“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

GEO Group Flings Money and Promises to Laredo

Last week the Laredo Morning Times reported on an apparent largesse by the GEO Group's CEO George Zoley. Zoley promised a cool quarter million dollars each to the City of Laredo and to Webb County at a press conference. It may sound like a lot of money, but for Zoley and the GEO Group, it's a small investment in local goodwill with a huge cash payoff.

GEO has sealed a deal on a new federal jail in Laredo, a smaller version of the project that was being referred to as the "superjail" and has been met with considerable opposition. GEO anticipates this new 1,500-bed prison will pull in $31.5 million per year once it's operational in 2008. It will take the prison less than a week to earn GEO half a million dollars in revenue once it's full of prisoners. GEO was hoping to sweeten the deal for themselves by getting the county to foot the bill for construction, but the county nixed that idea, opting only to pay for the utilities necessary for the prison.. at a cost of approximately $500,000. For those of you doing the math, the county is getting $250,000 and paying $500,000 to help GEO get their prison.

Why pay money to have a prison in your county? GEO Group wasn't just handing out money... GEO is predicting all sorts of tax benefits, jobs galore, and other perks... even though there is plenty of evidence that prisons cost rural communities on several levels and don't deliver on all their promises (see this excellent summary on the false promises of rural prisons by Tracy Huling). Laredo isn't exactly rural, but like a number of rural communities, it's counting on the prison as an economic development tool. And the prison will make money... for GEO Group.

There's big money to be made in private prisons in South Texas. A May 2006 count by the Texas Observer put the number of private prison beds in South Texas alone at approaching 5,000. 5,000 prison beds making money a day... that's a lot of profit, and lot of lives... certainly the sort of profit that will get someone handing out money and promises pretty freely.

Private Prison Guard Arrested for Drug Smuggling

The San Antonio Express News reported this past week that a private prison guard was arrested for smuggling drugs into a private correctional facility.

The private prison guard , 31-year old Hector Almanza, reported smuggling items in to the GEO run facility before, like a cell phone. An WOAI.com article mentions that another guard was arrested for smuggling May 11th.

Almanza is in the Bexar County Jail and will be transferred to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

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Prisoners Escape from CCA Prison

Recently, two prisoners escaped from the CCA-run Mineral Wells facility. Sadly ironic, since the prison is a pre-parole facility where prisoners of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are sent when they have less than one year left on their sentence. The unit holds about 2,100 prisoners.

According to correctional officials, the two escapees -- who were discovered missing during an early morning prisoner count -- were spotted by a law enforcement helicopter within five miles of the prison on private property.

The prisoners were arrested and could now face felony escape charges and more prison time.

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Denials Stack Up Against Government's Weak Defense of Hutto

The federal court hearing the case against the imprisonment of families in CCA's Hutto prison awarded several victories to the families last week, rejecting the assorted requests for dismissal or delay in the case presented by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Denial #1: ICE's attorneys argued (unsuccessfully) that since ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has released all ten of the children who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the suit should be dismissed. Except that the judge noted that all the people who have been released could be re-detained at any time... as in, once the lawsuit has been dismissed. Thus, a resounding denial to ICE for dismissal of the case.

Denial #2: ICE then argued that if the judge wouldn't dismiss based on the previous claim, that he stay (delay) the litigation to give them time to settle. This section of their brief is titled "The Release of All Ten Plaintiffs Make this an Ideal Time to Mediate the Dispute As Envisioned Under the FSA." Or it could be titled, "This Litigation Will Reveal Things About Hutto We Want to Hide... Can You Please Delay it For As Long as Possible?" But the judge slammed that request down. From the ruling:

It has, however, been this Court's experience that an impending trial date tends to facilitate settlement far more effectively than a stay of all proceedings. Moreover, reasonable discovery is necessary to facilitate a settlement of this case. ...This discovery may well be inconvenient, but it does not appear to be "onerous," particularly in light of the limitations... to which Plaintiffs have agreed.

Denial #3: ICE also asked the judge to dismiss the case on a stangely inventive technicality: that the ACLU had not exhausted "administrative remedies" before turning to litigation. But that argument didn't make it very far. The court expressed "confusion and frustration" with this interpretation of the situation, and pointed out that there is no requirement of this nature. He specifically noted that the government does not have any "rights" that have been violated by the lawsuit, and denied their request for dismissal.

Denial #4: One of the May 9th rulings also allows for consolidation of the cases as requested by the families -- and opposed by ICE. In the words of the judge, the government provides "no reason why consolidation would be inadvisable in these clearly related cases." Consolidation of cases has been granted to the families --- another "no" to the weak arguments of ICE.

ICE was put on notice in April that there's a good chance that the families will prove their case. But they're still fighting every step of the way, and are now using the litigation as a pretext for barring a UN expert and the local media.

Want to Read the Court Documents?

There is a fairly comprehensive archive of legal documents on the Hutto case on the web thanks to the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse. But the latest rulings aren't posted there yet, so we have PDF versions of the May 9th Hutto orders below. More rulings and orders are sure to follow as ICE continues to flout the law and common sense with the imprisonment of families at Hutto.

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