Money/Financial Interests

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Limestone County still paying bills on empty private prison

In February, we reported that Limestone County officials had hopes of reopening the shuttered Limestone County Detention Center by potentially contracting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The private prison for immigrants, owned by the county and operated by Management and Training Corporation, has been empty since 2003.

An image of the Limestone County Detention Center from Google Maps.An image of the Limestone County Detention Center from Google Maps.On March 24th, according to a report from the Groesbeck Journal, rather than discussing the reopening of the facility, Limestone County Commissioners were asking why the county should be paying invoices for costs associated with the empty prison rather than the prison operator. 

According to the report:

"The county paid three invoices in 2015, totaling $464, but has now received two new invoices, one for $1,250 and another for $40.

“Why should we pay these?” asked Commissioner Pct. 2 W.A. “Sonny” Baker, pointing out that the invoice was addressed not to the county but to a company that ran the prison previously.

Commissioner Pct. 4 Bobby Forrest noted the same thing, that the invoice was marked “Attention: Mike Sutton,” the name of the man who ran the prison for many years through Continuing Education Centers, then later through a company he formed.

The commissioners agreed to delay a decision on paying any more invoices until they are certain it's a final bill. 

Students call on University of Houston to divest from private prisons

Two social work students at the University of Houston are calling on the university to drop shares in four large financial corporations that invest heavily in for-profit prison corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Working with End Mass Incarceration Houston, Julia Kramp and Nakia Winfield began a petition that has garnered more than 200 signatures requesting that their university stop “banking on bondage.” Winfield told the Houston Press that private prisons promote increased incarceration at the expense of low-income communities and communities of color.

"Private prisons really prey on and exploit targeted populations: people of color, usually in poor neighborhoods," Winfield said. "They try to pass legislation that increases detentions, that rips apart families, that has people in jail for longer sentences for nonviolent crimes. So it's really insidious on a personal level because of the way it rips apart communities."

The campaign follows in the footsteps of others at Columbia University and the University of California that have successfully led their colleges to divest from private prison stock. The students and an activist from End Mass Incarceration Houston will hold a panel on campus to raise awareness of the issue on April 12, and hope that this will create interest for other actions, such as rallies or sit-ins to support divestment at UoH.

Sewage leaking into Ector County Courthouse the result of bad pipes or bad contracts?

This story from Ector County can only be described as gross.  Public officials in the Ector County Courthouse are experiencing regular leaks into their offices, including the occasional flood of raw sewage, according to story from OAOA.com, 

The reason?  The courthouse is located downstairs, and therefore downstream, of the Ector County Correctional Center.  Faulty pipes and blocked toilets by federal prisoners — incarcerated for a profit by private prison corporation Community Education Centers (CEC) — are contributing the flooding problems in the public courthouse downstairs.

The problem is impacting the working conditions of courthouse employees and endangering the public records kept at the courthouse.  It's become so severe that county officials have taken to covering public documents with plastic to keep them from getting wet. 

The county's contract with CEC, according to the story, says that minor repairs are to be handled by the company while major repairs will be handled by the county.  This makes sense, but if CEC is profiting from its contract with the federal government to detain federal prisoners, one would think that it should also have to pay for the damage that contract causes to the public offices that sit below it.    

Not so fast, San Jacinto County votes against for-profit immigrant detention center already approved in Shepherd

The San Jacinto County Courthouse sits in Coldspring, Texas.The San Jacinto County Courthouse sits in Coldspring, Texas.Emerald Correctional Management is coming up against more community opposition to its proposed immigrant detention center north of Houston. This time, their proposed new immigrant lock-up has found opposition from the San Jacinto County Commissioners Court.

San Jacinto County Commissioners passed a resolution on December 8 in opposition to the proposed new immigrant detention center, according to The Cleveland Advocate (SJC commissioners approve resolution to oppose immigration detention facility in Shepherd area, Dec. 9, 2015).

The vote comes just weeks after the prison company’s representatives persuaded the city of Shepherd, which sits inside San Jacinto County, to let the company pursue a bid with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a new detention center in the city.

County Judge John Lovett said at the December 8 meeting that the proposed location for the project lies mostly within an unincorporated area of the county and outside of the city limits of Shepherd. County Judge Lovett also pointed out at the hearing that the special meeting called by Shepherd had little public attendance.

The Advocate also reported that residents of both Shepherd and San Jacinto County have protested the project for various reasons. One person who spoke against the proposal to the Shepherd City Council in November was Cleveland Mayor Niki Coats. Cleveland City Council voted against the proposal when Emerald was shopping it around to them in October.

Mayor Coats told Shepherd officials in November that “What they told us was sweet.” He also said that his own research into Emerald Correctional Management and the immigrant detention system at large led him to vote against letting the company pursue a bid in his city.

For-profit prison company Emerald Correctional Management LLC is based in Shreveport, Louisiana and has been at the center of a lot of back and forth in trying to find a home for their new immigration lock-up. During a October 6 at Cleveland City Council Emerald Companies’ Executive Vice President Hull Youngblood explained why a bid in Cleveland was offered, then revoked and then offered again. Youngblood told council members that an offer to nearby Plum Grove was rejected by the landowner, causing them to return to Cleveland. When Cleveland City Council voted against the bid, Emerald took their pitch to Shepherd, which gave Emerald the thumbs up just six days later.

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