“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

Legislature Fails to Improve Oversight of County Jails

During the 80th Legislative Session, Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) filed several unsuccessful bills that would have increased accountability over the state’s county jail systems. The measures included:

  • HB 2244 – would have standardized the correctional officer-prisoner ratio
  • HB 2699 – would have required county jails that failed 3 annual inspections to acquire a special monitor to oversee jail operations and security protocols

The Texas county jail system is regulated by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS). We have previously written about the need for improved oversight of private jails where companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) historically have poor hiring practices and weak track records regarding public safety.

Former GEO Group Guard Convicted of Providing Contraband

A former GEO Group guard has been convicted of providing contraband to an Idaho prisoner in GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center, and has been implicated in another prisoner's escape. He's facing five years of probation, 1,200 community service hours, and a fine for an ongoing illegal business running contraband into the GEO Group prison in Spur, Texas.

The guard, John Ratliffe, was fired after the escape from Dickens County Correctional Center last December. There's no indication that he'll face additional charges for his possible role in the escape. Tragically, the prisoner who escaped, Scot Noble Payne, was put in isolation for weeks as punishment for his escape, and committed suicide in March. He was part of a group of Idaho prisoners that had been previously incarcerated at another GEO Group prison in Texas and were moved to the Dickens County prison following reports of abuse by guards.

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Is the Government Rethinking Hutto Prison in Light of Lawsuits and Bad Publicity?

The US House has proposed funding more immigration detention options that are less like a prison and specifically noted that children should not be in jail-like settings. Examiner.com reports:

The $36.3 billion House Homeland Security spending bill would increase spending for immigrant detention alternatives to about $55 million.

The measure directs ICE to give families priority in alternatives to detention programs that use electronic monitoring, telephone call-ins and supervision to ensure people show up for detention hearings. The Intensive Supervision Appearance Program recently reported 93 percent appearance rate at court hearings, the House spending bill says.

The committee says in the bill that families with children should not be housed in jail-like settings, denied access to recreation or basic education instruction. (emphasis added)

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Protesters Outside the Gate, Problems Inside the Gate at Hutto Prison

On top of the reports of possible sexual misconduct at the T. Don Hutto prison, two separate protests of the prison have hit the news in the last week. Protests last week and this week are calling attention to concerns about the inhumanity of the T. Don Hutto prison, which holds people awaiting their asylum hearings, including hundreds of children.

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