With the Texas legislative session underway, Texas Prison Bid’ness is shining the spotlight on five of the top private prison lobbyists in our state. As we’ve covered before, GEO Group, CCA, CEC, and MTC pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for lobbying services and campaign contributions for state and federal legislators. Here are five men and women who profit the most from peddling private prisons, jails, and detention centers in Texas:
1. LIONEL AGUIRRE
Leo is no stranger to the Texas Prison Bid’ness blog. He’s been earning top dollar as a GEO Group lawyer for years; his $200,000+ contracts with GEO are some of the fattest in the state. He reported a $100,000-$150,000 salary in 2011 and $50,000-$100,000 in 2012.
Aguirre was married to the late Lena Guerrero, a three-term state representative and the first Latina chair of the powerful Texas Railroad Commission, the agency in charge of regulating the oil and gas industry. Lionel himself was the executive of the state comptroller’s office before moving into the private sector.
2. MICHAEL TOOMEY
Last year, CCA paid Toomey $50,000-$100,000 to lobby for them in the Texas state government. He’s earned himself a lot of press as one of Rick Perry’s inner circle, including articles in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Mother Jones. Between 2008 and 2011, Toomey’s clients won $2 billion in state government contracts, according to a study by the NYT and the Texas Tribune.
3. FRANK R. SANTOS
Santos, the founder of Santos Alliances, calls himself the top Hispanic lobbyist in Texas, and was named the #3 Lobbyist in the State by the San Antonio Express-News in 2006. Santos is the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Senate Hispanic Research Council; the chief national consultant and strategist for the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. He is also one of GEO Group’s top paid lobbyists in Texas, earning $50,000-$100,000 in both 2011 and 2012. GEO Group operates seven detention centers and twenty prisons in Texas.
4. LARA LANERI KEEL
Ranked as the 2011 Top Female Hired-Gun Lobbyist in the state by Capitol Inside, Keel took in $50,000-$100,000 from Corrections Corporation of America in both 2011 and 2012. Keel is a member of the powerful Texas Lobby Group and director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. She’s married to John Keel, the State Auditor since 2004.
5. DEAN McWILLIAMS
Co-founder of McWilliams Governmental Affairs Consultants, McWilliams has earned a spot as a top grossing lobbyist in this state; he held a $50,000-$100,000 contract with Community Education Centers (CEC) in 2011 and 2012. On his website, Dean boasts of his close ties to the government, having served on the Legislative Budget Board Task Force on Health Care Reform and the Lieutenant Governor’s Task Force on Prison Overcrowding.
This week, Bob and I participated in a webinar hosted by Detention Watch Network and our respective organizations, The Sentencing Project and Grassroots Leadership. The webinar addressed the relationship between for-profit prisons and immigrant detention.
Cody Mason, with The Sentencing Project, presented on the recent report, Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention, where he discussed the growth in ICE and USMS contract capacity for immigrant detention. Bob discussed how Operation Streamline is driving growth in immigrant detention through the increased prosecutions of certain federal offenses that have moved immigration policy into the criminal justice system. Also, Emily Tucker with the Detention Watch Network focused her remarks on the problems with mandatory detention and the unjust federal and state policies that have expanding the government’s authority to detain people. The call also featured Hope Mustakim of Texas; her husband Nazry immigrated from Singapore several years ago and due to changes in immigration policy was detained in the South Texas Detention Center in 2011.
A few notable facts reported during the webinar are:
Nearly 200 people registered for the webinar, representing communities of faith, impacted communities, and organizers working towards immigration and criminal justice reform. Folks can download the webinar here until August 29th.
Sunday's Austin American Statesman featured a front page story by Andrea Ball on fines being leveled against GEO Group's Montgomery County psych facility and plans to privatize a state mental hospital moving through an RFP process. Here's the lead:
"Sixteen months after the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility opened in Conroe, the state's first publicly funded, privately run psychiatric hospital is facing at least $53,000 in state fines for serious shortcomings in patient care.
The private operator, Geo Care, is a subsidiary of Geo Group, a private prison company that has drawn attention in recent years because of deaths, riots and sexual abuse at some units in Texas and other states." ("As East Texas public-private psych facility struggles, state plans more privatization," July 21)
More disturbingly, the state is not considering pulling out of the contract with GEO, but actually privatizing a state mental health hospital. According to Ball's article:
The problems come to light as the Department of State Health Services prepares to privatize one of the 10 public psychiatric hospitals it oversees. If Geo Care bids on the ongoing privatization effort — and it has expressed interest to public officials in doing so — its work in Montgomery County could be a harbinger of what taxpayers can expect if a for-profit company wins control of a public state hospital.
This week, the agency will accept bids from contractors seeking to run one of those facilities for at least 10 percent less than the current cost, a move that could save the state millions of dollars each year. If an offer is accepted, a private company could be running a state hospital by the end of the year.
We'll keep you posted on developments on the fight over privatizing a mental hospital in Texas.
Last month, the Christian Broadcasting Network published an article that covered serious concerns with the for-profit prison industry. While the issues CBN raises are nothing new to regular Texas Prison Bid’ness readers, we are excited to see that the diversity of groups raising these concerns continues to grow. Here’s an excerpt:
Critics complain that private prisons cut corners on salaries, guard training, inmate medical care, and facility maintenance to add to their bottom lines. "The model as a whole has not had a happy history," Dr. Fran Buntman, a criminologist at George Washington University, said.
In her opinion, for-profit companies should not be in the business of locking up criminals.
"Ethically we need to deal with the fact that when we have chosen to put people in prison, we've taken away from their liberty rights to control their own lives," Buntman said. "We as a society and the government as the institution looking after them have a responsibility to their welfare," she continued. "We cannot subcontract out that responsibility to a private agency."
For critics of the industry, their fears materialized a few months ago when CCA proposed a $250 million deal to 48 states. The company would buy state prisons and manage them if the states would guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate. [For TPB’s coverage of this offer click here.]
"What's more important? People or money?" John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, asked. "I'm not saying corporations are evil, but corporations exist for one reason, to make money, maximum profit," he continued. "That's okay if you're making widgets or toothpaste, but when you're dealing with people and you're making money off of people -- you're starting to treat people like they're toothpaste and you're making money off of them and I think that's way we're headed.
"We're de-personalizing people in this country and I think that we're heading to a country where people are going to be treated like they're products," he said.
To make matters worse for the for-profit prison industry, this is not the first time this year that CBN affiliated individuals raised issues that could negatively impact the industry’s profits. In March, CBN founder Pat Robertson came out in favor of legalizing marijuana. How could this harm the for-profit prison industry? Well, approximately 46% of drug prosecutions (858,408 in 2009) are for marijuana – and that adds up to a lot of prison beds! And, the for-profit prison industry has lobbied for draconian drug laws that rely on incarceration rather than evidence-based solutions such as treatment programs.
How can the for-profit prison industry both maximize shareholder profit and ensure public safety, human rights, and fiscal responsibility? As the industry’s actions indicate, the answer is – they can’t! We hope that CBN continues to highlight this clear conflict of interest.