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GEO Group Brings In Execs, Buses For Laredo Meetings

As Nicole reported several weeks ago, the debate over the GEO Group Laredo "superjail" continues. I was among several people to testify at both the December 10th Webb County Commission meeting and again at a December 17th Laredo City Council meeting as an invited member of a Laredo citizen's group opposed to the U.S. Marshals-contracted lock-up.

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Latest Developments Among Idaho Prisoners

The Houston Chronicle recently reported that Idaho prisoners on the way to Val Verde Correctional Facility were delayed due to further review of contract obligations by local officials.

Prisoners were being moved to Val Verde after an investigation following the suicide of Scot Noble Payne at the Dickens County Correctional Center in Spur, Texas. That facility was managed by GEO Group and Mr. Payne's suicide has resulted in increased scrutiny by Idaho and Texas public officials.

Despite the reported transfer the details had not been finalized by county officials in Del Rio where the prison is located.

Because a Texas county official has yet to approve the contract to house Idaho prisoners at Val Verde, they have first been sent 100 miles away to the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas.

GEO also manages the Val Verde prison and according to reports has a strong incentive to protect the company’s relationship with the Idaho Department of Corrections.

The company hopes to win contracts with Idaho to build a large new prison here [Texas] to help accommodate the state's 7,400 inmates.

It is quite remarkable that despite the list of GEO prison scandals in Texas, states are continuing to contract with this company. Even more striking is that Idaho continues to do so.

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GEO Group Attorney Says It's 'Reasonable to Expect' Violations

The Laredo Morning Times recently covered the Webb commissioners court's consideration of a contract with GEO Group. According to an attorney for GEO Corp.:

The violation of GEO Group policies by some of its employees, which court documents allege led to the suicides of former inmates in GEO-run prisons, should be reasonable to expect from a company that employs 10,000 people worldwide. That defense of the company was offered by GEO Group attorney Carlos Zaffirini at the Monday meeting of the Webb County Commissioners Court.

In the hearing, concerned citizens gave testimony relating to the county's "non-standard service contract" with GEO Group to provide water and sewer lines. Concerned citizens raised the issue with Pct. 4 Commissioner Sergio "Keko" Martinez following a series of scandals at GEO prisons in Texas.

Apparently, GEO officials do not believe citizens have the right to oversight of correctional facilities:

Zaffirini .. [stated] the outcries were "steeped in emotion and void of logic," and added the merits of GEO's current troubles in Texas, which include a current lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a GEO prison guard in Coke County, should be discussed in those courts and not in Webb County.

The debate lasted for more than two hours with Commissioners deciding not to investigate the matter further. Commissioners then returned after a lunch break and decided to instruct County Attorney Homero Ramirez to study the county's obligation to provide water services to the private prison corporation.

We will continue to monitor the developments of GEO's activities in Laredo and throughout Texas.

CivicGenics will Manage Troubled Dickens County Correctional Center

The Associated Press recently reported that CivicGenics will assume management of the Dickens County Correctional Center. Previously, the GEO Group managed this prison where Idaho prisoner Scot Noble Payne comitted suicide. In regards to GEO's managment over the facility, Idaho prison officals have said that the county jail was:

... the worst prison they'd seen, citing what they called an abusive warden, the lack of treatment programs and squalid conditions they said may have contributed to the suicide of inmate Scot Noble Payne, who was held for months in a solitary cell.

In the story, Idaho officials admit they were not maintaining proper oversight of prisoners housed in facilities out of state. Yet, the state still continues to contract with GEO in Texas -- soon officials will finalize a contract with the private prison corporation to incarcerate 40 prisoners in the Val Verde Correctional Facility near the Mexican border.

According to Dickens County officials, CivicGenics will manage the prison better:

GEO "thought they were too good," Sheldon Parsons, a Dickens County commissioner, told Idaho officials. "They're used to running bigger facilities. That just kind of didn't fit into our program. Civigenics will definitely fit."

CivicGenics executives state they will be able to incarcerate about 150 Idaho prisoners at the facility starting in January 2008.

As the Idaho prisoners continue to be held in Texas facilities, time will tell if oversight of these county correctional facilties improves. A recent Senate Criminal Justice committee hearing raised several concerns over the lack of oversight of these facilities. We will post new information as it develops.

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