“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

HB 3903 Moves out of Committee

Bob reported a few weeks back about HB 3903.  Legislators voted the proposed measure out of committee earlier this week.  HB 3903 is important in light of scandals covered on this blog in recent years regarding the bribes taken by county officials. 

The measure:

  • Outlines conditions that county commissioners courts may enter into contracts with private operators to manage local jails; and
  • Creates a state jail felony for receiving a personal benefit from for private jail contracts; and
  • Holds private jails accountable under Texas open records laws.

TPB recognizes that sentencing enhancements contributes to the same flawed social policy approaches that lead to over incarceration in the first place.  We wonder if there is a way to hold corrupt county officials accountable without contributing to another body in another jail cell.  Of course, the answer is easy for elected sheriff's who manage these jails.  And surely there is away to deal with other corrupt county officials that voters don't elect?

According to the fiscal note provided by the Legislative Budget Board, the sentencing enhancement included in the bill would not significantly impact the state's criminal justice system. 

TPB has previously covered bribery scandals in the following posts:

More Opposition to Mineral Wells Emerald Detention Center

The proposed Emerald Detention Center in Mineral Wells continued to draw opposition at last Thursday's public hearing on the prison proposal, according to an article in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE project gets chilly reception," April 6, 2009). 

Nearly 20 people spoke, almost all voicing concerns with the proposal. “Our concern is property value surrounding it,” Alex McKee, ranch manager for Bunker Hill ranch, said. The facility would be located on the south and east borders of Bob Minyard’s ranch.

McKee said they have cleaned up the area and created a 20-acre lake for possible future home developments in the Harvey Road area and are concerned that a detention facility would devalue property.

“Our concern is visitors,” David Brock, vice president of business development for Hydroscience Technologies Inc., said. Brock said he is concerned about the traffic of visitors to the facility coming and going. “I’m not sure in the long-term interest, this is the right way to go,” Brock said.

Despite the opposition of the majority of the 90 people there, city leaders continue to push the prison,

“As mayor, and I believe that I can speak for some or all of our council members, as well, I feel that this is a project which is worth while and would be beneficial to our community,” (Mayor) Allen said, before introducing Steve Afeman, chief operating officer of Emerald Companies.

“We’re the company that had the escape [last weekend and] … want you all to know that it’s not a perfect science,” Afeman said to start out the night, saying the transportation officer did not follow rules and regulations. “He’ll be lucky to retain his job at this point.” ....

Emerald's Afeman then went into details about the facility which raised questions to me...

Court Upholds $47 Million Verdict Against GEO Group in de la Rosa Murder Case

The Thirteenth District Court of Appeals has affirmed a $47.5 (update, according to the Express-News, the judgment was actually $42.5 million) $42.5 million lawsuit judgement against the GEO Group to the family of Gregorio de la Rosa.  The court found that "Wackenhut’s conduct in maliciously causing Gregorio’s death and thereafter spoliating critical evidence so offends this Court’s sense of justice that a high ratio is warranted." 

De la Rosa, who is represented by Laredo attorney Ron Rodriguez, was brutally murdered in a GEO Group (then called Wackenhut) prison in Willacy County.  The first line of the court's judgment describes the case:

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HB 3903/Private Prison Oversight Hearing on Monday

HB 3903, a bill filed by Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr. that provides several oversight mechanisms for private jails, will be on of a long list of bills heard by the County Affairs Committee on Monday.  Here's the committee announcement:

COMMITTEE: County Affairs   
TIME & DATE:  2:00 PM or upon final adjourn/recess, Monday, April 06, 2009
PLACE: E2.016

Amongst the several aspects of the HB 3903:

  1. Requiring public hearings in each County Commissioner's district before privatization of a county jail.  Notice of the public hearings must be posted 30 days before a the hearing is held,
  2. Prohibiting a county employee or public officials, including a county Sheriff, from receiving a financial benefit from a jail contractor.  This has been an issue in McLennan County where County Sheriff Larry Lynch receives a $12,000 salary from private prison corporation CEC/CiviGenics in addition to his county salary.  The Sheriff was notably quiet when his officers protested jail privatization, and
  3. Subjecting private jail facilities to the same open records laws as publicly operated facilites for data related to facility operations. 

Check back for updates what transpires on Monday.


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