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Bill Clayton Detention Center

Correct Care Recovery Solutions to run lockdown facility in Littlefield

Bill Clayton Detention Center
Bill Clayton Detention Center

As part of a series of changes to the civil commitment program in Texas, Littlefield will serve as the new home for nearly 200 individuals convicted of a sexual offense who have served their time, but who have been indefinitely civilly committed. Although federally required to be a treatment program, not a punitive one, a company with roots in the private prison industry will operate the facility. Correct Care Recovery Solutions (CCRS), formerly known as GEO Care, is a spin-off corporation of GEO Group, the same corporation that operated the facility until 2009. This contract seems a consolation prize for CCRS, who lost the bid to take over Terrell State Hospital earlier this year.

 

 

The remote Bill Clayton Detention Center has lain empty for six years. Owing 13% of their budget in bond payments each year, this is not the first time the city of Littlefield has tried to repurpose the facility. In 2014, the city hoped that locking up children fleeing Central America could fix their financial troubles.

 

 

The opening of the new facility comes alongside numerous changes for the program. Attempting to get ahead of the feds after a federal court decision in June which ruled Minnesota’s civil commitment program unconstitutional because it held participants indefinitely, Senator Whitmire introduced Senate Bill 746 during the 84th legislative session. Signed by Gov. Abbott on June 16 and effective immediately, the legislation accomplished a number of reforms. Unfortunately, the bill also removed the outpatient requirement from statute, allowing the state to confine all program participants in a more restrictive lockdown facility, rather than in halfway houses in various parts of the state.  

 

 

According to Sen. Whitmire, the new program is designed to allow participants to move through the five-tiered system, with prison-like confinement only at the front end. In theory, if someone follows the rules and makes strides in their treatment, they will move through the tiers and eventually leave the program. Unfortunately, treatment components and policies governing length of time spent in each tier remain undefined and “graduates” will continue to remain under state supervision through ankle monitoring.

 

 

Although some program participants are hopeful about the changes, others are skeptical. The state asked program participants to sign a waiver to voluntarily enter the new program - 97 refused. The distrust of the new program may stem from the program’s constitutionally dubious history. In the 16 years it operated as an outpatient program, no one was ever released from the program. Although there is now a process for individuals to move through the program and potentially be released, the state’s contract with CCRS incentivizes keeping the Littlefield facility full. The state will pay $128.70 per person per day initially, but once the population increases to over 250 individuals, the state gets a break and will pay only $100 per person per day. Similarly to private prison and immigrant detention contracts, the state now is incentivized to keep the number of individuals confined in Littlefield high, rather than encouraging rehabilitation and release. This perverse incentive is especially troublesome because oversight for the program will come only from the agency itself. With such a poor track record on the part of the agency and the private corporation running the facility, skepticism seems completely warranted.

 

Look for more to come on Correct Care Recovery Solutions and civil commitment in Texas.

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Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #3 - Empty Bill Clayton facility drives Littlefield to desperation

The city of Littlefield tried a number of times to fill the empty private prison that has been draining revenue from the tiny West Texas town of Littlefield for years.  

The first opportunity came when news broke this summer of Central American children showing up at the U.S. border seeking asylum. Officials in the City of Littlefield asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to send some of the families and children to their empty private prison, hoping it would be the end of a years-long debacle that started when the for-profit private prison came to town.

Littlefield City Manager Mike Arismendez told KCBD in Lubbock that a contract with ICE could mean having the facility up and running soon to detain the women and children seeking refuge at the border. 

“It would actually be a revenue stream to be able to offset the debt we have on the facility,” Arismendez said.

The idea to house refugee families at Bill Clayton gained bipartisan agreement in Littlefield, with the support of both U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, and Neal Marchbanks, who was his Democratic opponent in the November general election.

It sounds bad to put [children] in a prison, but that’s about all we can do," Marchbanks said. 

But the contract with ICE was not to be, and went to Karnes County and the City of Dilley instead. 

Then, in August came news that Littlefield may have been pitching the facility to a private company from California to incarcerate people convicted of sex crimes at Bill Clayton. It was unclear whether the City was attempting to win a contract from the state of Texas or the state of California, but California does ship nearly 9,000 prisoners to out-of-state private prisons — all of which are operated by Corrections Corporation of America. 

Neither of these plans worked out, because in October news broke that the town was seeking a civil commitment contract with Correct Care Solutions. Correct Care Solutions, formerly known as GEO Care, is a spin-off corporation of GEO Group, the same corporation that operated the facility until 2009. Had this been approved, the facility would have housed approximately 200 individuals convicted of multiple violent sexual offenses — but who have already completed their prison sentences. 

As of now, it seems that the town has not found anyone to fill the facility and it will likely continue to cost local taxpayers millions. 

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Children fleeing Central America "would actually be a revenue stream" for West Texas city with a shuttered private prison

A West Texas city is looking to get a boost from the humanitarian crisis of Central American children and families who have turned up at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Officials in the City of Littlefield are asking Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to send some of the families to their empty private prison, and hoping it will be the end of a years-long debacle that started when the for-profit private prison came to town.

The facility in question, the Bill Clayton Detention Center, has been trouble for the city and taxpayers from the start. It was was built in 2000 as a state prison for juveniles, but the Texas legislature decided to remove juveniles from the facility in 2003. 

The GEO Group operated the facility until 2009, which was housing adults at the time. The facility shut its doors in 2009 after the company lost contracts in to hold prisons there from Idaho and Wyoming.  

Littlefield City Manager Mike Arismendez told KCBD in Lubbock that a contract with ICE could mean having the facility up and running soon to detain the women and children seeking refuge at the border. 

“It would actually be a revenue stream to be able to offset the debt we have on the facility,” Arismendez said.

The Bill Clayton Detention Center's troubled history has been extensively covered here

Randal McCullough, 37, committed suicide at Bill Clayton after nearly year in solitary confinement and soon afterward, the Idaho Department of Corrections cancelled its contract with the GEO Group and removed its prisoners from the facility. Idaho's audit uncovered a routine falsifying of reports; guards claimed to be monitoring prisoners at regular intervals, but were often away from their assigned posts for hours on end. 

When the GEO Group pulled out of the facility, it left Littlefield residents without revenue and responsible for an $11 million building project that is still a money pit. The town tried to auction the empty facility in 2011, but the only bidder pulled out. 

The idea to house refugee families at Bill Clayton is a bipartisan issue for Littlefield, with the support of both U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, and his Democratic opponent in the November general election, Neal Marchbanks, who also supports detaining families at Bill Clayton also.

“It sounds bad to put [children] in a prison, but that’s about all we can do," Marchbanks said

Rep. Neugebauer thinks Bill Clayton is worth a look for ICE. “The federal criteria is pretty high, but that’s a great facility," he told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on July 8. "Certainly, if they are looking for additional facilities, we want to make sure they take a look at it.”

However, by July 13 Rep. Neugebauer told the paper he didn't support the proposal to detain families there because it only encouraged illegal immigration and that he actually supported immediate deportation of the children. 

The proposal has stoked familiar fears in some Littlefield residents. "I’m afraid of what diseases might be brought into our school," local resident Cindy McNeese said.  Detained asylum seekers are not allowed to leave federal custody at immigrant detention centers. Marchbanks did admit that children coming to the U.S. from countries with unstable governments “are almost requesting political asylum.”

Project leaders don’t plan to significantly renovate the facility — just make it livable. They’ll remove intimidating razor wire, for example, and paint gray doors a cheerier shade of blue or red.

A new coat of paint is unlikely to be enough to quell concerns over putting families into detention. The history of family detention in the U.S. is abysmal, with the example of the T. Don Hutto Detention Center still fresh in the minds of many. At Hutto, reports emerged that children as young as eight months old wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open- toilets, subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight.

A town hall meeting regarding the plan is set for 6 p.m. today, Tuesday July 14, at Littlefield Junior High School.

Littlefield Police Chief put in charge of troubled Bill Clayton Detention Center

The police chief in Littlefield, Texas has resigned amongst and internal investigation and has taken over control of the troubled Bill Clayton Detention Center, according to a news story from KCBD ("Littlefield Police Chief Abel Cantu resigns," January 19) in Lubbock, Texas:

"Littlefield Police Chief Abel Cantu resigned on Thursday following an internal investigation conducted by the Littlefield Police Department. [...]  

Following his resignation, Cantu was given another job with the City of Littlefield, as administrator for the Bill Clayton Detention Center. He was given that position temporarily so he could fulfill the time required for his retirement on June 15, 2013."

