“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

CivicGenics Guard Pleads Guilty to Drug Smuggling

A CivicGenics guard at the Bowie County Correctional Facility recently plead guilty to drug smuggling. According to reports in the Texarkana Gazette, Marquise Dushan Hunt only worked at the private lock up for two months.

Hunt, 21, had been working as a correctional officer for CiviGenics for about two months when he was caught bringing three sandwich bags full of marijuana into the jail.

This scandal represents some of the systemic problems that plague correctional facilities managed by private prison companies. Typically, they hire inexperienced staff who may contribute to these scandals.  The faults of Mr. Hunt represent the inherent problems of outsourcing corrections to private corporations who care more about their bottom line than public safety.

School Board Rejects Hutto Contract; CCA Continues to Work on Reputation

According to recent reports in the Taylor Daily Press, the Taylor Independent School Board (TISD) has rejected an agreement with the T. Don Hutto Immigrant Detention Center. The agreement would have permitted immigrant detainees to be housed in the old middle school gymnasium in the event of an emergency.

The Hutto facility is managed by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Hutto officials are trying to lay the groundwork for an eventual agreement to be reached between the private prison company and school officials.

Several board members including President James “Bo” Stiles, Assistant Secretary Kathy Cotner and Anita Volek, along with Superintendent Bruce Scott and Assistant Superintendent David Krueger, were given a private tour of the facility May 1.

Volek said she was impressed with the facility, its school and the children in it.

“It puts us between a rock and a hard place, because we’re all about kids, too,” she said.

Hutto officials are making a case for why it is ok to house detainees at the school. Ironically, its the same argument for why these people should not be incarcerated at all.

[Hutto Facility Adminstrator Evenlyn] Hernandez stressed that the individuals housed in the facility are non-criminals, and that the CCA screens potential occupants with a background check before they are housed there. Those found to have a criminal history are not placed in the facility, she said.

As TISD board members become more familiar with the private prison, I fear that they will become more receptive to contracts with CCA around the Hutto facility. It is certainly something we will be monitoring as developments progress.

What Isn't Going Wrong in GEO Group's Texas Prisons?

Last week's horrendous news that guards have allegedly sexually assaulted female detainees at the GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall made me reflect on the scandals that have rocked the company in the past year and half. Consider that in the last year alone the following events have happened in the GEO Group's prisons, jails, and detention center facilities in Texas:

  1. Last week, WOAI reporter Brian Collister reported allegations of widespread sexual abuse of female immigrant detainees at the company's South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall. The allegations were varified by a number of former guards at the facility.

  2. The same Pearsall detention center was the subject of a lawsuit last September alleging that a mentally disabled prisoner was proper denied medical care and generally mistreated.

  3. The Texas Youth Commission shuttered GEO's Coke County Juvenile Correctional Center "filthy" and "unsafe" conditions including feces on walls and fire exits chained shut were found at the facility. In the wake of the scandal revelations that the TYC monitors at the facility were former GEO employees, State Senate John Whitmire called hearings on private prison oversight. GEO Group responded by sending in lobbyists, and substantially increased its lobbying expenditures in the state over the following months. Seven youths then sued the company over conditions at the facility.

  4. The suicide of Idaho inmate Scot Noble Payne last spring at GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center lead to an investigation into the facility's operation. The Associated Press's expose on the prison described the facility as "squalid" while Idaho's Department of Corrections Director of Health Care called the prison the worst he's ever seen and "beyond repair." Noble Payne's family has subsequently sued GEO over conditions at the prison.

  5. In November 2007, a former GEO Group guard has been indicted on federal civil rights charges for twice striking a federal detainee while employed at the Val Verde Correctional Center. The Val Verde Detention Center had been subjected to two well-publicized lawsuits in the past several years. In a 2005 suit, an employee reported that his superior displayed a hangman’s noose in his office and took pictures in his prison uniform donning KKK garb. The second lawsuit was brought by a civil rights organization on behalf of the family of LeTisha Tapia, a detainee who committed suicide after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted and denied medical care. GEO settled both suits. The settlement from the Tapia suit included a full-time county monitor to the prison.

  6. This summer, Val Verde was again rocked after four inmates came down with a mysterious illness. Three of the inmates later died, but a state investigation could find nothing at the prison linking the prison to the illnesses.

  7. In March 2008, a 20 year-old Val Verde GEO Group guard was indicted for smuggling marijuana into the correctional facility. Similar charges were filed against two other GEO Group jailers who attempted to smuggle liquor and contraband into the facility.

The list is long enough and filled with enough serious incidents that it makes me wonder why GEO continues to earn lucrative contracts like the three new Texas contracts that Nicole reported on last month. One reason might be the high-priced lobbyists and former state officials that GEO keeps employed. We'll keep you posted on ongoing problems at GEO's Texas facilities.

Private Prisons Featured on PBS's NOW Tonight

PBS's acclaimed series NOW will have a show on private prisons this evening. The show features commentary from Texas Prison Bid'ness founder Judy Greene, and focuses on a fight over a CCA prison proposal in Colorado. Here's a portion of the release from PBS:

Corporations are running many Americans prisons, but will they put profits before prisoners?

A grim new statistic: One in every hundred Americans is now locked behind bars. As the prison population grows faster than the government can build prisons, private companies see an opportunity for profit.

This week, NOW on PBS investigates the government's trend to outsource prisons and prisoners to the private sector. Critics accuse private prisons of standing in the way of sentencing reform and sacrificing public safety to maximize profits.

"The notion that a corporation making a profit off this practice is more important to us than public safety or the human rights of prisoners is outrageous," Judy Greene, a criminal policy analyst, tells NOW on PBS.

Companies like Corrections Corporation of America say they're doing their part to solve the problem of inmate overflow and a shortage of beds without sacrificing safety.

"You don't cut corners to where it's going to be a safety, security or health issue," Richard Smelser, warden of the Crowley Correctional Facility in Colorado tells NOW. The prison is run by Corrections Corporation, which had revenues of over $1.4 billion last year.

The Crowley prison made headlines back in 2004 after a major prison riot caused overwhelmed staff to run away from the facility. Outside law enforcement had to come in to put down the uprising.

"The problems that were identified in the wake of the riot are typical of the private prison industry and happen over and over again," Green tells NOW.
After the show has aired, you should be able to view it online.
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