Salon Media reports today that New Jersey governor Chris Christie promotes Community Education Centers (CEC), a for-profit prison company. The facility is used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrant men who are seeking asylum in the United States ("Chris Christie's Texas Horror: Meet the Scandalous Prison Company he's Long Promoted," 1/24/14).
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, visited Polk in 2012 and 2013 with other activists. Libal claims that "I've visited a bunch of detention facilities in Texas, and that's by far the worst." Libal's sentiments are reflected in a report released by the Detention Watch Network, a coalition comprised of the ACLU, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Grassroots Leadership, and others. The report alleges that those incarcerated at Polk receive inadequate medical care, poor nutrition, are neglected, and do not have access to legal services. An ICE spokesperson claims that these allegations, as well as similar ones reported during Grassroots Leadership's and Texans United for Families' visit to Polk in 2013, are based on "unsubstantiated allegations."
Christie support of CEC harkens back to 2000 and 2001, when Christie was a registered lobbyist for the company. The state of New Jersey has also contributed financially to CEC. Former CEC employees told the New York Times "that the company had kept staffing levels very low" and "did a poor job delivering counseling and other services intended to help inmates make the transition to society." Christie vetoed improvements in New Jersey halfway houses operated by CEC, and is a close friend of Bill Patalucci, a CEC executive. Patalucci later served as chairman of Christie's 2013 re-election committee and he and Christie's brother co-chaired Christie's inaugural committee.
Libal points out that CEC continues to use Christie's support for the company as a public relations tool. Governor Christie spoke at the ten-year anniversary of the Dleaney Hall New Jersey Halfway House two years prior to the facility became the subject of a New York Times investigation. Christie had this to say about the facility:
"Places like this are to be celebrated. A spotlight should be put on them as representing the very best of the human spirit. Because when you walk through here as I've done many times, what you see with your very eyes are miracles happening."
The Editorial Board at the New York Times denounced The House passing a trillion-dollar budget allocating $16 billion of those funds to immigration enforcement.
According to the opinion piece, House Republicans tout this sum as one that "will allow for the highest operational force levels in history" for Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The bill also calls for 2,000 additional CBP officers at border ports and requires that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fill no fewer than 34,000 detention beds per day until September 30, 2014.
The Editorial Board has this to say about the mandatory detention of immigrants:
Take the irrational obligation to fill all those detention beds, at the cost of about $122 per day. Why make the people who run a vast and expensive law-enforcement apparatus responsible for keeping prison beds warm rather than communities safe--especially when there are low-cost alternatives to detention that don't involve fattening the bottom lines of for-profit prison corporations?
The authors further denounce the Obama administration, which they claim has used its enforcement powers to deport roughly 400,000 people annually. Immigrants mandatorily detained in for-profit prisons continue to suffer at great cost to taxpayers.
According to CNHI News Service, a Parker Country grand jury has pressed charges against two former corrections officers, 11 former inmates and five other individuals for possible involvement in bribery and the intent to provide contraband to an incarcerated person in February 2013.
Carl James Guittard, 36 and Terrie Elaine Glover, 49, who are both former employees of the Mineral Wells facility, are charged with bribery and intending to provide an incarcerated individual with tobacco. The charges allege that 10 people offered or gave money to both Guittard and Glover with a prepaid debit card. Information regarding the charges reached investigators at the beginning of the year.
Mark Mullin, a special prosecutor, said it is uncommon for state prosecutors to seek this type of case with the number of defendants involved.
"This is a lot of folks," Mullin said. "You know we've seen it before but we don't deal with it very often and not this many of them." Mullin also stated that, though there have been a lot of contraband cases, none involve as many people as the one in question.
The Democrat was unable to reach the corporate spokeswoman for the Corrections Corporation of America, which operated the Mineral Wells Facility.
The facility has a troubled history with contraband issues, which is reportedly a reason for the facility's closure in 2013. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice elected to close Mineral Wells for safety reasons, as well as the problems with contraband and capacity. CCA's contract with TDCJ was thus terminated.
Despite the facility's permanent closure on July 30, 2013, Parker County grand juries have continued to press charges in the last few months regarding contraband violations that have occurred over the last few years.
As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered by our blog. Our number one story of the year is the state's closure of two notorious Corrections Corporation of America prisons - the Dawson State Jail and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.
The story mirrors our biggest story of 2012, the growing momentum to close the Dawson State Jail. State lawmakers had pushed for the closure of Dawson and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, another CCA-contract prison, arguing that the state had extra bed capacity thanks to a declining prison population.
In August, advocacy organizations celebrated the closure of these two privately operated prisons. Over the preceding year, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, prisoner families, correctional officers, and civil rights groups had call for the closure of Dawson. Dallas CBS 11 reporter Ginger Allen ran a series of damning reports interviewing former Dawson prisoners and former guards at the facility.
Dawson's history was fraught with human rights violations. As Piper Madison reported in May of this year, The Texas Civil Rights Project and and Prison Legal News filed a lawsuit against the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for witholding information regarding the deaths of several women in the facility and a premature infant whose mother's cries for help were ignored by facility staff. TCRP filed requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act to compel CCA to disclose information regarding the deaths.
Autumn Miller, whose baby girl died four days after her birth at Dawson, filed a lawsuit against the facility "alleging cruel and unusual punishment." Miller spoke with Ginger Allen of CBS 11 in Dallas and NPR of North Texas, saying that her requests for help were ignored througout her pregnancy and, ultimately, while she was giving birth. Her daughter was born on a toilet in a holding cell.
Ulitmately, Texas legislators reduced TDCJ's budget by the exact operating amount of Dawson and Mineral Wells, and TDCJ then closed the facilities in August. Dallas Morning News reporter Scott Goldstein toured the facility after it closed and found some haunting messages left on the walls:
“I WANT OUT OF HERE NOW!!”
“Surrender to death or to life.”
“Don’t be afraid. Soon you will pass out of darkness.”