The Bill Clayton Detention Center has been a headache for Littlefield, TX, since 2008, when Idaho cancelled their contract with the formerly GEO Group-operated prison after two men commtted suicide there.  GEO Group pulled out in 2010, leaving the town's citizens without revenue and responsible for an $11 million building project that they have yet to pay off (as covered by NPR).  The town tried to auction the empty facility in 2011, but the only bidder pulled out.

It's still unclear what led to Cantu's resignation or whether he'll soon have incarerated men to oversee.  We'll continue to update you as more details come in.

Fitch downgrades Littlefield's bond rating after Idaho removes prisoners from GEO lock-up

In a fascinating and disturbing example of what can go wrong when a locality finances a speculative prison, the Fitch ratings agency has downgraded the City of Littlefield's bond rating after the city's GEO-operated Bill Clayton Detention Center lost its contract to hold Idaho prisoners, and has subsequently been dumped by the private prison corporation. 

According the Ad Hoc News article ("Littlefield, - Fitch Downgrades Littlefield, TX' COs to 'BB'; Outlook Negative," August 24th)

Fitch Ratings has downgraded to 'BB' from 'BBB-' the rating on Littlefield, TX's (the city) outstanding $1.3 million combination tax and revenue certificates of obligation (COs), series 1997, and removed the ratings from Rating Watch Negative. The CO's constitute a general obligation of the city, payable from ad valorem taxes limited to $2.50 per $100 taxable assessed valuation (TAV). Additionally, the COs are secured by a pledge of surplus water and sewer revenues. The Rating Outlook is Negative.

The downgrade reflects events related to the operation of the city's detention center facility, which accounts for the majority of outstanding debt (which was not rated by Fitch but is on parity with the series 1997 bonds). To the surprise of city officials, Idaho announced their plans to leave the Littlefield facility in January 2009, citing the need to consolidate all of its out-of-state prisoners into a larger facility in Oklahoma. In addition, the detention center's private operator, the Geo Group, unexpectedly announced termination of their agreement to manage the facility effective January 2009. The move to leave Littlefield by the Geo Group is significant, given that the established private operator had made sizable equity investments in the detention center reportedly totaling approximately $2 million. In the past, the ability of the Geo Group to quickly replace prisoners with little disruption in operations, as well as their investment in the Littlefield detention center were cited as credit strengths.

The article isn't quite accurate in saying Idaho's decision to remove prisoners from the facility was a surprise.  The decision followed the suicide of Idaho prisoner Randall McCullough, who killed himself after the GEO Group held him in solitary confinement for more than as a disciplinary measure.  McCullough's death followed the tragic death of Idaho prisoner's Scot Noble Payne a year prior at GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center. After Noble Payne's suicide, a subsequent investigation revealed squalid conditions and the Idaho Department of Corrections Health Director called the GEO prison the worst facility he'd ever seen.

Still, the outlook for Littlefield isn't good.  According to the Ad Hoc News article,

On Dec. 9, 2008, Fitch placed the series 1997 bonds on Rating Watch Negative, reflecting the city's active pursuit of various alternatives to remedy the situation and possibly resolve it within the next several months. Funds to repay debt service on detention center COs through August 2010 had been identified through available city funds as well as a debt service reserve fund. The city indicated to Fitch in May 2009 that it was in negotiations with another established jail operator (the operator) to assume management of the Littlefield facility and that the operator was attempting to secure an agreement with a federal agency to house prisoners. Resolution or near resolution of this agreement was expected by August 2009. However, the operator has yet to secure a prisoner agreement and the timing for resolution remains uncertain.

Littlefield's story should be a cautionary tale for other cities and counties considering floating debt to finance a private prison corporation.  We'll keep you posted on how this story develops.  In the meantime, see our previous coverage of the Bill Clayton Detention Center:

Removal of Idaho Prisoners from GEO Jail Threatens County's Finances, Jan. 15, 2009

Idaho Cancels Contract with GEO's Bill Clayton Prison, Nov. 6, 2008

Idaho Removes Some Prisoners from Texas Private Prisons, Oct. 15, 2008

AP on Idaho Inmates in Texas Private Prisons, Sept. 24, 2008

Idaho Inmate Died After More Than a Year in GEO's Solitary Confinement, Sept. 22, 2008

Another Idaho Inmate Commits Suicide in a GEO Group Texas Prison, Aug. 21, 2008

Idaho Prisoners Also Being Transferred to GEO’s Bill Clayton Unit, July 23, 2007

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