And now for some good news... Via an email from a reader, the Austin American Statesman is reporting today that plans for a 1,000 bed immigrant Emerald Corrections detention center has been scrapped due to overwhelming opposition from local residents. According to the article:
About 150 people attended a public meeting about the project Dec. 27 in Lytton Springs, and at least 90 percent of them opposed the project, Caldwell County Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Roland said.
"They were pretty forceful," he said of the residents.
On Dec. 10, Louisiana-based Emerald Correctional Management LLC, which manages three correctional facilities in Texas, pitched the idea of a $30 million, 1,000-bed facility to be built in northeastern Caldwell County to county commissioners.
Many of the residents were concerned about safety issues, but others raised important questions about the proposed prison's impact on water capacity and the ability of Emerald to staff the prison. A final vote at the January 12 Caldwell County Commissioners meeting will end the prison deal. We'll keep you updated...
As 2007 comes to an end, we thought we'd look back at our first year at Texas Prison Bid'ness and compile some the most important stories we covered this year. Below is list of the top 5 private prison stories in Texas as we saw them, in no particular order.
Many thanks to our readers and other bloggers who have been supportive of our first year. We also would like to thank Kathleen Pequeño, a founding blogger at Texas Prison Bid'ness who departed in November. Her excellent work and writing was key in developing the Texas Prison Bid'ness site and blog. Happy New Year!
- Nicole, Bob, and Judy at Texas Prison Bid'ness
#5 - 80th Legislature: Lawmakers introduced several measures during the legislative session that impact private prisons. Amongst the highlights:
- First, was HB 1354 which would have changed the square footage requirement for privately contracted facilities to pre-1987 standards. This may be the first sign that private prison lobbyists and corrections officials are trying to minimize the standards achieved under the landmark Ruiz v. Estelle lawsuit.
- Second, was SB 185 which would authorize the state to contract with a private prison in Mexico to detain undocumented immigrants convicted of state felonies. Despite the analysis of the Senate Criminal Justice committee that it was beyond the authority of Texas to pursue such a measure, it is not dead. In deed the House Corrections Committee is charged with studying policies and procedures related to illegal immigration and border security of TDCJ, county probation departments, and local and county jail facilities.
- Third, lawmakers failed to approve enhanced oversight of county jail facilities authorized by HB 2244 and HB 2699 . Several Texas county jails are managed by private prison companies. Despite the strong opposition mobilized by Dallas County and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties to defeat the measures, momentum can be built during the Interim. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) will be under Sunset Review during 2009. Also, recent Senate hearings indicate that several lawmakers support stronger oversight of private prisons and jails.
#4 Local Private Prison and Detention Center Opposition Grows in Texas: In addition to opposition to GEO Group's proposed Laredo superjail (see below) and CCA's T. Don Hutto family detention center (also below), several other communities in Texas took strong stands against private prison proposals. Amongst the local prison fights we covered:
#3 - GEO Group Scandals: Several scandals surfaced during the last year that clarify why it is bad public policy to outsource incarceration to private prison companies. The Boca Raton-based GEO Group, in particular, had a number of scandals that caused the company to lose two contracts in Texas, and lead to a state-wide re-evaluation of prison privatization. Here is a run-down of some our previous coverage of GEO's problems in Texas:
#2 - Texas Lege Holds Hearings on Private Prison Oversight
In the wake of the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center scandal and closure, in which kids in the care of the Texas Youth Commission were found in "unsafe and unsanitary" conditions at the GEO Group lock-up, the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee held hearings on private prison oversight.
The hearings brought out numerous criminal justice advocates, including testimony by Texas Prison Bid'ness bloggers Nicole Porter and Bob Libal, and Grits For Breakfast blogger Scott Henson. The highlight of the hearings was the heart-wrenching testimony from Shirley Noble, the mother of Idaho inmate Scot Noble Payne who killed himself in the "squalid" GEO Dickens County jail.
In particular, Senator Chuy Hinojosa asked tough questions about prison privatization. Here's hoping that the scrutiny that rightfully befell the private prison industry after Coke County will translate into heightened oversight in 2008.
