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Private Prisons

New DOJ Attorney General Sessions reverses policy on private prisons

The Department of Justice's new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has issued a new memo rescinding last summer's decision to phase out the use of private prisons. According to Rewire, Sessions instructed the Bureau of Prisons on Thursday to once again rely on private prisons.

Last August, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a memo saying that the BOP would begin phasing out the use of private prisons and would not renew any contracts that were being reviewed. This statement followed a review by the Department of Homeland Security into the conditions of private prisons and whether they were still productive or necessary. Following the announcement, stocks in private prison companies dropped dramatically.

The State of Private Prisons: Where does Texas stand?

In September 2015, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released their annual analysis of our nation's prison population, Prisoners in 2014In addition to providing data on total state and federal U.S. prison populations, the report also shows the number of prisoners held in private prisons and local jails by jurisdiction.

So, how does Texas compare to other states when it comes to private prisons?

Texas ranked #1 in the nation for the highest total number of prisoners in private, for-profit prisons by far at 14,368 — roughly 2,000 more than the runner up, Florida.

The report also found that Texas locks up nearly 9% of its total prison population in private prisons. 

Paralegal says ICE banned her from Karnes County Detention Center over Texas Observer article

A letter banning Victoria Rossi from entering Karnes as a paralegal.
A letter banning Victoria Rossi from entering Karnes as a paralegal.

An Austin-based attorney and paralegal team claims that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has banned the paralegal from entering the Karnes County Residential Center after The Texas Observer published an article she wrote that was critical of the family detention center.

 

Paralegal and former Observer intern Victoria Rossi told the Observer that she thinks the timing of her banishment from working as a paralegal at the Karnes family detention center is suspicious because it comes after she published an article that detailed what she saw inside Karnes.

 

“I’m hoping it’s just a technical error, but the timing of it, I worry that it’s reactive to the article,” Rossi said.

 

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The GEO Group acquires LCS Corrections, expanding their reach in Texas

The GEO Group is set to acquire a smaller corrections corporation, LCS Corrections. The merger could cost GEO up to $350 million dollars—borrowed from their $700 million revolving line of credit—and will add eight new facilities, and 6,500 new beds to GEO’s existing 79,000 bed capacity.

GEO is looking forward to an estimated $75-80 million extra in annual revenue. On LCS's end, the deal will bail them out of nearly $302 million in debt. The deal will reportedly be finalized by the end of this February. 

No GEO for McAllen, says City Commission

Last night, the city commission of McAllen, Texas officially rejected GEO Group's bid to build a private jail. GEO, a Boca Raton, Florida-based company, was the only bidder for the private prision contract.  The proposal stated that a private company would build and operate the facility on property owned by the city.

The city of McAllen would have expanded its existing contract with the U.S. Marshals service, and the private company would in turn pay McAllen a portion of the government's daily per-inmate payment. According to city commissioner Scott Crane, the jail could have generated $3 million to $5 million annually for McAllen. 

Victor Rodriguez, the city's police chief, advised that the city reject the bid. Rodriguez added that the city could consider other options at a later date. If opened, the proposal, which came in a large FedEx box, would have been made public, which The Monitor's report ("McAllen City Commission Rejects Sole Bid for Private Jail," September 23) suggests influenced the city commission's decision. The Monitor and other entities had previously requested to see the document.  The commission voted to reject GEO's proposal without inspecting the proposal.

Opponents of the proposed contract were concerned that the facility would hold immigrants criminally proseucuted for entering the United States without papers, as well as the concept of private jails, which encourages incarceration. 

Advocacy groups attended the meeting as well, including La Union del Pueblo Entero, Proyecto Azteca, the South Texas Civil Rights Project and the Americal Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Astrid Dominguez, advocacy coordinator for the Texas ACLU, claimed:

Private prison contracts now available through Texas Prison Bid'ness

For the last few months, Texas Prison Bid’ness has been in

the process of making available private prison contracts in the state of Texas.  To find a contract, visit our map, where you can search by operating company and contracting agency or explore geographically; underneath the map you can choose to see a list of the facilities operated by a company.  

You can also use the search function on the left of our page to look for a specific facility. available contracts and other official documents for each of the private prison facilities in ourstate.   Through Texas public information laws, we’ve been able to compile contracts from nearly every state and county facility; thanks to our allies, we also have access to a number of federal contracts.  We will continue to update the site as more contracts come in.

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On Leap Day, Texas protesters to tell Wells Fargo to leap out of private prison investments

Tomorrow, I'll participate in an Austin protest at the Wells Fargo near the University of Texas as a part of a state-wide day of action urging the bank to divest from private prison corporations GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.  Here's a description of the event:

"On this Leap Day, a coalition of immigrant rights, human rights, faith, and student organizations will hold a protest at Wells Fargo on 24th and Guadalupe in Austin in conjunction with a statewide day of action calling on Wells Fargo to divest its holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.  The private prison industry profits greatly from the detention of immigrants.  More than 33,000 immigrants are detained every day in the United States, destroying families and costing taxpayers more than $1.7 billion this year.

According to SEC filings, Wells Fargo currently holds over 4 million shares in GEO Group and 50,000 shares in Corrections Corporation of America, with a combined value of $120 million.  GEO and CCA are the world’s two largest private prison corporations. Wells Fargo, a recipient of billions of bailout dollars, is a major contributor to politicians who have championed the increased incarceration of immigrants. The protest will call on Wells Fargo to invest in our communities and divest from the private prison industry."

Austin protestors target Wells Fargo private prison investments

On Tuesday, I participated in an Austin protest against Wells Fargo's holdings in private prison corporations GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.  The coalition of immigrant rights groups (including Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families) called on Wells Fargo to divest of their holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.

Nearly half of the more than 33,000 immigration detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations, and the detention system will cost taxpayers more than $1.7 billion this year. Benefiting from this practice are companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, as well a companies like Wells Fargo, that have invested in the growth of the private prison industry.

The Sentencing Project Publishes New Report on Private Prisons

The Sentencing Project* recently published a new report on private prisons titled, Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America authored by Cody Mason.  The publication details the history of private prisons in America and documents the increase in their use.  The major findings include:

  • Texas prisoners in private facilities grew by 55% from 1999 thru 2010.
  • From 1999 to 2010 the use of private prisons increased by 40% at the state level and by 784% in the federal system.
  • In 2010 seven states housed more than 25% of their prison population in private facilities. 
  • Savings associated with investing in private prisons appear dubious.
Mason provides an overview of recent studies on prison privatization and charts state-by-state changes in private prison populations as well as changes at the federal level.  Worth a look when you get the chance.
 
* The author of this blog post is employed by The Sentencing Project where she works as the State Advocacy Coordinator.  She provided editorial assistance in the publication of Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America.

Grayson County's Decision to Privatize Goes to Public Vote

Last Monday, Grayson County commissioners came to the decision that they will put the hotly debated subject of whether to build a new jail or renovate the existing downtown jail to a vote by the people. The motion calling for a vote by the people passed with a four to one margin. Commissioner Short voted against the motion because he felt the "wording was too loose," and he "had little time to look over related documents" ("$34 Million Bond to Build or Renovate Grayson County Jail Will Go Before Voters;" KTEN).

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