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prison closures

The Brownfield state prison is closing!

The state prison in Brownfield is being closed after losing funding in the state budget, reports KCBD 11.

 During the past legislative session, the Texas House and Senate passed a budget that will will result in four state prisons being closed, including the West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility (ISF) in Brownfield. Following the closing of the West Texas facility, the prisoners there will be moved to the Jim Rudd facility, which is also in Brownfield. The Rudd unit will be converted into an intermediate sanction facility. Those prisoners who are currently in the Rudd unit will be transferred to other state prisons.

 The West Texas facility was operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a Utah-based private prison company. MTC operates 13 facilities in Texas, including the notorious Willacy County Correctional City, which was destroyed in a prisoner uprising over inadequate medical care at the facility.

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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.

Grits: Texas should consider closing more (private) prisons in 2017

Grits for Breakfast had an intriguing post over the weekend on the possibility that the Texas legislature may move to close more prisons or state jails, including private facilities, when it meets again next spring.  Here's an excerpt:

"Texas famously closed three prison units in recent years. Could we close more?

After the Legislature raised property-theft thresholds to $2,500 last session, Grits expects downward prison-population trend lines to descend even further. And with legislators seriously discussing possible reductions in sentences for low-level drug possession, the possibility arises that Texas could close even more prison units in 2017, particularly so-called "state jails" (which in essence house people convicted of fourth-degree felonies, known in Texas penal-code parlance as "state jail felonies")."

Grits asked TDCJ for a list of private facilities with contracts expiring in 2017 that could be natural targets for closures.  All four facilities are operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

Grits notes that two of the three facilities TDCJ closed in recent years - the Dawson State Jail and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility - were private (and both CCA facilities as well).  Grits attributes the closure of Dawson and the Central Unit in Sugarland at least in part to development interests. While Dawson's location in prime real estate territory in downtown Dallas certainly bolstered the case for closing it, so did the preventable deaths of several women at the facility, an advocacy campaign by Grassroots Leadership, my organization, and others, and some stellar reporting by Ginger Allen at CBS 11.

Grits ends with this quote, which I couldn't agree with more:

"In an era when the United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of its prisoners, with Texas incarcerating more people by far than any other state, Grits doesn't care much which prisons the state closes, or why. I just want them to close more. We can debate later how much deincarceration is too much. Right now, we're a long way from that particular fork in the road."

Big Stories of 2013 - #1 - Closure of Dawson State Jail & Mineral Wells Pre-parole Transfer Facility

As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered by our blog.  Our number one story of the year is the state's closure of two notorious Corrections Corporation of America prisons - the Dawson State Jail and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.   

The story mirrors our biggest story of 2012, the growing momentum to close the Dawson State Jail.  State lawmakers had pushed for the closure of Dawson and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, another CCA-contract prison, arguing that the state had extra bed capacity thanks to a declining prison population.  

In August, advocacy organizations celebrated the closure of these two privately operated prisons.  Over the preceding year, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, prisoner families, correctional officers, and civil rights groups had call for the closure of Dawson.  Dallas CBS 11 reporter Ginger Allen ran a series of damning reports interviewing former Dawson prisoners and former guards at the facility.     

Dawson's history was fraught with human rights violations. As Piper Madison reported in May of this year, The Texas Civil Rights Project and and Prison Legal News filed a lawsuit against the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for witholding information regarding the deaths of several women in the facility and a premature infant whose mother's cries for help were ignored by facility staff. TCRP filed requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act to compel CCA to disclose information regarding the deaths. 

Autumn Miller, whose baby girl died four days after her birth at Dawson, filed a lawsuit against the facility "alleging cruel and unusual punishment." Miller spoke with Ginger Allen of CBS 11 in Dallas and NPR of North Texas, saying that her requests for help were ignored througout her pregnancy and, ultimately, while she was giving birth. Her daughter was born on a toilet in a holding cell. 

Ulitmately, Texas legislators reduced TDCJ's budget by the exact operating amount of Dawson and Mineral Wells, and TDCJ then closed the facilities in August.  Dallas Morning News reporter Scott Goldstein toured the facility after it closed and found some haunting messages left on the walls:

“I WANT OUT OF HERE NOW!!”

 

“Surrender to death or to life.”

 

“Don’t be afraid. Soon you will pass out of darkness.”

 

 

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Grits for Breakfast: Lege to Reinvest Money from Prison Closure into more Private Prison Beds

Following up on the state's continuing contract with the Dawson State Jail more details regarding the decisions of lawmakers to close state prisons is coming to light.  Mike Ward at the Austin American Statesman reported earlier this week that:

Senate and House budget negotiators have agreed to close the 102-year-old Central Unit near Sugar Land to save $50 million, the first such closure of an entire maximum-security lockup in state history.

Our pal Scot Henson at Grits for Breakfast found news in the recent events to be disapointing:

Savings from prison closures should go to diversion programming, not private prisons. The goal should be to reduce incarceration levels, not to plan for failure.

The reality is that lawmakers do have different choices and even setting asside $15 million of limited state funding because of the anticipated need of private prison beds.  State lawmakers have achieved some policy reform that has resulted in lowering the state's incarceration rate, reducing recidivism while not compromising public safety.  And in some respect that spirit of reform has contributed to not only a culture change in Texas but nationally.

Yet the anticipation of lowered expectations continues to plague the Texas Legislature and results in a lack of investment in communities and people.  This is disappointing.  The questions as we move forward is will there ever be a moment when Texas lawmakers who commit to finding alternatives to incarceration also plan for the day when they might not need so many prison beds.  Rather they make the choice to prioritize state resources on in ways that strengthen opportunity for all Texans.

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