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August 2016

The McAllen Monitor supports DHS review of private prisons

A Texas newspaper’s editorial board has come out in support of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) review of private prison contracts. The McAllen Monitor Editorial Board has previously called on DHS Secretary Johnson and the DHS to review their private prison contracts.

The editorial board also asked DHS to do more, saying:

We applaud Secretary Johnson for recognizing that failures in for-profit run prison facilities could also extend to for-profit immigration detention facilities, such as the large holding facilities in South Texas in Dilley and Karnes City.

We encourage the Homeland Security Advisory Council to investigate thoroughly all for-profit facilities operated under Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ensure they meet humanitarian standards and U.S.. detention facility protocol. Charges by former immigrant detainees and numerous immigration advocacy groups that immigrant mothers in these for-profit facilities are denied access to their children, put in isolation, denied medical care or psychological help are disturbing and should not be condoned.

The paper urged members Homeland Security Advisory Board, who will conduct the review, to come to Texas to visit in person the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, which is run by Corrections Corporation of America, and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City run by the GEO Group.

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Shares in private prisons drop after DHS announces review

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will evaluate whether the agency should continue contracting with private corporations to run their immigrant detention facilities. According to Fortune, shares in both Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) and GEO Group both dropped after the announcement.

The evaluation of privately-run prisons comes following the Department of Justice's decision to phase out their use of private prisons. Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Sen. Raul Grijalva asked DHS in a letter earlier this week to end the practice of contracting with private-prison companies.

Advocates and County Judge at Odds Over New Detention Center

Duval County officials are still pushing for a new family detention center despite immigrant rights advocates and others saying that the centers have many problems, according to Public Radio International (PRI).

As we reported earlier, Duval County Judge Ricardo Carrillo submitted a proposal in July for a new family detention center in San Diego, hoping that the new facility will bring economic opportunities to the county. However, advocates and former employees of Karnes County Residential Facility, have different opinions on the matter.

Dr. Olivia Lopez, a former social worker at Karnes and whistleblower who exposed what she called “torture” inside, said that the environment at the detention center created high levels of anxiety for both the mothers and their children. "They were being lorded over at all times with the threat of removal of children or deportation all the time," Lopez said.

Immigrant rights advocates are also concerned about the detention center being run by Serco, a private UK-based corporation, which has been accused of abusive practices in their detention centers in both Britain and Australia. Justin Tullius, the managing attorney with RAICES at Corpus Christi, said "we're continuing our campaign to raise awareness about family detention, as it already exists in Karnes and Dilley. And to let them know that that's what it would look like here."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has said it is considering proposals and expects to make a decision on a new location by October 2017.

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Largest chapter of Texas prison guard union supports closing private prisons

The president of the largest chapter of the state Texas prison guard union said that the Texas prison system should close all private prisons, according to a report from Fusion on Aug. 25.

Lance Lowry, President of the Huntsville AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees chapter, said in a blog post that closing private prisons is necessary with the state prison system facing millions of dollars in budget cuts. Lowry said that the state should move low-level, nonviolent inmates out of prisons and to parole, probation, or electronic monitoring.

If private prisons are not closed or prisoners moved from those facilities, the budget cuts would stretch correctional officers even thinner without support in overcrowded prisons, he argued.

Lowry said “We’re not running our criminal justice system efficiently. A lot of inmates could be better managed under community supervision.”  

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Texas communities brace for private prison elimination

The Dept. of Justic's (DOJ) announcement to phase out private prisons has left communities in Texas, including Eden and Big Spring, worried about how it will impact their communities, reported the Standard-Times

Though the closure of the detention center would affect Eden the most, many employees at the detention center commute from surrounding areas. According to the Big Spring Economic Development page, the Big Spring Correctional Center employs about 550 people, thought it is not clear if they are commuters or live in Big Spring. 

The DOJ announcement said that privately run prisons "compare poorly" to government-run institutions. 

The Eden Detention Center has had several riots during its time of operation, including a protest over treatment of inmates in July. The Big Spring facility had a riot during 2008, which caused around $1 million in damagaes, and also unrest in 2011, when inmates attacked staff. 

