“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 still reeling after prison uprising as insurance doesn't go far enough for local community

Willacy County Correctional CenterWillacy County is still feeling the effects of an immigrant prisoner uprising that destroyed the privately operated Willacy County Correctional Center in February. The prison, run by Management & Training Corporation (MTC), was closed due to significant structural damage causing the relocation of 2,500 federal prisoners and nearly 400 employee layoffs.

Willacy County Correctional Center

According to recent reports, the county received about $4 milion in insurance money, but county officials say the money won't last long. Currently, the money is being divided four ways — clean up from the uprising, county administration costs, losses to MTC, and payments toward the $9 million bond to pay for the jail. 

In the meantime, hundreds in the community are struggling financially. One employee who was laid off in March said her unemployment compensation is insufficient and she is taking out a loan to help cover her bills. 

The county aims to get the facility up and running again, but the insurance money may not last. And, if the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) decides against renewing the contract, the county could face a big blow to their income. 

 

Report reveals local quotas in South Texas immigrant detention facilities

Texas local quotas, image by Detention Watch NetworkTexas local quotas, image by Detention Watch Network

A recent Detention Watch Network report uncovered local quotas at immigrant detention facilities in South Texas, according to The Associated Press. These local quotas are found in contracts with local governments and the private corporations that manage facilities for ICE.

In total, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is contractually obligated to pay for the detention of 3,255 immigrants daily at five facilities in Texas. Three of these are for-profit facilities operated by either Corrections Corporation of America or the GEO Group. These facilities are the Houston Processing Center, South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, and Karnes County Correctional Center. The highest guaranteed minimum at one of these for-profit facilities is 750 at Houston Processing Center, with South Texas Detention Complex falling close behind at 725. It is unclear whether the Karnes detention center, which has been converted into a family detention facility, is still operating under a 450-bed quota for its current population.

ICE officials say that these local minimums are a way to ensure that they meet the national quota mandating that 34,000 beds be available to detain immigrants each day. In all of the Texas facilities, the local quotas have been exceeded.

Parker County Jail dumps CEC, goes with LaSalle

Parker County has dumped private jail operater Community Education Centers in favor of of the Louisiana-based private prison company LaSalle Southwest Corrections. According to a story in the Weatherford Democrat (Parker County Jail to get new management), the jail will change hands in October:

Ousting the current jail operator, Community Education Centers, Parker County commissioners voted to award the 5-year contract to the Louisiana-based company due to the difference in price. 

The county has the option to renew the contract twice for two-year periods, according to information presented to the commissioners.

As we reported way back in 2007, Parker County privatized its jail at the time citing cost savings.  At the time we quoted a Grits for Breakfast article questioning whether CEC could provide the same services at a discounted price and still make a profit.  

It's unclear if, this time around, the Parker County Commissioners addressed any other factors than price in determining the new operator of the jail.  We'd note that when Ellis County Commissioners rated bids for taking over that county's jail in 2013, LaSalle only received a 53 out of 100 rating while CEC got a 65.  In 2013, both Ellis County and nearby Kaufman County rejected jail privatization with opposition from conservative forces.

Federal audit finds the Reeves County Detention Complex rife with problems

Reeves County Detention CenterReeves County Detention CenterAccording to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, the Reeves County Detention Complex, also known as the world’s largest for-profit prison, has “minimal oversight, overcharged the federal government by $2.1 million, arbitrarily punishes protesting inmates and suffers from severe understaffing.”

Reeves County Detention Complex is run by private prison corporation, the GEO Group, and holds almost 4,000 mostly undocumented federal prisoners who are serving time for federal drug and immigration-related offenses.

The report found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had asked GEO Group to eliminate minimum staffing requirements for correctional officers, medical care providers and other personnel—a move that saved the Bureau nearly $10 million. “BOP officials told us they removed these staffing requirements to achieve cost savings and grant the contractor flexibility and discretion to manage the staffing of the facility,” the report states.

The cash saving measure is hardly worth it, Reeves has experienced riots, complaints of inadequate medical care and allegations that prison officials use solitary confinement to retaliate against prisoners who complain. The prison has been the stage of several riots, including two in late 2008 and early 2009 that caused over $1 million in damage. An alleged hunger strike occurred in March of this year when several prisoners claimed they were put in solitary confinement for seeking legal representation.

According to the Texas Observer, health service-providers, Correct Care Solutions LLC, has failed to reach BOP’s requirement to maintain staffing levels at 85 percent for 90 percent of the last three years.

The audit also criticized the GEO Group for arbitrarily sending prisoners into the “J-Unit”— a solitary confinement which was created after a round of inmate protests in October 2013. After the protest, 364 inmates were sent to Reeves’ solitary confinement unit, which was originally designed for only 210.

Audit investigators discovered that 9 out of 10 of those prisoners sent after the protest did not meet the prison’s own criteria to be put into solitary confinement. The audit listed several recommendations for the prison, including the remedying of unallowable costs of over $2 million, the assurance that policies and procedures be established for the J-Unit and the emphasis on improving the prison’s monitoring system. The rest can be viewed on page 44 of the audit here.

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