“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

TYC Closes GEO's Coke County Facility

The Austin American Statesman reported yesterday that the Texas Youth Commission will close the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Bronte siting unsanitary and unsafe conditions at the facility. According to the article:

"Detainees will be transferred from the Coke County center, in Bronte, to other TYC facilities on Tuesday. The facility holds 197 young offenders, said TYC spokesman Jim Hurley. "TYC's number one priority is the safety and well being of those youths under our care," Dimitria D. Pope, the agency's acting executive director, said in a statement.

"The unsafe conditions I witnessed at Coke County this weekend are unacceptable. We have zero tolerance for any form of abuse within the system, and those responsible parties will be held accountable."

A TYC official found unsanitary conditions during a visit to center on Sept. 24. State officials followed up with an unannounced audit that began Wednesday and continued through the weekend, the Texas Youth Commission said Monday in a statement.

The audit found the facility was in an advanced state of disrepair and rehabilitation and other programs weren't being pursued, leaving detainees mostly constrained. It led officials to believe the health and safety of the youth housed at the center was in jeopardy, Hurley said."

As Judy noted back in July, Coke County was home to one of the worst scandals in private prison history back in the 1990s when GEO, then called Wackenhut, hired a man who’d been arrested for a sex offense against a child, to work as a "lead careworker" at the prison, which then held young girls.

The man, Rufino Garcia, sexually assaulted 15 year-old Sarah Lowe, and continued to harass and threaten her after her release. Wackenhut settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount of money. Lowe, distraught because the lawsuit allowed the company to avoid responsibility for the incident, committed suicide the same day the settlement was finalized.

Again in 2007, a Coke County staffer was fired after TYC learned he had a previous conviction for exposing himself to a child (while a juvenile). The staff member maintained that he revealed the conviction during the hiring process.

As Grits points out, TYC hasn't exactly been consistent as of late on whether the private prison corporations have been providing quality care.

"First, why did TYC earlier this year propose moving ALL the young kids into contract care if their only contract unit was doing so poorly? Had nobody been out there to check on the Geo unit? The agency came within a whisker this summer of shifting all 10-13 year olds into contract care.

Thankfully they stopped the move after the decision was first reported on Grits and the MSM began poking around, but then Tim Savoy announced they still intended to contract care for young kids. Hopefully this new development will scuttle the idea of contracting out care for young kids completely. That is a state responsibility."

The overall operational problems continue to mount for GEO in Texas. In July, Idaho moved its prisoners out of GEO's Dickens County in the wake of an inmate suicide lock-up siting "squalid" conditions.

The company then drew fire in Laredo for an apparent quid pro quo deal involving scholarship checks exchanged for zoning permits and water and electrical hookups. The company was also recently sued over alleged medical neglect of an inmate at it's Pearsall immigrant detention center.

Of course, these problems haven't kept company officials from getting rich - CEO George Zoley made an estimated $3.7 million in overall compensation last year. We'll keep you updated on GEO developments, including a protest this weekend at GEO's Val Verde detention center.

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More Protests of Private Detention Centers Planned

As Kathleen pointed out yesterday, this Saturday will see another vigil at Correction Corporation of America’s T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas.

It will be the first in number of upcoming protests against private detention centers in Texas. A list has been posted by our friends at the Texas Civil Rights Review.

Saturday, October 6: Val Verde County's GEO Detention Center protest. Texas Jail Project, Grassroots Leadership, and Freedom Ambassadors are collaborating on a protest against the notorious Val Verde County GEO facility.

Friday & Saturday, October 12-13: Raymondville Walk II. The Raymondville tent prison camp is the most repugnant of all prison camps. We will conduct a walk from Harlingen on Friday the 12th and Saturday the 13th...and hold a vigil midday on the 13th.

Sunday - Tuesday, October 14-16. Hutto Walk III. The most flagrant of all prisons in America. Innocent children are victims of a government without a conscience. We will conduct a walk from the Hutto family prison camp in Taylor, Texas on Sunday, October 14-and arrive at the County Commissioners Court in Georgetown on the 16th. We will then support the local residents of Williamson County as they challenge the County Commissioners that signed and renewed the contracts and leases to imprison innocent children.

LULAC National and the Cesar Chavez Legacy Foundation are collaborating with Freedom Ambassadors with these walks and vigils.

Texas Prison Bid’ness will be at many of these demonstrations and will send reports.

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Sheriff’s Confidant Pleads Guilty in Bexar County/Premier Management Scandal

The San Antonio Express-News had a revealing story yesterday reporting that John Reynolds, long-time campaign manager and friend to indicted now ex-Bexar County Sheriff Ralph Lopez, pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft in conjunction with his role in the Premier Management bribery scandal.

According to the article, Reynolds

"told Premier to pay the equivalent of 1 percent of commissary sales to Lopez's campaign fund and give three payments of $7,500 each that Reynolds said were donations to the Optimists, when, in fact, the money went into his own bank accounts.

Williamson testified that he called Reynolds this past spring, as the investigation was heating up, and asked him for receipts for the three $7,500 donations.

Williamson said there was dead silence until John Reynolds stated, 'You're killing me; you're killing me,' at which time Ian Williamson claimed it was then that he realized that John Reynolds had never delivered the donations," according to court documents.

At one point, Williamson stated, Reynolds demanded a consulting fee of $5,014. When Williamson asked why he shouldn't write a check for a round $5,000, he said Reynolds replied: "that $5,000 looked too funny."

Other filings by the district attorney's office have shown checks made out to Reynolds' accounts and signed by Michael LeBlanc, who is an owner of Premier along with his brother Patrick, and by Chris Burch, who replaced Williamson as Premier's CEO."

Sheriff Lopez recently pleaded no contest to receiving an inappropriate $10,000 trip to Costa Rica paid for by Premier. Premier ended their contract with the County after the scandal broke. As we’ve noted, Premier Management is owned by Pat and Michael LeBlanc, owners of private prison firm LCS Corrections.

As part of his guilty plea, Reynolds will be required to speak openly to investigators about all of the business dealings of Premier, the LeBlanc brothers, and LCS Corrections, amongst other companies he was involved in.

Our previous coverage on the Bexar County scandal:

A Closer Look at LCS Corrections

Premier Private Commissary Scandal Keeps Growing

Bexar County Sheriff Indicted

Private Commissary Contracts Lead to Corruption in Bexar County

And from Grits for Breakfast:

Bexar County Bribery Allegations Over Jail

"Hutto still flawed" Explains Local Activist

The Taylor Daily Press has published a guest editorial from Jose Orta, who has been actively involved in the campaign to close down Correction Corporation of America's Hutto lockup:

Since I learned that T. Don Hutto had reopened and was imprisoning innocent children for profit, I, and many other concerned citizens from across the state and nation tried to bring media and public attention to T. Don Hutto by conducting vigils, marching, protesting and lobbying.

For over nine months, we did everything conceivable to bring attention to this flawed facility. It has been an exhaustive and extremely trying time. Read more...

As Bob has previously pointed out, many observers are noting that the settlement is a good first step, but not an adequate solution to the problems of Hutto.

Orta mentions the next vigil at Hutto will be this Saturday at 11 AM. Read more about it here.

There is also online talk of another possible "walk" against Hutto, scheduled for October. Read about it at Progressive Austin.

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