#1 - Hutto Family Detention Center Controversy and Opposition
Correction Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto family detention center was probably the highest profile of Texas private prisons. The prison, which holds up to 500 immigrant children and their families awaiting immigration hearings, has drawn protests from local Taylor residents, Amnesty International, and advocates from across the country.
A lawsuit brought by the ACLU, UT Immigration Law Clinic, and others on behalf of families at Hutto was settled by the government in August, bringing better conditions and more education to the prison. In October, Williamson County also briefly debated canceling the contract due to liability concerns after an "inappropriate sexual relationship" was discovered between a guard and detainee, but eventually decided to continue its profitable relationship with CCA.
The year of Hutto protests culminated in a moving holiday vigil marking the first anniversary of the initial Hutto vigil. Hutto: America's Family Prison, a short film about Hutto was also released this fall, and is accompanied by a Hutto blog providing more information on the prison.
The Houston Chronicle recently reported that Idaho prisoners on the way to Val Verde Correctional Facility were delayed due to further review of contract obligations by local officials.
Prisoners were being moved to Val Verde after an investigation following the suicide of Scot Noble Payne at the Dickens County Correctional Center in Spur, Texas. That facility was managed by GEO Group and Mr. Payne's suicide has resulted in increased scrutiny by Idaho and Texas public officials.
Despite the reported transfer the details had not been finalized by county officials in Del Rio where the prison is located.
Because a Texas county official has yet to approve the contract to house Idaho prisoners at Val Verde, they have first been sent 100 miles away to the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas.
GEO also manages the Val Verde prison and according to reports has a strong incentive to protect the company’s relationship with the Idaho Department of Corrections.
The company hopes to win contracts with Idaho to build a large new prison here [Texas] to help accommodate the state's 7,400 inmates.
It is quite remarkable that despite the list of GEO prison scandals in Texas, states are continuing to contract with this company. Even more striking is that Idaho continues to do so.Recently, Texas lawmakers looked into scandals at the state's private prisons. We hope that the Texas Senate under the scrutiny of Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa will continue to monitor the contracts and develop policies and procedures that hold these private prison companies accountable.
A non-profit private firm, Correctional Concepts, Inc. has proposed a "faith-based" private prison in Leonard, Texas in Fannin County. At a December 13th Leonard City Council meeting, no action was taken on the prison issue despite a large turn-out from opponents of the prison who had collected 400 signatures opposing the prison from around the town of 2,000. From the Leonard Graphic,
Leonard City Council members took no action on four agenda items concerning a faith-based prison that could be located in the community. A motion to withdraw from contract negotiations with Corrections Concepts Inc. by Steven Bolin died for lack of a second and two other items, one calling for a referendum in the May municipal election and one for calling for a public hearing died for lack of a motion
More than 70 people packed the Leonard City Council chambers Tuesday evening as the council took up discussion on the items relating to an agreement with Corrections Concepts Inc. and the construction of a faith-based prison in Leonard.
Of course, a faith-based prison raises constitutional questions that could limit the prisons ability to attract contracting clients. According to an article in The Herald News, Fannin County, along with another 8 Texas counties and communities, have already rejected CCI's offers to place a religious prison in their communities.
According to another article in the Leonard Graphic:
Dallas attorney John Sheedy, who represents the city of Leonard in the corrections concept, presented a short overview of the plan, but did not open the floor to questions from those attending the meeting.
Sheedy is clearly no neutral observer representing the county's best interest in this process, but rather a proponent of the prison project. And, frankly, his answers to questions about why other communities have been concerned about faith-based prisons are a bit loopy. From the Graphic article,
As to why Corrections Concepts Inc. has not been accepted in any other community, Sheedy said he believed in Satan. “He exists, he doesn’t (sic) this project to succeed,” he said. “He is doing everything he can to defeat this project and he is using good people with good intentions. Satan is much more powerful than anybody in this room, he will twist that person around where they think they are doing the right thing in fighting it.”
Well, if that doesn't inspire confidence in county's representation in the matter... We'll keep you updated on developments from Leonard, Texas.