In honor of Corrections Corporation of America's thirtieth anniversary, Grassroots Leadership and the Public Safety and Justice Campaign hava released a new report "CCA's Dirty Thirty: Thirty Years of Nothing to Celebrate about Private Prisons." Along with examples of violence, deaths, lawsuits, scandals, and lobbying, three Texas stories made the list: the beginnings of CCA and the modern for-profit prison industry in Houston, sexual abuse at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, and the tragic conditions at the Dawson State Jail.
Auspicious Beginnings: "Just Like Selling Hamburgers," CCA Opens First Detention Center in Houston, TX: In 1983, CCA won a its first contract with Immigration and Naturalization Service (now Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and converted an old hotel into the Houston Processing Center. According to co-founder Tom Beasley, the company was founded on the principle that you could sell prisons “just like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers.” Another co-founder, T. Don Hutto -- who would eventually lend his name to an infamous family detention center -- was the only one with corrections experience, from his tenure as head of the Arkansas Department of Corrections where the Supreme Court ruled horrific conditions were pervasive.
Family Detention and Sexual Abuse at Hutto: From 2006 to 2009, the T. Don Hutto Detention Center was contracted by ICE to hold immigrant families. Children detained with their mothers were forced into prison-like conditions that clearly violated their rights as outlined in a 1997 settlement, leading to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on the childrens' behalf. While the Obama administration ended family detention in 2009, it stopped short of closing Hutto altogether and instead began using it to hold women seeking asylum. In the following years, multiple allegations of sexual assault by guards on detained women emerged. As a result, Hutto has been the subject of two federal investigations and a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU.
"No baby should be born in a toilet in prison": Indifference Leads to Death at Dawson State Jail in Texas: Before the Texas Department of Justice caved to pressure to close the facility, poor medical care allegedly led to the premature deaths of several women and an infant. Shebaa Green and Ashleigh Shae Parks both passed away from pneumonia, while Pam Weatherby's untreated diabetes eventually took her life. Most tragically, the newborn girl of a woman who was refused a pregnancy test and prenatal care died after being born into a prison toilet while no medical personel were present. CCA is facing suits from the deceaseds' families, as well as s the Texas Civil Rights Project for refusing to release information about medical care and deaths at the prison and by Prison Legal News for "unconscionable and unconstitutional conditions" at the prison. Along with also CCA-run Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Dawson State Jail will close on August 31.
Eight former private prison guards at Community Education Center's Ector County Detention Center have been sentenced to prison after being accused of participating in a scheme to deliver contraband to incarcerated people in exchange for cash. According to Jon Vanderlaan's story in the Odessa American:
"Several more people were sentenced in connection with a federal lockup bribery scandal in which jail employees were accused of giving inmates banned goods in exchange for cash.
In total, eight of the accused jailers from the Community Education Center received federal prison time as well as three years supervised release after their federal sentences. One jailer received probation."
The facility has previously made TPB write-ups for cell-phone smuggling that lead to indictments in 2008 and the suicide of Luis Chavez-Chavez, an immigrant prisoner being held on illegal entry charges, that same year.
A 22 year old guard employed by private prison corporation Community Education Centers has been arrested and accused of smuggling drugs into the Liberty County Jail, according to the Cleveland Advocate ("Liberty County jailer arrested on drug charges," May 24):
"A Liberty County jailer has been arrested after she reportedly provided prohibited substances to inmates.
According to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, which has oversight over the management of the jail through Community Education Centers, the jailer, Latondra Natrell Brown, 22, was arrested Friday morning around 5:50 a.m. shortly after she appeared for work.
Brown, a resident of Ames, is facing three separate third-degree felony charges. She had been employed as a correction officer at the jail for about a year."
As we've reported, this is certainly not the first problem Liberty County has encountered after privatizing its jail operations. In fact, the Ballad of Liberty County was one of our Big Stories of 2012 after a plan to reduce jail costs by diverting some folks away from jail was thwarted because of the county's contract with CEC. 75th District Court Judge Mark Morefield, who supports the inmate reduction plan, stated at the time: “’One (private prison) bid said that if the inmate population goes below 200, the cost per inmate goes from $63 to $68 per day. If we work really hard to decrease the inmate population, the cost will go up to $70 per day, … [t]hey are taking all the incentive out of it.’”
In October of last year, a study by Texas A&M researcher Lynn Greenwood for Liberty County found that de-privatization of the Liberty County Jail would help the county to manage its jail costs as it continues efforts to reduce the population in its jail. Maybe it's time for Liberty County to act on Greenwood's recommendation.
Montgomery County commissioners voted unanimously yesterday to sell the Joe Corley Detention Facility to GEO Group for $65 million. The facility, which in recent years has been the subject of federal investigation into financial misconduct, has been up for sale since January.
The jail was financed with $44.8 million in tax-exempt bonds under the assumption that 30% of its beds would be used by the county by 2013; the rest of the 1,288 beds are contracted out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Marshals. However, Montgomery County's incarcerated population didn't grow as expected and, in 2012, the IRS revoked the bonds' original tax exemption. The county now owes an additional $7 million in fines to the IRS.
The fate of the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility is still in the air. When GEO Group placed a bid on Joe Corley, it also expressed interest in purchasing the 100-bed facility for $35 million; the county is waiting on an appraisal of the facility, originally built for $33 million, before making a decision. MCMHTF is the only privately-run state mental health treatment facility in Texas.