Last week plans for GEO Care/Correct Care Recovery Solutions' to take over the Terrell State Hospital were scrapped after the release of a state audit. This effort was a privatization scheme that was part of GEO Care's, a subsidiary of private prison company GEO Group, expansion ambitions into state hospital and civil commitment centers. This decision was instigated by a large contracting scandal in the state and a critical state audit.
Last week, the State Auditor’s Office released a seething audit of Texas’ Health and Human Service Commission’s (HHSC) attempt to privatize Terrell State Hospital last year. The audit acknowledges that some procurement processes were followed. Yet, significant breaches to protocol occurred. According to the audit “the Health and Human Services Commission (Commission) did not ensure that its decision to tentatively award a contract to GEO Care, LLC to manage selected operations at Terrell State Hospital provided the best value to the State. The Commission and the Department of State Health Services (Department) did not fully comply with the Commission’s contract planning and procurement processes.”
The results of the audit included a list of mishaps on the part of HHSC. This included failure to conduct a preliminary needs assessment and a cost-benefit-analysis, tardy purchase requisitions, and failure to adequately verify the background, qualifications, and experiences of vendors. In addition, there were a number of discrepancies in the bid evaluation process including inconsistencies in scoring, lack of a minimum qualifying score, and failure to receive non-disclosure agreements prior to negotiations.
In 2012, Texas Department of State Health Services attempted to offer a contract with GEO Care to operate the Kerrville State Hospital. In the end, Commissioner Dr. David Lakey rejected GEO Care’s bid to privatize the Kerrville State Hospital on the grounds that savings in the proposal were achieved “primarily through reductions in staffing and benefits to a degree that would put both our patients and the State of Texas at risk.” Even with this conclusion, HHSC chose to move forward with solicitation to privatize Terrell State Hospital in 2014. Nevertheless, the audit has rendered current attempts to privatize Terrell State Hospital momentarily dead.
In the wake of the uprising at the criminal alien requirement (CAR) prison in Willacy County that left the facility uninhabitable, Management and Training Corporation will reportedly lay off around 242 administrators and guards. Initial reports indicated that around 50 staff would remain at the facility, but the number is now being reported as a meager 25, with those positions under review. The 2,834 inmates have been transferred to other prisons in the CAR system, and the future of the facility is uncertain.
Management and Training Corporation purports to have some of the best corrections facilities in the country, and claims that their “facilities are safe and secure for neighboring communities, staff members, offenders, and detainees.” The uprising in late February was a reaction to well documented sanitation issues, physical and sexual abuse, and lack of medical care.
Prisoners at a "criminal alien requirement" (CAR) prison in Willacy County recently protested conditions and medical care at the facility. The prisoners began protesting by refusing breakfast, but then escalated to setting fire to several of the kevlar tents that make up the housing units. Currently, the 2,900 prisoners have begun to be transferred to other Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities throughout the country.
Management and Training Corporation, the private corporation that runs the facility, has refused to comment on where the prisoners are being moved, citing safety and security as the main reason for the secrecy. The uprising was not surprising to many advocates of prison and immigration reform. An ACLU report released last year detailed squalid conditions, rampant abuse, and little to no medical care at the facility.
The Willacy County Local Government Corporation, which contracts with MTC to run the facility, has had its S&P rating downgraded to a BBB long-term rating because it relied on the facility as a primary source of income. The 400 people who worked at the facility are reportedly afraid of losing their jobs. The BOP has not commented on whether it plans on reopening the facility, and MTC has maintained that they will assess the damage once all of the prisoners have been evacuated.
Last week, up to 2,000 immigrant prisoners staged a two-day riot at a private prison in Raymondville, TX. According to a report by DemocracyNow!, the prisoners were protesting inadequate medical care when they refused to eat breakfast on February 20, seized control of part of the prison, and set fires.
The prison, Willacy County Correctional Center, is owned and operated by the private prison company Management & Training Corporation (MTC), and is known by critics as "Ritmo" — short for Raymondville’s Guantánamo prison. It is also referred to as “tent city” because the majority of the prisoners sleep in large, cramped kevlar tents.
The Raymondville prison is also one of 13 privately operated CAR or “Criminal Alien Requirement” prisons. Carl Takei, staff attorney with the ACLU’s national prison project explained:
"Willacy is one of 13 private prisons in the federal system. It’s sort of a shadow system within the Federal Bureau of Prisons system, that is run by private prison companies. These prisons house immigrants who have been convicted of drug offenses and immigrants who have been convicted of something called illegally re-entering the United States after deportation. The Bureau of Prisons has consigned immigrants to these prisons based on the assumption that they are all going to be deported after their sentences are up. And it can therefore treat them as second-class prisoners and hand them over to these for-profit companies that have a history of abusing and mistreating the people in their custody."
Takei also authored the report, Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System, which provides a closer look at CAR prisons and the inhumane conditions inside.