“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

Mysterious Illness Leaves Two Dead, Two More Hospitalized at GEO’s Val Verde Detention Center

San Antonio Express-News reporter Don Finley is reporting that a mysterious illness has killed two prisoners and hospitalized two more at the GEO Group’s Val Verde Detention Center. All four of the prisoners -- three foreign nationals and a county inmate -- were healthy when they entered the facility.

The 850-bed lockup holds prisoners for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service, and Val Verde County. According to the story, the inmates’ “symptoms began with erratic behavioral changes, followed by incontinence and dehydration.” The Texas Department of State Health Services is leading the investigation into the inmates’ deaths, and has requested help from the Center for Disease Control.

As we’ve reported, the Val Verde Detention Center has been subjected to two well-publicized lawsuits. In a 2005 suit, an employee reported that his superior displayed a hangman’s noose in his office and took pictures in his prison uniform donning KKK garb. The second lawsuit was brought by a civil rights organization on behalf of the family of LeTisha Tapia, a detainee who committed suicide after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted and denied medical care. GEO settled both suits.

Last month, the state of Idaho announced that it would be moving prisoners to Val Verde this fall from GEO’s Dickens County prison after an inmate suicide at that lockup, and an Associated Press article described conditions there as “squalid.”

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Family of Idaho Prisoner who Committed Suicide in Texas GEO Group Prison Files Suit

The Associated Press’ John Miller is reporting that the mother of Scot Noble Payne, the Idaho prisoner who committed suicide in GEO’s Dickens County Detention Center, has filed suit against the Idaho Department of Corrections for $500,000, the maximum amount allowed under the state law.

The suit alleges "inhumane treatment and illegal and unconstitutional conditions of confinement" in the prison. The AP article quotes Shirley Noble, Scot Noble Payne’s mother, as saying “Just being in the filth and degradation of that cell was sufficient to drive somebody into suicide.”

Since Payne’s suicide, Idaho’s prison health care director described the Dickens conditions as the worst he’s ever seen and said that physical conditions in Payne’s cell “would have only enhanced the inmate's depression that could have been a major contributing factor in his suicide." Idaho has since moved about half of the prisoners at Dickens to another GEO Group detention center, and will move the rest to the lawsuit-ridden Val Verde detention center.

Read some of our previous coverage on Idaho prisoners in Texas GEO Group prisons:

And prior coverage from Grits for Breakfast is collected here.
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Feds Knew about TYC Scandal

Recently, the Capitol Annex posted coverage on the Department of Justice's awareness that scandals were rampant at the Texas Youth Commission. Additionally, state officials were well aware of the problems too.

Why is it so easy for federal and state officials to dismiss reports of physical and sexual abuse? It is clear that as these abuses could continue, it is time for a system of independent oversight.

Check out our previous coverage on TYC related scandals:

  1. TYC has Interesting Definition of What is a "Problem" at Youth Private Prisons
  2. County Officials must Rethink Juvenile Justice Policies
  3. Mass Firing of Texas Youth Commission Staff Makes National News --- But What about GEO Group's Past Record?
  4. Harris County Searching for Juvenile Detention Beds
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CCA's Latest Financials: Read 'Em and Weep

Corrections Corporation of America has announced their financial successes from the second quarter of 2007. The report is astonishing in its volume: CCA now has close to 75,000 prison beds in operation, drawing profits in on over 6 million "person days" of other people's lives. They pulled in over $360 million in revenue in this three-month period, compared to $323 million for the same period one year ago.

Here are some "highlights" direct from their press statement:

  • "Federal revenues were positively impacted by a new management contract from ICE at our Stewart Detention Center that began receiving detainees in October 2006 and a full quarter impact of a new management contract at our T. Don Hutto Residential Center that became effective in May 2006."

Hutto: that would be the Texas prison holding children for about $5,400 per child per month (estimate from Daily Texan).

  • "Total portfolio occupancy increased to 99.0% during the second quarter of 2007"

That would be because some prisons are below capacity, while others are overcrowded with people to maximize their profitability.

  • "Fixed expenses per compensated man-day decreased to $28.10 during the second quarter of 2007 compared with $28.15 per compensated man-day during the same period in 2006, a decrease of $0.05 per compensated man-day. The decrease in fixed expenses per compensated man-day was primarily the result of leveraging our fixed expenses over a higher inmate population, partially offset by start-up costs at our Saguaro facility."

That means that they are spending less (on average) than the previous year incarcerating people. They're spending an average of $28 per day per person locked up in base expenses, which they lowered by cramming more people into existing prisons.

  • "Variable expenses increased to $10.25 per compensated man-day during the second quarter of 2007 from $9.91 per compensated man-day during the second quarter of 2006, an increase of $0.34 per compensated man-day. The increase in variable expenses per compensated man-day was primarily attributable to an increase in inmate medical expenses due to an increase in offsite medical care at select facilities, as well as general inflationary increases."

But then there are other pesky expenses that have to be factored in before CCA can count the profits... expenses like medical costs for prisoners. Those costs increased compared to the same time period last year... reducing profits.

  • "Total revenue for the second quarter of 2007 increased 11.7% to $362.8 million from $324.9 million during the same period in 2006, as total compensated man-days increased to 6.6 million from 6.1 million, and as revenue per compensated man-day increased to $54.08 from $52.55."

Remember those expenses per day per person? They totaled just over $38 per day on average. But CCA was able to charge an average about $54 per day per person. Multiply that charge by just over 6.6 million "person-days" and you get their operating revenue for the quarter: over $360 million dollars.

On the Texas front, CCA is still reporting plans to expand the Eden Detention Facility by 129 beds by early 2008. This is part of a package of almost 8,000 prison beds that CCA has in development. Development plans that they hope will bring even more profits in the future. But, these future predictions come with some caveats:

  • "This press release contains statements as to our beliefs and expectations of the outcome of future events that are forward-looking statements... These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties... [including] ... the public acceptance of our services... "

On that point, CCA and I agree.

Reminder: You can see the locations of CCA's Texas prisons on our Texas private prison map (they're the ones in dark green.)

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