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ICE’s alternatives to detention still benefit for-profit prison companies like GEO

A recent NPR story, As Asylum Seekers Swap Prison Beds For Ankle Bracelets, Same Firm Profits, shed light on a new profiteering industry for private prison companies, community detention. No stranger to Texas Prison Bid’ness, GEO Group is one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S. and operates 15 federal migrant detention centers, many of which detain children and families. In a new kind of federal surveillance, families are being released from these facilities, but are required to wear tracking devices and remain closely monitored. Who is conveniently positioned to provide the tracking devices and community supervision? Geo Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group.


Geo Care received a $56 million contract to provide ankle monitoring services for 10,000 migrants and telephone check-ins for 20,000 migrants. In addition, in September ICE awarded Geo Care an $11 million contract to provide case management services to migrants who have been released.


ICE clarified why Geo Care was selected to run the program instead of a social service entity usually responsible for case management.  "...We really aim to ensure that there's a wide variety of different tools that we can use for compliance,"  says ICE assistant director Lorenzen-Strait. Disturbingly, the manager for Geo Care's new Family Case Management Program is a former top official in ICE's Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations.


Job descriptions of GEO Family Case Managers and Sr. Case Managers confirm ICE’s intent. It is clear that first and foremost, “case managers” are community detention officers, whose primary role is to monitor the lives of released migrants. Job description duties include:


“Conducts regular and on-going monitoring of family participants through in-person check-ins (e.g., home or office visits) and telephonic reporting. At a minimum, check-ins must be done prior to any appointment, hearing, or other immigration required obligation. Conducts additional check-ins as needed to promote compliance with immigration requirements.”


Although alternatives to detention offer opportunities for families to be released, this “freedom” comes with continued surveillance and control, and private prison companies continue to make millions.

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Big Stories of 2012 - #2 - GEO Group Loses Bid to Expand Mental Health Care Operations, Take Over Kerrville State Hospital

As we usher in 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of 2012, based on stories covered by our blog.  Our number two story of the year is GEO Group's failed attempt to take over operations at the Kerrville State Hospital.   

TPB Big Story #2 - GEO Group Loses Bid to Take Over Kerrville State Hospital

This summer, media in Texas reported tha

t GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison corporation GEO Group, had plans to take over the management of a Texas State Hospital, where indigent people with mental illness and forensic patients incompetent to stand trial are rehabilitated.  The takeover would be pursuant to a rider snuck into the 2011 legislative session that mandated the privatization of one state hopsital.  It quickly was discovered that GEO Care had submitted the sole bid on to take over one facility - the Kerrville State Hospital. 

Pointing to GEO's troubled record, mental health care advocates and criminal justice reform groups immediately worked to stop the privatization effort.  A coalition of Texas organizations, including Grassroots Leadership, a co-sponsor of this blog, sent a sign-on letter urging state leaders to halt privatization efforts.  In September, more than 700 people from across Texas signed an online petition to stop private prison corporation GEO Group from taking over the Kerrville State Hospital.  State and local officials spoke out against privatization, and the media across the state ran exposés on GEO’s  troubled record operating prisons and jails.

The organizing efforts paid off.  In October, state leaders announced that they rejected GEO Group’s bid to take over the Kerrville State Hospital.  However, Kerrville and other state hospitals may not be out of the woods yet.  GEO Group continues to tell investors that they see opportunities in mental health facilities in Texas.  

GEO Group faces opposition in bid for state hospital

GEO protestor in Del Rio
GEO protestor in Del Rio
GEO Group is facing increasing opposition to its proposal to take over a state hospital in Texas.  We reported last week that the Austin American Statesman's Andrea Ball had reported on fines being leveled against GEO Group's Montgomery County psych facility and plans to privatize a state mental hospital moving through an RFP process.

Now, a coalition of mental health advocacy, civil rights, and criminal justice reform groups (including my organization Grassroots Leadership) has sent a letter to state officials opposing the take-over by GEO's subsidiary, GEO Care.  Written in the letter:   

"We are concerned that the requirement to cut 10% from the hospital’s budget through privatization can only be achieved by reducing the quality of care at a hospital run on an already austere budget.  Texas already spends the least per capita on mental health than any other state, at slightly less than 1/3 the national average. 

Furthermore, we are particularly concerned that the only respondent to the request for proposal was GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison corporation GEO Group. GEO Group has a long history of mismanaging the facilities it is charged with operating."

