On March 19, a Travis County, Texas court has declared the the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) a governmental body, according to Prison Legal News ("Texas Court holds CCA is a governmental body in PLN public records suit 2014"). According to the Texas Public Information Act, CCA, as a governmental body, is required to disclose information to the public.
This ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication housed within the Human Rights Defense Center that focuses on criminal justice issues. PLN filed a lawsuit against CCA in May 2013 after the for-profit prison corporation refused to disclose information, such as audits and other investigations regarding the troubled Dawson State Jail, which Grassroots Leadership helped close that same year. The records in question would have been public had Dawson not been operated by a private company. CCA operated nine facilities in Texas, four of which are used to incarcerate state prisoners.
PLN managing director Alex Friedmann commented on CCA's secrecy:
This is one of the many failings of private prisons... By contracting with private companies, corrections officials interfere with the public’s right to know what is happening in prisons and jails, even though the contracts are funded with taxpayer money. This lack of transparency contributes to abuses and misconduct by for-profit companies like CCA, which prefer secrecy over public accountability.
PLN argued that CCA can be defined as a "governmental body" because the company performs duties that are also performed by the government. CCA rebutted, claiming that not all funds from Texas are allocated for Texas facilities, but are instead used to "to support CCA’s corporate allocations throughout the United States." PLN's has won a lawsuit against CCA in Tennessee and another is pending in Vermont.
Brian McGiverin of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who represented PLN along with Cindy Saiter Connolly, calls the ruling against CCA a "victory":
The conditions of Texas prisons have been the focus of intense public scrutiny for nearly 40 years... Today’s ruling is a victory for transparency and responsible government. Texans have a right to know what their government is doing, even when a private company is hired to do it.
According to CNHI News Service, a Parker Country grand jury has pressed charges against two former corrections officers, 11 former inmates and five other individuals for possible involvement in bribery and the intent to provide contraband to an incarcerated person in February 2013.
Carl James Guittard, 36 and Terrie Elaine Glover, 49, who are both former employees of the Mineral Wells facility, are charged with bribery and intending to provide an incarcerated individual with tobacco. The charges allege that 10 people offered or gave money to both Guittard and Glover with a prepaid debit card. Information regarding the charges reached investigators at the beginning of the year.
Mark Mullin, a special prosecutor, said it is uncommon for state prosecutors to seek this type of case with the number of defendants involved.
"This is a lot of folks," Mullin said. "You know we've seen it before but we don't deal with it very often and not this many of them." Mullin also stated that, though there have been a lot of contraband cases, none involve as many people as the one in question.
The Democrat was unable to reach the corporate spokeswoman for the Corrections Corporation of America, which operated the Mineral Wells Facility.
The facility has a troubled history with contraband issues, which is reportedly a reason for the facility's closure in 2013. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice elected to close Mineral Wells for safety reasons, as well as the problems with contraband and capacity. CCA's contract with TDCJ was thus terminated.
Despite the facility's permanent closure on July 30, 2013, Parker County grand juries have continued to press charges in the last few months regarding contraband violations that have occurred over the last few years.
With the Texas legislative session underway, Texas Prison Bid’ness is shining the spotlight on five of the top private prison lobbyists in our state. As we’ve covered before, GEO Group, CCA, CEC, and MTC pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for lobbying services and campaign contributions for state and federal legislators. Here are five men and women who profit the most from peddling private prisons, jails, and detention centers in Texas:
1. LIONEL AGUIRRE
Leo is no stranger to the Texas Prison Bid’ness blog. He’s been earning top dollar as a GEO Group lawyer for years; his $200,000+ contracts with GEO are some of the fattest in the state. He reported a $100,000-$150,000 salary in 2011 and $50,000-$100,000 in 2012.
Aguirre was married to the late Lena Guerrero, a three-term state representative and the first Latina chair of the powerful Texas Railroad Commission, the agency in charge of regulating the oil and gas industry. Lionel himself was the executive of the state comptroller’s office before moving into the private sector.
