“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

Idaho DOC Director to Visit GEO’s Troubled Val Verde Detention Center Before Sending Prisoners There

In what you’d think would be normal common-sense procedure, the Idaho Department of Corrections Director will actually visit GEO’s Val Verde Detention Center this Thursday before his state sends 56 prisoners there in September.

As we’ve reported, Idaho’s experience with Texas private prisons has been troubled, to say the least. Last August, Idaho moved prisoners from the Newton County Correctional Center, a GEO Group-run prison in east Texas, after reports of inmate abuse included prisoners being forcibly cuffed and maced. From Newton, the Idaho prisoners were transferred to GEO’s Dickens unit where an inmate escape and eventual suicide led to scrutiny and withdrawal of some of the prisoners from the “squalid” jail last month.

Now GEO is scheduled to move 56 prisoners to the Val Verde Detention Center, which has already been subjected to two well-documented lawsuits. In a 2005 suit, an employee reported that his superior displayed a hangman’s noose in his office and took pictures in his prison uniform donning KKK garb.

The second lawsuit was brought by a civil rights organization on behalf of the family of a detainee, LeTisha Tapia, who committed suicide after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted and denied medical care. GEO settled both suits.

TYC has Interesting Definition of What is a "Problem" at Youth Private Prisons

In today's Houston Chronicle article (also available here) about neglect, physical and sexual abuse in private prisons for youth, Paula Morelock claims problems have never resulted in fining TYC contractors because, "If it comes to that, we'd just stop the contract." Yet when Morelock was responsible for contracting at the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), one of the worst cases of prisoner abuse in the history of privatization in Texas resulted in rewarding the contractor with a larger contract.

GEO Group (then called Wackenhut) hired Rufino Garcia, a man who’d been arrested in 1974 for a sex offense against a child, to work as a "lead careworker" at its Coke County prison, which then held young girls.

When Garcia met Sara Lowe at Coke County in 1994, he was 39 years old. Sara Lowe was just 15. In 1996, when he pleaded guilty to two counts of indecency with a child and two counts of sexual assault of a child (all second degree felonies), Garcia admitted that two weeks after he first sexually assaulted Sara Lowe—touching her breasts and making her perform fellatio—he submitted a “level change” request slip for her, writing that “Ms. Lowe has been very positive and has been improving every day.”

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Despite Problems, GEO Attains Contract for Maverick County Detention Center

Despite a string of operational problems at its Texas facilities, the GEO Group announced this week that it has signed a contract to build a 654 bed detention facility in Eagle Pass, Texas.

As readers of Texas Prison Bid'ness might remember, GEO has made headlines in the last few months after an Idaho inmate’s suicide at the GEO’s Dicken’s facility led the AP to report on the prison's “squalid conditions," a San Antonio inmate took hostages in GEO’s lock-up there using a paper gun, and GEO drew fire in Laredo over an apparent quid-pro-quo deal to build a 1,500 bed USMS contracted prison.

According to GEO’s statement, the prison will be financed using revenue bonds issued by a Public Facility Corporation, a quasi-governmenal agency that will hold liability for the facility’s financial success.

The GEO statement also quotes Maverick County Judge Jose Aranda as saying "This new facility will bring good paying jobs and economic development to our community. We look forward to the many benefits this project will provide our citizens over the coming years."

Harris County Searching for Juvenile Detention Beds

Today's Houston Chronicle reported that the Harris County juvenile board authorized using millions of dollars to place youth in private detention facilities throughout Texas.

It seems the county is working hard to find new beds for juvenile prisoners now that the state's kiddy prison system -- the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) -- has changed its policy on which prisoners it will and won't accept, focusing on youth who have been convicted of serious crimes rather than misdemeanors.

According to reports, county officials could send more than 140 juvenile detainees to a Colorado County lockup as the Juvenile Probation Department tries to find a place for hundreds of young prisoners.

The lockup that county officials are considering is more than an hour outside of Houston and defeats the purpose of the juvenile detention lockups that are supposed to be near detainees' homes to keep them in their community in order to maintain relationships with families and friends. It ignores the lessons of California, which has similar youth crime rates to Texas but is using lock-ups far less than Texas for youth.

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