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.
Following a suicide at a for-profit jail in Waco, three private prison guards have been arrested and charged with tampering with records that tracked how often they checked on the prisoner, Michael Martinez, who hung himself in his cell on November 1st.
The prison — the Jack Harwell Detention Center operated by private prison corporation LaSalle Corrections — was also found non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) following a review of the facility. The TCJS review (attached) found that private jailers violated the standard mandating that potentially suicidal or mentally ill prisoners be checked on every 30 minutes.
The Jack Harwell facility has long and troubled history dating back to before its construction. The facility was publicly financed and built on speculation that it would win federal contracts to detain or incarcerate immigrants, but has largely failed to generate the revenue needed to make the facility financially profitable. (Of course, in this case financial profitability relies on more people behind bars.) The jail has also been plagued with allegations of abuse and mismanagement, including sexual assault allegations. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed detainees from the facility last year following an outcry from attorneys and activists.
Suicides in county jails have endured more public scrutiny in recent months following the suicide of Sandra Bland and state legislators are currently looking into policy proposals to reduce the risk of suicide.
A for-profit prison that houses hundreds of immigration detainees has failed an inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
The Rolling Plains Regional Detention Center is operated by Louisiana-based private prison corporation Emerald Corrections and detains 485 federal contract detainees and only 12 local prisoners. Those 12 local prisoners put it under the purview of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which found the lock-up non-compliant during a September inspection. TCJS standards are considered base-line standards for operating a jail in Texas.
According to the Commission's audit (attached), the facility failed on a number of accounts including misclassification of prisoners, employees operating without a jailer's license, and that the facility was not operating at the required 1 officer per 48 prisoners ratio.
The review should be of particular concern to immigration advocates as immigration detention standards generally are suppose to meet or exceed jail standards.