“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

Williamson County Commissioners to Discuss Hutto Prison for Profit

A special Williamson County Commission meeting this Tuesday morning will allow comment on the T. Don Hutto lockup and Williamson County's relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Corrections Corporation of America.

Excerpt from the email from Sherry Dana:

NOTICE TO THE PUBLIC
WILLIAMSON COUNTY COMMISSIONER’S COURT
AUGUST 14TH, 2007

The Commissioner’s Court of Williamson County, Texas will meet in special session on Tuesday, Aug. 14th, 2007 at 9:30 a.m. in the Justice of the Peace, Pct. #3 Courtroom, 301 S.E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown, Texas to consider the following items:

2. Citizen comments. Except when public hearings are scheduled for later in the meeting, this will be the only opportunity for citizen input. The Court invites comments on any matter affecting the county, whether on the Agenda or not. Speakers should limit their comments to two minutes. Note that the members of the Court may not comment at the meeting about matters that are not on the agenda.

46. Discuss contractual relationships expressed in both the Inter-Governmental Service Agreement between the United States Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Williamson County, Texas and in the operation Agreement between Williamson County, Texas and Corrections Corporation of America concerning the T. Don Hutto Residential Facility (EXECUTIVE SESSION as per VTCA Govt. Code sec. 551.071 consultation with attorney.)

50. Discuss and take appropriate action on contractual relationships expressed in both the Inter-Governmental Service Agreement between the United States Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Williamson County, Texas and in the operation Agreement between Williamson County, Texas and Corrections Corporation of America concerning the T. Don Hutto Residential Facility.

The contractual arrangements they are talking about is that Williamson County has subcontracted all the operation of the Hutto lockup to CCA, and is receiving $1 per day per prisoner in the Hutto prison, which means that the county is drawing income off the incarceration of young children. The Hutto lockup has many critics including the judge hearing the lawsuit filed by several families, at least two editorial boards, and the many protesters who keep showing up there.

And mark your calendars: next Hutto protest is August 18th.

 

Texas Jail Project Advocates to improve County Jail Conditions

The Texas Jail Project is holding an event tonight at Jovita's in Austin, TX. According to the Austin Chronicle, TJP organizers hope these types of events, not direct lobbying of legislators, will lead to substantive changes in jail conditions.

TJP's work contributes significantly to ensuring that jail detainees are confined in humane and safe facilities through out the state. Texas has 254 counties and 268 jail facilities with a combined rated capacity of over 84,000 beds. The state legislature mandated the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) to oversee county jails.

However, the level of independent oversight in Texas continues to be in short supply as detainees cycle in and out of jails on a regular basis and are often exposed to inadequate living conditions. This week the Harris County Jail was quarantined due to an unknown infectious disease that posed risks not only to prisoners but staff.

According to TCJS, 19 county jails are privately managed and 13,270 detainees were confined in private jails on August 1st.

In the Chronicle article, Texas Jail Project organizers mention the inability of TCJS as an agency to hold sheriffs and county officials accountable for poor living conditions. That is a function of the statute that created the agency -- it only gives TCJS the authority to levy administrative penalties against county jails that are in noncompliance with state administrative standards.

We have previously written about why additional mechanisms are needed to improve the conditions of confinement in these facilities:

  1. Legislature Fails to Improve Oversight of County Jails
  2. Improved Oversight Needed for Private Jails
  3. Tightening Oversight of Texas' County Jails
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Mysterious Illness Leaves Two Dead, Two More Hospitalized at GEO’s Val Verde Detention Center

San Antonio Express-News reporter Don Finley is reporting that a mysterious illness has killed two prisoners and hospitalized two more at the GEO Group’s Val Verde Detention Center. All four of the prisoners -- three foreign nationals and a county inmate -- were healthy when they entered the facility.

The 850-bed lockup holds prisoners for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service, and Val Verde County. According to the story, the inmates’ “symptoms began with erratic behavioral changes, followed by incontinence and dehydration.” The Texas Department of State Health Services is leading the investigation into the inmates’ deaths, and has requested help from the Center for Disease Control.

As we’ve reported, the Val Verde Detention Center has been subjected to two well-publicized 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 LeTisha Tapia, a detainee who committed suicide after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted and denied medical care. GEO settled both suits.

Last month, the state of Idaho announced that it would be moving prisoners to Val Verde this fall from GEO’s Dickens County prison after an inmate suicide at that lockup, and an Associated Press article described conditions there as “squalid.”

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Family of Idaho Prisoner who Committed Suicide in Texas GEO Group Prison Files Suit

The Associated Press’ John Miller is reporting that the mother of Scot Noble Payne, the Idaho prisoner who committed suicide in GEO’s Dickens County Detention Center, has filed suit against the Idaho Department of Corrections for $500,000, the maximum amount allowed under the state law.

The suit alleges "inhumane treatment and illegal and unconstitutional conditions of confinement" in the prison. The AP article quotes Shirley Noble, Scot Noble Payne’s mother, as saying “Just being in the filth and degradation of that cell was sufficient to drive somebody into suicide.”

Since Payne’s suicide, Idaho’s prison health care director described the Dickens conditions as the worst he’s ever seen and said that physical conditions in Payne’s cell “would have only enhanced the inmate's depression that could have been a major contributing factor in his suicide." Idaho has since moved about half of the prisoners at Dickens to another GEO Group detention center, and will move the rest to the lawsuit-ridden Val Verde detention center.

Read some of our previous coverage on Idaho prisoners in Texas GEO Group prisons:

And prior coverage from Grits for Breakfast is collected here.
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