“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

Scandal Prompts Warden to Resign from Private Prison

Grits for Breakfast recently posted on the departure of Warden Ron Alford from the Dickens County Correctional Center (DCCC). News reports stated that Alford resigned amid complaints from Idaho prisoners housed there and after an Idaho prisoner committed suicide at the private prison.

Corrections officials reported finding problems with access to treatment programs, poor lighting, inadequate out-of-cell time and food, clothing and cleanliness. DCCC is run by the GEO Group.

This is not the first time that Idaho has removed its prisoners from a GEO run facility in Texas. In July of 2006, the Beaumont Enterprise reported that the Idaho Department of Corrections was planning to transfer 419 prisoners following allegations of prisoner mistreatment, prisoner protests and an escape from a private prison in Newton. Idaho Department of Correction agreed to transport 419 of their inmates out of the Southeast Texas prison and into yet another GEO Group-managed facility.

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Hutto Prison Troubles Continue To Gain Notice Even as They Reject UN Expert

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is facing increasing criticism about the problems inside the T. Don Hutto prison. The website "Texas Civil Rights Review" has compiled a detailed list of problems with conditions at the T. Don Hutto prison for immigrant families. They're all the types of problems one would expect when a corporation is running a prison for profit: inadequate medical care, inappropriate levels of security, a lack of appropriate legal materials and programming. And of course, additional problems that come with keeping 200 children in a prison while you determine their immigration status: lack of appropriate schooling, supervision, and nutrition.

T. Don Hutto Prison in TaylorvilleT. Don Hutto Prison in Taylorville -- this older image shows the razor wire they took down earlier this year Maybe CCA has improved conditions since some of these problems were dcoumented, but it's hard to say since Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) won't let in Jorge Bustamante, a U.N. expert on protecting migrants from abuse, and they won't let the local media in either (this report includes some video footage shot outside the prison during the protest outside Hutto on Monday).

 

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Legislative Update

As the end of the state's 80th Legislature quickly approaches I thought it important to list introduced legislation that impacts prison privatization. Some of the bills filed this year include:

  • HB 198 by Madden -- The introduced bill expanded contracted bed capacity with private vendors and counties at the unit level by 1,000-beds to 1,500-beds, and increased overall private prison capacity by a total of 1,000-beds. Before HB 198 made it out of the House, Rep. Kolkhorst amended private unit capacity down from 1,500 to 1,150. The word is to watch the final version of this bill as former House Corrections Chairman Ray Allen is walking the halls as a lobbyist for GEO.
  • HB 1354 by Madden -- This bill changes the square footage requirement for privately contracted facilities to pre-1987 standards. HB 1354 is bad for Texas because post-1987 prison beds were constructed to meet constitutional requirements stipulated by Ruiz. All new construction should at a minimum meet the Ruiz standard, and requirements for private prisons should be held to a higher standard. Long-term prison bed standards in public and private prisons must be held to a higher standard than county jails, probation, and parole facilities where stays are shorter.
  • SB 185 by Estes -- which purports to authorize the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to house prisoners convicted in Texas in private prisons in Mexico, particularly Mexican nationals. A similar measure was vetoed in Arizona during 2005.
HB 1354 and SB 185 are likely dead as neither bill has made it out of committee. Anti-private prison advocates will need to watch HB 198 to make sure that it does not get any worse if it makes it to the Governor's desk.
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CCA Announces Profitable First Quarter of 2007, Plans to Cram in More Texas Prison Beds

Corrections Corporation of America announced its first quarter profits on May 3rd, and the financial picture appears rosy, thanks in part to the profitability of locking up entire families in CCA's T Don Hutto prison in Taylorville.

From the press release:

Federal revenues were favorably impacted by new contracts from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") at our T. Don Hutto Residential Center, our Stewart Detention Center and our Eloy Detention Center.

Overall, CCA reported an increase in net income of almost 50% -- from about $21 million in the first quarter of 2006 to almost $33 million for the same period this year. "Net income" refers to their after-tax profits only --- these profits are based on gross income almost $350 million dollars from governments in the first three months of 2007.

Corrections Corporation of America is also reporting plans to add thousands of prison beds across the country, including expanding the Eden Detention Center to 1,394 federal prison beds. They're going to add 129 beds to that prison, for a cost of $20 million -- that's about $155,000 per bed.

Although according to a press release from earlier this year, CCA already has 1,300 prisoners in the Eden prison. This expansion will take them to 1,394 beds, but as a result, they'll be able to cram 1,558 prisoners in there. Is this possibly unsafe? Yes. Possibly inhumane? Yes. Possibly profitable? Absolutely.

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