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The federal government is looking to increase private prison beds

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking to increase the number of beds prisons, reports CNN.

In April, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued a notice stating they were looking to increase the number of beds in Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities. These facilities are operated by private prison companies and are used to incarcerate non-citizen immigrants who are mostly convicted of low-level drug offenses or civil immigration offenses. In the U.S. there are 11 such facilities, operated by three private companies: CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. The addition of over 1,500 beds would take the overall population of immigrants in CAR prisons to over 22,000.

This shift is the opposite of what the Obama administration planned for the future of these federal prisons. Last August, then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates released a memo stating that the DOJ would begin to phase out the use of private prisons in the federal prison system. The original goal from the Obama administration was to reduce 7,000 beds by May 1st. That memo and plan was overturned by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded Yates’ previous memo.

Since then, private prison companies have been expanding their operations. The GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit prison companies, was recently awarded a contract for a new, 1,000-bed detention center that will cost over $100 million to construct and operate. There have also been multiple examples of counties looking to expand their jail capacity or reopen closed immigration facilities.

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Private prison stocks: the ups and downs

Stock in private prison companies has been changing a lot in the past few months, reports the Motley Fool.

Two of the nation’s largest private prison companies, the GEO Group and CoreCivic, have been experiencing a fluctuation in their stocks over the past few months. Following the announcement by the Department of Justice (DOJ) last August saying they would begin phasing out the use of private prisons, stock in those private companies dropped dramatically. It seemed that private prison companies were on the decline and would soon lose a large source of their profit.

Then Donald Trump was elected President. Running on a platform of “law and order” and an increase in immigration enforcement, his election seemed a boon to private prison companies. After the election, stock in private prison companies soared, with stock in CoreCivic increasing by 34% while the GEO Group saw an increase of 18%.

According to the Motley Fool, sentiment is changing as investors believe that the president will be ineffective in pushing policy, and the thought of his possible impeachment during his term. This has led investors to move away from private prison companies, with stock in CoreCivic dropping by about 12%. The GEO Group saw their stock drop by about 9%.

While it is hard to determine what will happen next, dropping stocks can only be a good thing as we try to move away from private prisons and the companies that operate them.

As private prison closes, Eden looks to diversify economy

After the closing of the Eden Detention Center, city of Eden officials are taking steps to secure their future, reports the San Angelo Standard-Times.

The Eden Detention Center, which is operated by the for-profit prison company CoreCivic, has been located in the city of Eden since 1985. City officials have been planning for the closure, as the contract with CoreCivic to operate the facility ended April 30.

To do this, city officials are looking for profitable opportunities that will make up for the jobs and revenue that came from the private detention center. The officials are working with representatives from different university small business development programs and have hired a government and public relations firm to speed up the process. There have been talks of focusing on the enhancement of the arts and draw in new businesses.

The Eden Detention Center is one of many private detention centers owned by CoreCivic in Texas. The facility was a focal point for a damaging report by the ACLU which highlighted the facility's history of medical neglect, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions.

While the closing of the detention center will be tough for the city, Mario Castillo of Aegis Group Ltd., the public relations firm hired by the city of Eden, took positives from the closing.

"I think what Eden has learned is diversification is crucial,“ Castillo said. “Like other small cities, they need to be careful what their economic base is made of; they need to look at their economic mix.”

Hopefully other cities and counties will learn from Eden, and realize that basing your economy on private prisons and detention centers is never a good plan.

Could newly closed correctional facilities be turned into immigrant detention centers?

The Texas House and Senate both proposed to close four state correctional facilities to help lower the state budget, reports the Texas Observer.

The facilities set to be closed are Williamson County’s Bartlett State Jail, Wise County’s Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Mitchell County’s Dick Ware Transfer Facility, and Terry County’s West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, these four facilities cost the state $51.2 million dollars every two years. Together they hold 1,755 prisoners. The closing of these prisons is a rare positive development out of the Texas legislature (see anti-immigrant SB4, family detention centers licensing), with three of the four being operated by private prison companies CoreCivic and Management and Training Corporation (MTC).