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Stocks in Private Prisons Drop After DOJ announcement

After a statement released by the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) about phasing out the use of private prisons, stocks plummeted for both Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the two largest private prison corporations, reported Bloomberg

CCA dropped 35% on the day, the highest since their initial public offering in 1997. Shares in GEO Group dropped 40%, which is the largest drop in the company's history. However, both companies stock did see a slight rebound as it was found out that facilities under contract with the Bureau of Prisons only account for about 7% of the company's business. 

This decision has no affect over contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. Contracts with ICE accounted for 24% of revenue in 2015 for CCA.

In regards to the DOJ announcement, Issaac Boltansky, an analyst at Compass Point Reseach & Trading LLC wrote, "This policy shift is clearly a negative for the publicly traded for-profit prison companies, but it is far from a death sentence". 



Five Private Prisons in Texas to Lose Contracts

Department of Justice Seal

Five private prisons in Texas will lose their contracts following the Department of Justice (DOJ) announcement to phase out the use of private prisons, according to The Texas Tribune.


The announcement came after the inspector general of the DOJ recently concluded in a report that federal prisons operated by private companies have greater issues with contraband and inmate discipline than those run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The office noted that "In recent years, disturbances in several federal contract prisons resulted in extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a correctional officer."

Multiple incidents in Texas were among those driving the DOJ decision.

Two riots broke out in 2009 at the Reeves County Detention Center, operated by GEO Group. In 2011 prisoners attacked staff at the Big Spring Correctional Center, which is operated by GEO Group. Then in 2015, the Bureau of Prisons ended its contract with Management and Training Corporation for the Willacy County Correctional Center after prisoners set fires and damaged property beyond the company’s ability to maintain federal standards.

Shares for Corrections Corporation of America dropped 35% after the announcement, while shares for GEO Group dropped 39%

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Private prison companies are paid for family detention centers whether beds are filled or not

Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) will receive payment from the federal government from their 2,400-bed family detention center regardless of how many beds are filled, according to The Washington Post.

Due to the high number of migrants crossing the border from Central American countries, the Obama administration agreed to a deal with CCA in a four-year, $1 billion contract to run the South Texas Residential Facility in Dilley, Texas. Typically,  contracts between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private corporations have the payout based on the percentage of beds filled.

ICE spokesperson Jennifer Elzea said that the contract is “unique” in its payment because they pay "a fixed monthly fee for use of the entire facility regardless of the number of residents."

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House of Representatives' Immigration and Border Subcommittee, said "for the most part, what I see is a very expensive incarceration scheme. It's costly to the taxpayers and achieves almost nothing, other than trauma to already traumatized individuals."

Elzea also told The Washington Post that the Karnes County Residential Center, operated by GEO Group, is under a contract with a similar pay structure, where it will receive full payment regardless of the number of beds filled.

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CCA Could Lose Family Detention Contract

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison corporation in the U.S., saw its stock prices dip as it announced to investors it may lose a contract to detain migrant families for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), reports the Huffington Post.

After revealing to investors the potential loss, the company said they "can provide no assurance that we will be awarded a new contract for family unit detention, will successfully renegotiate our existing contract with ICE, or will be able to maintain the margins we currently generate from the contract."

The contract in question is  for the South Texas Family Residential Center, more commonly known as the Dilley family detention camp. If CCA were to lose the contract, it would put a major dent in their revenues. According to their most recent annual filing, the Dilley facility generated $244.7 million for the company last year.

Private food workers charged with improper sexual activity at Tom Green Jail

Two food service workers for Aramark Correctional Services have been charged with improper sexual activity with prisoners at the Tom Green County Jail in San Angelo, according to a report in the Abilene Reporter-News:

"Luis Carlos Ayala, 51, and Shannon Lorrian Strasburg, 45, were arrested and charged Tuesday with violations of the civil rights of person in custody; improper sexual activity with person in custody, according to a news release from the Tom Green County Sheriff's Office. The two are private employees of the contractor that prepares meals in the jail, the release states.

Ayala and Strasburg were charged with "separate and distinct violations" and booked into the Tom Green County Jail, according to the release. The charge is a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to two years confinement and up to $10,000 in fines.

The Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation Division received information that the offenses were taking place in the jail and conducted several interviews, the release states. Investigators presented the information they'd gathered to the District Attorney's Office and obtained warrants for both suspects."

The Tom Green County Jail is operated by the county and not a private operator, but sub-contracts out food service to the Pennsylvania-based Aramark, according to the story.  Aramark's current contract, signed in 2014, runs through August.  

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