Texas prisoners will have access to telephones in the next few months. The service will be provided via a private contractor who will install the phones in prisons around the state. According to recent reports, about 4,000 phones will be installed in state prisons. Texas is the last state to provide this service to state prisoners.
This policy is a long time coming. Advocates and family groups have worked for years to provide telephone access to state prisoners. According to Lisa Sandberg in the the Houston Chronicle, "All calls to relatives and friends on an approved list will be recorded, and prison officials will be in charge of monitoring them".
It is certainly a step in the right direction for improving the conditions of Texas prisons. As Grits for Breakfast mentioned, telephone access among prisoners is a behavior management tool and serves to keep prisoners in contact with their families and friends. That is significant since the majority of Texas prisoners will return home.
Undoubtedly, telephone contracts will raise a need for vigorous advocacy as watchdog groups monitor the contracts and make sure that families are not being overcharged for prison telephone calls.
The Vera Commission reported in it's 2006 report Confronting Confinement that the price of prison telephone calls minimized the condition of prisons by reducing the ability of prisoners to maintain contact with family and friends. The Commission found that safety is promoted in correctional facilities when prisoners are allowed to communicate with people in their home communities and maintain personal relationships. This is particularly important in Texas where prison sentences have increased in recent years and prisons are located in remote areas.
We will monitor these telephone contracts and and assess how the cost and management are impacting prisoners and their home communities.
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.
Other members of the citizens group on the 10th included civil rights attorneys, TAMIU professors, journalists, a resident of the colonias located near the prison site, and a family member of Gregario de la Rosa, the young man who was killed in a Wackenhut/GEO Group prison four days before his release. A similar, albeit smaller group, testified on the 17th.
Opposition testimony centered on arguments that the city and county should not have to provide city special use permits and county water hook-ups to a private detention facility - especially one operated by a company with a track record like GEO. Other arguments included quality-of-life concerns and arguments that the prison would not have a positive economic impact.
The GEO Group countered at the December 10th County Commission meeting by flying in CEO George Zoley and CFO Wayne Calbrese who testified in along with GEO attorney Carlos Zaffirini (husband to state Senator Judith Zaffirini), in favor of the facility. The three, flanked by a small army of lawyers from around the state, argued that GEO was a good corporate citizen and threatened legal action if the county and city backed out of utility and zoning permits.
At the December 17th meeting, GEO also bussed in about 50 construction workers from the facility billed as Laredoans in support of the facility (although it was later reported that most were not from Laredo).
More recent web coverage of Laredo superjail story:
We'll keep you updated on developments from Laredo...
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.Recently, Texas lawmakers looked into scandals at the state's private prisons. We hope that the Texas Senate under the scrutiny of Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa will continue to monitor the contracts and develop policies and procedures that hold these private prison companies accountable.
Governor Perry appointed a new conservator to manage the Texas Youth Commission. The Austin American Statesman reported that Richard Nedelkoff has an extensive resume in corrections. Recently, Nedelkoff served as chief executive officer for Eckerd Youth Alternatives, a private nonprofit organization based in Clearwater, Fla.-based that manages residential programs for at-risk youth in 10 states.
Nedelkoff intends to stay on with Eckerd, dividing his time as necessary to do the job at the commission, he said. He succeeds Ed Owens, a conservator in semi-retirement who had been waiting for several weeks for a replacement.
Comments on Grits for Breakfast suggest that the Nedelkoff appointment will lead to an increase in contract care for TYC. Time will tell. In the wake of recent scandals such as at Coke County, the agency ended its contract with the GEO Group. TYC reports that 17 facilities are managed by private contractors.
We will continue to monitor how Nedelkoff's tenure impacts contract care capacity.