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Lobbying and Influence

Attempts at Parole Reforms Fail During Legislative Session

In the last week of the session, legislators tossed out a chance to fix one problem with the state's broken parole system. Grits for Breakfast has posted information about Chairman John Whitmire's attempt to pass SB 838, which would have limited prison time for technical parole revocations. The bill died a slow death during session, intially passing out of the higher chamber with a vote of 31-0, but failing to make it to the floor of the House for a vote that would have sent it to the Governor's desk.

Grits reported that Whitmire even tried to water down the bill and amend the dead bill onto HB 3200 on the floor.

But that was not the end of the story. Those watching the Texas legislative process know that HB 3200 had to be accepted by the House author, Chairman Jerry Madden, with amendments in order for the watered down parole measure to finally pass. That did not happen.

I was watching the House floor that day and saw Madden reject Whitmire's amendment, citing that parole had nothing to do with the probation funding mechanism that HB 3200 established.

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80th Legislative Session: Mixed Results on Private Prisons

Well folks, the 80th Texas Legislative Session ended this week. This year, overall private prison capacity grew by more than 1,000 beds and lawmakers provided additional funding for more privately-managed treatment prisons. But, it could have been worse.

As previously mentioned on this blog, Jerry Madden, Chairman of House Corrections, passed HB 198 through both houses. This legislation authorizes additional private prison capacity with 1,000 more beds and increases the limit on the size of private prisons. Despite efforts by the ACLU, Texas Civil Rights Project, and AFSCME, the legislation passed through. The bill originally called for an expansion allowing 1,500-bed private prisons, but before it passed out of the House, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst amended that down to 1,150 beds per private prison. However, the overall statewide cap has increased by 1,000 new beds.

But those numbers are deceptive. HB 198 only pertains to state prison beds in the Institutional Division that are capped by law. As many of you watching Texas corrections may know, prison officials have adopted a complicated terminology that hides how large the Texas prison population actually is.

Houston-based Cornell Corrections Involved in Corruption Cases in Alaska

Alaska lobbyist Bill Bobrick has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, bribery and money laundering in the service of a "private corrections company" unnamed in the court documents. But an Anchorage Daily News article speculates that the unnamed private prison company is Cornell Companies Inc, based in Houston and already running six halfway houses in Alaska. According to the article, Cornell has faced a slew of rejections for expanding their business in Alaska:

Cornell, along with partners Veco and Allvest founder Bill Weimer, failed in recent years to win public support for private prison proposals in Anchorage, Delta Junction, Kenai and Whittier. It also failed to win state approval for a juvenile psychiatric treatment center in downtown Anchorage.

A lobbyist for the prison company -- who was working as a government informant and who has not been identified in court papers -- paid a total of $24,000 to Bobrick's Pacific Publishing, according to court documents. Bobrick turned over $10,828 to Anderson and kept the rest, the documents say. Anderson later complained he wasn't getting enough and was paid another $2,000 by the government informant, according to the indictment against him. The informant matches the description of Frank Prewitt, a former state corrections commissioner who went to work for Cornell.

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GEO Group Flings Money and Promises to Laredo

Last week the Laredo Morning Times reported on an apparent largesse by the GEO Group's CEO George Zoley. Zoley promised a cool quarter million dollars each to the City of Laredo and to Webb County at a press conference. It may sound like a lot of money, but for Zoley and the GEO Group, it's a small investment in local goodwill with a huge cash payoff.

GEO has sealed a deal on a new federal jail in Laredo, a smaller version of the project that was being referred to as the "superjail" and has been met with considerable opposition. GEO anticipates this new 1,500-bed prison will pull in $31.5 million per year once it's operational in 2008. It will take the prison less than a week to earn GEO half a million dollars in revenue once it's full of prisoners. GEO was hoping to sweeten the deal for themselves by getting the county to foot the bill for construction, but the county nixed that idea, opting only to pay for the utilities necessary for the prison.. at a cost of approximately $500,000. For those of you doing the math, the county is getting $250,000 and paying $500,000 to help GEO get their prison.

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