The San Antonio Express-News Guillermo Contreras had an article yesterday ("Heroin overdose in federal jail prompts lawsuit," March 21, 2011) about a new federal lawsuit against the GEO Group's Central Texas Detention Center in San Antonio.
In the suit, the parents of Albert Gomez, Jr. seek information into their son's death, of an apparent heroin overdose, and allege that he may have died after being smuggled heroin by a GEO Group guard. According to the article,
"The suit alleges guards are improperly trained to handle people with drug addictions and can freely participate in “black market sale of drugs to prisoners."
One of the Gomez couple's lawyers, Matt Wymer, said he has been informed that a criminal investigation has been launched, but the Marshals Service declined comment because the matter is in litigation. The GEO Group did not respond to a request for comment, but denied the allegations in a court-filed response."
The Central Texas Detention Facility is a Bexar County-owned detention center operated by the GEO Group that primarily incarcerates pre-trial detainees for the US Marshals Service and has also held immigration detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A report surfaced Tuesday about another escape from the Houston halfway house operated by The GEO Group's GEO Care division. According to the report, two inmates have escaped the facility in a little over a month.
The 39-year-old sex offender fled from the Beaumont Highway facility around 6:15 Monday night, according to the Department of Public Safety. He's considered armed and dangerous. And, like Arthur William Brown, the rapist who escaped in late December, he was able to remove his electronic monitoring ankle bracelet...
[Another inmate,] Anthony Ray Ferrell escaped from Reid and allegedly shot and killed a 24-year-old good samaritan who intervened in a gas station purse-snatching. Another rapist split the Reid facility a few weeks before Ferrell slipped out. (Craig Malisow, Houston Press Blogs, "Timothy Rosales Jr.: Yet Another Escapee from a Houston Halfway House," January 25, 2011).
The article doesn't detail strain on the county and/or municipal police department that could be exacerbated by the escape of prisoners. Community resources are going to be expended to find and re-capture people who escape. The cost of using local police efforts is a hidden cost not disclosed in the private prison company's proposals.
The goals of GEO Care and The GEO Group in general lean towards rehabilitation. If the company seeks to rehabilitate mental issues including drug addiction, they must certainly have the basic ability to keep people around. We will update you with any developments in this story in the future.
Earlier this month, reports surfaced over a lawsuit was filed against The GEO Group for Cornell's past actions in July 2009 for allegedly illegally videotaping female residents of a Dallas-area drug treatment facility. The facility is now operated by Phoenix House, but was operated by Cornell at the time, before the Cornell-GEO Group merger. You can read our original coverage of this story here. Since the time of our publishing the original story, more details about the extent of the allegations have surfaced.
The lawsuit alleges that the treatment facility videotaped 36 female residents without their permission and distributed DVDs of these recordings.
"The Dallas Morning News reports, for its Monday editions, that the DVDs were distributed as promotional material for Cornell Companies Inc. The lawsuit, filed last week, says residents were told that the January 2009 videotape would only be seen by judges who sent the women to the Dallas County Judicial Treatment Center in Wilmer. The lawsuit says the DVD was instead used to raise money for the program and obtain contracts for other treatment facilities." (AP, The Houston Chronicle, "Lawsuit over videotaping at Texas drug facility," January 10, 2011).
The Dallas Morning News also covered the story:
"One of 36 women complainants in the suit, Theresa Watkins, a heroin addict with a criminal record, said she feels violated. She said she blames the taping and distribution of the video for anxiety and panic attacks she says she has suffered since her release from the Dallas County Judicial Treatment Center in Wilmer...
...'You pretty much go in at your lowest point,' Watkins said. 'We had no choice but to trust these people...'
...As part of the project, 45 female residents were videotaped in treatment sessions and while performing in a talent show called 'Cornell Idol.' Watkins said that the women were also told to march and sing while being taped, and that the marching and singing had never been a part of the treatment.
Those who saw the video include Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, probation officials and a group that donated clothes to women going on job interviews, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says the material was also shown to other residents and resulted in male patients taunting women who appeared in it.
Price said he doesn't recall seeing the video but said he has toured the facility and has seen presentations about the program.
The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Charles Paternostro, said state and federal laws require a written release to videotape the residents. Paternostro said the taping itself constitutes a privacy violation since there was not written consent.
'To me, it's a clear-cut case,' he said.
The lawsuit asks for $100,000 for each plaintiff and another $100,000 in attorney fees." (Jennifer Emily, The Dallas Morning News, "Company being sued over alleged privacy violation in DVD," January 20, 2011.)
As usual, no officials from GEO are willing to comment on pending litigation. We will keep an eye on this story and relay any further developments in the case.
When the GEO Group acquired Cornell Companies for $374 million last year, it not only took over some of the company's more troubled corretional facilities, it also took on some lawsuits-in-waiting. Or, so it would appear, based on this Robert Wilonsky's article at his Dallas Observer blog ("Thirty-Six Sue Private Operator of Dallas County Judicial Treatment Center For Privacy Invasion," January 7):
Cornell Companies, the private operator of correctional facilities 'cross the country, has a motto: "People Changing People." A lawsuit filed this week in Dallas County District Court proposes an alteration: "People Filming People." At least, so suggest 36 former inmates of the Dallas County Judicial Treatment Center in Wilmer, a 300-bed facility to which men and women convicted of drug- and alcohol-related crimes in Dallas County are sent to get clean and sober rather than spend time behind bars.
Says the suit, in January 2008 Cornell Companies employees began filming the inmates without their consent. Caught on film were their often intense drug treatment sessions, scenes from their daily routines and a talent show called, but of course, Cornell Idol. The suit says the inmates, who were already uncomfortable about the filming, were told the footage would be transferred to DVD and shown only to the Drug Court judges who send prisoners to the treatment center. But the complaint alleges it was "turned into a publicity and promotional film" -- shown to, among others, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and Attitudes & Attire -- and used as a fund-raising vehicle and "to obtain future contracts for supervision and operation of other treatment facilities in Texas and locations in other states."
Cornell Companies no longer exists, technically: In August of last year, it was bought out by The GEO Group, the same Florida-based company that announced last month it's building a 600-bed Civil Detention Center for immigration detainees down in Karnes City. This morning, via e-mail, Pablo E. Paez of The GEO Group told Unfair Park the company has no comment: "As a matter of policy, our company cannot comment on litigation related matters."
It doesn't appear that GEO still operates this facility, and we've taken it down from our list of privately-contracted facilities. We'll keep you updated on developments from this suit.