The Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom sat down Texas Commission on Jails Standards chief Adan Muñoz for an interview covering jail overcrowding, privatization, and other aspects of Texas' enormous county jail system (Brandi Grissom, "Adan Muñoz: The TT Interview," August 3). It's no wonder that Muñoz is one of our favorite Texas officials. Here's his reponse to a question about privately operated jails:
"They’ll build the facility above and beyond what is projected for the county's needs... so that they can house either federal inmates or out-of-state inmates in order to generate a profit. What we have been seeing lately, over probably the last year and a half to two years, is a diminishing of those select inmates that are out there for profit. So you've got these facilities that are built and financed by local governments... to bring in extra money for their communities at a time where those inmates were out there and available for these facilities. That's not the case anymore. A certain facility just went up for auction last week in this state, where that facility just basically got abandoned by the private vendor who says, "We’re not making any money, we’re moving." They can notify them and give them 60, 90 days, 30 days notification — whatever it is — and they’re gone. So the facility basically has to fall out of compliance or shut down. It’s a risky situation."
Munoz was also skeptical about proposals floated to privatize Harris County's massive jail system:
"If you run a small jail — when I say small jail, that's anywhere from 7 to 25 prisoners — your daily incarceration may be 7 or 8. So, are you better off shipping them off to the county next door rather than carrying the liability? Certainly. But when you have 11,000 prisoners like Harris County, it's real tough to get out of the jail business. For example, I know that Harris County has spoken of privatization. You really don’t have, in my opinion, you don’t have very many privates trying to do business with Harris, because where is their profit margin going to come from? I mean, if you have a $30 million debt of overtime you encumber or you accept as part of the privatization, where is your profit margin going to come from?"
Read the entire interview and watch the video here.
Immigrants for Sale is a new website that is dedicated to exposing the links between the private prison industry and anti-immigrant laws. They launched a few months ago with this video, which is well worth a watch.
The Detention Watch Network has released some terrific data and graphs on the private prison industry's role in the United States' immigrant detention system. (Full disclosure: I'm on the Steering Committee of DWN, and Grassroots Leadership helped compile this research). Amongst the interesting findings, 49% of all immigrant detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations. That is higher percentage of privatized beds than nearly any other state or federal agency.
Texas has more private immigrant detention beds - more than 10,000 - than any other state. Furthermore, some of the largest immigrant detention centers in the country are in Texas, including MTC's Willacy County Processing Center and GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center. The report includes a complete breakdown of every major private detention center by average daily population.
Furthermore, the report tracks the federal lobbying and influence exerted by the private prison industry to ensure its interests are met. According to the report:
"Between the five corporations with ICE contracts for which official federal lobbying records are currently available, the total expenditure on lobbying for 1999-2009 was $20,432,000.(1) In general, corporations lobbied both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Most companies also lobbied the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The larger corporations (CCA and GEO) lobbied a variety of entities related to immigration policy, including the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Office of Management and Budget. Both CCA and GEO reported lobbying ICE directly."
The full report and data are well worth a read. Check them out here.
Last week, Grassroots Leadership (my organization and a co-sponsor of this blog) was one of 15 Texas-based civil and immigrant rights organizations to send a letter (PDF) to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano expressing opposition to the new GEO Group "civil" immigration detention center in Karnes County. Here's an excerpt from the press release that accompanied the letter:
A year ago, ICE announced sweeping reforms to its immigration detention system and a desire to move away from isolated detention centers. The advocacy groups expressed disappointment that ICE had used its reform mandate to construct new detention facilities for people who could be released on bond or into alternatives programs.
The letter also criticized the choice of for-profit prison corporation GEO Group as a partner for the new immigration detention center. ...
A number of GEO Group contracts were terminated in Texas in recent years after serious allegations of abuse and neglect. The suicides of Scot Noble Payne and Randall McCullough and subsequent investigations into squalid conditions preceded the closure of GEO’s Dickens County and Bill Clayton detention centers. In 2007, the Texas Youth Commission shuttered the GEO Group-run Coke County Juvenile Justice Center after a damning investigation into conditions at the youth detention center.
The coalition includes the ACLU of Texas, American Gateways, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, Council on American Islamic Relations-TX, San Antonio, Grassroots Leadership, La Union del Pueblo Entero, People Organizing in Defense of Earth and her Resources, Redes Cuidadanas of Texas, Southwest Workers Union, Texans United for Families, Texas Civil Rights Project, Texas Indigenous Council, Texas Jail Project, WilCo Justice Alliance, and the Workers Defense Project.
As we reported last year, GEO was awarded an Intergovernmental Service Agreement to operate this new "civil" detention center on the same day it was sued by the ACLU over the death of Jesus Manuel Galindo at the company's Reeves County Detention Center. We'll be following this story closely and will keep you updated.