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GEO Group remains quiet in face of criticism, but talks to investors about profits

Matt Pulle at Texas Watchdog has this follow-up from his story earlier this week on the GEO Group's connections to two Texas legislators. This time he muses on the GEO Group's silence on his story.  

In our story this week about how two Texas lawmakers have financial ties to the GEO Group, we tried to call the private prison company’s spokesperson Pablo Paez, particularly because we detailed the firm’s many troubles, including inmates’ deaths, riots and dangerous, filthy conditions. We never heard from him.

We don’t take it personally, though. Paez is apparently a man of few words.

In 2007, the Associated Press reported about the suicide of an Idaho man who was doing a stint in a GEO Group prison in Dickens County, Texas. Idaho had been sending its prisoners here to ease overcrowding in their own facilities. An Idaho corrections official referred to the particular GEO Group prison as “the worst facility he had ever seen,” and that it was beyond repair.

Paez declined to defend his company.

Within days, Idaho moved its prisoners out of Dickens County.

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25 GEO Prisoners Indicted for December Riot

The title says it all.  From the KWES ("25 Inmates Indicted in Connection to RCDC’s First Riot"),

The U.S. District Court in Pecos has released documents showing 25 inmates at the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) were indicted for their part in the first riot at the prison.

The federal grand jury documents show those inmates conspired to cause the riot that broke out December 12th at RCDC buildings one and two.

Those inmates set fire to several buildings and held two workers there against their will for hours.

At the time, inmates said they were rioting because they wanted better healthcare and asked to speak with the Mexican consulate.

A second riot broke out about a month later on January 31st and lasted several days.

Both uprisings did millions of dollars in damage to the private prison near Pecos.

Of course, this story raise the real question - who at the GEO Group or Reeves County will be held accountable for creating the conditions that led this riot?  Prison riots don't just happen; they are a response to poor conditions and poor security, two things that seem to be increasingly endemic to the GEO Group's Texas operations. 

See our previous coverage of the Reeves County Detention Center: 

Another Death at GEO's RCDC,  March 27, 2009

GEO Riots Could Cost Reeves County More than $1 Million, February 27, 2009

Family Members Protest GEO Group in Reeves County, February 14, 2009

Court Upholds $47 Million Verdict Against GEO Group in de la Rosa Murder Case

The Thirteenth District Court of Appeals has affirmed a $47.5 (update, according to the Express-News, the judgment was actually $42.5 million) $42.5 million lawsuit judgement against the GEO Group to the family of Gregorio de la Rosa.  The court found that "Wackenhut’s conduct in maliciously causing Gregorio’s death and thereafter spoliating critical evidence so offends this Court’s sense of justice that a high ratio is warranted." 

De la Rosa, who is represented by Laredo attorney Ron Rodriguez, was brutally murdered in a GEO Group (then called Wackenhut) prison in Willacy County.  The first line of the court's judgment describes the case:

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Another Death at GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center

The GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center was home to another prisoner death.  According to a story on KRGV ("Valley family speaks out about relative's death in Pecos prison," March 20), Jose Manuel Falcon died while in custody at Reeves earlier this month.

A Rio Grande Valley family continues to search for justice after their nephew died while serving time in a private West Texas prison.

Jose Manuel Falcon was two months shy of his release from the Pecos prison when he died. The 32-year-old died Thursday, March 12, at the Reeve County Detention Center.

Falcon spent five years there. Family members called it a harsh sentence for being caught illegally in the U.S. without papers.

A GEO Group statement has confirmed Falcon's death, and claimed that he died of suicide, though the Texas Rangers have not reached a conclusion, according to KRGV ("Pecos Prison Death," March 20),

A spokesman for the GEO Group, a private prison company that runs the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos released a statement to NEWSCHANNEL 5.

The statement reads: On March 5, 2009, at approximately 6:40PM, inmate Jose Manuel Falcon took his life by self inflicting numerous lacerations with a disposable razor blade. At the time of the incident the inmate was in a single cell and there is no evidence of foul play. In accordance with state law, the custodial death of inmate falcon was investigated by the Texas Rangers and it has been determined through the investigation that the death was suicide.

A Texas Rangers spokesperson tells NEWSCHANNEL 5 they still consider Falcon's death an open case.

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GEO Group's Laredo Detention Center Hit by Riot?

The GEO Group, owner of the Pecos prison that was home to two riots over the past few months, is now apparently being struck with another alleged riot at its Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo, Texas, according to a story from Pro8News, ("LPD called out to Rio Grande Detention Center," March 11th).

Laredo police are called out to the Rio Grande Detention Center for assistance after a situation with the inmates. A helicopter could be seen circling around the prison around seven this evening.

Sources say a riot may have broken out behind the detention center walls but neither representative from the Geo Group nor Laredo police could confirm those details. According to police, officers were called out to assist the situation, which was controlled after 20 minutes.

Pro 8 News tried to obtain details from the Rio Grande Detention Center but were asked to leave the premises.

