As we usher in 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of 2012, based on stories covered by our blog. Our number one story of the year is the growing number of voices calling for the closure of Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail.
TPB Big Story #1 - Momentum Builds to Close CCA's Dawson State Jail
For several years, advocates, legislators, and community leaders have advocated for the closure of Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail. As Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast put it in 2010:
"This ill-placed facility is located in downtown Dallas on the banks of the Trinity River in prime real estate the city hopes to redevelop. So the fact that Dawson's contract ends on January 15, 2011 is a significant date for the city of Dallas: If the state renews the contract, the proposed riverfront redevelopment could be put on hold indefinitely. It's possible, then, we may see members of the Dallas delegation and related development interests pushing for non-renewal, though certainly CCA will have its own lobbyists on the other side."
Senator John Whitmire also publicly floated the idea that the prison could be closed. However, despite these calls and Dallas citizens' outcry to move the prison off the valued real estate, TDCJ renewed CCA's contract for the Dawson State Jail in 2010.
In 2011 and 2012, a series of tragic and heartbreaking deaths of women incarcerated at the facility have put Dawson back in the spotlight. The deaths and related scandals have been chronciled by Ginger Allen of Dallas’ CBS 11 and put together by my colleague Kymberlie Quong Charles at the Grassroots Leadership blog who had this to say about the facility:
At Dawson, however, far too many people have entered what are supposed to be six-month to two-year stints, and have died inside the prison of medically treatable conditions. The most heart-wrenching of these deaths is that of a four-day old premature baby girl who was born without any medical staff present. While there seems to have been a code of silence for years about prisoner neglect at the facility, one Dallas journalist recently began diligently exposing these stories in an effort to seek justice for those who have died, as well as those still incarcerated there, and for the families that are affected by the mistreatment of their loved ones while they are under state supervision.
Senator Whitmire has again called on the facility to be closed along with CCA's Mineral Wells pre-parole transfer facility, and AFSCME, the union that represents correctional officers in Texas, has joined the call for closure. We will undoubtedly be covering this story well into the 2013 legislative session and beyond, so stay tuned to Texas Prison Bid'ness for updates.
As we usher in 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of 2012, based on stories covered by our blog. Our number two story of the year is GEO Group's failed attempt to take over operations at the Kerrville State Hospital.
TPB Big Story #2 - GEO Group Loses Bid to Take Over Kerrville State Hospital
This summer, media in Texas reported that GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison corporation GEO Group, had plans to take over the management of a Texas State Hospital, where indigent people with mental illness and forensic patients incompetent to stand trial are rehabilitated. The takeover would be pursuant to a rider snuck into the 2011 legislative session that mandated the privatization of one state hopsital. It quickly was discovered that GEO Care had submitted the sole bid on to take over one facility - the Kerrville State Hospital.
Pointing to GEO's troubled record, mental health care advocates and criminal justice reform groups immediately worked to stop the privatization effort. A coalition of Texas organizations, including Grassroots Leadership, a co-sponsor of this blog, sent a sign-on letter urging state leaders to halt privatization efforts. In September, more than 700 people from across Texas signed an online petition to stop private prison corporation GEO Group from taking over the Kerrville State Hospital. State and local officials spoke out against privatization, and the media across the state ran exposés on GEO’s troubled record operating prisons and jails.
The organizing efforts paid off. In October, state leaders announced that they rejected GEO Group’s bid to take over the Kerrville State Hospital. However, Kerrville and other state hospitals may not be out of the woods yet. GEO Group continues to tell investors that they see opportunities in mental health facilities in Texas.
To round out 2012, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered by our blog. Our number three story of the year is Corrections Corporation of America's bold offer to buy prisons from 48 cash-strapped states, including Texas, in exchange for long-term guarantees to keep the prisons 90% full.
TPB Big Story #3 - CCA Offers To Buy State Prisons in Return for 90% Occupancy Guarantee, Gets Rejected
First reported in the Huffington Post in February, Corrections Corporation of America wrote a letter to 48 governors offering to buy state prisons and give states an infusion of quick cash. What was the catch? In exchange, CCA wanted a 20 year management contract and guarantee that the prison will remain at least 90% full. As Frank wrote at the time, the deal highlighted one of the fundamental flaws of the for-profit prison model: the need to maintain high numbers of incarcerated individuals regardless of the impact on our tax base and our communities.
A broad coalition of advocacy groups, including the ACLU and The Sentencing Project and many faith organizations, urged state governors to reject Corrections Corporation of America’s (CCA) offer to purchase state and local jails. The groups were joined by Texas State Senator John Whitmire, long-time chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee who told USA Today:
"You don't want a prison system operating with the goal of maximizing profits," says Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and advocate for reducing prison populations through less costly diversion programs. "The only thing worse is that this seeks to take advantage of some states' troubled financial position."
Thankfully, it appears that no one has taken up CCA on the offer thus far. We'll be monitoring the situation over the next year, as bed-guarantee offers will undoubtedly be a continuing story for some time.
To round out 2012, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered by our blog. Our number four story are the two private immigrant detention centers - the Corrections Corporation of America's Houston Processing Center and Community Education Centers' Polk County Secure Adult Detention Center - highlighted as amongst the worst detention centers in the country by a national report issued by Detention Watch Network.
TPB Big Story #4 - Conditions at Two Texas Detention Centers Highlighted In "Expose and Close" Campaign
Texas immigration advocates (including Grassroots Leadership, a sponsor of this blog) have joined a national effort to "Expose and Close" some of the nation's worst immigrant detention facilities. As part of that effort, two private detention centers in Texas - the Community Education Center's Polk County Detention Center and Corrections Corporation of America's Houston Processing Center - have come under fire for a range of human rights violations.
According to the reports, the Polk facility in particular had egregious conditions. According to the groups' press release:
"At Polk, detained men eat, sleep, and use the bathroom all in one room. The cells are dreary, lack natural lighting, and do not offer privacy. Neither meaningful programming nor legal services exist at Polk. One man detained at Polk told members of Texans United for Families, “This isn’t a good place; I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
In December, over a hundred protestors from a diverse coalition of Austin and Houston-based human rights group gathered to for a Human Rights Day vigil to call for the closure of the detention center and denounced profiteering from the detention of immigrants in the US.