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.
Montgomery County commissioners voted unanimously yesterday to sell the Joe Corley Detention Facility to GEO Group for $65 million. The facility, which in recent years has been the subject of federal investigation into financial misconduct, has been up for sale since January.
The jail was financed with $44.8 million in tax-exempt bonds under the assumption that 30% of its beds would be used by the county by 2013; the rest of the 1,288 beds are contracted out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Marshals. However, Montgomery County's incarcerated population didn't grow as expected and, in 2012, the IRS revoked the bonds' original tax exemption. The county now owes an additional $7 million in fines to the IRS.
The fate of the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility is still in the air. When GEO Group placed a bid on Joe Corley, it also expressed interest in purchasing the 100-bed facility for $35 million; the county is waiting on an appraisal of the facility, originally built for $33 million, before making a decision. MCMHTF is the only privately-run state mental health treatment facility in Texas.
A Community Education Centers detention center in Limestone County has lost its contract to incarcerate federal prisoners at the Limestone County Detention Center, according to a KWTX story ("Jail Employees Notified Jobs In Limbo Come May," March 21) today:
"Community Education Centers notified the county recently that the Bureau of Prisons will no longer fund the privatization contract between CEC and Limestone County. CEC has been running the private jail which holds about 1,035 male inmates.
County Judge Daniel Burkeen told News 10, the county is working to confirm why the funding is cut.
Burkeen says he was told CEC sent out notices to 227 employees who work for the Limestone County Detention Facility that on May 31st, they will no longer be employed by CEC. When the jail was run by the county before, about 160 people were employed at the detention center.
The County Judge said the county will plan to run the center like before, but, he wasn't sure on how many employees will be kept. Burkeen says other options are being explored."
There's no indiciation on why the contract has been cut, but we will continue to keep you posted.