“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

New York Times: Fix Immigration System, Detention Unnecessary

The Editorial Board at the New York Times denounced The House passing a trillion-dollar budget allocating $16 billion of those funds to immigration enforcement.

According to the opinion piece, House Republicans tout this sum as one that "will allow for the highest operational force levels in history" for Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The bill also calls for 2,000 additional CBP officers at border ports and requires that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fill no fewer than 34,000 detention beds per day until September 30, 2014. 

The Editorial Board has this to say about the mandatory detention of immigrants: 

Take the irrational obligation to fill all those detention beds, at the cost of about $122 per day. Why make the people who run a vast and expensive law-enforcement apparatus responsible for keeping prison beds warm rather than communities safe--especially when there are low-cost alternatives to detention that don't involve fattening the bottom lines of for-profit prison corporations? 

The authors further denounce the Obama administration, which they claim has used its enforcement powers to deport roughly 400,000 people annually. Immigrants mandatorily detained in for-profit prisons continue to suffer at great cost to taxpayers. 

 

Bribery Charges Filed Against Former Officers, Inmates of Mineral Wells

According to CNHI News Service, a Parker Country grand jury has pressed charges against two former corrections officers, 11 former inmates and five other individuals for possible involvement in bribery and the intent to provide contraband to an incarcerated person in February 2013. 

Carl James Guittard, 36 and Terrie Elaine Glover, 49, who are both former employees of the Mineral Wells facility, are charged with bribery and intending to provide an incarcerated individual with tobacco. The charges allege that 10 people offered or gave money to both Guittard and Glover with a prepaid debit card. Information regarding the charges reached investigators at the beginning of the year. 

Mark Mullin, a special prosecutor, said it is uncommon for state prosecutors to seek this type of case with the number of defendants involved.

"This is a lot of folks," Mullin said. "You know we've seen it before but we don't deal with it very often and not this many of them." Mullin also stated that, though there have been a lot of contraband cases, none involve as many people as the one in question.

The Democrat was unable to reach the corporate spokeswoman for the Corrections Corporation of America, which operated the Mineral Wells Facility.  

The facility has a troubled history with contraband issues, which is reportedly a reason for the facility's closure in 2013. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice elected to close Mineral Wells for safety reasons, as well as the problems with contraband and capacity. CCA's contract with TDCJ was thus terminated. 

Despite the facility's permanent closure on July 30, 2013, Parker County grand juries have continued to press charges in the last few months regarding contraband violations that have occurred over the last few years.  

Big Stories of 2013 - #1 - Closure of Dawson State Jail & Mineral Wells Pre-parole Transfer Facility

As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered by our blog.  Our number one story of the year is the state's closure of two notorious Corrections Corporation of America prisons - the Dawson State Jail and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.   

The story mirrors our biggest story of 2012, the growing momentum to close the Dawson State Jail.  State lawmakers had pushed for the closure of Dawson and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, another CCA-contract prison, arguing that the state had extra bed capacity thanks to a declining prison population.  

In August, advocacy organizations celebrated the closure of these two privately operated prisons.  Over the preceding year, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, prisoner families, correctional officers, and civil rights groups had call for the closure of Dawson.  Dallas CBS 11 reporter Ginger Allen ran a series of damning reports interviewing former Dawson prisoners and former guards at the facility.     

Dawson's history was fraught with human rights violations. As Piper Madison reported in May of this year, The Texas Civil Rights Project and and Prison Legal News filed a lawsuit against the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for witholding information regarding the deaths of several women in the facility and a premature infant whose mother's cries for help were ignored by facility staff. TCRP filed requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act to compel CCA to disclose information regarding the deaths. 

Autumn Miller, whose baby girl died four days after her birth at Dawson, filed a lawsuit against the facility "alleging cruel and unusual punishment." Miller spoke with Ginger Allen of CBS 11 in Dallas and NPR of North Texas, saying that her requests for help were ignored througout her pregnancy and, ultimately, while she was giving birth. Her daughter was born on a toilet in a holding cell. 

Ulitmately, Texas legislators reduced TDCJ's budget by the exact operating amount of Dawson and Mineral Wells, and TDCJ then closed the facilities in August.  Dallas Morning News reporter Scott Goldstein toured the facility after it closed and found some haunting messages left on the walls:

“I WANT OUT OF HERE NOW!!”

 

“Surrender to death or to life.”

 

“Don’t be afraid. Soon you will pass out of darkness.”

 

 

Big Stories of 2013 - #2 - City of McAllen rejects GEO Group prison for immigrants

As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year.  Our second biggest story of 2013 was the City of McAllen's rejection of a GEO Group prison for immigrants. 

This summer, a battle broke out in McAllen, Texas over the possibility of the city partnering with private prison corporation GEO Group to open a 1,000 bed facility to detain individuals charged with federal crimes for the U.S. Marshals Service. (Full disclosure: my organization, Grassroots Leadership, was involved in the effort to stop the deal).  Under the proposal, the city would have expanded its existing contract with the U.S. Marshals service, and the private company would in turn pay McAllen a portion of the government's daily per-inmate payment.

As Piper reported back in July, the local paper, McAllen Monitor, learned more than year before 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."  The paper later editorialized against the proposal citing concerns about the GEO Group's human rights record, as well as the facility's cost to taxpayers, claiming that private prisons have cost other Texas communities millions of dollars. 

Advocacy organizations and McAllen residents quickly also mobilized opposition to the proposal, citing GEO Group's record and the fact that more than 90% of those detained in the U.S. Marshals custody in the McAllen are being charged with immigration crimes under the controversial Operation Streamline program.  Rio Grande Valley organizations including La Union del Pueblo Entero and Proyecto Azteca allied with statewide groups including the ACLU of Texas, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and Grassroots Leadership to deliver a letter signed by 50 national, state, and local organizations.  

Rio Grande Valley residents also organized a petition signed by 500 community members, turned out overwhelming resident opposition at the city’s public forum, and put together a film screening and private prison panel discussion hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network. 

In the end, the city voted against opening GEO's bid and sent the proposal back to the company unopened (thwarting the possibility that it could have been released to the press or an advocacy group as part of an open records request).   The vote effectively killed the deal for now, though McAllen City officials have raised the possibility that they could revisit the idea of a private prison in the future.  

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