During the last week to file new bills, state legislators introduced measures that impact private prisons and jails in the state of Texas.
Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), filed HB 1714 that prohibits counties from contracting with private prisons. Dutton's bill comes in the wake of a number of deaths and scandals that plagued county managed private facilities in recent years. Several suicides and in-custody deaths among prisoners from Idaho in a GEO managed facility led to the cancellation of local contracts.
We have published posts regurlarly on this blog regarding the problems that face privately run county jails that contract with other states. Bob wrote earlier this year that early termination for private jail contracts resulted in counties holding debt they could no longer handle. Not good policy in midst of a deep recession.
Dutton's legislation is certainly timely. We will keep you posted as the bill advances through the 81st legislature.
Speaker Joe Strauss (R-Bexar) appointed House Committees today. There was a change in the House Corrections Committee. During the 81st session, Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) will chair the Corrections committee. Other committee members include:
From my experience at the lege, McReynolds is a strong appointment to chair the committe. And with Madden serving has Vice-Chair, many of the strong reforms instituted in previous sessions under his leadership should influence the committee going forward.
Kolkhorst's appointment should temper any bad legislation that private prison profiteers will attempt to push this session. Kolkhorst has Huntsville in her district -- home to many of the state's prisons including the Prison Museum. Further, her prison guard constituents will work with her to represent their interests.
And Hodge and Dutton are strong supporters of criminal justice reform efforts. Both have a long history of iniatiating and supporting policy solutions that result in a more humane and fair system.
On the Senate side, the appointments were made a few weeks ago. The only new appointment to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee committe this year was Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) The committee continues to be chaired by Senate Dean John Whitmire (D-Houston). Other committee members include:
With committee leadership in both chambers appointed, the work can begin. We will monitor closely any developments regarding private prisos this session and post developments as they happen. Stay tuned...
Last month, a Willacy County grand jury indicted The GEO Group, a Florida private prison company, on a murder charge in the death of a prisoner days before his release. The three-count indictment alleged The GEO Group allowed other inmates to beat Gregorio de la Rosa Jr to death with padlocks. The murder took place at the Raymondville prison in 2001.
In 2006, a jury ordered GEO to pay de la Rosa's family a civil judgment of $47.5 million. Earlier this week, District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra also indicted Vice President Richard Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and state Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.
The Associated Press reports:
Cheney is charged with engaging in an organized criminal activity related to the vice president's investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds financial interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and "at least misdemeanor assaults" on detainees because of his link to the prison companies. ...
The indictment accuses Gonzales of using his position while in office to stop an investigation in 2006 into abuses at one of the privately-run prisons. ...
Another indictment released Tuesday accuses Lucio of profiting from his public office by accepting honoraria from prison management companies. Guerra announced his intention to investigate Lucio's prison consulting early last year.
"Most District Attorneys wouldn't pursue these kinds of charges,'' Friedmann said today in a phone interview. The case is likely the ``first time a prison company has ever faced criminal charges as a result of a prisoner death in custody,'' he said. ``There might be another one out there, but if so, we're not familiar with it.''
The indictments have garnered much public attention. In court the interaction between Guerra and judge became heated. According to reports, the prosecutor believes Cheney and Gonzalez are receiving special treatment.
The stories surrounding these indictments and the prosecutorial actions taken by Guerra are marked by the high drama of Texas justice. We will continue to follow this story and keep you posted on the implications for private prison management in Texas.