Corrections Corporation of America has scheduled its 2013 4th quarter investor conference call Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 10am CT. The investor calls are accessible through CCA's investor website and webcasts are generally made available in the days following the call.
These calls are often important gauges of where the industry thinks its future lies, whether its in expanded immigration detention contracts, out-of-state transfers from states like California, or increased state contracts. It will also be interesting to see if the loss of CCA contracts to operate the Dawson State Jail and Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility - together more than 4,000 prison beds - will impact the company's annual bottom-line.
As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered on our blog. Our number five story of the year is continued problems at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, McLennan County's speculatively built private jail.
Back in May, we reported that McLennan County Commissioners had voted to end the county's contract with private prison corporation Community Education Centers to run the Jack Harwell Detention Center, deciding instead to team up with LaSalle Corrections.
The detention center had been a strain on McLennan County since before construction began in 2008. The county was hoping to pay off $49 million in bonds floated by its Public Facilities Corporation and generate revenue by holding federal prisoners but never saw the numbers they anticipated.
However, by 2012, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found the facility non-compliant and ICE dropped their contract at the time altogether, citing substandard care. At the time of the operations transfer the facility is at less than half capacity and housing overflow from the county jail.
This August, plans to bring immigration detainees back to Jack Harwell continued fell through, leaving the facility still dramatically undercapacity.
As Lauren reported in October, McLennan County officials approved a new budget in August that included a five cent increase in the tax rate and $4.5 million in budget cuts.
Seeking to streamline jail costs, the McLennan County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee proposed reducing the jail population by ten percent. Unfortunately, any savings from that reduction in population would be countered by a deal that McLennan County made with LaSalle Corrections that would house 325 prisoners at Jack Harwell, whether or not the cells are actually in use.
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said at the time the deal allowed taxpayers to avoid paying the entire bill, including bond payment that LaSalle makes on the facility. "Having LaSalle as operator and us having to guarantee a threshold is better than not having anyone at all."
McLennan County continues to pay for its decision to float debt for a speculative private jail it didn't need. Hopefully, other communities are taking note.
Last week, Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint (PDF) with the Texas Ethics Commission claiming irregularities in reporting by the Political Action Commission of private prison corporations GEO Group.
The complaint alleges that GEO reported that it had given State Representative Harvey Hildebran and State Senator Troy Fraser campaign donations of $1,000 and $5,000 respectively. However, neither donation showed up on the candidates filings, indicating that the donations may have been returned, a fact that GEO's PAC should have reported.
The donations occured in the midst of a heated fight over a bid to private the Kerrville State Hospital by GEO subsidiary GEO Care. Kerrville is represented by both Hilderbran and Fraser, and both opposed privatization of the hospital. After outrage from mental health and criminal justice organizations (including Grassroots Leadership, my organization), local residents, and elected officials, the privatization proposal was scrapped.
McLennan County is still struggling to fill its speculatively-built Jack Harwell Detention Center, according to an article in the Waco Tribune ("ICE detainees never delivered to county’s jail," August 27) this week:
"McLennan County officials said the 200 detainees U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement promised to the county’s private jail didn’t come.
Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cawthon said ICE told the county the detainees would be delivered to the Jack Harwell Detention Center on Highway 6 at the end of July, but none arrived.
Harwell warden James Duke said he has offered 300 of the center’s 833 beds to the federal agency, but he doesn’t know when to expect them to be filled.
“The thing with immigration is this facility is only an overflow facility. So basically, we can’t expect (detainees) unless (ICE) needs us for overflow beds, and there’s no way we can predict that,” he said. “Dealing with (ICE), it’s got to be on their time and on their need.”"
This is not the Jack Harwell lock-up's first foray into immigrant detention contracts. As we reported back in 2011, then-operator Community Education Centers had immigration detainees removed from its facility after complaints from legal service advisors and immigration rights advocates that conditions in the facility were inappropriate for immigrants in civil detention. The facility also was deemed non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
McLennan County has struggled to pay the debt the county's Public Facility Corporation floated to pay for the construction of hte facility. The facility has sat half-empty for years after county's financing agency spent $49 million to build it. The sitting McLennan County Sheriff was on the payroll of CEC at the time the county voted to finance the construction of the facility.