As we reported in April, GEO Group has finalized the purchase of the Joe Corley Detention Center from Montgomery County and is looking to expand that purchase to include the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility, both of which were operated by the company but owned by the country. Originally built to house a population that never fully materialized, the Joe Corley Detention Center has been a financial headache for the county, which will use the $65 million raised from selling the facility to assuage its debt.
Given GEO Group's track record with mental health treatment, the possibility of the company purchasing MCMHTF is jarring. Even more frightening are GEO's plans to build a second federal prison in Conroe -- with the full support of the county commissioner court.
One commissioner in particular -- Mike Meador -- has expressed excitement over a partnership with GEO and his hope that the county will become a "hub" for the corporation. Not everyone in Montgomery County shares his enthusiasm. Correctional News reports:
"... anti-privatization activists and Jon Bauman, vice president of the Texas Patriots PAC of The Woodlands, are against the privatization of the detention center believing that the expansion of correctional facilities is building too large of a jail industry in the area. [...]
“This idea that they were building a jail for us was bogus, it was a fraud” he said. “They weren’t building a jail for us, they were building a jail for an industry.”" ("The GEO Group Looks to Expand in Montgomery County," June 11, 2013)
The sale of MCMHTF and construction of a new prison aren't final yet. We'll continue to update as news developments arise.
On Satuday, seventy community members from Austin and Houston rallied outside the IAH Secure Adult Detention Center in Polk County to advocate for an end to immigrant detention. Run by Community Education Centers, the Polk County Detention Center was highlighted as one of the ten worst in the nation by Detention Watch Network's Expose and Close campaign and has been the subject of an ongoing campaign by Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families. The vigil was the second of its kind, following a similar action in December.
Reporters from Telemundo Houston, Univision, Daily Texan, KUT News, la Voz de Houston, and the Texas Observer interviewed allies and detained men's family members who joined the protest. Maria Cecilia Ovalle, mother of two young children and the wife of a man detained at the Joe Corley Detention Center, described the emotional and financial trauma of their separation. Representative Lloyd Doggett sent a statement saying
I commend you for your efforts in highlighting the mistreatment in some detention centers and support you in your campaign to expose the truth and bring justice to this situation.
Chanting "Close Polk now" and "Si se puede," the activists pledged to continue the campaign until the facility is closed.
It's safe to say that this hasn't been a particularly good 12 months for private prison corporations in Texas.
Harris County rejected a proposal privatizing its jail system last year. The Texas legislature has ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to close two private prisons in its recently concluded legislative session. And counties are reconsidering their relationships with private prison corporations - Liberty County is debating de-privatizing in an effort to save money, McLennan County and Limestone County are both looking for new operators after private prison corporation Community Education Centers failed to bring in or maintain federal contracts.
Apparently Ellis County is bucking that trend. With its county seat in Waxahatchie, just south of Dallas, Ellis has issued an RFP for bids to take over its county jail. The proposal is not without opposition. Back in March, when the proposal was first floated by County Commisioners, Former Republican Precinct Chairman Dave Vance penned an op-ed in the Waxahatchie Daily Light arguing:
"As has been identified in numerous studies, reducing the salaries and benefits of detention officers results in increased turnover, a decrease in qualified applicants and substandard performance. Quality of service is significantly reduced. Reducing staffing levels results in the same problems."
RFP bids are due July 1st. We will keep you posted on developments from Ellis County.
Texas legislators have agreed on a budget for 2013-2015 that would instruct the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to close down two for-profit prisons. The budget doesn't name which prisons will be shut and gives the TDCJ the final say. However, it does eliminate $97 million from the agency's budget -- the amount that would be saved by closing the Dawson State Jail and Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, both of which are run by Corrections Corporation of America.
The decision comes after months of campaigning by civil rights groups against the sub-standard conditions in the Dawson State Jail in Dallas. Grassroots Leadership and The Sentencing Project co-released a report in February ("Dawson State Jail: The Case for Closure") outlining the problems with the facility, including a string of tragic deaths and a bed surplus in the state jail system. A letter, signed by 25 national and state organizations, stated that
Shutting down Dawson State Jail — an inefficient facility and frequent-violator of its contract with the state — is a practical and fiscally responsible measure for addressing the state’s revenue shortfall during this legislative session.
The TDCJ is not expected to announce its decision until mid-June, after the governor has signed the budget into law.