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.
The GEO Group has hired former Texas Department of Criminal Justice head Gary Johnson to head its operations in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, according to a story by Mike Ward in an entry on the Austin American Statesman's blog.
Gary Johnson, the former head of Texas’ prison system, has been hired as a regional vice president for a Florida-based operator of private prisons that became mired in controversy two months ago over conditions at a West Texas youth lockup.
Geo Group Inc. announced that Johnson will head its central region, which includes Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. The territory includes the ill-fated Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, which made headlines in October after Texas Youth Commission officials yanked more than 100 youths from the lockup after alleging squalid conditions.
The revolving door between state agencies and private prison corporations is nothing new. Many of the problems at Coke County came while TYC monitoring of the facility was being performed by former GEO employees, who, apparently, weren't reporting many of the problems at the facility. Of course, Johnson was never much of a critic of the private prison industry. According to Ward:
While Johnson was executive director, the agency signed five-year contracts with Geo to house state prisoners at several lockups. He will oversee the operation of those lockups in his new job at Geo.
Who says public sector employment doesn't pay off? Mr. Johnson, you've got quite the task in front of you... We'll be paying close attention.
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.
This week, Speaker of the House Tom Craddick (R-Midland) released the interim charges for several House Committees including Appropriations and Corrections. These charges have implications for public and private capacity in the state's prison system.
During the 80th Legislative Session a significant amount of funding was appropriated to corrections that not only included building 3 new prisons but also monies for substance abuse treatment and community alternative programs. At this time the interim charges that have been released include:
We anxiously await to hear what other committees will be asked to review over the Interim in the House and the Senate. At a recent Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing, Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa asked for the committee's interim charges to address private prisons.
We will continue to monitor these developments and post information about Legislative committees that consider these issues.
Previous coverage of the 80th Legislature: