“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

Are detention facilities residences? Texas judge says no, demands GEO pay up on extra taxes.

A lawsuit by a private prison company seeking a refund of sales tax has been denied, according to documents from the Third District of the Texas Court of Appeals.

 

The GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S., filed a lawsuit against Glenn Hegar, Comptroller of Public Accounts for the State of Texas, and Ken Paxton, the state Attorney General. The lawsuit was seeking a refund of sales tax on gas and electricity used in GEO's detention facilities. GEO Group said it was entitled to the sales tax exemption for residential use under a specific section of the State Tax Code.

 

Following an audit, the Comptroller found that GEO needed to pay additional sales and use tax for the period of May 1, 2001, to April 30, 2005, due to a disagreement on the GEO facilities being residential and therefore tax exempt. GEO paid the extra funds under protest. They then filed the suit against the Comptroller after he denied their request to refund the amounts paid. GEO sought $1,367,377.14 plus interest as their refund.

 

The GEO Group said they fell under the residential tax exemption because the prisoners resided in their detention facilities, therefore making them residences. They also argued that owners of each facility, whether GEO Group or a government body, used the gas or electricity, which satisfies the requirement that it is used by the owner.

 

The Comptroller argued that a prison cannot be labeled as a residence because, "while a home is one’s castle, a prison is a cage. The Comptroller also asserts that because the prisoners have none of the fundamental rights or attributes that non-prisoners have in their homes, they do not occupy the facilities 'as a home or residence.'"

 

The court agreed that GEO did not establish that it was eligible for the residential sales tax, and that the Comptroller was correct in requiring them to pay the extra sales and use tax.

Harris County ends use of private prisons

Harris County has brought all of its outsourced prisoners back to Harris County, reports Houston Public Media.

 

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who was elected in January, brought prisoners back from private prisons to Harris County within three months of his election. Though private prisons are notorious for the mistreatment of their prisoners, Sheriff Gonzalez said he moved them back for budgetary reasons.

 

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s department, the department spent around $4.5 million sending prisoners to private prisons outside of Harris County. This fiscal year the county is expected to spend under $300,000.

 

When discussing the budget, Sheriff Gonzalez said, "I simply think we incarcerate way too many folks; and there is a cost associated with that. Whether it be the cost of daily housing or sometimes outsourcing inmates. So I think that we need to change those practices… And that’s why I’m a big advocate for reform, and really addressing our mass incarceration complex that we have in this country."

 

He also said that there were other benefits to bringing the prisoners back to Harris County. The facility can have more control over things such as medical records. It is also beneficial because loved ones can visit without having to travel to other cities or counties.

County Judge: Removing the county jail's agreement with the fed. gov't would be immoral

The El Paso County Judge said that ending the county's federal jail contract would be immoral, reports ABC 7 KVIA.

 

The county jail in El Paso has a contract with the federal government to detain undocumented immigrants. After meeting with Border Patrol, the Federal Public Defender's Office, and the Mexican Consulate, County Judge Veronica Escobar stated that ending the contract would be immoral. She said that if the county ended the contract, many of the undocumented immigrants would be forced to go to private prisons.

 

The federal government pays El Paso County $80 a day per inmate housed in their facility, though the actual cost is $89 a day per inmate. The difference amounts to about $5 million, which taxpayers are responsible for paying.

 

While it is true that private prisons are known for mistreatment of their prisoners, including sexual abuse by guards and deaths in their facilities, Escobar herself admitted that the county jail is "an aging facility and we're going to need to pour more maintenance in it." While it is an improvement over private prisons, it is still a cage.

 

It leaves us with the question: At what point is a cage morally acceptable?

Residents protest newest immigration lock-up in Texas

The people of Conroe, Texas are getting a new immigration detention center in their town, regardless of whether they want it or not, reports the Texas Observer.

 

In April, the GEO Group was awarded a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to build a new immigrant detention center in Conroe. The contract includes the construction and operation of the $110-million facility, which the company expects to earn $44 million in annual revenue. However, city officials and residents are not impressed.

 

Conroe Mayor Toby Powell  said, "It’s going ahead; I don’t think I have any say-so," in deciding whether the facility will be built or not. When the idea for the detention center was first brought up in 2013, members of the community spoke out against the construction, stating they did not want Conroe to become "Con-vict-roe." These protests continued as community members spoke out against the new facility.

 

Unfortunately, the contract is between ICE and GEO, who already received the necessary building permits. Mayor Powell claims he was powerless to stop the issuing of permits.

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