If the recommended closures pass the legislature, the state would retain ownership of the Bartlett State Jail and the Dick Ware Transfer facility, as they were operated by MTC yet owned by the state of Texas. CoreCivic and the city of Brownfield, who own the Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and the West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility respectively, would be free to sell their facilities or find new prisoners to house there.

This worries activists, who fear that the facilities could be turned into ready made immigrant detention centers.

Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at Grassroots Leadership, said "I think it’s important that we keep a close eye on how these facilities might be repurposed. It’s common practice for privately owned facilities to get used for other populations of prisoners, like immigrants, and it’s particularly concerning in the current political climate, with talk of expanding detention.”

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Closing the Bartlett State Jail has potential to save millions of dollars

The city of Bartlett is preparing for possible financial difficulties if the Bartlett State Jail closes in September, reports the Temple Daily Telegram. But it may also open opportunities.

The Bartlett State Jail is one of four prisons that may be closed by September following recommendations by the Texas Senate Finance Committee, the workgroup that works on the state's budget for the next two years. The state is hoping to cut $250 million from the budget, and by closing the Bartlett jail, the state of Texas would save around $24 million. If the budget does pass, the prisoners from Bartlett will be transferred to other facilities. The Bartlett State Jail has been operated by CoreCivic (formerly CCA) since 1995, and has a history of hazing and sexual abuse.

Some city of Bartlett officials have expressed concerns that the jail closing will negatively hurt their economy. Officials said that sales tax collection will be reduced and area residents who work at the jail could be reassigned or laid off. The city would also lose over $500,000 a year in water in wastewater removal revenue that comes from the operation of the jail.

However, closing the jail could actually end up saving the city money in the long run. Due to the high population of the jail, as well as the city of Bartlett, the city's wastewater treatment plant is not in compliance with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. To bring Bartlett into compliance and avoid high fines would require expensive repairs and sludge clean up for the existing wastewater facility. By closing the jail, the city would reduce the demands on the wastewater facility, possibly saving the city thousands, or even millions, of dollars in necessary repairs and upgrades.

City and state officials are preparing for the possible shutdown by creating an economic development plan and looking at other possibilities or alternatives to improving the local economy.

Bartlett officials may want to speak with city of Eden officials, who are looking at ways to diversify their economy following the closing of the Eden Detention Center. They are looking into enhancing the arts in their town and finding ways to draw small businesses to the area.  

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Eden mayor and city officials begin planning for detention center closure

The mayor of Eden and city officials are in the planning phase as they prepare for the closing for the Eden Detention Center, reports the Concho Valley News.

The Eden Detention Center is operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), one of the largest for-profit prison corporations in the United States. The contract to operate the facility will expire on April 30. CoreCivic has already notified its employees with a 60-day layoff notice. The facility employs people from San Angelo, Brady, Menard, and Ballinger, amongst others.

As well as employing people from the surrounding towns, the detention center is responsible for around 40 percent of the revenue generated each month by the city's water fund. That is equal to $40,000 a month, and city officials say losing that revenue would financially cripple Eden. San Angelo city council members recently passed a resolution in support of keeping the detention center open, with officials in Brady wanting to do the same.

The Eden Detention Center is one of many facilities owned and operated by CoreCivic in Texas, and has a history of prisoner uprisings, protests, and was the focus of a damaging report by the ACLU. While it is unfortunate that many people will be financially hurt by the detention center closing, it highlights the need to focus on true community development, not centering a community around jailing individuals. Private prison companies are focused on their income, not the communities they operate in. So when the money is no longer there, neither are they.

Private prisons already booming under President Trump

Private prisons are already booming under President Trump, reports The Week.

Last August, the Department of Justice announced it would would begin the process of phasing out the use of private prisons, due to serious concerns over safety and treatment of inmates in private prisons, as well as a declining prison population. This decision was celebrated by activists against private prisons, and saw stocks plummet for major for-profit companies such as CoreCivic (formerly CCA) and GEO Group.   

