Lobbying and Influence

81st Legislative Wrap of Private Prison Bills

The regular session of the Texas Legislature ended in early June, and at final adjournment there was little improvement in the accountability and oversight of private prisons. While several legislators filed bills this year that would have strengthened private prison oversight, it seems that the private prison lobby undermined some really good attempts at legislative reform.

Bills introduced this session that addressed private prisons included:

  • HB 1714: This bill filed by Rep. Harold Dutton would have prohibited counties from contracting with private prisons.  The bill did not get a hearing this session and died in committee.  
  • HB 3903: Filed by Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr, the bill subjected private jails to the same open records laws as public facilities.  The bill was voted out of the County Affairs committee only to be killed on the House floor by Rep. Tracy King, whose district includes several private jails and detention centers, Rep. Jim McReynods, chair of the House Corrections Committee, and Rep. Jerry Madden former chair of the House corrections committee:
  • SB 1169 and HB 1914: These companion bills were filed by Sen. Robert Nichols and Rep. Jim McReynolds, chair of House Corrections, to alter state prison labor programs.  HB 1914 was signed by the Governor and abolished the Texas Private Sector Industries Oversight Authority and transfer oversight of the state’s PIE program to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. The board would be under a new requirement to ensure that private sector prison industries programs were operated in a way to avoid the loss of any existing jobs for free-world employees in Texas.
  • SB 1680: This bill filed by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa would have required voters to approve bonds used in the financing of constructed correctional facilities.  This bill did not receive a hearing and died in committee; and
  • SB 1690:  Additionally, Sen. Hinojosa filed this measure, which also died in committee, that would have exteneded oversight to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to monitor county jails that only house federal prisoners.

As I mentioned above, there was little movement on these measures during the 81st Session.  We received word that lobbyists working for private prison companies were roaming the Capitol in an effort to undermine these very reasonable reforms. It is unfortunate that even reasonable changes to the law, such as extending open records statutes to cover private jails, generated opposition from elected officials.

Navigating the legislature is just one avenue to improving oversight and accountability at Texas private prison facilities.  We will continue to monitor developments that use this process.  It may take additional public education and support to balance the interests of elected officials who serve the private prison industry with those who are interested in reasonable and responsible correctional reform.

Previous posts on legislation that impacted Texas private prisons: 


CCA Holds 2009 First Quarter Investor's Call

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) held it's investor's call for the first quarter of 2009 earlier this month.  During the call, CCA officials emphasized a positive outlook that drove stock prices to increase by 19% following the conference call.

According to CCA, 9,300 new beds were brought online during 2008 and 2009, and the average daily compensated population increased for the quarter to 4.2% from the the previous year.  CCA remains the nation's largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities, managing 64 facilities, 44 of them CCA-owned, designed to house approximately 86,000 prisoners.

On the call, company officials informed investors of a 10,000 bed vacancy among current capacity.  However, folks at CCA implied the for profit business strategy of building prisons on speculation in anticipation of demanded capacity would positively impact investment.

Specifically, CCA officials mentioned the federal stimulus package's assistance in helping states avoid budget shortfalls should help attract new demand to fill currently vacant beds.

CCA reps are projecting the potential demand may come from the 19 states -- including Texas -- the company currently does business with.  According to the company's analysis those states' prison populations will grow in excess of planned capacity past 2013.

It will be interesting to see if CCA's projections bear out.  We will keep following the company's contracts particularly those in Texas.  Stay tuned...

Who is lobbying for private prisons at the Texas Legislature?

Below we provide a 2009 list of registered lobbyists for the private prisons prison industry, as reported to the Texas Ethics Commission.  In coming weeks, we will run profiles of these individuals to give readers a better sense of who is walking the halls of the Texas legislature in support of private prisons.

Filer ID Lobbyist Name Company Compensation
00050764 Aguirre, Lionel "Leo" The GEO Group Inc. $200,000 - $249,999.99
00055941 Gibson, Stephanie The GEO Group Inc. Less Than $10,000.00
00033567 Miller, William J. The GEO Group Inc. $25,000 - $49.999.99
00056112 Wittenburg, Michelle The GEO Group Inc. $10,000 - $24,999.99
00042780 Keel, Lara Laneri Corrections Corporation of America $25,000 - $49.999.99
00022836 Shanblum, Laurie Corrections Corporation of America $ 0.00
00020586 Place, Allen Management & Training Corp. $25,000 - $49.999.99
00013441 Fisher, Walter Avalon Correctional Services Inc. $50,000 - $99,999.99

More News on Private Prison Labor Bill

Texas CapitolTexas CapitolWe previously posted that state legislators introduced companion bills to drastically alter state prison labor programs. Our pal Scott at Grits for Breakfast, provides an interesting take on this legislation which will be heard in the House Corrections Committee on Thursday morning. 

If the comments on the Grits blog are any indication, tomorrow's hearing might be interesting.  The details for the public hearing are:

COMMITTEE: Corrections
TIME & DATE: 8:00 AM, Thursday, March 26,
PLACE: E2.010

And folks who can't make it to the dome, can watch the hearing online at the Texas Legislature Website.  We will be sure to update y'all after the hearing takes place.

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