“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

Grits: Texas should consider closing more (private) prisons in 2017

Dawson State Jail protestDawson State Jail protestGrits for Breakfast had an intriguing post over the weekend on the possibility that the Texas legislature may move to close more prisons or state jails, including private facilities, when it meets again next spring.  Here's an excerpt:

"Texas famously closed three prison units in recent years. Could we close more?

After the Legislature raised property-theft thresholds to $2,500 last session, Grits expects downward prison-population trend lines to descend even further. And with legislators seriously discussing possible reductions in sentences for low-level drug possession, the possibility arises that Texas could close even more prison units in 2017, particularly so-called "state jails" (which in essence house people convicted of fourth-degree felonies, known in Texas penal-code parlance as "state jail felonies")."

Grits asked TDCJ for a list of private facilities with contracts expiring in 2017 that could be natural targets for closures.  All four facilities are operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

Grits notes that two of the three facilities TDCJ closed in recent years - the Dawson State Jail and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility - were private (and both CCA facilities as well).  Grits attributes the closure of Dawson and the Central Unit in Sugarland at least in part to development interests. While Dawson's location in prime real estate territory in downtown Dallas certainly bolstered the case for closing it, so did the preventable deaths of several women at the facility, an advocacy campaign by Grassroots Leadership, my organization, and others, and some stellar reporting by Ginger Allen at CBS 11.

Grits ends with this quote, which I couldn't agree with more:

"In an era when the United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of its prisoners, with Texas incarcerating more people by far than any other state, Grits doesn't care much which prisons the state closes, or why. I just want them to close more. We can debate later how much deincarceration is too much. Right now, we're a long way from that particular fork in the road."

UT Law professor sues over records related to CCA detention center

Hutto protesterHutto protesterA University of Texas Law Professor has sued the federal government to get records related to bonds at an immigration detention center operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), according to a story by Jazmin Ulloa in the Austin American-Statesman last week.  Immigration Law Professor Denise Gilman has sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to gain access to records related to bonds at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.  

The Hutto detention center has gained notoriety over the years, first when it was a controversial immigrant family detention center between 2006 and 2009 and more recently as the nation's only all-women's detention center, detaining mostly asylum-seeking women.  The facility was the site of hunger strikes last fall by women demanding to be released after prolonged detention.

According to the article:

"Gilman says she detected a pattern of federal officials setting 'across-the-board bonds,' regardless of whether detainees posed a threat of fleeing or a danger to the community, in order to extend their stay at the facility and thus meet a congressional mandate to maintain 34,000 immigration detention beds daily across the country. She wants all records related to the procedures and process that officials used to make their decisions on each woman’s individual case, according to the lawsuit filed in the Western District of Texas.

She first asked for the documents March 31, 2014, but by the time the agency had 'closed' her request a year and a half later, it had produced only an Excel spreadsheet with two columns of redacted information, the complaint states."

Private prison corporations have been under increased scrutiny for their role in upholding the nation's immigration detention bed quota, including with a report from Grassroots Leadership, my organization, last year that found that private prison corporations put a large percentage of their lobbying resources into the committee that maintains the quota.  We'll keep you posted on developments from the litigation.  

Corrections Corporation of America just got bigger in Texas

On October 29, 2015, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) sealed a $157.5 million deal on a major expansion with its acquistion of Avalon Correctional Services, Inc., a private community corrections company.

Now the nation's oldest and largest for-profit prison corporation will own or operate seven community correctional facilities in Texas: Austin Residential Reentry, Austin Transitional Center, Corpus Christi Transitional Center, Dallas Transitional Center, El Paso Multi-Use Facility, El Paso Transitional Center, and Fort Worth Transitional Center.

The acquistion adds 3,157 re-entry beds in Texas and is expected to boost revenue by $35-$45 million.  We'll be updating our map to note that the former Avalon facilities are now operated by CCA. 

Not so fast, San Jacinto County votes against for-profit immigrant detention center already approved in Shepherd

The San Jacinto County Courthouse sits in Coldspring, Texas.The San Jacinto County Courthouse sits in Coldspring, Texas.Emerald Correctional Management is coming up against more community opposition to its proposed immigrant detention center north of Houston. This time, their proposed new immigrant lock-up has found opposition from the San Jacinto County Commissioners Court.

San Jacinto County Commissioners passed a resolution on December 8 in opposition to the proposed new immigrant detention center, according to The Cleveland Advocate (SJC commissioners approve resolution to oppose immigration detention facility in Shepherd area, Dec. 9, 2015).

The vote comes just weeks after the prison company’s representatives persuaded the city of Shepherd, which sits inside San Jacinto County, to let the company pursue a bid with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a new detention center in the city.

County Judge John Lovett said at the December 8 meeting that the proposed location for the project lies mostly within an unincorporated area of the county and outside of the city limits of Shepherd. County Judge Lovett also pointed out at the hearing that the special meeting called by Shepherd had little public attendance.

The Advocate also reported that residents of both Shepherd and San Jacinto County have protested the project for various reasons. One person who spoke against the proposal to the Shepherd City Council in November was Cleveland Mayor Niki Coats. Cleveland City Council voted against the proposal when Emerald was shopping it around to them in October.

Mayor Coats told Shepherd officials in November that “What they told us was sweet.” He also said that his own research into Emerald Correctional Management and the immigrant detention system at large led him to vote against letting the company pursue a bid in his city.

For-profit prison company Emerald Correctional Management LLC is based in Shreveport, Louisiana and has been at the center of a lot of back and forth in trying to find a home for their new immigration lock-up. During a October 6 at Cleveland City Council Emerald Companies’ Executive Vice President Hull Youngblood explained why a bid in Cleveland was offered, then revoked and then offered again. Youngblood told council members that an offer to nearby Plum Grove was rejected by the landowner, causing them to return to Cleveland. When Cleveland City Council voted against the bid, Emerald took their pitch to Shepherd, which gave Emerald the thumbs up just six days later.

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