“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

Willacy County Commissioners "took no action" regarding lawsuit

The Valley Morning Star reported last week that Willacy County Commissioners discussed the lawsuit pending against Houston-based Hale Mills Construction and took no action. The lawsuit first came to light and we wrote about it in our May 2 post. 

Commissioner Eliberto Guerra claimed that the county will take Hale Mills to mediation the lawsuit, which accuses Hale Mills of of "poor workmanship." Management and Training Corporation (MTC), the private prison company that operates the $14.5 million Willacy County Jail and is contracted to house US Marhsals prisoners, is being sued alongside Hale Mills. 

 

KSAT reports: "Privately run prisons profit from detainees"

San Antonio's KSAT reported on the prevalence of private prisons in Texas, particularly in South Texas ("Privately rin prisons profit from detainees," 5/1/14). 

According to the report, over 12,000 people will spend the night in cells at private prisons. There are at least 50 private prisons all over Texas, which incarcerate people for profit. This business model has grown into a $1 billion industry. 

"In south Texas you see one of the greatest concentrations of for-profit prisons of anywhere in the country," according to Grassroots Leadership's Bob Libal.  He continued, "For private prison corporations, every person that's in prison is a dollar sign. Rehabilitation is bad for business; a shrinking prison population hurts the bottom line." 

In 2012, humanrightsfirst.org published a study which indicated that the average per diem cost for one incarcerated person is $164, or $5,000 per month. The company that has the most stake in the private prison industry on the local level is the GEO Group. GEO was initially silent when KSAT contacted them for comment, but the company has since responded

GEO operates many of the large prisons and detention centers in South Texas, including the Central Texas Detention Facility in San Antonio with 688 beds, as well as the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall with 1,904 beds. Pearsall is estimated to make $9 million per month, or $114 million per year. 

Christy, a former GEO employee who worked at Pearsall for two years, is critical of GEO: "It’s all about the money. It not only puts their life at stake, the detainees, but it puts our life at stake too." Christy still has her GEO uniform and ID. She was allegedly fired for being a "bad officer" only after she filed a sexual harassment claim against another officer. She has also allegedly observed the company's habit of cutting corners on equipment, lack of staff, and lack of reports filed regarding violence among incarcerated persons at the facility.

 "GEO would be a good company if they would follow their policies and their regulations," Christy said. 

Christy was unwilling to speak on camera because she fears the GEO Group. 

 

Disagreement between CCA and Hidalgo Park owner ends

According to KEYE TV in Austin, there has been a disagreement between the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Manoj Naik, the owner of Hidalgo Park in Taylor, Texas. 

Naik claims that he wishes to hold special events, like weddings and quinceneras, at the park, and would like to host rodeos at the venue as well. 

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), who owns the T. Don Hutto Detention Center adjacent to Hidalgo Park, was not pleased with Mr. Naik's intentions. Prison officials declined to speak on camera, but claimed that late-night live music events held at Hidalgo Park could endanger the women detained at the facility.  

Naik claims that CCA is holding his business "hostage" with demands. He also says he has spent $25,000 to comply with CCA's and the city of Taylor's requests.

Jose Orta, president of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens LULAC , has responded to the feud: 

"I believe Mr. Naik is being bullied by Correctional Corporation of America... They're impeding him by creating barriers." 

Orta brought these concerns to interim city manager Jeff Straub, who asserted that the city's objective was to mediate the situation. 

A Special Use Permit (SUP) was reviewed by the Taylor City Countil on April 24 and was issued to Mr. Naik on May 8 after he negotiatiated with the city of Taylor and CCA. 

 

Willacy County, Construction Company to settle lawsuit

Last week, the Valley Morning Star reported that Willacy County, Texas has entered into mediation over a lawsuit filed against a construction company that allegedly practiced poor workmanship in constructing a controversial private prison in Raymondville. The subsequent repairs cost the county $620,000, according to County Judge John F. Gonzales ("Prison lawsuit goes to mediation", 4/18/2014). 

The county filed the lawsuit against Hale-Mills Construction, a company that operates out of Houston, on March 7. The county has accused Hale-Mills of poor construction on the $7.5 million Willacy County Jail, a $14.5 million county private prison used by the U.S. Marshals' service, as well as a $111.5 million county-funded private detention center comprised of tent-shaped structures.

The county wishes to mediate with Hale-Mills, which has been accused of poor construction practices that allegedly resulted in roof leaks at the U.S. Marshals'-contracted prison. These conditions lead the Marshals' Service, which pays the county to house prisoners, to threaten to remove the people in their custody from the facility in 2011, according to Gonzales. 

"We want to get this resolved as soon as possible," Gonzales said. Traci Koenig, Hale Mills' director of business development, hopes for a "peaceful resolution" to the lawsuit as well.

Gonzales said that Hale-Mills began reparing the roof in 2012, a job that was not completed by November of that year, which prompted Willacy County to hire another company to repair the leaky roof which cost the County $620,000. Even with those damages, Gonzales claims, the roof was still under warranty at that time. 

Hale-Mills and Corplan Corrections, an Argyle consulting firm, are not new to Willacy County. Both were hired by the county to construct the Willacy County Adult Correctional Center. That year, two former Willacy County Commissioners pleaded guilty to receiving bribes of $10,000 from each company.

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