“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

Mass Firing of Texas Youth Commission Staff Makes National News --- But What about GEO Group's Past Record?

It's not the sort of national news story that any state agency wants --- the firing of 66 staffers of the Texas Youth Commission with previous felony convictions. But it reflects a typical double standard, as individuals are dealt with harshly, while a corporation gets to keep on with business as usual, in spite of their horrible record of problems and abuse.

Geo Group's Coke County Juvenile lockup may not be the absolute worst of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) scandal, but their problems reach back far and pretty deep, and it would be a shame for TYC to not address them while they are in the public eye.

Geo Group already had a notorious record when it won the contract with TYC. Then GEO Group was allowed to keep its contract even after the horrible 2000 lawsuit for sexual abuse of a girl named Sara Lowe in their custody that revealed widespread problems at Coke County Juvenile. An employee with a past sex offense conviction had abused and then stalked the girl, 11 other girls reported abuse, and in other incidents, two employees pled guilty to sexual assault. As a result of the suit, Coke County Juvenile stopped housing girls. But the story ended tragically, with Sara Lowe's suicide the day of the settlement.

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UN Human Rights Expert to Take His Own Look at Hutto Prison

A United Nations human rights expert will be visiting the US to review our treatment of immigrants, and will make a stop at the T Don Hutto prison in Texas. Jorge Bustamante, an independent expert for the Human Rights Council, will visit for over two weeks, visiting the border region along with Florida, Washington DC and New York. The U.S. government is facilitating the visit.

Bustamante will present his findings to the 47-member rights council in June.

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Geo Announces New Private Prison in Laredo

This week, the GEO Group, Inc. ("GEO") announced that it has signed a contract with the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee for the development and operation of a 1,500-bed Detention Facility to house U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) prisoners in Laredo, Texas. The new private prison is scheduled to open in 2008. The contract has an initial term of five years with three five-year renewal option periods, for a total contract term of 20 years.

Currently, Texas operates more than 12,000 proposed or recently constructed private prison beds. The majority of these beds are intended to house federal detainees from the USMS or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). There are a few exceptions including the Reeves County Detention Center, a facility that received a contract to house incarcerated immigrants from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) under a Criminal Alien Requirements (CAR) contract. Many of these beds are being built or proposed as speculative prison beds, but several thousand are being built on contract from the ICE and USMS.

The expansion of immigrant detention facilities significantly increased in Texas due to changes in federal immigration policy. The number of unauthorized immigrant detainees has exploded from 6,785 in 1994 to over 22,000 in 2006.

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The Children in the Prison Aren't Wearing Uniforms, They Just All Have the Same Clothes

Earlier this year, the news media took the guided tour of the T Don Hutto prison, which holds children while they and their parents await their immigration hearings. Media members were allowed to film a few areas, but not allowed to interview anyone imprisoned there. But they were allowed to talk to someone from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about what a good idea it is to lock up entire families.

Strangely, the ICE spokespeople (and the ICE website) say that the children being held at the Hutto prison are not forced to wear "prison garb," but in the video (carefully shot so that no faces are shown), it's plain that all the kids are wearing the same clothing --- the medical-style "scrubs" that are familiar to us from other prison settings. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement web page for Hutto explains, "Residents are provided with t-shirts, sweat shirts and/or medical-style scrubs. (“Jail uniforms” are not worn)." So even though 400 people who are confined there wear the same clothes, and they're not the same clothes as the people who work there, we shouldn't call them "uniforms."

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