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April 2016

Harris County ships prisoners to out-of-county private jails only days after receiving $2 million jail diversion grant

Last week, Harris County, the state's largest jailer, announed that it was moving prisoners out of the county to private jails in Jefferson and Bowie counties to reduce overcrowding, according to a story in the Houston Chronicle, by St. John Barned-Smith.  According to the story,

"The transfers — which are expected to cost the county about $180,000 a month in boarding fees — mark the fourth time in the past year that the sheriff's office has had to ship inmates to jails in other parts of the state.

The transfers come just days after Harris County was named as a winner of a $2 million grant to help officials here lower high rates of pretrial detention that could lead to release of hundreds of jail inmates.

The jail had reached 96 percent capacity by Friday morning, with 9,061 of its 9,434 beds filled, said Ryan Sullivan, a department spokesman."

Limestone County still paying bills on empty private prison

In February, we reported that Limestone County officials had hopes of reopening the shuttered Limestone County Detention Center by potentially contracting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The private prison for immigrants, owned by the county and operated by Management and Training Corporation, has been empty since 2013.

On March 24th, according to a report from the Groesbeck Journal, rather than discussing the reopening of the facility, Limestone County Commissioners were asking why the county should be paying invoices for costs associated with the empty prison rather than the prison operator. 

According to the report:

"The county paid three invoices in 2015, totaling $464, but has now received two new invoices, one for $1,250 and another for $40.

“Why should we pay these?” asked Commissioner Pct. 2 W.A. “Sonny” Baker, pointing out that the invoice was addressed not to the county but to a company that ran the prison previously.

Commissioner Pct. 4 Bobby Forrest noted the same thing, that the invoice was marked “Attention: Mike Sutton,” the name of the man who ran the prison for many years through Continuing Education Centers, then later through a company he formed.

The commissioners agreed to delay a decision on paying any more invoices until they are certain it's a final bill. 

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Students call on University of Houston to divest from private prisons

Two social work students at the University of Houston are calling on the university to drop shares in four large financial corporations that invest heavily in for-profit prison corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Working with End Mass Incarceration Houston, Julia Kramp and Nakia Winfield began a petition that has garnered more than 200 signatures requesting that their university stop “banking on bondage.” Winfield told the Houston Press that private prisons promote increased incarceration at the expense of low-income communities and communities of color.

"Private prisons really prey on and exploit targeted populations: people of color, usually in poor neighborhoods," Winfield said. "They try to pass legislation that increases detentions, that rips apart families, that has people in jail for longer sentences for nonviolent crimes. So it's really insidious on a personal level because of the way it rips apart communities."

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Feds tell NBC family detention changes are confirmed, Karnes to hold fathers and children

The Department of Homeland Security is going to change the Karnes family detention center from a mother and child lockup to one for fathers and their children, according to an NBC News report.

NBC reports:

"Multiple government sources confirmed that the Department of Homeland Security intends to transition immigrant women and children out of the Karnes County Family Residential Center in Texas. The facility would instead detain male heads of household and their young children."

The first indication of this change came when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña told a congressional committee of the plans last month.

The change comes at a time when the Obama Administration’s policy of family detention is in flux. The same NBC News report also noted that the numbers of women and children detained in both Texas family detention centers are low, despite the facilities being built to hold thousands.

Meanwhile, the fight over state-issued child care licenses for family detention continues, with immigrant and child advocates calling for anyone opposed to granting child care licenses to speak up at a public hearing at the Karnes County Correctional Center (KCCC), a separate facility from the family detention lockup that is also operated located in Karnes City and operated by the GEO Group.

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