Liberty County is paying more to detain fewer people in its jail, thanks to a contract with private prison corporation Community Education Centers that increases the per diem the county pays as the number of people in its jail falls. According to an article in last Wednesday's Liberty County Vindicator:
"Liberty County commissioners approved a $341,168.43 payment to jail management company Community Education Centers (CEC) in the Tues., Aug. 28 commissioners court meeting.
The census at the Liberty County Jail dropped below 150 (at 148), which triggered the ‘cost plus 15%’ arrangement in the CEC contract. County Auditor Harold Seay asked for discussion since the court had discussed the topic in executive session without him.
Seay said the average rate per inmate under the ‘cost plus’ payment comes to $75.48 per prisoner per day, up from the contracted rate of $71.12 per day if the census at the 150 level.
Seay added, “Even with fewer prisoners, it is costing us $18,213 more.” (County’s controversial inmate ‘cost plus’ rates kick in at $341,168, August 28. Emphasis added by Texas Prison Bid'ness.)
Liberty County has had a falling jail population due in part to smart-on-crime reforms implemented several years ago. A previous Texas Prison Bid'ness guest post by Grassroots Leadership MSSW intern Jane Atkinson describes the situation:
"Liberty County has had a rough relationship with CEC. After Liberty County implemented some smart-on-crime tactics and lowered its jail population, CEC raised the per diem rate of each person in the jail, keeping Liberty County from saving money (Cleveland Advocate, "County’s jail inmate population down, but companies now asking for more money per inmate," January 21).
In addition to bad financial deals, CEC has also raised concerns over its ability to properly manage its facilities, from failed inspections as recently as 2011, to the recent indictment of a CEC guard for smuggling drugs to inmates. An op-ed I wrote two weeks ago further details the tenuous relationship between Liberty County and CEC. These troubles led to the county considering a new private manager (LaSalle/Southwest Corrections) or taking over jail operations themselves.
Furthermore, a feature by Sarah Beth Bolin of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition in the Vindicator makes common-sense recommendations on how the county can decrease the jailed population and save money by not contracting with a private company."
Last week's Vindicator article indicated that the County was still interested in seeking advice from an outside consultant, Texas State University professor Lynn Greenwood, who is performing a study on the impact of de-privatization of the jail.
See our previous coverage of the Liberty County Jail:
This week, Bob and I participated in a webinar hosted by Detention Watch Network and our respective organizations, The Sentencing Project and Grassroots Leadership. The webinar addressed the relationship between for-profit prisons and immigrant detention.
Cody Mason, with The Sentencing Project, presented on the recent report, Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention, where he discussed the growth in ICE and USMS contract capacity for immigrant detention. Bob discussed how Operation Streamline is driving growth in immigrant detention through the increased prosecutions of certain federal offenses that have moved immigration policy into the criminal justice system. Also, Emily Tucker with the Detention Watch Network focused her remarks on the problems with mandatory detention and the unjust federal and state policies that have expanding the government’s authority to detain people. The call also featured Hope Mustakim of Texas; her husband Nazry immigrated from Singapore several years ago and due to changes in immigration policy was detained in the South Texas Detention Center in 2011.
A few notable facts reported during the webinar are:
Nearly 200 people registered for the webinar, representing communities of faith, impacted communities, and organizers working towards immigration and criminal justice reform. Folks can download the webinar here until August 29th.
GEO Group is facing increasing opposition to its proposal to take over a state hospital in Texas. We reported last week that the Austin American Statesman's Andrea Ball had reported on fines being leveled against GEO Group's Montgomery County psych facility and plans to privatize a state mental hospital moving through an RFP process.
Now, a coalition of mental health advocacy, civil rights, and criminal justice reform groups (including my organization Grassroots Leadership) has sent a letter to state officials opposing the take-over by GEO's subsidiary, GEO Care. Written in the letter:
"We are concerned that the requirement to cut 10% from the hospital’s budget through privatization can only be achieved by reducing the quality of care at a hospital run on an already austere budget. Texas already spends the least per capita on mental health than any other state, at slightly less than 1/3 the national average.
Furthermore, we are particularly concerned that the only respondent to the request for proposal was GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison corporation GEO Group. GEO Group has a long history of mismanaging the facilities it is charged with operating."
The signatories site recent events in Texas and several other states:
"The list of scandals to which GEO can lay claim is a long one. In the past five months alone, the company has made local and national headlines over multiple scandals perpetrated at several different facilities it operates. In April, GEO contracts at three facilities ended in Mississippi, including a youth facility that a federal judge described as having “allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate.” Last week, the Associated Press reported three gruesome deaths, including a patient who died in a scalding bathtub, at GEO’s South Florida State Hospital. And in our own state, the Austin American Statesman reported that GEO has been fined by DSHS for problems at the GEO-run forensic psychiatric facility in Montgomery County, including “unauthorized restraint and seclusion of patients, incomplete medical records, failure to show patient consent for medications and failure to report serious injuries to the state.”
GEO also has a long history of operational problems at its facilities in Texas. In 2009, prisoners at GEO-operated Reeves County Detention Center rioted over issues at the facility including poor quality of health care and multiple prisoner deaths. In 2007, the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center was shut down due to the unsafe and unsanitary conditions under GEO operation."
Sunday's Austin American Statesman featured a front page story by Andrea Ball on fines being leveled against GEO Group's Montgomery County psych facility and plans to privatize a state mental hospital moving through an RFP process. Here's the lead:
"Sixteen months after the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility opened in Conroe, the state's first publicly funded, privately run psychiatric hospital is facing at least $53,000 in state fines for serious shortcomings in patient care.
The private operator, Geo Care, is a subsidiary of Geo Group, a private prison company that has drawn attention in recent years because of deaths, riots and sexual abuse at some units in Texas and other states." ("As East Texas public-private psych facility struggles, state plans more privatization," July 21)
More disturbingly, the state is not considering pulling out of the contract with GEO, but actually privatizing a state mental health hospital. According to Ball's article:
The problems come to light as the Department of State Health Services prepares to privatize one of the 10 public psychiatric hospitals it oversees. If Geo Care bids on the ongoing privatization effort — and it has expressed interest to public officials in doing so — its work in Montgomery County could be a harbinger of what taxpayers can expect if a for-profit company wins control of a public state hospital.
This week, the agency will accept bids from contractors seeking to run one of those facilities for at least 10 percent less than the current cost, a move that could save the state millions of dollars each year. If an offer is accepted, a private company could be running a state hospital by the end of the year.
We'll keep you posted on developments on the fight over privatizing a mental hospital in Texas.