“What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.” -- Molly Ivins, 2003

Texas Prison Phone Contract Approved

Texas is the last state in the nation to make pay phones available to prisoners. Mike Ward of the Austin American Statesman wrote about the state's prison policy in a recent article ("First Texas prison pay phone system approved," August 15, 2008). This changed recently, when the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, approved a seven year private phone contract with Embarq/Securus Technologies.

The contract, authorized by the 80th Texas Legislature, reverses the nation's most restrictive prison policy or no phone policy.

In recent years, only occasional collect calls from state phones have been allowed — usually from wardens' offices as a reward for good behavior.

Texas stands to generate several hundred million in revenue as a result of the change in policy, and the ability of prisoners to phone families and friends as a result.

Over its seven-year run, the contract could generate as much as $600 million in gross revenue, officials estimated.

Embarq officials said they plan to install about 4,000 pay phones in Texas' 106 prisons, each of which will require a voice ID and personal ID number to ensure that only authorized convicts make calls.

The new contract also refreshes former State Rep. Ray Allen relationship with the House Corrections Committee. Allen who chaired the committee several years ago now serves as an Embarq consultant, and no doubt is relying on his relationships as a former lawmaker to benefit Embarq's bottom line.

Advocates strongly supported the change in phone policy during the 2007 Legislature, citing that better telephone access would improve public safety, maintain family unity, and impact rehabilitation for prisoners. Advocacy groups in support of the measure included the:

  • American Civil Liberties Union of Texas
  • Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable
  • Christian Life Commission Baptist General Convention of TX
  • Restorative Justice Ministries Network of Texas
  • Texas CURE
Other states that have had better prison phone policies are working to lower costs so that telephone access is not a hardship on families. As Texas officials work to implement the new phone policy, it will be important that advocacy groups monitor the contracts and hold officials accountable to the costs incurred by prisoners' families.

Idaho Inmate Died After More Than a Year in GEO's Solitary Confinement

The Magic Valley Times-News' Andrea Jackson had an important piece last week ("Inmate died in solitary confinement," August 28th) on the death of Idaho inmate Randall McCullough at GEO Group's Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas. Unfortunately, the article does not appear to be online anymore, but this is an excerpt:

An Idaho prison inmate held at a private facility in Texas through the state's Virtual Prison Program was in solitary confinement for more than a year when he apparently killed himself, authorities have confirmed.

Idaho Department of Correction is still investigating the cause and manner of death for the inmate, Randall McCullough, 37, who was found unresponsive Aug. 18 in his cell, which measured 7.5 feet, by 12 feet, by 8 feet, said Idaho Department of Correction Spokesman Jeff Ray.

McCullough had been segregated from other inmates since Dec. 13, 2007, after he allegedly assaulted a staff member at the Bill Clayton Detention Center run by Geo Group Inc., said Ray.

He apparently wasn't criminally charged for that alleged assault in Texas. "It's our understanding that the prosecutor in Texas had not made a decision on whether or not to file charges," said Ray. "The staff assault occurred in Texas and would be considered a Texas crime. IDOC would not have a direct connection to it."

If GEO is dealing with potential crimes committed within their prisons by not referring them to the criminal justice system and instead simply remanding prisoners to solitary confinement, Idaho and other clients should ask major concerns about GEO Group operations. Of course, Idaho shouldn't need any more evidence that sending prisoners to GEO's Texas prisons is a bad idea.

Read more about the latest tragedy in a Texas GEO Group prison here.

LCS Moves to Ease Community Concerns Over Nueces County Prison

LCS Corrections' controversial rural Nueces County detention center in Robstown continues to draw opposition, this time from community members concerned that the facility lies to close to a Colonia. According to a report from KIII TV ("Colonia Leaders Concerned About Prison Warning System," August 27) last week,

Colonia leaders are worried about a warning system for a new private prison in the Robstown area. Specifically, the lack of a warning system. Today, some of those nearby residents said they want to make sure a siren is in place to alert the surrounding neighborhood, if an inmate escapes.

Colonia leaders will hold a meeting for area residents to talk about this issue. They tell us they won't take no for an answer for a siren system.

The LCS private prison in robstown will open up in mid-October, but colonia leaders said there are six communities around here with about 5,000 residents. So far, there has been no talk of a warning system for a prison escape.

The company quickly moved to ease concerns by adding a third alert system (KRIS TV, "Special Meeting About New Prison Eases Residents' Concerns," August 28th) to its alarm system in the case of an escape.

The much bigger threat to the area may be the economic impact of the prison. As we've reported, prisons do not create long-term economic growth, and, in fact, can actually harm economic development in small communities by scaring away more attractive industries.

See our previous coverage on LCS Corrections and the Robstown prison:

LCS Opening 1,100 Bed Prison in Nueces County

A Closer Look at LCS Corrections

New LCS Prison Will Increase Environmental Hazard

Private Prison Company Adds Water Quality Concerns

Teen Uses Football to Smuggle Contraband into CCA Prison

This story should be added to the always growing list of private prison scandals, Mineral Wells Index ("Teen Caught with pot near prison" August 25, 2008):

A 14-year-old male was taken into custody late Thursday night near the Corrections Corporation of America facility after they were notified of a “suspicious person” in the 700 block of Heintzelman Road.

According to police reports the youth attempted to send two footballs stuffed with marijuana and cell phones.

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