“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

Sheriff's Aide Accused of Taking Bribes by Commisary Private Contractor

Private prison scandals include not just prison operators but extend to all services provided in the state’s 246 county jail facilities. The most recent involves the commissary account at the Bexar County Jail.

According to recent reports, prosecutors are investigating the donations of Louisiana company hired to provide commissary. The District Attorney’s office claims that Premier Management Enterprises gave $27,500 to John Reynolds, the campaign manager for Sheriff Ralph Lopez.

Apparently, Premier wrote the checks as "donations" or "consulting fees" to charities and a private computer services firm. According to the reports, the jail commissary and one in the annex generates $2 million a year in gross sales. Not surprising since the sheriff’s reported that over 75,000 individuals are booked into the jail each year. According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the jail was over current capacity levels -- in June the jail was at 102% of capacity.

At this time it is unclear if the Sheriff is a target of the investigation. But questions were raised in 2005 when Lopez acknowledged accepting a foreign golf outing to Costa Rica from Premier.

Lopez continues to support Reynolds and says that he will continue to be his campaign manager in the upcoming election. As this story continues to unfold it will be important to see how these relationships impact the management of the county jail.

MSNBC reports on squalid conditions at Dickens

Geo Group's Dickens County Correctional Center hit the front page of MSNBC yesterday with the headline, "Suicide Reveals Squalid Conditions." The suicide referred to in the title is that of Scot Noble Payne, who killed himself in solitary confinement after an escape attempt last December. His family is one of many families that have complained about the decrepit conditions at GEO-run prison.

This week, Idaho has announced plans to move the prisoners to yet another GEO Group prison. It turns out that the Idaho Department of Correction's own head of health care, who toured the prison shortly after Payne's suicide (which would likely place this visit in March) described the prison as the worst he had ever seen and the prison in general "beyond repair."

Yet, there are no reported plans for GEO Group to close Dickens or to repair it before putting other prisoners there. According to GEO Group's website, there are closer to 500 prisoners there. That means that 125 prisoners are being moved because conditions there are squalid, yet the rest of the people there will just have to live with squalor. From all indications, these 125 people will soon be replaced with other people, and the conditions will remain the same until Texas refuses to allow gulags to operate inside its borders.

Scott Henson did an excellent write-up of the GEO Group's Texas operation at Grits for Breakfast

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Idaho Moving Prisoners Yet Again in GEO Group Shell Game

Idaho DOC has announced that they are pulling prisoners out of GEO Group's Dickens County Correctional Center and transferring them to a yet-to-be-announced GEO Group prison. This is the fourth move of these 125 prisoners since 2005, coming just a few months after a prisoner suicide and the resignation of the warden. Dickens County Correctional Center was in the news just last month following the conviction of a former guard for providing contraband. News reports don't say where the prisoners will be moved to, but there are plenty of GEO Group prisons to choose from --- GEO Group's website currently lists 19 prisons in Texas. 

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Grand Jury Refuses to Indict Houston CCA Protesters; More Protests Planned

As we reported here, two Houston activists were arrested last month for civil disobedience outside CCA’s Houston Processing Center in protest of Correction Corportaion of America's ongoing detention of immigrant families at the T. Don Hutto detention center.

In a move that defense attorney Randall Kallinen called a “fear factor to keep them from protesting,” the District Attorney’s office charged the two activists with felony possession of a criminal instrument. The criminal instruments in use? Bike locks used to lock the protesters to the detention center gates.

A Houston grand jury yesterday refused to indict the two activists on the felony charges. Misdemeanor charges are still pending, and a legal fund has been set up to help to offset the activists' legal costs.

Houston Indymedia also reports that Houston Sin Fronteras, the group that initiated the June protest, is planning another protest tomorrow, July 4th at 8am, in front of the CCA Houston Processing Center.

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