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GEO hoping to keep strong ties in Montgomery County

The Houston Chronicle recently reported on some interesting developments in the Sheriff’s race in Montgomery County.

 

The county is a longtime supporter of big private prison profiteers like the GEO Group, which runs three facilities in the county — the Joe Corley Detention Center, a federal immigration detention facility and the state’s only privately run mental health hospital. In 2013, County Commissioner Mike Meador stated that the company intended to make their community a GEO hub. Considering such an intimate history, it is no surprise that the GEO Group is paying to keep things the way they are in Montgomery County.  

 

As the Republican primary approaches in March, two candidates are vying for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s seat, as there will not be a Democratic opponent. Rand Henderson is a long-time employee of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, serving under out-going Sheriff Tommy Gage, who has endorsed Henderson. His opponent, Jim Napolitano, has a background in the Secret Service and private security and is backed by Montgomery County tea party groups.

 

Henderson’s platform consists of continuing the status quo and the GEO Group has donated $5,000 to Henderson’s campaign. Interestingly, tea party groups in Montgomery County have often been vocal dissenters of private prison contracts in Montgomery County and support Napolitano. We will continue to monitor this race and its outcome.

GEO's Montgomery County facility's week without air

It has only been about two weeks since the Montgomery County scandal regarding budget shenanigans providing an under the table contract for The GEO Group to open a new psychiatric hospital to shadow the County jail. However, the jail is in the news again, this time because of reports from the counsel of R. Allen Stanford ("Stanford feels the heat in Conroe cell," Houston Chronicle, July 27):

"Lawyers for R. Allen Stanford want him moved from a private prison in Montgomery County because there's no air conditioning, and at times no lighting, in the cell he shares with up to 10 other inmates... [he] has been held at Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe since he was arrested and brought to Texas from Virginia last month. He and other Stanford executives are accused of running a multi-billion dollar fraud through an offshore bank and a Houston financial services firm. He has pleaded not guilty. Although other defendants are free on bail, a Houston federal judge ordered that Stanford remain in custody, saying he is a flight risk. In court filings, attorney Dick DeGuerin says the cell Stanford shares was without power for part of last week when temperatures topped 100 degrees and 'has been without air conditioning for at least a week. There are no windows for light or ventilation and the conditions are intolerable."

Another report claimed one of Stanford's cellmates is an elderly diabetic and another man has a heart condition, each person spending a "week in total darkness" and in the Texas heat without air conditioning (or presumably fans if the electricy is off) ("Stanford in the dark," WaToday.com.au, July 28). Additionally, local weather reports for Conroe, TX have only reported three days this month where temperatures have broken 100 degrees, so these allegations of temperatures going higher than 100 last week were most likely exaggerated. Below is the observed temperatures in Conroe for the week prior:

 Mon
7/20
Tue
7/21
Wed
7/22
 Thu
7/23
Fri
7/24
 Sat
7/25
 Sun
7/26
92
72
96
77
96
79
94
73
92
73
96
71
97
73

While the temperatures were below 100, the added factors of no electricity and high population cells would certainly add to the heat. The GEO Group did not comment on the condition of the facility, so there was no indication that the problems have been solved. Since The GEO Group plans to open a psychiatric hospital in this very same city, citizens and skeptics hope that they will fix the existing problems before creating a facility that will create more problems. 

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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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