The signatories site recent events in Texas and several other states: 

"The list of scandals to which GEO can lay claim is a long one.  In the past five months alone, the company has made local and national headlines over multiple scandals perpetrated at several different facilities it operates.  In April, GEO contracts at three facilities ended in Mississippi, including a youth facility that a federal judge described as having “allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate.”  Last week, the Associated Press reported three gruesome deaths, including a patient who died in a scalding bathtub, at GEO’s South Florida State Hospital.  And in our own state, the Austin American Statesman reported that GEO has been fined by DSHS for problems at the GEO-run forensic psychiatric facility in Montgomery County, including “unauthorized restraint and seclusion of patients, incomplete medical records, failure to show patient consent for medications and failure to report serious injuries to the state.”

GEO also has a long history of operational problems at its facilities in Texas.  In 2009, prisoners at GEO-operated Reeves County Detention Center rioted over issues at the facility including poor quality of health care and multiple prisoner deaths.  In 2007, the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center was shut down due to the unsafe and unsanitary conditions under GEO operation."

 

Despite fines and failures, Texas contemplates more GEO Care contracts

Sunday's Austin American Statesman featured a front page story by Andrea Ball on fines being leveled against GEO Group's Montgomery County psych facility and plans to privatize a state mental hospital moving through an RFP process.  Here's the lead:

"Sixteen months after the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility opened in Conroe, the state's first publicly funded, privately run psychiatric hospital is facing at least $53,000 in state fines for serious shortcomings in patient care.

The private operator, Geo Care, is a subsidiary of Geo Group, a private prison company that has drawn attention in recent years because of deaths, riots and sexual abuse at some units in Texas and other states." ("As East Texas public-private psych facility struggles, state plans more privatization," July 21)

More disturbingly, the state is not considering pulling out of the contract with GEO, but actually privatizing a state mental health hospital.  According to Ball's article:

The problems come to light as the Department of State Health Services prepares to privatize one of the 10 public psychiatric hospitals it oversees. If Geo Care bids on the ongoing privatization effort — and it has expressed interest to public officials in doing so — its work in Montgomery County could be a harbinger of what taxpayers can expect if a for-profit company wins control of a public state hospital.

This week, the agency will accept bids from contractors seeking to run one of those facilities for at least 10 percent less than the current cost, a move that could save the state millions of dollars each year. If an offer is accepted, a private company could be running a state hospital by the end of the year.

We'll keep you posted on developments on the fight over privatizing a mental hospital in Texas. 

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The GEO Group's 2009 Q2 Conference Call Outlines Plans for Profit

On August 3rd, The GEO Group held their second quarter conference call for investors. In this meeting, the company outlined the deals that have been enacted so far this year as well as plans for future profit. Their total Q2 revenue came to $276 million, which they stated would rise to $300 million by the end of next quarter. The company CEO, George Zoley, attributed this expected rise in revenue to the 5,900 additional beds created in 2008 which have been filling up. He additionally noted the significance of the 100 bed addition to the Florida's Broward Transition Center contracted with ICE, as well as the 192 bed expansion to Georgia's Robert Deyton Detention Facility which is contracted with the U.S. Marshals.

The most discussed change within the investors (if the question and answer portion of the call is any indication) was the U.S. average per diem cost increase for holding detainees, up to $53.97 from $53 during this time last year. The per diem rate is what a private prison company charges its clients per day for each detainee in their facilities. This rate is a key component of how a company accrues its income, and is different for each contract, as each state has their own rules, regulations, and costs of living (but the per diem rates are also largely negotiable and dependent on the hardball negotiations of those doing the "dealings"). The per diem rate is a lump sum includes services for inmates such as food, healthcare, utilities, etc. as well the costs of staff salaries and facility maintenance. If a per diem is too low and expenses too high, the company will begin to lose money. Additionally, if a per diem is too high, the company's services will seem less appealing to their clients who think they could do the same job for cheaper--the key is to find the lowest per diem rate that will both cover the necessary expenses for running a prison while giving a desirable profit for the company without gouging their clients. One reason that GEO board members attributed this rise in per diem rates to was the increase in the Department of Labor's mandated salary requirements. Because their prison employees are required to have higher wages, prison companies are asking for more money to cover the pay difference. The GEO representatives stated that staff turnovers in their facilties are low (meaning that there are less new guards who need training--an expense) except for in two unnamed Texas facilities where employment is low. Having low staff turnovers means they have less required expenses for training, and more room for profit. However, a critical investor was worried that the cost of living in a recessing economy might surpass the per diem rates (if not now, maybe in the future), but GEO's representatives skirted the comment without declaring their average per diem or total expenditures and simply reassured the caller that their low staff turnover and refined staff vacation policies are sufficient enough to keep their expenses below their per diem rates.

