaSalle Corrections' Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco has filed a lawsuit against the facility over a sexual assault incident, according to the Waco Tribune ("Former inmate alleges sexual assault at Waco Jail," December 11):

"A former jail inmate alleges she repeatedly was sexually assaulted at the private Jack Harwell Detention Center, where she claims a long-standing lack of institutional control has led to an environment of smuggling, extortion, drug abuse and sexual misconduct."

Based on our coverage of the facility, there certainly seems to be plenty of evidence that of persistent operational problems leading to major incidents, including sexual assaults and deaths.   Following a suicide on November 1st, three private prison guards were arrested and charged with tampering with records that tracked how often they checked on the prisoner.  The facility was also found non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) following a review of the facility.  The TCJS review (attached) found that private jailers violated the standard mandating that potentially suicidal or mentally ill prisoners be checked on every 30 minutes. 

Last year, the facility's troubles — including being found in non-compliance and allegations of sexualt assault, made it one of the top private prison stories of the year.  Unfortunately, it looks like facility's problems have not abated, despite a change in operations from Community Education Centers to LaSalle Southwestern Corrections.  

We'll keep you posted on developments from this lawsuit and other stories related to the Jack Harwell facility.  

 

Blogging Categories: 

CCA’s sneaky attempt to stay in Dallas for the next 40 years

Last month, Dallas County Commissioners had a tough decision on their hands. After CCA was  expelled in 2013 with the closure of Dawson State Jail in downtown Dallas, the private prison company swooped in to take over a contract that could keep them in town for the next 40 years.

 

Last year, Dallas County entered into a contract with Lifestyles Management of Avalon Correctional Services to lease ten acres of land and build a 300-bed halfway house. CCA is now taking that contract over in spite of serious concerns raised by Dallas leaders. According to the Dallas Morning News, Commissioner John Wiley Price was “concerned about CCA’s record of prison abuse, riots and poor employee pay.” Unfortunately, Price also felt the county had no way to block it.

 

The decision was on the agenda at the Dallas County Commissioners meeting on Oct. 20th, but commissioners postponed the vote until Nov. 3rd to further research the deal. In testimony to the commissioners, local advocate, Josh Gravens, expressed concern about the well-being of halfway house residents. Knowing CCA’s history, he questioned whether the company is more interested in helping former inmates or turning a profit. Unfortunately, Dallas County commissioners felt they had no choice, and approved the lease take-over.

 

In a letter responding to advocates concerns, Commissioner Price revealed how CCA’s tactics backed them into a corner. According to Price, the Dallas County Commissioners, “have no legal means to stop [the contract]” and he encouraged the community to, “let us join in acknowledging the need being filled and lend our voices to the chorus calling on CCA to do better.” His response left many questions unanswered.


Although county commissioners approved the lease, local advocates worked with members of the commission to insert important safeguards into the contract. CCA will be required to provide transportation for residents of the halfway house, CCA cannot expand the facility to more than the originally proposed 300 beds, and CCA is prohibited from using the leased property as anything but a halfway house. Although these provisions are considered a win, close monitoring of CCA’s lease will be required.

Blogging Categories: 

ICE’s alternatives to detention still benefit for-profit prison companies like GEO

A recent NPR story, As Asylum Seekers Swap Prison Beds For Ankle Bracelets, Same Firm Profits, shed light on a new profiteering industry for private prison companies, community detention. No stranger to Texas Prison Bid’ness, GEO Group is one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S. and operates 15 federal migrant detention centers, many of which detain children and families. In a new kind of federal surveillance, families are being released from these facilities, but are required to wear tracking devices and remain closely monitored. Who is conveniently positioned to provide the tracking devices and community supervision? Geo Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group.


Geo Care received a $56 million contract to provide ankle monitoring services for 10,000 migrants and telephone check-ins for 20,000 migrants. In addition, in September ICE awarded Geo Care an $11 million contract to provide case management services to migrants who have been released.


ICE clarified why Geo Care was selected to run the program instead of a social service entity usually responsible for case management.  "...We really aim to ensure that there's a wide variety of different tools that we can use for compliance,"  says ICE assistant director Lorenzen-Strait. Disturbingly, the manager for Geo Care's new Family Case Management Program is a former top official in ICE's Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations.


Job descriptions of GEO Family Case Managers and Sr. Case Managers confirm ICE’s intent. It is clear that first and foremost, “case managers” are community detention officers, whose primary role is to monitor the lives of released migrants. Job description duties include:


“Conducts regular and on-going monitoring of family participants through in-person check-ins (e.g., home or office visits) and telephonic reporting. At a minimum, check-ins must be done prior to any appointment, hearing, or other immigration required obligation. Conducts additional check-ins as needed to promote compliance with immigration requirements.”


Although alternatives to detention offer opportunities for families to be released, this “freedom” comes with continued surveillance and control, and private prison companies continue to make millions.

Blogging Categories: