“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

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.

Former Corrections Chairman using Influence

A recent Daily Texan editorial reported that Ray Allen, former House Corrections Chairman, made $395,000 to $835,000 from lobbying contracts, including one with GEO Group, Inc. Given the momentum behind private prison expansion and the changing of private prison contract oversight policy, it appears that Allen is working hard for his money.

One bill to increase private prison beds -- reported to be a GEO backed bill -- is HB 198 by Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden, which could expand overall prison capacity by 1,000 beds. Chairman Madden claims that there is current capacity -- about 40 empty beds -- in the Venus unit, and that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) can't contract for them because of the cap on private prison beds. So why the 1,000 new beds?

HB 198 already passed out of the House and will be heard in Senate Criminal Justice next week. Senators could at the very least limit the expansion to the 40 beds Madden claims are currently available.

Additionally, it appears that TDCJ and House Leadership have reached an agreement to move the office that oversees vendor contract monitoring to Austin, where private lobbyists will have greater access. According to reports, the office will structurally be under the Institutional Division, but its headquarters will be in Austin with a satellite office in Huntsville.

Fascinating developments.... It will be interesting to see how influential Allen has been when Session comes to close at the end of May.

ICE Won't Let UN Human Rights Expert See Children in the Hutto Prison

ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement), the federal agency facing a lawsuit for their imprisonment of children awaiting immigration hearings, is rejecting a visit by a UN human rights expert to take his own look at the prison. Jorge Bustamante is here for a highly-publicized immigration tour, and he'll be able to tour the border region and several cities, but he won't be able to go inside the T. Don Hutto prison.

This comes after revelations in that the Texas Department of Family Protective Service is not authorized to go in to the prison either to check on conditions for the kids... Corrections Corporation of America has managed to get an exemption from the oversight of DFPS. You can read the letter that DFPS sent them online thanks to links at Eye on Williamson.

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