2. MICHAEL TOOMEY
Last year, CCA paid Toomey $50,000-$100,000 to lobby for them in the Texas state government. He’s earned himself a lot of press as one of Rick Perry’s inner circle, including articles in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Mother Jones. Between 2008 and 2011, Toomey’s clients won $2 billion in state government contracts, according to a study by the NYT and the Texas Tribune.
3. FRANK R. SANTOS
Santos, the founder of Santos Alliances, calls himself the top Hispanic lobbyist in Texas, and was named the #3 Lobbyist in the State by the San Antonio Express-News in 2006. Santos is the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Senate Hispanic Research Council; the chief national consultant and strategist for the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. He is also one of GEO Group’s top paid lobbyists in Texas, earning $50,000-$100,000 in both 2011 and 2012. GEO Group operates seven detention centers and twenty prisons in Texas.
4. LARA LANERI KEEL
Ranked as the 2011 Top Female Hired-Gun Lobbyist in the state by Capitol Inside, Keel took in $50,000-$100,000 from Corrections Corporation of America in both 2011 and 2012. Keel is a member of the powerful Texas Lobby Group and director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. She’s married to John Keel, the State Auditor since 2004.
5. DEAN McWILLIAMS
Co-founder of McWilliams Governmental Affairs Consultants, McWilliams has earned a spot as a top grossing lobbyist in this state; he held a $50,000-$100,000 contract with Community Education Centers (CEC) in 2011 and 2012. On his website, Dean boasts of his close ties to the government, having served on the Legislative Budget Board Task Force on Health Care Reform and the Lieutenant Governor’s Task Force on Prison Overcrowding.
Last month, the Christian Broadcasting Network published an article that covered serious concerns with the for-profit prison industry. While the issues CBN raises are nothing new to regular Texas Prison Bid’ness readers, we are excited to see that the diversity of groups raising these concerns continues to grow. Here’s an excerpt:
Critics complain that private prisons cut corners on salaries, guard training, inmate medical care, and facility maintenance to add to their bottom lines. "The model as a whole has not had a happy history," Dr. Fran Buntman, a criminologist at George Washington University, said.
In her opinion, for-profit companies should not be in the business of locking up criminals.
"Ethically we need to deal with the fact that when we have chosen to put people in prison, we've taken away from their liberty rights to control their own lives," Buntman said. "We as a society and the government as the institution looking after them have a responsibility to their welfare," she continued. "We cannot subcontract out that responsibility to a private agency."
For critics of the industry, their fears materialized a few months ago when CCA proposed a $250 million deal to 48 states. The company would buy state prisons and manage them if the states would guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate. [For TPB’s coverage of this offer click here.]
"What's more important? People or money?" John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, asked. "I'm not saying corporations are evil, but corporations exist for one reason, to make money, maximum profit," he continued. "That's okay if you're making widgets or toothpaste, but when you're dealing with people and you're making money off of people -- you're starting to treat people like they're toothpaste and you're making money off of them and I think that's way we're headed.
"We're de-personalizing people in this country and I think that we're heading to a country where people are going to be treated like they're products," he said.
To make matters worse for the for-profit prison industry, this is not the first time this year that CBN affiliated individuals raised issues that could negatively impact the industry’s profits. In March, CBN founder Pat Robertson came out in favor of legalizing marijuana. How could this harm the for-profit prison industry? Well, approximately 46% of drug prosecutions (858,408 in 2009) are for marijuana – and that adds up to a lot of prison beds! And, the for-profit prison industry has lobbied for draconian drug laws that rely on incarceration rather than evidence-based solutions such as treatment programs.
How can the for-profit prison industry both maximize shareholder profit and ensure public safety, human rights, and fiscal responsibility? As the industry’s actions indicate, the answer is – they can’t! We hope that CBN continues to highlight this clear conflict of interest.