We reported on Monday that the Webb County Commissioner's court had rejected a $250,000 "donation" from the GEO Group after the transaction was criticized as "dirty" by Laredoans and in the excellent monthly publication LareDOS.
Word from Laredo is that the Laredo City Council has followed suit. The Council quitely rejected a similar $250,000 donation after South Texans Opposing Private Prisons organizer Ricardo Soliz and Laredo lawyer Ron Rodriguez, who has represented several families of inmates abused in GEO prisons, spoke against the donation. According to the Laredo Morning Times:
City Council turned down the $250,000 donation from Geo after returning from executive session to discuss a separate item. City Council took the same action the Commissioners Court took regarding the $250,000 donation from Geo Group.
Several hours before council made the decision, several Laredoans strongly expressed opposition to not only the city accepting the donation but also to the city and county allowing the facility to be built in Laredo.
"This is not a donation - this is a payment," said Ronald Rodriguez, an attorney representing two families whose loved ones died in a prison run by the Geo Group.
"This transaction smells. You know what the money's for," Rodriguez added, alluding to it being a buyoff to receive the clearance to build.
Also, check out MEG's column on the subject in the new issue of LareDOS which carries the story on page 6 (careful, it's a big PDF!). We'll keep you updated on further developments from Laredo.
GEO Group's Laredo "Superjail" continues to draw fire from local opponents and the South Texas press, and it looks like Laredo decision-makers may finally be starting to take notice. As Kathleen reported back in May, GEO Group CEO George Zoley visited Laredo and distributed $250,000 checks to the city and county governments, a visit that coincided with zoning permits and utility hookup awards.
An article in last Wednesday's Laredo Morning Times outlines how Webb County Commissioners rejected the $250,000 "donation" from the GEO Group after it was criticized by local attorney Ron Rodriguez, who has represented several victims of abuse in GEO prisons, amongst others. From the article:
"Commissioners, this is not a donation, this is a payment," said Ron Rodriguez, who represents the families of Guillermo De La Rosa, an inmate who died while serving time in a Geo Group facility in Willacy County.
"This transaction is dirty, the money is dirty and everybody that touches it will have dirty hands," Rodriguez continued.
The Commissioners then voted unanimously to reject the "donation." Word from Laredo is that the Laredo City Council, who was also offered a $250,000 "donation," will likely vote tonight on a proposal to reject the money as well.
The "superjail" proposal has also been drawn continued criticism from LareDOS, the award-winning alternative monthly. The latest issue (caution - giant PDF!) features three articles about the "superjail" - including pieces about last month's Senate Committee on Criminal Justice hearings sparked by the scandal at GEO's Coke County juvenile facility, a story about about a protest at GEO's Val Verde prison, and a piece by yours truly about GEO's ongoing operational problems in Texas. We'll keep you updated on the status of the Laredo "superjail" and its opposition.
A conference today in New York billed as "The Future of Prison Services and Privatization" will bring together executives from the major private prison industry to plot the future of the industry (or, in the words of the conference organizers, to "discuss this important and developing market").
The conference is hosted by Avondale Partners, an Nashville-based investment bank, and appears to be a who's who in the private prison industry with presentations by the CEO's private prison corporations Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Houston-based Cornell Corrections. Privatized prison medical service providers will also be present.
At least two of the companies, Cornell and CCA, will be web-casting their presentations, so we'll be able to let you know what they're saying about private prisons in Texas.
Texas voters approved prison expansion this week as Proposition 4 passed among the state's various constitutional amendments. Despite opposition to the initiative, including from Grits for Breakfast, voters approved prison construction by a margin of 58% to 42%.
While Prop. 4 included other measures like funding state parks and a new facility for the mentally ill, the measure also obligates Texas taxpayers to fund the construction of three new prison units, the largest expansion since the 1990s.
We previously covered the expansion authorized by elected officials during the 80th Legislature. The budget that state policymakers passed in May authorized general revenue funding for new prison construction of nearly 4,000 beds. And while the recent vote authorizes general obligation bonds to fund new construction, correctional officials must get approval from the Legislative Budget Board before the building begins.
We will continue to monitor the developments of the expansion and let you readers know if private prison companies will operate any of these new beds.
Previous Coverage on the 80th Legislature: