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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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Grasping at straws, Littlefield prison seeks California prisoner contract?

We've covered the plight of the abandoned Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield for many years.  The facility — originally operated by private prison corporation GEO Group — jumped into the media in 2008 after an Idaho prisoner housed at the West Texas facility committed suicide after reportedly spending more than a year in solitary confinement and a subsequent investigation led Idaho to pull its prisoners from the facility.  

GEO Group then abandoned the facility, leaving the city of Littlefield holding the hefty debt that it had floated the constructed the facility in the first place.  The situation got so bad that the city attempted to auction off the facility — omplete with a fast-talking auctioneer — but the sale eventually fell through.

The city has subsequently tried several interim private operators and attempted to win contracts from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a county in New Mexico, and as recently as last week to detain refugee children apprehended on the border. 

Now comes news that Littlefield may be shopping the facility to a private company from California to incarcerate people convicted of sex crimes in the facility.  According to KCDB ("Littlefield considers bid to house sex offenders in vacant prison," August 4th):

"City Manager Mike Arismendez said that the city was contacted by a California company working to secure a bid to house sex offenders in Texas and the company wants to use the Littlefield prison.

Last month, Arismendez began speaking with authorities about possibly housing illegal immigrants at the vacant prison and Arismendez said that the new bid doesn't mean that talks to house immigrants are over.

But, he said only one group will be housed at the prison. 'I'm kind of pushing all these balls up the hill and whichever ball gets to the top is the one we're probably looking at,' Arismendez said."

It's unclear from the article whether the City is attempting to win a contract from the state of Texas or the state of California to incarcerate people convicted of sex offenses, but it would seem unlikely that Texas is seeking additional prison capacity given its move to close two private prisons last legislative session.  California, however, ships nearly 9,000 prisoners to out-of-state private prisons — all of which are operated by Corrections Corporation of America.  The practice has been widely denounced as bad for prisoner rehabilitation and reentry practices, including by Grassroots Leadership, my organization, in a report last year.   

We'll keep you updated on developments from Littlefield.

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.

Curry County, NM Looking to Send Prisoners Shuttered Littlefield Jail?

Curry County, New Mexico

is looking at sending 200 incarcerated people to a currently empty jail in Littlefield, Texas, according to Littlefield City Manager Mike Arismendez  ("Littlefield City Manager Says Jail Proposal Would Save County Almost $2 million per year," October 15, 2013).  

According to the article, Curry County Commissioners are currently searching for ways to alleviate their overcrowding problem. County commissioners have not yet reached a decision regarding the proposed contract, which was suggested by Arismendez. According to Arismendez, WestCare, a private company, has agreed to contract with Littlefield to operate the facility.  It remains unclear what kind of record WestCare has in the corrections field as it doesn't appear that they currently operate any corrections facilities.  

To finalize the deal, Curry County would have to enter into a contract with Littlefield. That contract, with $42 alloted for each prisoner per day, would cost Curry County $3 million annually. The county's current budget for its adult detention facility is $5 million, according the article. The county jail's average population is between 240 to 260 people, according to Captain Keith Farkas, a command staff member at the facility.

Arismendez also claimed that Littlefield would house prisoners convicted of violent offenses, as well as those who might need to be placed in administrative segregation for any reason, including those with mental health concerns. Transportation of individuals from Curry County to Littlefield, according to him, will take place roughly twice a week.

Littlefield's Bill Clayton Detention Center, build in 2000, was originally a state prison for juveniles, but the Texas legislature decided to remove juveniles from the facility in 2003. A for-profit company operated the facility until 2009, housing adults during that time. The facility closed in 2009 after the company lost contracts in both Idaho and Wyoming.  

The Bill Clayton Detention Center's history has been troubled at best. Randal McCullough, 37, committed suicide at Bill Clayton after nearly year in solitary confimenent. Soon after, the Idaho Department of Corrections cancelled its contract with the GEO Group and removed its prisoners from Bill Clayton. 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. In 2011, the building was up for auction

Despite Bill Clayton's less than pristine track record, however, that the facility may be up and running again soon. As my colleague Holly Kirby wrote in September regarding the pending deal between Curry County and Littlefield

Since Littlefiend's disaster with GEO Group, the city has been stuck with an empty 372-bed jail and a $65,000 monthly bill to pay for it. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that Littlefield officials are eager to reach an agreement that would fill those beds and minimize that debt. However, a deal that would allow Curry County, New Mexico prisoners to be housed in Littlefield. TX-though it may appear to some as a "win-win"-is troubling. 

We'll keep you posted on developments from Littlefield as they come about. 

Burnt Orange Report covers Littlefield private jail debacle

Former Texas Prison Bid'ness blogger Nick Hudson has a new post

over at the Burnt Orange Report ("For-Profit Lock-Up Leaves Littlefield Taxpayers With Texas-sized Headache," February 8) on the Bill Clayton Detention Center.  Here's an excerpt from Nick's piece:

"For the past three years, the small West Texas town of Littlefield has had to come up with $65,000 a month to service a loan on an empty prison it never needed. To avoid defaulting on its prison loan, Littlefield has laid off workers, cut every department's budget, raised property taxes, increased fees, raided its municipal sewer and water fund, and even delayed its purchase of a new police car.

With just 6,507 residents during the 2000 census, Littlefield did not need a new prison. The city's elected officials decided to build one anyways. Littlefield issued $10 million in revenue bonds for construction of a 310-bed for-profit detention center as part of the city's economic development strategy in 1999. Revenue bonds are a special type of municipal bond that do not require voter approval, because they are backed by the expected revenue a project will generate. Littlefield's politicians built the prison believing it would pay for itself, pump money into the local economy, and expand job opportunity.

As a result of this experience, Littlefield's bond rating was downgraded to junk status, and Littlefield taxpayers were saddled with millions in debt after discovery of mismanagement by for-profit prison operator Geo Group led the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) to terminate its contract and remove its prisoners in 2009. When IDOC cancelled its contract, Geo Group bailed on Littlefield by terminating its contract and laying off 74 workers."

Here's hoping that Nick continues to blog on these topics at BOR.  Nick even rounds out the post with a Molly Ivins quote that inspired this blog's name:

"You get nightmare public policy consequences, as well. What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons. The result is even more idiocy, like the three-strikes law and long terms for small-time drug possession."

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Bill Clayton Detention Center sale falls through

I've been covering this story over at the Grassroots Leadership blog. Last month, Williams & Williams Worldwide Real Estate Auction thought they had sold the Bill Clayton Detention Center - formerly operated by the GEO Group - for $6 million to an anonymous online buyer.  You can watch the auction, where prisoners are referred to as “product,” here.

Now, the City of Littlefield has announced that the buyer has backed out the deal.  According to a story yesterday at KCDB.com (“Littlefield Detention Center bid falls through,” September 16, 2011):

“The private buyer made the offer via telephone during the July auction.  Thirty days after the bid, the contract on the property was supposed to close.  However, the City received word that the deal had fallen through.

‘It didn’t happen and the reason it didn’t happen was because the person who put in the highest bid basically backed out on their bid and kind of put us in a tailspin,’ City Manager Danny Davis said.

After years of mismanagement and broken contracts, the $11 million dollar detention center sat vacant. The city was left to foot the bill, still owing more than $9 million on the property.  The city was certain the bid of $6 million would help close the gap on their debt.  The news of the bidder’s change of heart is frustrating for Davis.”

As we've written about in the past, Littlefield has been paying back loans it floated to build the prison facility before its closure in 2008. That year, the state of Idaho pulled its prisoners from the facility, then operated by GEO Group, after the suicide of Randall McCullough, who, according to news reports, had spent more than a year in solitary confinement. GEO was later hit with a massive lawsuit over in the McCullough case.

Since the facility's closure, Littlefield has had its bond ratings dropped and turned to two different private prison companies in an effort to fill the prison beds.  One has to wonder why, given this history, a different owner would be more successful in turning this "turn-key detention center" into a financial success. 

We'll keep covering this story as more details emerge.

Trouble private prison featured in NPR story put on auction block

Littlefield's troubled Bill Clayton Detention Center in west Texas, featured last month in an NPR expose about the problems with speculative private prison building, is now, literally, on the auction block

According to a press release this morning on Business Wire ("Williams & Williams to Auction Medium Security Detention Center in Littlefield, TX On July 28th," June 7)

A unique opportunity to acquire a turn-key medium security detention center will be offered when Williams & Williams Marketing Services, Inc. auctions the Littlefield, TX-based Bill Clayton Detention Center on July 28th at 11 am CDT. Offered in cooperation with Coldwell Banker Commercial Rick Canup Realtors, the property will sell to the highest bidder above the opening bid of $5,000,000. Interested buyers can bid on site or live from anywhere via www.auctionnetwork.com.

However, buyers may be wary of such a purchase. Littlefield has been paying back loans it floated to build the prison facility before its closure in 2008. That year, the state of Idaho pulled its prisoners from the facility, then operated by GEO Group, after the suicide of Randall McCullough, who, according to news reports, had spent more than a year in solitary confinement. GEO was later hit with a massive lawsuit over in the McCullough case.

Since the facility's closure, Littlefield has had its bond ratings dropped and turned to two different private prison companies in an effort to fill the prison beds.  One has to wonder why, given this history, a different owner would be more successful in turning this "turn-key detention center" into a financial success.

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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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