“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

A Closer look at LCS Corrections

As Nicole reported earlier this month, the scandal involving the indicted and now-resigned Bexar County Sheriff Ralph Lopez receiving illegal gifts from jail commissary company Premier Management seems to be growing.

Premier’s owners are Pat and Michael LeBlanc, Louisiana businessmen who also own the private prison company LCS Corrections. The bribery scandal now appears to have spread to Nueces County (which includes Corpus Christi) and Kleberg County, where private commissary and future detention contracts may have been influenced with similar inappropriate gifts.

Pat LeBlanc is currently running for Louisiana state House of Representatives on a platform as a “pro-business, pro-life, law and order Republican” who is a “strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment, adamantly opposes illegal immigration, and is opposed to any state sponsored attempts to expand gambling into Lafayette Parish.” (Interestingly, it looks like Premier Management is not on Pat’s list of business experiences…)

So, who is LCS Corrections and what are their interests in Texas? According to their website, LCS is

“an industry leader in the development and operation of privatized correctional facilities. The company offers a complete range of prison and correctional related services to local, state, and federal agencies.”

Well, an industry leader might be a bit of a stretch. According to our map of private prisons in Texas, LCS currently operates three detention centers in south Texas (compared to nearly 20 operated by GEO Group and nearly 15 by CCA). LCS also has a handful of prisons in Louisiana and at least one in Alabama.

The company’s record in Texas is far from seamless as well. According to list of private prison incidents, LCS prisons in Texas have experienced the following problems:

Brooks County Detention Center (Fallfurrias, TX)

  • An immigrant detainee escaped from Brooks County Detention Center; the resulting manhunt involved over 100 officers from the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department, the Department of Public Safety, the Border Patrol, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and the local fire department (2004)

East Hidalgo Detention Center (La Villa, TX)

  • Five undocumented immigrants and a former police officer escaped from the privately run South Texas jail. The escapees were alleged members of the drug gang Raza Unida charged with drug trafficking crimes (2006).
  • The facility was repeatedly found in noncompliance with state standards. An inspection conducted eight days after six prisoners escaped cited the prison for employing too few guards, adding an unauthorized number of bunks, and keeping unlicensed guards on the payroll.
  • (2006) A prison guard and two other people were arrested for aiding in the escape of six prisoners from the facility (2006).
  • An 18-year-old guard overseeing the six prisoners who escaped from the correctional facility had been on the job less than three months and had not yet undergone a training course mandated for Texas jailers. The guard reported being overpowered by inmates. (2006)

We’ll keep you updated on news about LCS and the Premier management as it comes to us.

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How Do You Explain a Problem Like Hutto?

Periodically I scratch my head and ask myself, “What is the official explanation for a prison that holds children who haven’t been convicted of a crime?” So I decided to vistit the ICE website to see. Here's an excerpt from a description of Hutto that ICE posted to their site earlier this year:

This state-of-the-art facility was designed for families who have been placed in administrative immigration proceedings and is one of the major reasons the Department of Homeland Security has been able to successfully end the “catch and release” of illegal aliens at the southern border.

The "design" of this “facility” was based on modifying an existing medium-security prison that had too many empty prison beds and wasn’t making enough money for CCA. In the rush to get the beds filled and generating income, there were some glaring problems:

  • Is placing a crib into a cell now considered "state of the art?" (The photo here on the right is from an ICE promotional video about Hutto).
  • Are open toilets in cells conducive to a family-friendly setting? The privacy curtains are part of this summer's settlement agreement, so that parents and do not have to use the toilet in front of their kids.
  • The razor wire on the fence came down earlier this year, but only because of numerous complaints by advocates. At a vigil there earlier this year, an ICE spokesperson explained that the razor wire around the lockup was for the protection of the families confined there… since many of them speak English as a second language. (really, you can listen to it).

Okay, just one more paragraph of rationalization by ICE:

Before ICE opened the Hutto facility, alien families caught illegally crossing the border were often released with “Notices to Appear” before federal immigration judges. However, they rarely appeared for these hearings. This “catch and release” policy created a border vulnerability that alien smugglers sought to exploit by bringing children across the border along with groups of smuggled strangers, attempting to pass the groups off as family units. By bringing the children, the smugglers hoped to avoid detention if captured.

If these smugglers are just grabbing children and pretending to be a family (a horrible thing, for sure) than why are the kids at Hutto there with their parents and why does ICE so often insist that Hutto helps keep families confined together? But, at least, thanks to the litigation, now they are releasing people on bond faster who can prove they have a "credible fear" of being returned to their homelands.

And so ICE continues to spin hype about Hutto, instead of closing it down like they should.

The next vigil at Hutto is scheduled for September 29th.

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Jail Alternatives Can Save County Money

KCEN-TV is reporting that McClennan County Officials are looking for alternatives to jail crowding that include electronic monitoring to reduce costs.

McLennan County Commissioner, Ray Meadows says the proposal could save the county $800,000. When the county jail is filled to capacity inmates are brought to the Civigenics Detention Center. It’s estimated that the county has 100 inmates there, but of course they have to pay for that. It’s estimated they pay $1.2 million per year. …"If we could do it with an ankle bracelet, through electronic monitoring is a better … possibly we could save the county $800,000." McLennan County Commissioner Ray Meadows said.

Meadows couldn't be more right. County officials and jail administrators can control the number of individuals cycling in and out of the jail by implementing programs like electronic monitoring. Supervising defendants in the community maintains public safety while minimizing incarceration expenditures.

Other counties experiencing similar problems should follow McClennan County's lead and put into practice programs that free up county jail space while protecting the public. Other programs counties could consider include jail diversion for substance abuse defendants and low-cost personal bond programs for low-level, nonviolent jail detainees.

County and city officials like the sheriff, district attorney, judges, and police chief have the ability to control the county jail population. What is lacking is the innovative leadership to implement such methods in many counties around the state.

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CCA Spends $1.3 million on Lobbying in First Half of 2007

Forbes is reporting that Corrections Corporation of America has spent $1.3 million in the first half of 2007 lobbying the federal government. The story reports that CCA, the largest and oldest of the private prison companies, has lobbied both Congress and executive branch offices like the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees contracts for immigrant detention centers.

Maybe it's no wonder that CCA seems to be profiting handsomely from the boom in immigrant detention centers, despite allegations of abuse in Laredo, protests outside the Houston Processing Center, and lawsuits and demonstrations of T. Don Hutto family detention center.

We'll keep you updated on the role that CCA and other private prison corporations are playing in federal, state, and local politics.

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