A recent Detention Watch Network report uncovered local quotas at immigrant detention facilities in South Texas, according to The Associated Press. These local quotas are found in contracts with local governments and the private corporations that manage facilities for ICE.
In total, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is contractually obligated to pay for the detention of 3,255 immigrants daily at five facilities in Texas. Three of these are for-profit facilities operated by either Corrections Corporation of America or the GEO Group. These facilities are the Houston Processing Center, South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, and Karnes County Correctional Center. The highest guaranteed minimum at one of these for-profit facilities is 750 at Houston Processing Center, with South Texas Detention Complex falling close behind at 725. It is unclear whether the Karnes detention center, which has been converted into a family detention facility, is still operating under a 450-bed quota for its current population.
ICE officials say that these local minimums are a way to ensure that they meet the national quota mandating that 34,000 beds be available to detain immigrants each day. In all of the Texas facilities, the local quotas have been exceeded.
Parker County has dumped private jail operater Community Education Centers in favor of of the Louisiana-based private prison company LaSalle Southwest Corrections. According to a story in the Weatherford Democrat (Parker County Jail to get new management), the jail will change hands in October:
Ousting the current jail operator, Community Education Centers, Parker County commissioners voted to award the 5-year contract to the Louisiana-based company due to the difference in price.
The county has the option to renew the contract twice for two-year periods, according to information presented to the commissioners.
As we reported way back in 2007, Parker County privatized its jail at the time citing cost savings. At the time we quoted a Grits for Breakfast article questioning whether CEC could provide the same services at a discounted price and still make a profit.
It's unclear if, this time around, the Parker County Commissioners addressed any other factors than price in determining the new operator of the jail. We'd note that when Ellis County Commissioners rated bids for taking over that county's jail in 2013, LaSalle only received a 53 out of 100 rating while CEC got a 65. In 2013, both Ellis County and nearby Kaufman County rejected jail privatization with opposition from conservative forces.
UPDATE: The Houston Chronicle reports that Rep. Allen Fletcher has decided not to run for Harris County Sheriff and instead will instead seek the Precinct 4 constable spot.
According to the Houston Press, State Rep. Allen Fletcher announced his candidacy to become the next Harris County Sheriff in early May. Fletcher has served as state representative since 2008, but it is his work outside of the legislature that could be an indicator of the type of sheriff he would be.
Since 2009, Fletcher has been working as a consultant for private prison companies like Community Education Centers (CEC) and La Salle Management Company, both of which have faced numerous controversies including bribery, prisoner escapes, and human rights abuses.
Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, expressed concern about Fletcher being elected as Harris County Sheriff, and whether that brings the controversial possibility of the privatization of Harris County Jail into play. Harris County Jail is the fourth largest jail in the U.S — it would be a boom for any private corporation looking to drive up its profit margins.
Ana Yáñez-Correa told the Houston Press that privatizing the jail would be bad for inmates, employees and taxpayers, because private prison companies “make money by lowering the costs of running these places, by paying their staff less, by offering fewer programs and all kinds of shortcuts people take when they want to save money and run a profitable business.”
The debate over the future of the Liberty County Jail continues and it looks like it will all come down to cost.
Liberty County has been mulling over a proposal for the county to take over operations of the jail from Community Education Centers (CEC), which currently runs the facility. At a special meeting of the Liberty County Commissioners Court on May 19, Commissioners heard from county officials and others including CEC Warden Raye Carnes, Liberty County Indigent Health Care Director Donna Burt and Liberty County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Rader.
Burt told commissioners that when the county last ran the jail, the biggest medical cost was providing malpractice insurance coverage for the jail doctor, costing $100,000 in the 1990s. Burt told commissioners that finding a doctor was the biggest challenge facing the county and that she didn’t think the county would save money by taking over operation of the jail.
Warden Carnes told commissioners that CEC provides medical care, but left out the company’s widely reported and troubled history. That history includes an incident that left a woman dead of pregnancy complications at an Indiana facility after CEC staff waited hours to seek emergency medical care.
Commissioners hired Austin-based consultant firm MGT of America, Inc. in August 2014 to advise the county on which route would save the county money. In March of this year, MGT told commissioners that the cost of running the jail would be the same whether it was run by the county sheriff or CEC “or 'Johnny’s Garage and Jail Service.'" MGT also told commissioners in the same meeting that their best bet to reduce the cost of running the jail would be to reduce the jail population.
For his part, Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, a Republican who ran and won on a platform of kicking CEC out of the jail, cited projections that the average population would actually grow to 275 inmates over the next five years.
Sheriff Rader summed up the county’s concerns: “If it’s going to cost more money for us to take it over [from CEC], then it’s not the right thing to do.”
A change in management very well may be the right thing to do for those locked up in the jail. In April, two prisoners died in a single week at the CEC-run Liberty County Jail.