Following up on the state's continuing contract with the Dawson State Jail more details regarding the decisions of lawmakers to close state prisons is coming to light. Mike Ward at the Austin American Statesman reported earlier this week that:
Senate and House budget negotiators have agreed to close the 102-year-old Central Unit near Sugar Land to save $50 million, the first such closure of an entire maximum-security lockup in state history.
Our pal Scot Henson at Grits for Breakfast found news in the recent events to be disapointing:
Savings from prison closures should go to diversion programming, not private prisons. The goal should be to reduce incarceration levels, not to plan for failure.
The reality is that lawmakers do have different choices and even setting asside $15 million of limited state funding because of the anticipated need of private prison beds. State lawmakers have achieved some policy reform that has resulted in lowering the state's incarceration rate, reducing recidivism while not compromising public safety. And in some respect that spirit of reform has contributed to not only a culture change in Texas but nationally.
Yet the anticipation of lowered expectations continues to plague the Texas Legislature and results in a lack of investment in communities and people. This is disappointing. The questions as we move forward is will there ever be a moment when Texas lawmakers who commit to finding alternatives to incarceration also plan for the day when they might not need so many prison beds. Rather they make the choice to prioritize state resources on in ways that strengthen opportunity for all Texans.
In a front-page article in today's New York Times ("Private Prisons Found to Offer Little in Savings," May 19th), reporter Richard Oppel lays out a fairly devastating case against the claims by the private prison industry that it offers states significant cost-savings. According to the article,
"The conviction that private prisons save money helped drive more than 30 states to turn to them for housing inmates. But Arizona shows that popular wisdom might be wrong: Data there suggest that privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates. ...
Despite a state law stipulating that private prisons must create “cost savings,” the state’s own data indicate that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1,600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state-run prisons.
The research, by the Arizona Department of Corrections, also reveals a murky aspect of private prisons that helps them appear less expensive: They often house only relatively healthy inmates."
This is pretty damning evidence in Arizona. The article goes on to say that results in other states have also not found much in the way of cost-savings.
The Detention Watch Network has released some terrific data and graphs on the private prison industry's role in the United States' immigrant detention system. (Full disclosure: I'm on the Steering Committee of DWN, and Grassroots Leadership helped compile this research). Amongst the interesting findings, 49% of all immigrant detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations. That is higher percentage of privatized beds than nearly any other state or federal agency.
Texas has more private immigrant detention beds - more than 10,000 - than any other state. Furthermore, some of the largest immigrant detention centers in the country are in Texas, including MTC's Willacy County Processing Center and GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center. The report includes a complete breakdown of every major private detention center by average daily population.
Furthermore, the report tracks the federal lobbying and influence exerted by the private prison industry to ensure its interests are met. According to the report:
"Between the five corporations with ICE contracts for which official federal lobbying records are currently available, the total expenditure on lobbying for 1999-2009 was $20,432,000.(1) In general, corporations lobbied both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Most companies also lobbied the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The larger corporations (CCA and GEO) lobbied a variety of entities related to immigration policy, including the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Office of Management and Budget. Both CCA and GEO reported lobbying ICE directly."
The full report and data are well worth a read. Check them out here.
Readers of Texas Prison Bid'ness are well aware of the some of the major problems that private prison contractor GEO Group has had in Texas. Still, the company has continued to expand by winning contracts, buying competitors, and expanding into new markets. The company holds quarterly conference calls to discuss its earnings and outlook. The next GEO call will be this Wednesday, May 4, at 2pm EST/1pm in most of Texas. According to the company's press release:
The GEO Group, Inc. (NYSE:GEO) ("GEO") will release its first quarter 2011 financial results on Wednesday, May 4, 2011 before the market opens. GEO has scheduled a conference call and simultaneous webcast for 2:00 PM (Eastern Time) on Wednesday, May 4, 2011.
Hosting the call for GEO will be George C. Zoley, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Brian R. Evans, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, John M. Hurley, President, GEO Detention & Corrections, and Jorge A. Dominicis, President, GEO Care.
To participate in the teleconference on Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 2:00 PM (Eastern Time), please contact one of the following numbers 5 minutes prior to the scheduled start time.
Conference Call Participant Pass-code: 65944659
Anyone can call in to listen to the call, and it's often archived online after it occurs. It's well worth listening to these calls to get a glimpse of how the private prison industry views increased incarceration and detention as a business opportunity. We'll provide analysis of the call on Wednesday.