According 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.
UPDATE: The Houston Chronicle reports that Rep. Allen Fletcher has decided not to run for Harris County Sheriff and instead will instead seek the Precinct 4 constable spot.
According to the Houston Press, State Rep. Allen Fletcher announced his candidacy to become the next Harris County Sheriff in early May. Fletcher has served as state representative since 2008, but it is his work outside of the legislature that could be an indicator of the type of sheriff he would be.
Since 2009, Fletcher has been working as a consultant for private prison companies like Community Education Centers (CEC) and La Salle Management Company, both of which have faced numerous controversies including bribery, prisoner escapes, and human rights abuses.
Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, expressed concern about Fletcher being elected as Harris County Sheriff, and whether that brings the controversial possibility of the privatization of Harris County Jail into play. Harris County Jail is the fourth largest jail in the U.S — it would be a boom for any private corporation looking to drive up its profit margins.
Ana Yáñez-Correa told the Houston Press that privatizing the jail would be bad for inmates, employees and taxpayers, because private prison companies “make money by lowering the costs of running these places, by paying their staff less, by offering fewer programs and all kinds of shortcuts people take when they want to save money and run a profitable business.”
According to memos from a migrant attorney group, a tentative court ruling regarding the legality of detaining immigrant women and children was made by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in California on April 24. The 22-page ruling states that the Obama administration’s policy of detaining migrant children is in violation with an 18-year-old settlement called Flores v. Meese.
According to McClatchy DC, the ruling has not officially been filed but the migrant lawyers and federal attorneys were given 30 days to come to an agreement. Now that the 30 days have passed, the agreement has been given an extension. Gee will issue a final ruling on the matter if no agreement is reached.
McClatchy reports that some believe the tentative court ruling could force the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to drastically change current policy. They may decide to take any number of options: release undocumented women and children into the community; release the children but detain the mothers; or completely overhaul the way the agency shelters the migrants until their cases are heard by immigration courts.
According to the memos, the Flores ruling states that children and their mothers cannot be detained in unlicensced, secure facilities like the Karnes County Residential Center and the South Texas Family Residential Center. It also states that it is inappropriate for migrant women and children to be detained unless they pose a safety risk to the community.
In 1997’s Flores v. Meese case, the settlement called for minors to be in the custody of family or legal guardians if available. The case also stipulates that the government is only allowed to detain children in safe and sanitary facilities that are licensed.
The debate over the future of the Liberty County Jail continues and it looks like it will all come down to cost.
Liberty County has been mulling over a proposal for the county to take over operations of the jail from Community Education Centers (CEC), which currently runs the facility. At a special meeting of the Liberty County Commissioners Court on May 19, Commissioners heard from county officials and others including CEC Warden Raye Carnes, Liberty County Indigent Health Care Director Donna Burt and Liberty County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Rader.
Burt told commissioners that when the county last ran the jail, the biggest medical cost was providing malpractice insurance coverage for the jail doctor, costing $100,000 in the 1990s. Burt told commissioners that finding a doctor was the biggest challenge facing the county and that she didn’t think the county would save money by taking over operation of the jail.
Warden Carnes told commissioners that CEC provides medical care, but left out the company’s widely reported and troubled history. That history includes an incident that left a woman dead of pregnancy complications at an Indiana facility after CEC staff waited hours to seek emergency medical care.
Commissioners hired Austin-based consultant firm MGT of America, Inc. in August 2014 to advise the county on which route would save the county money. In March of this year, MGT told commissioners that the cost of running the jail would be the same whether it was run by the county sheriff or CEC “or 'Johnny’s Garage and Jail Service.'" MGT also told commissioners in the same meeting that their best bet to reduce the cost of running the jail would be to reduce the jail population.
For his part, Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, a Republican who ran and won on a platform of kicking CEC out of the jail, cited projections that the average population would actually grow to 275 inmates over the next five years.
Sheriff Rader summed up the county’s concerns: “If it’s going to cost more money for us to take it over [from CEC], then it’s not the right thing to do.”
A change in management very well may be the right thing to do for those locked up in the jail. In April, two prisoners died in a single week at the CEC-run Liberty County Jail.