“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

Idaho’s Reinke calls Val Verde a “Pleasant Surprise”

After visiting GEO Group's lawsuit-prone Val Verde Detention Center in Del Rio, Texas, Idaho Department of Corrections head described the facility as a “pleasant surprise.” As we reported earlier in the week, Reinke announced that he would actually visit the Val Verde prison before sending 56 Idaho prisoners there.

The Val Verde facility has already settled lawsuits over racial discrimination and sexual assault and neglect. As a result of the lawsuits, the county must now provide a monitor for the facility.

Idaho was forced to move its prisoners from GEO’s Dickens County lock-up after an inmate suicide revealed “squalid” conditions at the jail. Idaho prisoners formerly at Dickens have also being sent to GEO’s Bill Clayton Unit, which itself has seen escapes and disturbances by out-of-state prisoners upset at conditions.

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More Detention Nightmares: Maggots in the Food at MTC’s Raymondville Prison

KGBT in Harlingen is reporting that internal documents from MTC’s Willacy County Detention Center show numerous documented cases that the facility has fed immigrant detainees rotten or contaminated food including food infested with maggots.

The report says the situation at the Raymondville detention center, which holds 2,000 undocumented immigrants in Kevlar domes and is scheduled for a 1,000 bed expansion, has become so bad that a detainee has attempted suicide.

Other problems include lack of sanitary supplies, little communication with the outside including legal assistance, and problems with the air conditioning and heating systems. According to the news report, “security guards say they can not believe what they see, they make reports and advise superiors but the situation is the same. Detainees are desperate and things may get out of hand.”

This is certainly not the first problem with private prisons seen in Raymondville. Read our previous coverage of the MTC Raymondville Detention Center:

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Idaho Prisoners Also Being Transferred to GEO’s Bill Clayton Unit

As our reader Don points out and the Idaho DOC website confirms (PDF only), many of the Idaho prisoners being transferred from GEO’s troubled Dickens Unit have been moved to GEO’s Bill Clayton Unit in Littlefield, Texas.

We've already reported that 56 of the prisoners will transferred to the scandal-ridden Val Verde Detention Center in Del Rio, Texas. That lockup has already been racked by lawsuits over racial discrimination and sexual assault and neglect.

The remaining inmates have been transferred to the Bill Clayton Unit. Bill Clayton has had its share of problems as well. In 2006, a disturbance involving 39 Wyoming prisoners lead to the use of OC spray, a facility lock-down, and treatment of prisoners and staff with first aid. In 2004, when the facility was operated by CSC (later bought out by GEO Group), two guards were among four people arrested for assisting in an inmate break-out.

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Private Commissary Contracts Lead to Corruption in Bexar County

The San Antonio Express News recently investigated the relationship between the Bexar County Jail's private commissary contract, the Sheriff’s office and the Louisiana based company Premier Management Enterprises.

According to reports, officials close to Sheriff Ralph Lopez are being investigated by the District Attorney's office following the disclosure that Premier deposited four checks totaling $27,500 into accounts named for charities that were "shells" and "fronts," according to court documents.

Sheriff Lopez established the Benevolent Fund corporation board several years ago to run the jail commissary. We recently posted that the jail was over capacity in recent months. The large jail capacity means greater commissary revenues and benefits Premier's bottom line. During 2005, the jail's commissary generated $2 million in gross profits.

The $27,500 was funneled through the Benevolent Fund corporation. John Reynolds, who chairs the Board, is currently under investigation by the Bexar County District Attorney public corruption investigators, the FBI, and the Texas Rangers. Reynolds has strong ties to Sheriff Lopez, who he has known for at least 15 years. Previously, Lopez hired Reynolds as his campaign manager for years and once made Reynolds his chief of staff.

The apparent corruption now involves the Board's Vice Chairman -- John E. Curran III. He was in position to benefit financially from a deal with Premier as well. Curran's temporary worker company, PersoNet, now provides the very commissary employees that Premier uses to implement its private jail commissary contract.

Scandals like this emphasize that private jail and prison contracts must be closely monitored through preventive mechanisms and not simply reactive ones. Reactive oversight only comes into place following the surfacing of some scandal or event like a death or escape. Yet, preventive oversight can reduce the prevalence of such events and strengthen public safety. Preventive oversight, which can be achieved through a close review of private contracts and other conditions issues, will ensure that high standards are adhered too and public trust is maintained.

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