“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

Is MTC pulling out of Limestone County Detention Center contract?

The Limestone County Detention Center has had a rocky year.  In March, the Bureau of Prisons ended its contract with Community Education Centers to incarcerate immigrants in the 1,035-bed facility, leaving it empty.  In response, CEC left operations in Limestone County altogether.  County commissioners elected to replace CEC with Management and Training Corporation in May in return for "short-term guarantees" -- MTC will pay the county $62,500 a month to rent the buliding while it looks for contracts to fill it.

KWTX reported in June that MTC was "closing the center and pulling out" once all of the people incarcerated by ICE had been removed on July 15 and sent employees home with their final paychecks.  However, an email from MTC's communications director indicated that the contract is still in place and that the company is looking for new contracts to fill the beds.  It may not be good news for Limestone County that neighboring McLennan County just announced it was receiving a contract to detain 200 immigrants from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

With the story changing so rapidly, we'll keep you posted on developments.

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.

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