Fast forward a few months, and things have changed. President, Donald Trump, has put a major focus on “law and order,” especially when it comes to detaining undocumented immigrants. New Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded the original DOJ memo and told the Bureau of Prisons to once again rely on private prisons. This led to an increase in private prison stock.

This is particularly frightening for Texas, as our state has prisons and detention centers run by various for-profit companies such as CoreCivic and GEO Group, which recently purchased Community Education Centers to expand their reach and increase their profit. These companies are now hoping to reuse old facilities, or reopen previously closed detention centers, therefore expanding the amount of people detained in private prisons in Texas.

New DOJ Attorney General Sessions reverses policy on private prisons

The Department of Justice's new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has issued a new memo rescinding last summer's decision to phase out the use of private prisons. According to Rewire, Sessions instructed the Bureau of Prisons on Thursday to once again rely on private prisons.

Last August, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a memo saying that the BOP would begin phasing out the use of private prisons and would not renew any contracts that were being reviewed. This statement followed a review by the Department of Homeland Security into the conditions of private prisons and whether they were still productive or necessary. Following the announcement, stocks in private prison companies dropped dramatically.

However, with a new attorney general and an increase in raids against undocumented immigrants, private prison companies stocks have increased as President Trump looks to expand detention centers around the country. Some groups however, view the policy reversal as suspicious. According to the Intercept, the GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S., made two large contributions to Trump's Presidential campaign. CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) donated $250,000 to Trump's campaign.

Grassroots Leadership’s Executive Director Bob Libal in a statement cited Sessions’ announcement as yet another act by the Trump administration that undermines criminal justice reforms and civil rights for incarcerated people. “This administration appears to be more interested in lining the coffers of its friends at private prison corporations than promoting common sense policies that would reduce the incarcerated population and close troubled prisons,” Libal said.

Former juvenile facility may not be empty much longer

The Port Arthur News reports that the Jefferson County Commissioners Court approved a request for proposals to develop the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility, which is currently vacant.

In December, Corrections Corporation of America (which has since rebranded itself as “CoreCivic”)  addressed the Jefferson County Commissioners Court during a workshop, and will submit a bid to turn the facility into a “secure” facility aimed at reducing recidivism in adults with substance abuse disorders. They were one of two groups who spoke to the court about potential use of the facility. Four to five groups are now interested in the property. All of the interested groups want to open substance abuse treatment rehabilitation facilities.

The facility was closed in 2011 and the county cited a reduced budget and a significantly lower youth population as key reasons to close the facility. A charter school from Dallas had leased the building but never paid for the utilities which led to the contract being canceled.

County Judge Jeff Branick said that any interested parties would first relieve the county of the burden of paying the utilities. The facility also needs maintenance work done, with the HVAC, lights, and alarms needing to be repaired. The judge said that the county will not help any bidders with upfront costs.

Private prison company interested in vacant juvenile facility

A private prison company is interested the vacant Al Price Juvenile Center is Beaumont, Texas, reports Grits for Breakfast.

Corrections Corporation of America (which has since rebranded itself as “CoreCivic”) is hoping to turn the facility into a "secure" facility for adults with substance abuse disorders. According to The News, CCA has already spoken to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), and would defer to TDCJ for the number of inmates they would have detained at the center. County Judge Jeff Branick said "I fully support treatment programs," and that it was about time that the criminal justice system dealt with the root causes of recidivism.

The proposal for a new private facility comes at a time when the state legislature is looking to reduce the budget of state agencies by 4 percent, leading to the closure of one prison already. It is unsure whether the budget will have any impact on the proposal put forth for the Al Price Juvenile Center.

A second organization, Gulf Coast Healthcare of Port Arthur, also spoke at the hearing about purchasing the Al Price center. Gulf Coast wants to use the facility to provide behavioral health needs to prisoners from the six surrounding detention centers. They have multiple facilities throughout Texas, including Port Arthur and Houston.

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