Citizens Opposed to the Prison Siting (COPS) turned out in mass on Tuesday to a provide testimony against MTC's proposed federal prison in Nacogdoches at a 30-minutes public hearing called by the County Commission. It certainly appears to me that COPS has provided a thorough set of arguments against building a prison in their community. According to the article in the Daily-Sentinal,
The Citizens Opposed to the Prison Site (COPS) filled the seats and lined the walls in the County Courthouse Annex, and the organized group sent six speakers to the podium, each addressing the court on a different topic, including the effects of prisons on tourism, university enrollment, and property values.
Dick Voigtel, who was an SFA faculty member for 36 years, said the low-paying prison jobs would create a financial burden on the taxpayers. Management and Training Corporation, the company that would build and operate the facility, has stated that the prison would create 300 jobs, with average salaries from $30,000 to $32,000.
"This tells us that these families will be seeking modest housing and will pay very little, if any, taxes unless they own their property. They will also be in need of more social services," he said.
Paul Risk, founder of COPS, recently submitted to the commissioners a petition with 853 unique signatures from Nacogdoches citizens opposed to the prison. He asked the court to consider the voice of the opposition. "You are our elected representatives. Please listen to your constituents," he said. "We want you to rescind your vote of support for this project."
A few proponents (my source in Nacogdoches says there were only two prison supporters) of the private prison also showed up to express support, and they appear to be winning the argument with the commissioners. According to the Daily Sentinel article,
(Commissioner) Cotton said he did not hear anything at the public forum that would prompt him to change his vote to allow the prison, but he would like to see the public continue to voice their thoughts to elected officials.
COPS also continues to utlize the argument that MTC has promised not to move into a community that does not want a private prisons. We'll keep you updated on further developments from Nacogdoches.
Management and Training Corporation, the Utah-based private prison corporation most (in)famous in Texas for the operation of Raymondville's "tent city" immigrant detention center, has acquired three new state contracts to operate Texas Department of Criminal Justice prisons. According to an MTC press release article in the Standard-Examiner ("MTC Adds Three Prisons in Texas," October 2nd),
Management & Training Corp. said Wednesday it has been awarded contracts worth a combined $62.6 million over 32 months to oversee the Billy Moore, Diboll and Estes correctional centers in northeast Texas.
The contracts, awarded by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, contain options that could extend their total combined value to $165.8 million through August 2015.
The company will take over the Diboll and B. Moore units from Corrections Corporation of America and Estes from the GEO Group. CCA and the GEO Group are the nation's two oldest and largest private prison corporations.
It should be noted that Estes is the third GEO facility closed in the state of Texas in the last 18 months. The state of Idaho pulled its inmates from the Dickens County Correctional Center in the spring of 2007 in the wake of the suicide of inmate Scot Noble Payne and a subsquent investigation into "squalid" conditions at the lock-up. In October 2007, the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center was shuttered by the Texas Youth Commission after a damning investigation into conditions.
Via an excellent Grits for Breakfast post on Friday, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics has released a new report (Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities) detailing how private prison corporations are seeing large growth even as publicly-administered adult correctional centers are being built far less often than in previous years. From Grits,
The census basically covers the first half of the decade, comparing data between June 30, 2000, and December 30, 2005. Let's run through some highlights. (All quotes are from the report - pdf)For starters, governments aren't building prisons much any more, but corporations are. "Private correctional facilities (up 151) accounted for nearly all of the increase in the number of adult correctional facilities between June 30, 2000, and December 30, 2005. Most of the growth in private correctional facilities during this period was in facilities under contract to the Federal Bureau of Prisons."
As a result, private facilities have expanded their market share over a very short period of time, DOJ reports, mostly thanks to federal contracts. "From 2000 to 2005, the number of private facilities increased from 16% (264) to 23% (415) of all institutions. About two-thirds of all private facilities were under contract to state authorities and a third were under contract to the Federal Bureau of Prisons."
The Bush administration's push for privatization in many sectors is probably partly responsible for this trend, along with the private prison industry's use of its influence to persuade government agencies to privatize. Last year, CCA spent $2.5 million lobbying federal officials and departments including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Justice, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, all agencies that oversee correctional facilities. That's on top of the industry's state lobbying, which last year was as high as $1.1 million in Texas lobby expenditures alone.
So, what's the impact of this increased lobbying? Possibly the most damning analysis from the Grits post:
Finally, according to these data, private prisons appear to do a poorer job at providing meaningful programming for prisoners than state run facilities. "About 9 in 10 public correctional facilities and about 6 in 10 private correctional facilities offered academic and vocational training programs in 2005."
Last Thursday, the Austin American-Statesman ran a story ("Rights group looks into care of immigrants at Taylor center," October 2) on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' investigation into the treatment of detained families at CCA's T. Don Hutto family detention center. IACHR is a division of the Organization of American States, to which the United States is a member. According to the article,
A delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was in Austin on Wednesday on a fact-finding mission on the treatment of immigrant families and asylum seekers at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor and other Texas facilities.
The commission, a body of the Organization of American States, monitors compliance by members, including the U.S., with human rights obligations established by international law.
The mission marks the first time the human rights commission has visited Texas to examine detention issues, said Denise Gilman, a professor at the University of Texas Law School's immigration clinic. She said the clinic and other organizations requested the visit during a hearing last year in Washington.
"It's a very important opportunity to raise some of these human rights issues taking place in our back yard before an international forum," Gilman said of the delegation's Austin visit. "The hope would be that the commission's findings and recommendations would lead the U.S. government to make changes in the way it handles immigrant detainees and asylum seekers."
A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, ICE, which oversees detention of illegal immigrants, could not be reached late Wednesday.
The story does not make it clear whether ICE or CCA allowed access to the facility for the OAS inspectors to investigate the conditions at the center. As we've reported, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants was denied access to the facility on a trip last year.
In related news, the Statesman is also reporting ("Two seats up for grabs on Commissioner Court,"" October 2) that Round Rock real estate broker Greg Windom, the Democratic challenger to Williamson County Commissioner Valerie Covey, would work to end the county's contract with private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America.
The issue came to a pass last October when County Commissioners unanimously voted to continue the Hutto contract after initially expressing concerns about liability in the wake of a sexual assault incident at the facility.