“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

Texas grants child care license to Karnes family detention center

On Friday April 29, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) granted a license to the Karnes County Residential Center, a federal detention center for mothers and children operated by for-profit prison corporation GEO Group.

The Department of Homeland Security has been pursuing state licenses for the family detention centers in Karnes and Dilley since a federal ruling in August mandated that the children be released within two months from the facilities because they violated the terms of the Flores settlement, which stipulates that children in custody of federal immigration officials may not be held in secure, unlicensed facilities.

Texas’ decision to license the Karnes family detention center was accompanied by an outcry from immigrant rights advocates, who have turned out in force at several public hearings to oppose granting child care licenses to the detention centers.

Jonathan Ryan, executive director of San Antonio legal services provider RAICES, told the New York Times, “If you want a child care facility, you don’t contract with a for-profit prison company.”

Patrick Crimmins, a spokesperson for DFPS, said that the temporary license is valid for six months. During this time, the agency will conduct three unannounced inspections of the detention center, and grant a permanent license if the facility meets required standards.

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Harris County ships prisoners to out-of-county private jails only days after receiving $2 million jail diversion grant

Last week, Harris County, the state's largest jailer, announed that it was moving prisoners out of the county to private jails in Jefferson and Bowie counties to reduce overcrowding, according to a story in the Houston Chronicle, by St. John Barned-Smith.  According to the story,

"The transfers — which are expected to cost the county about $180,000 a month in boarding fees — mark the fourth time in the past year that the sheriff's office has had to ship inmates to jails in other parts of the state.

The transfers come just days after Harris County was named as a winner of a $2 million grant to help officials here lower high rates of pretrial detention that could lead to release of hundreds of jail inmates.

The jail had reached 96 percent capacity by Friday morning, with 9,061 of its 9,434 beds filled, said Ryan Sullivan, a department spokesman."

Limestone County still paying bills on empty private prison

In February, we reported that Limestone County officials had hopes of reopening the shuttered Limestone County Detention Center by potentially contracting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The private prison for immigrants, owned by the county and operated by Management and Training Corporation, has been empty since 2013.

On March 24th, according to a report from the Groesbeck Journal, rather than discussing the reopening of the facility, Limestone County Commissioners were asking why the county should be paying invoices for costs associated with the empty prison rather than the prison operator. 

According to the report:

"The county paid three invoices in 2015, totaling $464, but has now received two new invoices, one for $1,250 and another for $40.

“Why should we pay these?” asked Commissioner Pct. 2 W.A. “Sonny” Baker, pointing out that the invoice was addressed not to the county but to a company that ran the prison previously.

Commissioner Pct. 4 Bobby Forrest noted the same thing, that the invoice was marked “Attention: Mike Sutton,” the name of the man who ran the prison for many years through Continuing Education Centers, then later through a company he formed.

The commissioners agreed to delay a decision on paying any more invoices until they are certain it's a final bill. 

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Students call on University of Houston to divest from private prisons

Two social work students at the University of Houston are calling on the university to drop shares in four large financial corporations that invest heavily in for-profit prison corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Working with End Mass Incarceration Houston, Julia Kramp and Nakia Winfield began a petition that has garnered more than 200 signatures requesting that their university stop “banking on bondage.” Winfield told the Houston Press that private prisons promote increased incarceration at the expense of low-income communities and communities of color.

"Private prisons really prey on and exploit targeted populations: people of color, usually in poor neighborhoods," Winfield said. "They try to pass legislation that increases detentions, that rips apart families, that has people in jail for longer sentences for nonviolent crimes. So it's really insidious on a personal level because of the way it rips apart communities."

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