A prison in Jones County built by Community Education Centers for $35 million in local revenue bonds sits empty according to a new story at KTXS ("New Detention Center in Jones County Awaits Inmates," July 15).
County officials have said that they hope to fill the prison with state prisoners even though the state state has adopted various policy reforms (PDF) that have lessened the demand for state prison capacity. The story is a little murky here -- we will do some digging to see if we can follow the money. From this report ("Jones County officials await word from the state on detention facility funding," Abilene Reporter-News, May 23), it appears that even though policies were adopted to lessen the need for prison space, state authorities were assuming the need for expansion:
"The state approved a contract for the prison to be built in Jones County in 2008. Revenue bonds were approved by the county to pay for construction, which began in May 2009."
In recent years, the Texas prison population has declined and the state plans to close a public prison next month. Jones County officials are looking for contracts to fill their $35 million prison. It seems that the Governor's office and county officials have phoned folks in California in the hopes of helping that state alleviate prison overcrowding due to a recent Supreme Court order. But new polling suggests that California voters support easing penalties as a way to address the state's incarceration problem instead of expanding capacity.
We'll look into this a bit more and update y'all when we get more of the story.
I was recently alerted to the ALEC Exposed Wiki which is an amazing resource for all things about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) including materials that were restricted to non members for years. We have recently reported on ALEC's connections in Texas.
Folks have been suspecting for a long time now that ALEC's influence has a correlation to expanding prison privatization. Part of the organization's mission is to:
advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty, through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America's state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government, and general public.
The wiki makes model legislation available and provides a forum for it's audience to review and post comments. Legislation includes this model bill relating (PDF) to authorizing state prison agencies to contract out incarceration and other related services. Take a look and join the discussion. This is an exciting development in the effort to make the lawmaking process more transparent as it relates to prison privatization.
On Friday, I joined a protest by Texans United for Families against Wells Fargo's investment in private prison corporation GEO Group. The protests, part of a larger private prison divestment campaign initiated by immigrant and worker rights organization Enlace, took place in more than 13 cities around the country including in Tennessee, Florida, Colorado, and other locations.
Wells Fargo is one of the largest institutional investors in GEO Group, holding more than 3.5 million shares or $92 million dollars in the private prison corporation. Protestors are particularly critical of GEO Group's lobbying and role in building new immigrant detention centers, including the a new prison in Karnes County, Texas.
According to the protesters press release:
"'The private prison industry relies on taxpayers for its income and then lobbies for policies that benefit its bottom line,' said Dave Kalloor of Texans United for Families. 'Harsh immigrant incarceration policies and new detention centers, like one Karnes County, Texas, are some of the most lucrative policies for GEO and other private prison corporations.' ...
Wells Fargo’s support of the GEO Group is even more troubling in light of GEO’s history in Texas. GEO’s facilities include prisons, immigration detention centers, and juvenile detention centers where people have suffered from inadequate medical care and unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Deaths, riots, and hunger strikes at GEO’s facilities are indicative of GEO’s culture of cruelty and underscore the need to end construction of new GEO facilities.
GEO is currently constructing a new immigration detention center in Karnes County, Texas. 'GEO and Wells Fargo profit from the detention and deportation system that separates families and tears our communities apart. Wells Fargo claims to support community-building and value ethics, yet they are investing in an industry with unethical practices that harm immigrants, people of color, and youth,' said Rocío Villalobos of Texans United for Families."
Check out Austin Indymedia's post for audio and additional coverage of the protest. We'll keep you posted on developments from the private prison divestment campaign.
Late last week, the Department of Justice formally charged a former Management and Training Corporation guard at the company's notorious "Tent City" detention center in Willacy County with sexual assault of a detained woman. Ending years of rumors about sexual assault at the facility, the DOJ issued a press release about the charges:
" The Justice Department today announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Contract Security Officer Edwin Rodriguez, 31, of Raymondville, Texas, with sexual abuse of a female Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainee who was under his supervision at the Willacy Detention Center, a federally contracted detention facility in Raymondville, Texas.
Rodriguez is charged in a one-count felony indictment returned by a Brownsville, Texas, grand jury under seal on June 21, 2011, with the felony offense of sexual abuse of a ward. The indictment was unsealed following Rodriguez’s arrest on June 22, 2011. According to allegations contained in the indictment, Rodriguez engaged sexual intercourse with a female detainee on or about Oct. 26, 2008, while she was being held in official detention pending deportation."
As we've reported, the "Tent City" detention center (so-named because of its construction out of a series of Kevlar pods) has been rocked by allegations of sexual assaults, immigrant smuggling, spoiled food, and protests for years.
The accusations may have finally caught up to the facility. Last month, ICE announced that it would be discontinuing its contract with the detention facility. However, as ICE left its contract with Willacy, the Bureau of Prisons has stepped in to provide a contract for the facility.
According to the KRGV report ("Change to Willacy County Detention Center Could Boost Coffers," June 21) , county officials believe the contract will be more lucrative for the county (and for MTC, who, according to a company press release (PDF) will make a $532 million over 10 years off the new contract):
"The Willacy County Detention Center is currently contracted to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It's functioning as place where illegals are held before deportation. That will change soon. The future changes come down to revenue. 'We are going to be making more money in the long run,”' says Willacy County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr.
The Willacy County Detention Center is a 3,000 bed facility. Gonzales says the building is making the county just less than $1 million a year right now. He says the money will more than double with a new business deal. In a few months, the Willacy County Detention Center will become a federal prison."
However, many questions remain unanswered. Will the facility continue to have major operational problems? Will a lawsuit come out of the sexual assault and conditions complaints from the facility? Will the BOP, which has had notoriously lax oversight of it's privately-contracted facilities, be able to ensure that basic standards are met at this facility?
Perhaps the most important question is who will fill these 3,000 beds? According to the MTC press release, Tent City will now incarcerate "federal, low-security, adult male, short term sentenced, criminal aliens." To me, that sounds a lot like folks who have been convicted of "illegal re-entry" under Operation Streamline. These folks are one of the quickest growing segments of the federal prison population, and were, prior to Streamline, usually processed through the civil immigration system. So, is this the same group of immigrants filling Tent City under a different contract?