Money/Financial Interests

Thursday Morning Meeting of Prison Industries Oversight Committee

An enlightening note from a reader:

On Feb 7, 2008 at 10:00 AM there will be an important hearing regarding the misuse of Texas prison labor for private industry. The State Legislative Committee on PRIVATE SECTOR PRISON INDUSTRIES OVERSIGHT AUTHORITY will meet at:

Building 7W Room 111
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd
Austin, TX, 78757.

The hearing will focus on prisoner labor being a factor in the shutdown of the Lufkin Industries Truck Trailer Plant. Lufkin Industries is claiming that Direct Trailer & Equipment Company used prison labor from the TDCJ Micheal Unit to assemble truck trailers from china, which lead to an unfair trade practices, since Lufkin Industries was unable to under cut the use of prison labor. Now 150 jobs are being cuts as a result.
Direct Trailer & Equipment Company's president is John Nelson. John Nelson was Director of TDCJ's Industries (TCI) in the 90's.

I have noticed a pattern of TDCJ contractors hiring or being former TDCJ administrators. A prime example of this is Geo Corp hiring Garry Johnson after he expanded contracts with the Geo Corp.

This hearing will be a prime place to voice the need for laws to prohibit former TDCJ employees from being employed by private TDCJ contractors after leaving employment.

For more information on this scandal please check out the Lufkin Daily News.
We reported on GEO's hiring of former TDCJ head Gary Johnson back in December. We'll keep you updated on the scandal out of Lufkin and results from the hearings in coming days.

LBB Says Fewer Prisons Needed

The Statesman reported today that a forthcoming Legislative Budget Board (LBB) report will state that Texas prison growth has slowed resulting in the need for fewer prison beds.

That's the conclusion of a Legislative Budget Board study to be made public Monday. It attributes the slowdown to a decrease in the number of new felons, a slightly increased parole rate, fewer revocations of probation and parole that send violators to prison, and the projected effects of treatment and rehabilitation programs approved by the Legislature last year.

The report predicts that Texas' incarcerated population will average 156,364 this year and rise to 158,470 in 2012.

That is good news. During the 80th Legislature lawmakers authorized the construction of new prison beds pending the approval of the LBB. We continue to be unsure of how many of these beds may be private. We will continue to monitor these developments and increases in private state capacity in Texas.

Previous coverage on the Legislature:

  1. TX Voters Approve Prison Expansion
  2. Interim Charges Focus on Corrections Funding
  3. More Prison Beds on the Way



Private Telephone Contracts Coming Soon to TDCJ

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.

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.

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...

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