The Laredo lock-up, dubbed the "superjail" by local media, was subject to much criticism before its opening.  Here's our past coverage of the controversy:

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GEO Prisoner Riots Could Cost Reeves County More Than $1 Million

The two riots in past two months at the GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center that have injured inmates, resulted in guards being taken hostage, and destroyed much of the the facility were apparently sparked by lack of medical care at the facility and several inmate deaths. Now, the county may be on the hook for over $1 million in repairs to the prison, according to an article for KRISTV.com ("West Texas prison riots cost county $1.1 million),

Family Members Protest GEO Group in Reeves County

Family members of immigrant prisoners held at the GEO Group's troubled Reeves County Detention Center protested on Thursday against conditions at the prison, according to a video post at Permian Basin 360 ("Family Members of Inmates at the Reeves County Detention Protest," February 12),

Family members started protesting outside the Pecos Courthouse early this morning. They denounced the prison’s management by chanting shut GEO down, and holding signs up.

Then, they moved their protest to the Reeves County Detention Center to see if they could get any word on their family members inside. But, it didn’t go the way they wanted. “We want GEO out completely out. We want the federal government to run our prisons,” protester Maria Reynaga said. These protesters came to Pecos on Thursday with questions. “They pay more attention to dogs in the animal shelter. How come they can't do that to our prisoners? There not animals...there prisoners...they're human beings," a protester said.

Some traveled as far as Oklahoma City to in Pecos today to be the voice outside, of the prisoners inside. "Things are pretty bad inside they have him in cells that still have odor of the smoke and everything and they have them with out clothes. They are giving them cold food," Reynaga said.

Juan Angel Guerra an attorney representing about 200 of the inmates was hired by all people protesting today. But, Guerra still hasn’t been allowed inside the prison to meet with his clients. "We are just asking them to let Juan Guerra in and so he can see our prisoners so he can bring us news about them. We are very worried about them, “Reynaga said. “This would of never happened in a government run prison or state run prison. This is what happens when a private prison like GEO is making billion of dollars," Guerra said. 

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Reeves County Refuses Access to GEO Prison to Attorney Juan Guerra

Former Willacy County attorney Juan Guerra is holding a rally today in Pecos, home to the GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center, where two riots in the past two months were allegedly caused by protests of poor medical care and deaths at the facility. Guerra is representing several hundred inmates at the facility, and the rally was meant to highlight concerns of families of those prisoners, many of whom will be joining him at the prison today.

However, the Reeves County Attorney has denied access Guerra access to the troubled facility and his clients, according to an article in the Valley Morning Star ("Guerra denied access to Pecos prisoners," February 11),

County lawyers in this West Texas city have told attorney Juan Angel Guerra that he cannot meet with his clients inside a prison plagued by riots.

In a letter sent to Guerra, Willacy County's former district attorney, Reeves County officials state that his visit would be unsafe. "We are doing everything possible to meet your request," Reeves County Attorney Alva Alvarez wrote. "However, since the facility was destroyed, there is no secure place for you to meet with your clients at this time."

Before receiving notice of the county's decision, Guerra headed to the Reeves Detention Center in Pecos, which is managed by the GEO Group. Guerra said he would file a request to a federal judge to gain access to nearly 200 clients. In her letter, Alvarez said the county hopes to accommodate Guerra in the near future.

See our previous coverage of the Reeves County Detention Center:

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Strike Averted at GEO's South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall

A strike at GEO Group's Pearsall immigrant detention center was narrowly averted this week after close vote of union members, according to an article from KRIS TV ("Strike averted at South Texas detention center," February 11),

Guards at one of the nation's largest immigrant detention facilities have approved a new labor contract rather than strike.

Union workers at the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall ratified the new deal late Wednesday that union leaders say promises improved equipment and increases the likelihood of wage increases. Chief union negotiator Howard Johannssen said the new three-year contract passed by a slight margin but declined to release the vote.

Negotiations with The GEO Group Inc. had been ongoing for months. Guards threatened to walk off the job unless a deal was reached this week, and brought about 100 picketing signs to the negotiating table.

About 1,400 detainees are being held at the South Texas facility because of their immigration status, and more than 300 workers there are union members.  A strike would have been the latest problem in Texas for GEO, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based private contractor disrupted by two recent inmate riots at a West Texas federal prison.

GEO's Reeves County Detention Center on Fire Again

The GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center caught on fire again earlier today, according to a story on KWES ("Fire out at Reeves County Detention Center," February 5).  

A fire that erupted at the Reeves County Detention Center is out, but still smoldering.

The fire started Thursday morning in a recreational facility at RCDC. It is believed the recreation facility is part of building II. NewsWest9's Victor Lopez reports that the fire is out and fire crews were still on the scene. Some smaller fires started in a yard at the prison were also out.

Prisoners started rioting at the facility this past weekend. Inmates and family members of inmates have told NewsWest9 they are demanding better healthcare. At that time, three inmates were hurt, but those injuries were described as minor.

The fire started Thursday morning in a recreational facility at RCDC. It is believed the recreation facility is part of building II. NewsWest9's Victor Lopez reports that the fire is out and fire crews were still on the scene. Some smaller fires started in a yard at the prison were also out. 

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