The Houston Chronicle recently reported that Texas Youth Commission (TYC) conservator, Richard Nedelkoff, resigned from Florida-based Eckered Youth Alternatives -- a private, youth correctional agency. Nedelkoff's resignation came after being questioned by lawmakers during a legislative hearing.
Lawmakers questioned whether his personal business relationships with national experts he's brought in to assess the agency presented a conflict of interest.
According to lawmakers, several of the national experts had relationships to private prison agencies. Despite, denial that the private prison officials consulted by Nedelkoff contributed to bad decision making, he resigned soon after being quizzed by public officials.
In a statement, ... Nedelkoff said he was resigning his position as chief operating officer with the Florida-based Eckerd Youth Alternatives Inc. "to avoid any appearance of impropriety."
This is was an interesting development in the reforms being undertaken by TYC officials. We will keep you posted regarding on any relationships between the agency and private prison contractors.
The Statesman reported today that a forthcoming Legislative Budget Board (LBB) report will state that Texas prison growth has slowed resulting in the need for fewer prison beds.
That's the conclusion of a Legislative Budget Board study to be made public Monday. It attributes the slowdown to a decrease in the number of new felons, a slightly increased parole rate, fewer revocations of probation and parole that send violators to prison, and the projected effects of treatment and rehabilitation programs approved by the Legislature last year.
The report predicts that Texas' incarcerated population will average 156,364 this year and rise to 158,470 in 2012.
That is good news. During the 80th Legislature lawmakers authorized the construction of new prison beds pending the approval of the LBB. We continue to be unsure of how many of these beds may be private. We will continue to monitor these developments and increases in private state capacity in Texas.
Previous coverage on the Legislature:
The Laredo Morning Times reported last week that State Senator Judith Zaffarini, a state Democratic powerhouse, accepted $500 from the GEO Group's PAC in the last half of 2007. GEO Group is of course the company behind the controversial federal detention center in Laredo.
The Raba-Kistner PAC contributed $5,000, and the Texas GEO Group Inc. PAC contributed $500. In December, the Webb County Commissioners Court authorized payment of an invoice to Raba-Kistner of more than $150,000 for services the San Antonio-based company provided to the county for work on the county's presidential permit application for the proposed rail bridge in northwest Webb County.
The county also recently entered into a contract with the GEO Group to provide water and sewer services for the company's new 1,500-bed detention facility under construction near the city of Rio Bravo.
Zaffirini's husband, Carlos Zaffirini, represents the GEO Group in local negotiations with the county.
Of course, a $500 contribution is not an incredible amount of money - it certainly must pale in comparison to the amount of money that Carlos Zaffirini has taken in from the GEO Group as their local counsel for the past 5 years - and numerous other Texas politicians have accepted similar donations from private prison corporations.
Still, one has to be concerned by the close relationship between a private prison corporation and one of the most powerful political families in south Texas. Zaffirini is facing a campaign challenge from former Webb County Judge Louis Bruni (who interestingly was an initial proponent of the GEO Group prison), who lost his re-election campaign by getting fourth of four candidates. His fund-raising numbers don't make it seem like his base of support has increased much. Despite spending $96,000 of his own money, his only campaign contribution in this reporting period came from his sister.
Texas prisoners will have access to telephones in the next few months. The service will be provided via a private contractor who will install the phones in prisons around the state. According to recent reports, about 4,000 phones will be installed in state prisons. Texas is the last state to provide this service to state prisoners.
This policy is a long time coming. Advocates and family groups have worked for years to provide telephone access to state prisoners. According to Lisa Sandberg in the the Houston Chronicle, "All calls to relatives and friends on an approved list will be recorded, and prison officials will be in charge of monitoring them".
It is certainly a step in the right direction for improving the conditions of Texas prisons. As Grits for Breakfast mentioned, telephone access among prisoners is a behavior management tool and serves to keep prisoners in contact with their families and friends. That is significant since the majority of Texas prisoners will return home.
Undoubtedly, telephone contracts will raise a need for vigorous advocacy as watchdog groups monitor the contracts and make sure that families are not being overcharged for prison telephone calls.
The Vera Commission reported in it's 2006 report Confronting Confinement that the price of prison telephone calls minimized the condition of prisons by reducing the ability of prisoners to maintain contact with family and friends. The Commission found that safety is promoted in correctional facilities when prisoners are allowed to communicate with people in their home communities and maintain personal relationships. This is particularly important in Texas where prison sentences have increased in recent years and prisons are located in remote areas.
We will monitor these telephone contracts and and assess how the cost and management are impacting prisoners and their home communities.