Zoley also went over their newest additions for the year as well as outlined upcoming projects that are scheduled for completion in the near future. In January, the company completed a 192 bed expansion at the Robert Deyton Detention Facility in Georgia, as mentioned before, and stated that it will add $4 million to their operating revenues. This year, the company has also assumed management of the 256 bed Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre in the United Kingdom, and stated that they plan to expand it by another 364 beds by the end of June 2010. Other noted important expansions are with Florida's Graceville Correctional Facility where another 384 beds will be added to the already existing 1,500 by the end of the year. Also, The Geo Group's 1030 bed immigrant detention facility, the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA is planned to see an additional 545 beds by the end of the year. Lastly, in Aurora, CO, the company plans to expand its 400 bed facility almost 200% by adding 1,100 beds to their Aurora ICE Processing Center by the year's end. Zoley cited that the Tacoma and Aurora facilities are expected to have "a material impact" on the company, and The GEO Group plans to put the majority of their remaining fiscal yearly budget of $84 million into these facilties over the next two quarters, as they are planned to be the largest money-makers for the company.

George Zoley discussed why these expansions were necessary and had the following to say:

"The main driver for the growth of new beds at the federal level continues to be the detention and incarceration of criminal aliens. The U.S. Marshals service and the [Bureau of Prisons] both house criminal aliens facing criminal charges or are serving time as a result of a conviction. The ICE population includes approximately an equal number of undocumented aliens and criminal aliens who have completed their Federal or state sentences and are awaiting deportation. More than 2/3rds of the 10,000 aliens housed at our federal facilites are criminal aliens with less than 1/3rd being non-criminal aliens."

With the $1.4 billion in federal funding for ICE's Secure Communities Initiative, The GEO Group is wasting no time to get their piece of the proverbial pie.

Since the conference call and the end of the company's second quarter, GEO's subsidiary company GEO Care has bought out Just Care, Inc. for $40 million. GEO Care is The GEO Group's project to house mentally-ill inmates as well as sex offenders in separate housing facilities to try and rehabilitate them in a more conducive atmosphere for their illnesses. The acquisition is expected to increase the yearly revenues by $30 million, meaning the company's projected 2009 total yearly revenue is expected to exceed $1.1 billion. With the Federal prisons operating at 137% total capacity, some serious legislative work for crime control and alternative sentencing is needed to decrease the prison population or else we can expect to see these staggering numbers rise in the near future.

See the latest economic developments for GEO Group's largest competitor, Corrections Corporation of America here.

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GEO uses influence to win psychiatric contract; Advocates raise eyebrows and concerns

Via Grits' excellent post ("Geo Group secretly snagged forensic psych hospital contract in budget conference committee," July 11), we find out that the GEO Group has won a contract for a new state psychiatric hospital in Montgomery County, through it's medical subsidiary GEO Care.  

Here's how the Dallas Morning News's Emily Ramshaw ("Troubled prison firm's deal for new psychiatric hospital raises questions," July 11) starts that paper's Saturday story on the scandal,

A private prison company's history of filthy conditions, sexual abuse, suicides and riots in some of its Texas lockups isn't stopping the state from paying it $7.5 million to run a new psychiatric hospital near Houston.

Lawmakers inserted an earmark into the state budget to fund the future Montgomery County facility starting in 2011. But they said they didn't know until this week that the county had selected the GEO Group to operate it, although GEO lobbyists were pushing for it as early as February.

The new facility came as a post-session shock to mental health advocates, who acknowledge the need for it. But they say they weren't informed about it and never would have signed off if they knew Florida-based GEO was operating it.

Mental health advocates are rightly pissed off about what appears to be an allocation of money behind closed doors and without Department of State Health Services requesting the funding.  

"Why would we want to use an entity that hasn't had a stellar reputation?" asked Monica Thyssen, children's mental health policy specialist with Advocacy Inc. "If the process had been more transparent, there probably would have been other state officials who would've said, 'I don't know if GEO is the best use of state dollars.' "

GEO officials, who run more than 50 facilities in the United States, including five mental health facilities in Florida, declined to comment, saying in an e-mail that they don't discuss "specific business development efforts and/or contracts."

Grits proposes an interesting theory on why the GEO Group may have been pushing so hard for the psychiatric contract in Montgomery County:

UPDATE: A commenter points out that Montgomery County commissioners last year made a conscious decision to substantially overbuild their jail beyond current needs on the assumption that the facility, to be run by the Geo Group, would make enough profit from immigration detention to "spare taxpayers additional costs." One supposes that immigration detention is no longer paying the bills if the county and Geo are seeking to use the Montgomery County Jail for competency restoration beds! I wonder if that's the facility they're talking about? 

Clearly, if the state agency, mental health advocates, and elected officials were unaware of this contracting process, it should be reviewed.  We'll keep you posted.

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