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SAFP Prisons to be Discussed at Fall Legislative Hearing

The Austin Chronicle discusses the origins of Texas' Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facilities (SAFPF) in it's latest edition. The article provides an interesting overview of Texas' treatment prisons which is particularly important given the current focus on prison alternatives. Despite, the current dialogue around diversion, Texas still expanded prison capacity in recent years through SAFPF and other in prison treatment programs.

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), SAFPF are an intensive six-month therapeutic community program (nine-month program for offenders with special needs) for offenders who are sentenced by a judge as a condition of community supervision or as a modification of parole/community supervision.

The Senate Criminal Justice committee will meet this fall to discuss the legislative appropriations to in prison treatment programs administered in SAFPF lock ups. During 2007 the Legislature appropriated $234 million to TDCJ as a part of a prison expansion initiative. The state proposes to increase SAFPF funding by $63.1 million during 2008-09. Vendors like the Chicago based Gateway Foundation manage lucrative contracts with TDCJ to run SAFPF programs.

Currently, TDCJ contracts with Gateway to run the Ellen Halbert Unit in Burnet County. As with many private prison contracts there are reports of mismanagement and abuse at the Halbert Unit. As a result the Senate Criminal Justice committee will to discuss the lockups and the monies allocated to them. The Chronicle states that SAFPF prisoners collected testimonies to disclose their experiences in the correctional facilities. According to the testimonies of former prisoners:

Potter County Sheriff Bribed by Jail Commissary Manager

Our pal Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast recently posted on another jail commissary scandal - this time in Potter County. According to Grits,

An all-woman jury yesterday in Amarillo brought back a guilty verdict against Potter County Sheriff Mike Shumate for taking bribes from the Dallas-based commissary manager, Mid-America Services. The "bribes" the state was able to prove were mostly meals, though quite a few of them...

Texas Prison Bid'ness and Grits have covered several private commissary contracts in the past year. According to Scott:

Commissary contracts have been a big source of alleged corruption in Texas Sheriff's Departments in the past year. In Bexar and Kleberg Counties, a Louisiana based company called "Premier" allegedly bribed the Bexar County Sheriff with swank golfing trips and gave the Kleberg Sheriff private consulting contracts after he left office.

It seems that the amount of scandal at the local level is signicant when it comes to private jail contracts. With limited accountability and oversight at the county level, who knows what scandals remain to be covered at the state's many county jails.

Previous Commissary Posts:

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Fort Bend Star on Opposition to Transfer of Prisoners to CiviGenics' Dickens Lock-up

This week's Fort Bend Star ("Grass roots group opposes Fort Bend Sheriff's plan" May 14, 2008) has an article about growing opposition to the transfer of Fort Bend County inmates over 500 miles to the Dickens County Correctional Center, a private jail operated by CiviGenics. As we reported last week, there a number of concerns have been raised by local residents, including Sue Ann Lorig, who was quoted in the Star article.

Sue Ann Lorig, the Fort Bend County resident who authored the letter that prompted the response, did research on the Dickens County Correctional Facility and found a number of alarming situations in the past of the previously owned company.

Lorig not only pointed out the problems for families and legal counsel having to go so far away to have contact with the inmate, but voiced fear that Fort Bend County is opening the county up to lawsuits as well.

The Star's article focuses on letters sent by my organization, Grassroots Leadership, and the Texas Jail Project's Diana Claitor. According to Claitor's letter, available in its entirety here,

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CivicGenics Guard Pleads Guilty to Drug Smuggling

A CivicGenics guard at the Bowie County Correctional Facility recently plead guilty to drug smuggling. According to reports in the Texarkana Gazette, Marquise Dushan Hunt only worked at the private lock up for two months.

Hunt, 21, had been working as a correctional officer for CiviGenics for about two months when he was caught bringing three sandwich bags full of marijuana into the jail.

This scandal represents some of the systemic problems that plague correctional facilities managed by private prison companies. Typically, they hire inexperienced staff who may contribute to these scandals.  The faults of Mr. Hunt represent the inherent problems of outsourcing corrections to private corporations who care more about their bottom line than public safety.

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