“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

ICE Bails out Private Prison in McLennan County

The Jack Harwell Detention Center, built in 2010 on $49 million in revenue bonds, is once again housing immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  McLennan County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cawthon told the Waco Tribune that the facility would begin leasing two hundred beds to ICE for people awaiting immigration hearings.

LaSalle Corrections took control of the facility just last month when the county decided to change operators from Community Education Centers, which had run the detention center since its construction.  The county had always had trouble filling the beds, but after an audit by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and an ICE investigation uncovered poor conditions, McLennan County lost its contract with ICE in December 2011.

County commissioners chose LaSalle because of the company's "stability and its track record of persuading federal agencies to contract for its services."  In fact, a LaSalle executive was quoted in the Waco Tribune as saying that the company has:

“...been blessed to have a relatively good history of increasing the jail population for our clients,” said Billy McConnell, an executive with LaSalle. “We are confident we can provide a service that the county will find satisfactory.”

Like many contracts with for-profit prison companies, McLennan's contains a bed guarantee -- a stipulation that McLennan will continue to pay LaSalle if the population drops below a set level.  The only commissioner who voted against the proposal said that he could "not in good conscience" put his support behind a contract that put McLennan County on the hook for unfilled beds.  If prison population declines or if the facility once again fails to live up to ICE's standards (which are notoriously low), the county could find itself in even more fiscal trouble.

While McLennan County was lucky to be rid of CEC, it might have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire with this new deal with LaSalle.  

Private Food Provider Serves up Little Meals at a Big Cost

Aramark, a company that operates a variety of food services in prisons, has come under fire again for its business practices after a new expose by the Associated Press.  The findings are not good for the company.  They include:   

"- In Ohio, a 2001 audit found that Aramark had charged the state for 1.7 million meals it never served in just two years -- adding up to $2.1 million in extra costs.

- In Florida, the company made off with $4.9 million a year by charging the state per head instead of per meal.  The state dropped its contract in 2009.

- After a 2009 prison riot over poor food service in Kentucky, an investigation found that Aramark had not only been substituting lower quality meats and skimping on portions, but also padding its numbers by charging for 3,300 people it wasn't serving.  Once again, the state was over-billed for $130,000 a year."

It appears that the company hasn't behaved much better in the Lone Star State.  From grossly overcharging for commissary items in Bexar County to spoiled food in Tarrant County, Aramark hasn't left a good mark on Texas.  Without a list of which prisons have a contract with the company, however, it's impossible to say just how many incarcerated people are being served bad food at a bad cost.

Jail and prison facilities with contracts with Aramark may want to be asking some hard questions after these latest revelations.   

City of McAllen Considering a Private Prison

The Grassroots Leadership blog reports: 

This week, we learned that McAllen, TX has been keeping a dirty secret.  Located at the southern tip of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, the city plans to publish a formal request for qualifications this week from private prison operators willing to build a new 1,000-bed lock-up.  The new prison would house federal prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) under an existing agreement with the city. 

As it turns out, the McAllen Monitor learned a year ago that city officials had been talking to GEO Group behind closed doors, but agreed not to report it to avoid "tipping off potential competitors and skunking the deal."

Other Texas towns and counties that have teamed up with for-profit prison companies have landed themselves in deep financial distress.  Montgomery County recented sold the Joe Corley Detention Center to GEO Group to cover $38 million in debt.  The Bill Clayton Detention Center has been a headache for Littlefield since disturbing conditions led Idaho to terminate its contract, leaving the town to foot the bill for an empty facility.

GEO Group's track record is just as bad, both in Texas and across the country.  In Mississippi, assault rates at private prisons are three times higher than in publically-run prisons; reports and lawsuits out of Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, then operated by GEO Group, alleged rampant gang violence, smuggling, sexual assault, and dangerously low staffing levels.

With a pricetag of $50 million and untold human rights abuses, McAllen still has time to see what a new prison would really cost.

New Report on Thirty Years of Corrections Corporation of America

In honor of Corrections Corporation of America's thirtieth anniversary, Grassroots Leadership and the Public Safety and Justice Campaign hava released a new report "CCA's Dirty Thirty: Thirty Years of Nothing to Celebrate about Private Prisons."  Along with examples of violence, deaths, lawsuits, scandals, and lobbying, three Texas stories made the list: the beginnings of CCA and the modern for-profit prison industry in Houston, sexual abuse at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, and the tragic conditions at the Dawson State Jail.

Auspicious Beginnings: "Just Like Selling Hamburgers," CCA Opens First Detention Center in Houston, TX: In 1983, CCA won a its first contract with Immigration and Naturalization Service (now Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and converted an old hotel into the Houston Processing Center.  According to co-founder Tom Beasley, the company was founded on the principle that you could sell prisons “just like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers.” Another co-founder, T. Don Hutto -- who would eventually lend his name to an infamous family detention center -- was the only one with corrections experience, from his tenure as head of the Arkansas Department of Corrections where the Supreme Court ruled horrific conditions were pervasive.

Family Detention and Sexual Abuse at Hutto: From 2006 to 2009, the T. Don Hutto Detention Center was contracted by ICE to hold immigrant families.  Children detained with their mothers were forced into prison-like conditions that clearly violated their rights as outlined in a 1997 settlement, leading to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on the childrens' behalf.  While the Obama administration ended family detention in 2009, it stopped short of closing Hutto altogether and instead began using it to hold women seeking asylum.  In the following years, multiple allegations of sexual assault by guards on detained women emerged. As a result, Hutto has been the subject of two federal investigations and a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

"No baby should be born in a toilet in prison": Indifference Leads to Death at Dawson State Jail in Texas: Before the Texas Department of Justice caved to pressure to close the facility, poor medical care allegedly led to the premature deaths of several women and an infant.  Shebaa Green and Ashleigh Shae Parks both passed away from pneumonia, while Pam Weatherby's untreated diabetes eventually took her life.   Most tragically, the newborn girl of a woman who was refused a pregnancy test and prenatal care died after being born into a prison toilet while no medical personel were present.  CCA is facing suits from the deceaseds' families, as well as s the Texas Civil Rights Project for refusing to release information about medical care and deaths at the prison and by Prison Legal News for "unconscionable and unconstitutional conditions" at the prison.  Along with also CCA-run Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Dawson State Jail will close on August 31.

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