“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

Thousands of sweltering prisoners to be moved to air-conditioned units

In Houston, a federal judge approved moving more than one thousand prisoners to various private prisons that have air conditioning, reports the Texas Tribune.

 

The judge signed off on Texas' court-ordered proposal to move medically sensitive prisoners from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's (TDCJ) Pack Unit, which has no air conditioner. The proposal was ordered in July following a judge’s ruling that air conditioning must be provided for vulnerable inmates. The judge also stated that TDCJ was "deliberately indifferent" to the risk of harm prisoners face at the scorching prison.

 

In Texas, almost 75 percent of prisons and state jails do not have air conditioning in prisoners’ living areas. Some prisons, including the Pack Unit, regularly reach above 100 degrees. Prisoners filed a class-action lawsuit against TDCJ that points to at least 23 heat-related deaths since 1998. The prisoners argue that housing should be kept at 88 degrees maximum.

 

The majority of these prisoners will be moved to the Diboll Unit, which is operated by Management and Training Corporation, a Utah-based private prison company. Others will be transferred to the Travis County State Jail. Two hundred other prisoners will be transferred to nine different units across Texas. Unfortunately, the transfer of prisoners means that some prisoners will be transferred from facilities with air conditioning to those without it, such as the Pack Unit.

 

Jeff Edwards, lawyer for the prisoners at the Pack Unit, believes the transfers could happen more quickly than the two to three weeks TDCJ planned. He also said that the case was not over, hopes to find relief for all prisoners and staff in the Texas prison system, not just at Pack Unit. "It’s our hope that [TDCJ] will join us in the 21st century."

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For-profit transitional home won't pay their bills

A for-profit transitional home in Dallas County has not paid the county for emergency medical help since last October, reports Fox 4 News.

 

The Avalon Dallas Transitional Home, which houses individuals recently released from prison with no place to live, has made excessive 911 calls for medical aid. However, the for-profit company that operates the facility, CoreCivic (formerly called Corrections Corporation of America), has yet to pay Dallas County for the aid.

 

John Wiley Price, a commissioner in Dallas County, is angry that the private prison company has not paid its bills to county, despite getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state. Fox News 4 obtained documents showing that between October 2016 and July 2017, 243 emergency calls were made from the Avalon Dallas Transitional Home. Each time a Dallas County ambulance responded to one of these calls, it cost $450. The total cost of the calls in that period amount to $222,900. The county has yet to see a penny of that.

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Are detention facilities residences? Texas judge says no, demands GEO pay up on extra taxes.

A lawsuit by a private prison company seeking a refund of sales tax has been denied, according to documents from the Third District of the Texas Court of Appeals.

 

The GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S., filed a lawsuit against Glenn Hegar, Comptroller of Public Accounts for the State of Texas, and Ken Paxton, the state Attorney General. The lawsuit was seeking a refund of sales tax on gas and electricity used in GEO's detention facilities. GEO Group said it was entitled to the sales tax exemption for residential use under a specific section of the State Tax Code.

 

Following an audit, the Comptroller found that GEO needed to pay additional sales and use tax for the period of May 1, 2001, to April 30, 2005, due to a disagreement on the GEO facilities being residential and therefore tax exempt. GEO paid the extra funds under protest. They then filed the suit against the Comptroller after he denied their request to refund the amounts paid. GEO sought $1,367,377.14 plus interest as their refund.

 

The GEO Group said they fell under the residential tax exemption because the prisoners resided in their detention facilities, therefore making them residences. They also argued that owners of each facility, whether GEO Group or a government body, used the gas or electricity, which satisfies the requirement that it is used by the owner.

 

The Comptroller argued that a prison cannot be labeled as a residence because, "while a home is one’s castle, a prison is a cage. The Comptroller also asserts that because the prisoners have none of the fundamental rights or attributes that non-prisoners have in their homes, they do not occupy the facilities 'as a home or residence.'"

 

The court agreed that GEO did not establish that it was eligible for the residential sales tax, and that the Comptroller was correct in requiring them to pay the extra sales and use tax.

Harris County ends use of private prisons

Harris County has brought all of its outsourced prisoners back to Harris County, reports Houston Public Media.

 

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who was elected in January, brought prisoners back from private prisons to Harris County within three months of his election. Though private prisons are notorious for the mistreatment of their prisoners, Sheriff Gonzalez said he moved them back for budgetary reasons.

 

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s department, the department spent around $4.5 million sending prisoners to private prisons outside of Harris County. This fiscal year the county is expected to spend under $300,000.

 

When discussing the budget, Sheriff Gonzalez said, "I simply think we incarcerate way too many folks; and there is a cost associated with that. Whether it be the cost of daily housing or sometimes outsourcing inmates. So I think that we need to change those practices… And that’s why I’m a big advocate for reform, and really addressing our mass incarceration complex that we have in this country."

 

He also said that there were other benefits to bringing the prisoners back to Harris County. The facility can have more control over things such as medical records. It is also beneficial because loved ones can visit without having to travel to other cities or counties.

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