Last month, Dallas County Commissioners had a tough decision on their hands. After CCA was expelled in 2013 with the closure of Dawson State Jail in downtown Dallas, the private prison company swooped in to take over a contract that could keep them in town for the next 40 years.
Last year, Dallas County entered into a contract with Lifestyles Management of Avalon Correctional Services to lease ten acres of land and build a 300-bed halfway house. CCA is now taking that contract over in spite of serious concerns raised by Dallas leaders. According to the Dallas Morning News, Commissioner John Wiley Price was “concerned about CCA’s record of prison abuse, riots and poor employee pay.” Unfortunately, Price also felt the county had no way to block it.
The decision was on the agenda at the Dallas County Commissioners meeting on Oct. 20th, but commissioners postponed the vote until Nov. 3rd to further research the deal. In testimony to the commissioners, local advocate, Josh Gravens, expressed concern about the well-being of halfway house residents. Knowing CCA’s history, he questioned whether the company is more interested in helping former inmates or turning a profit. Unfortunately, Dallas County commissioners felt they had no choice, and approved the lease take-over.
In a letter responding to advocates concerns, Commissioner Price revealed how CCA’s tactics backed them into a corner. According to Price, the Dallas County Commissioners, “have no legal means to stop [the contract]” and he encouraged the community to, “let us join in acknowledging the need being filled and lend our voices to the chorus calling on CCA to do better.” His response left many questions unanswered.
Although county commissioners approved the lease, local advocates worked with members of the commission to insert important safeguards into the contract. CCA will be required to provide transportation for residents of the halfway house, CCA cannot expand the facility to more than the originally proposed 300 beds, and CCA is prohibited from using the leased property as anything but a halfway house. Although these provisions are considered a win, close monitoring of CCA’s lease will be required.
A recent NPR story, As Asylum Seekers Swap Prison Beds For Ankle Bracelets, Same Firm Profits, shed light on a new profiteering industry for private prison companies, community detention. No stranger to Texas Prison Bid’ness, GEO Group is one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S. and operates 15 federal migrant detention centers, many of which detain children and families. In a new kind of federal surveillance, families are being released from these facilities, but are required to wear tracking devices and remain closely monitored. Who is conveniently positioned to provide the tracking devices and community supervision? Geo Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group.
Geo Care received a $56 million contract to provide ankle monitoring services for 10,000 migrants and telephone check-ins for 20,000 migrants. In addition, in September ICE awarded Geo Care an $11 million contract to provide case management services to migrants who have been released.
ICE clarified why Geo Care was selected to run the program instead of a social service entity usually responsible for case management. "...We really aim to ensure that there's a wide variety of different tools that we can use for compliance," says ICE assistant director Lorenzen-Strait. Disturbingly, the manager for Geo Care's new Family Case Management Program is a former top official in ICE's Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations.
Job descriptions of GEO Family Case Managers and Sr. Case Managers confirm ICE’s intent. It is clear that first and foremost, “case managers” are community detention officers, whose primary role is to monitor the lives of released migrants. Job description duties include:
“Conducts regular and on-going monitoring of family participants through in-person check-ins (e.g., home or office visits) and telephonic reporting. At a minimum, check-ins must be done prior to any appointment, hearing, or other immigration required obligation. Conducts additional check-ins as needed to promote compliance with immigration requirements.”
Although alternatives to detention offer opportunities for families to be released, this “freedom” comes with continued surveillance and control, and private prison companies continue to make millions.
City officials in Shepherd, TX have "just disregarded" Senator John Whitmire's warning against contracting with private corrections company, Emerald Correctional Management LLC, to build a new lockup for immigrants awaiting deportation.
On November 3rd, the Houston Chronicle reported that Sen. Whitmire sent a two-page letter to the Shepherd Mayor Pro Tem Sherry Roberts to tell her history has shown that partnering with private prison companies to build local lockups is a bad idea.
In a November 24th update, we learned that Shepherd city officials opted not to heed Whitmire’s warning. According to the article:
"Debra Hagler, the city secretary, said officials there 'just disregarded' Whitmire's letter. 'The resolution had already been signed and sent,' she said."
If, for any reason, the contract between Emerald and the federal government falls through, Whitmire told the prison company in a letter that Texas will have "no part" in filling empty beds.
A lawsuit filed by Grassroots Leadership (my organization, and a co-sponsor of Texas Prison Bid'ness) won a temporary injunction on November 20th that halts the Texas' Department of Family and Protective Services from licensing two large, for-profit detention centers in South Texas as childcare facilities. Private prison corporations Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group are seeking the licenses for the prisons in Dilley and Karnes City respectively in order to comply with a finding by Federal Judge Dolly Gee that detaining children in unlicensed, secure detention centers violates a decades old settlement known as Flores.
250th District Judge Karin Crump ruled that the state had errered in issuing and emergency that allowed the agency to license the facilities without interested parties, including Grassroots Leadership, being able to comment on the licensure rule. The state has now issued a proposed permanent rule on the licensing that allows public comment before December 13th.
Similar to the emergency rule, the permanent rule also proposes to reduce child safety standards that are applicable to all other childcare facilities in Texas, essentially fitting the licensing regulation to the facilities rather than making the two detention centers meet all normal child welfare standards. Organizations and invividuals are able to make comments on the proposed licensure of the facilities through a form on the Grassroots Leadership website.