“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

While GEO Scandals Continue, Executives Continue to Get Rich

While GEO Group continues to have major operational problems at many of its Texas prisons, its executives continue to cash in.

The AP reports that Wayne Calabrese, GEO’s President and Chief Operating Officer, has exercised options on 30,000 of the company’s shares, bringing in nearly $800,000. According to Salary.com, company founder and CEO George Zoley hauls in nearly $3.7 million in annual compensation.

The recent headlines for the GEO Group have not been good. An Idaho inmate’s suicide at the GEO’s Dicken’s facility led the AP to report on the prison's “squalid conditions.” Idaho has since announced plans to move its inmates to another prison.

The AP expose came just days after GEO made headlines in San Antonio after an inmate took hostages in GEO’s lock-up there using a paper gun, and a month after GEO drew fire in Laredo over a deal to build a 1,500 bed USMS contracted prison there.

Will the scandals, shoddy conditions, and inadequate care lead the GEO Group to reconsider its executives’ exorbitant salaries? In the world of for-profit prisons, I’ll put my money on "no."

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Idaho Planning to Send Even More Prisoners to GEO Group, What's Reinke Thinking?

It was just four days ago that a national news story exposed the squalid conditions at GEO Group's Dickens County Correctional Center. But Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke has already announced his intention to place more prisoners into GEO Group prisons. Tomorrow (Tuesday) he'll be asking the Governor for permission to move even more Idaho prisoners to GEO Group's private prisons in Texas.

This is the same director who published the Idaho Department of Correction (DOC) annual report earlier this year, with his executive summary explaining:

Education and treatment offer the best return on investment in the correction’s arena because of the proven impact on crime reduction.

That's because IDOC has shown that people who successfully complete in-prison cognitive programs are less likely to return to prison. This saves the community thousands of dollars for each person who avoids a return to lockup, potentially millions if it can be widely implemented. Reinke called it, "the best return on investment" and the community called it "what we want" when IDOC interviewed them back in 2005.

Over the last few years, Idaho's Department of Correction has struggled to keep up with the growth of their prison system. Although in this 2006 report, Idaho DOC's tried to pin this on the growth in Idaho's population, about two out of three prison "admissions" are people returning on parole violations. DOC reports that the leading factors for recidivism are low educational achievement and substance abuse. In 2006, IDOC's then-director Beauclair reported,

Added prisons is only part of the equation, the lack of community-based treatment is also a huge issue. More drug treatment is needed in cities around Idaho.

Idaho's own figures from 2006 indicated that 85% of their prisoners have a substance abuse problem.

But until Idaho figures out how to deal with drug addiction effectively and slow down returns to prison, GEO Group remains poised to rake in the dough --- an already projected $7 million from Idaho this year. That's bound to increase if the Idaho governor and Board of Correction give the green light to Reinke to ship even more prisoners to Texas.

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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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