“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

CCA Detention Center Protests, Problems Continue

Two protests of Corrections Corporation of America and the T. Don Hutto detention center occurred this past weekend as problems continue at several CCA detention centers around the state.

I attended a Friday protest outside CCA’s Austin office which drew over 50 people from Austin, San Antonio, Taylor, and Houston despite rain and a flash flood warning. The protest focused on CCA’s profiteering from the expansion of immigrant detention facilities, including the T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas. Demonstrators delivered a letter to the CCA office to air grievances.

The protest was followed by a larger vigil on Saturday outside the Hutto detention center in Taylor. This weekend’s protests come on the heels of last month’s large protests at Hutto and as problems continue to mount at CCA detention centers in Texas.

Last week, a Wisconsin man charged that he was abused while detained at two CCA Laredo detention centers. According to Tomas Contreras, a 40-year legal resident of the U.S. who was detained after an 18 year-old minor drug conviction appeared on his record as he was re-entering the country, he and several other men were beaten after reporting poor treatment at the facilities.

On Sunday, CCA got more bad news in Laredo as one of its employees was arrested for possession of over 1,000 pounds of marijuana and several assault rifles.

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1,000 More Beds for Raymondville (AKA Prisonville) Detention Center

The Brownsville Herald is reporting that there will be a 1,000 bed expansion to the Raymondville MTC ICE Detention Center. The prison, which is made of windowless Kevlar tents, already incarcerates up to 2,000 immigrants at a time, making it one of the largest immigrant detention centers in the country.

As the Texas Observer reported and we covered here, Raymondville already has a long a troubled history with private prisons that includes county commissioners pleading guilty to bribery charges in a private prison case and a $47.5 million settlement against a Raymondville Wackenhut (now GEO Group) prison by the family of a prisoner who was beaten to death.

The prison was also hit last month with a 75-person strong protest, an event that was covered by the Valley-based blog Tent City.

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Harris County Making Wrong Decision to Deal with Inmate 'Surge'

The Houston Chronicle reports that Harris County is sending several hundred jail detainees to a Louisiana private prison operated by Emerald Companies. The county jail has been plagued for years with chronic overcrowding problems and has regularly been de-certified by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) as result.

Historically, Harris County shifts the blame to other agencies and officials for its overcrowding problems. For example, Commissioner Steve Radack continues to argue that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) does not pick up "paper-ready" prisoners within the 45 days that they should.

Some background: The Texas Commission on Jail Standards defines "paper-ready" inmates as an inmate awaiting transfer to a state prison following a conviction of a felony or revocation of probation, parole or release on mandatory supervision and for whom all paperwork and processing required under Section 8(a), Article 42.09, Code of Criminal Procedure is completed.

Yet, according to TCJS, on June 1st (the last time statistics are available), only 136 inmates detained in all of Texas' county jails were classified as TDCJ paper-ready and past the 45-day mark. On that same day, Harris County incarcerated more than 200 detainees beyond their current capacity levels.

Stakeholders in Harris County could implement decisions today that would address overcrowding with and not require contracting with private prison companies.

The decisions of various stakeholders that comprise the Harris County criminal justice system contribute to jail overcrowding. The jail represents the hub of the county’s criminal justice system where law enforcement, the courts, and corrections officials interface. Two factors determine the county jail population: the number of intakes and the length of confinement. In order to reduce crowding, Harris County officials should:

  1. Improve data collection to use in data-guided decision making
  2. Encouraging the use of personal bonds to divert low-risk defendants
  3. Develop effective policies and practices to enable criminal justice decision makers to use alternatives to incarceration.

Harris County officials, starting with the Commissioners Court, the Sheriff, and the District Attorney must decide that enough is enough and identify solutions that will address chronic overcrowding and implement them.

Moving jail detainees out of Texas will make it difficult for these individuals to eventually reintegrate into society because their ability to maintain ties with the community is weakened. As a result, Harris County's entire criminal justice system will be compromised, and we'll all wind up paying down the road.

PDF icon TCJS June 1st pop summary.pdf10.5 KB
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Idaho to Send Inmates to Scandal-ridden GEO Val Verde Prison

John Miller at the AP has reported that the Idaho Department of Corrections will move inmates to the GEO Group’s Val Verde Correctional Facility and Jail in Del Rio, Texas. This comes just days after the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) announced it was moving its prisoners out of another Texas GEO Group prison in Dickens County. That move came after a prisoner suicide and a national story (also by Miller) in which he revealed that IDOC’s health care director described Dickens as “beyond repair” and the worst prison facility he had ever seen. The IDOC's health care director made that statement months before Idaho announced that they would move the prisoners.

Why does IDOC think that Val Verde will be any better? Their record doesn’t look good. The facility has been subjected to two well-documented lawsuits. In one suit, an employee claimed racial discrimination after a superior displayed a hangman’s noose in his office and took pictures in KKK garb while posing in GEO Group (then called Wackenhut) uniform.

The other lawsuit was brought on behalf of the family of a detainee who committed suicide after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted, beaten, and denied medical care. GEO settled both cases and both are mentioned in today’s article.

So why the infatuation with Texas private prisons? Lewiston-based KUXO just ran an interesting story about GEO Group's contributions to Idaho policitians:

The GEO Group entered Idaho politics in 2005, when it hired its first lobbyist - a year later, it divvied up $8,000 between campaigns for Gov. Butch Otter, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch and drug czar Debbie Field. Since then, GEO has won contracts worth $8 million annually to house more than 400 Idaho inmates in Texas, including at two prisons where problems became so severe that Idaho demanded inmates be relocated.

Idaho officials will say that this business boon for GEO Group is all about relieving Idaho's overcrowded prisons. But, as Kathleen points out, Idaho’s prison capacity problems are largely coming from a broken prison system in which close to two out of every three prison admissions are inmates returning for parole (and probation) violations. IDOC’s own numbers also say that 85% of inmates have substance abuse problems and that substance abuse is a major contributor to recidivism (people returning to prison after release).

Idaho lawmakers could deal with the problem of Idaho's gowing prison system by strengthening their substance abuse programs and focusing on lowering recidivism rather than sending even more inmates to poorly operated, scandal-ridden Texas private prisons. But that's not what's happening this week.

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