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Private Prisons Map Update

We have recently updated our map to indicate the most up-to-date information on private prisons and detention centers in Texas.

In 2017, three privately-operated prisons were closed with the advocacy of criminal justice leaders: West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility, Bartlett State Jail, and Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.

We have also updated our list of operating companies:

Our map will continue to be updated as Immigration and Customs Enforcement solicits contracts for more detention beds in Texas, such as the Montgomery ICE Processing Center under construction to be operated by GEO Group.

Private prison stocks: the ups and downs

Stock in private prison companies has been changing a lot in the past few months, reports the Motley Fool.

Two of the nation’s largest private prison companies, the GEO Group and CoreCivic, have been experiencing a fluctuation in their stocks over the past few months. Following the announcement by the Department of Justice (DOJ) last August saying they would begin phasing out the use of private prisons, stock in those private companies dropped dramatically. It seemed that private prison companies were on the decline and would soon lose a large source of their profit.

Then Donald Trump was elected President. Running on a platform of “law and order” and an increase in immigration enforcement, his election seemed a boon to private prison companies. After the election, stock in private prison companies soared, with stock in CoreCivic increasing by 34% while the GEO Group saw an increase of 18%.

According to the Motley Fool, sentiment is changing as investors believe that the president will be ineffective in pushing policy, and the thought of his possible impeachment during his term. This has led investors to move away from private prison companies, with stock in CoreCivic dropping by about 12%. The GEO Group saw their stock drop by about 9%.

While it is hard to determine what will happen next, dropping stocks can only be a good thing as we try to move away from private prisons and the companies that operate them.

Federal prisons have fewer inmates but Justice Dept. says it still needs private prisons

Even though the federal prison population is falling, the Justice Department says private prisons are still necessary, reports the Washington Post.

Last August, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would begin to phase out the use of private prisons. Yates cited sentencing reforms and other measures that had reduced the federal prison population. Officials in the Justice Department even pointed to a recent White House budget proposal which showed a 14 percent drop in the federal prison population since 2013. If the prison population has dropped since 2013, why has Attorney General Sessions reversed the DOJ's memo phasing out private prisons?

David Fathi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, said that of the decision, "the embrace of private prisons was a purely ideological decision unconnected to any actual need.”Fathi said the Justice Department officials knew there would be an increase in the prisoner population.

"The fact that they are simultaneously acknowledging that the federal prison population is falling and saying that they need private prisons to accommodate future needs seems to me can only be explained by a plan to radically increase the federal prison population,” Fathi said. “Otherwise, those two things are just irreconcilable.”

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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.

However, with a new attorney general and an increase in raids against undocumented immigrants, private prison companies stocks have increased as President Trump looks to expand detention centers around the country. Some groups however, view the policy reversal as suspicious. According to the Intercept, the GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S., made two large contributions to Trump's Presidential campaign. CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) donated $250,000 to Trump's campaign.

Grassroots Leadership’s Executive Director Bob Libal in a statement cited Sessions’ announcement as yet another act by the Trump administration that undermines criminal justice reforms and civil rights for incarcerated people. “This administration appears to be more interested in lining the coffers of its friends at private prison corporations than promoting common sense policies that would reduce the incarcerated population and close troubled prisons,” Libal said.

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.

 

Attorney Virginia Raymond, who employs Rossi as a paralegal, agrees. “It’s straight-up interference with access to counsel. It’s an intimidation tactic.”

 

The story begins in October 2014, when, Raymond submitted a security clearance application for Rossi which was approved by ICE. From then on, Rossi says she faxed the required intent-to-visit notices to Karnes, 24 hours in advance to any future visit to the facility.

 

Then, on January 15, Rossi arrived at the Karnes facility where officers stopped her from entering and questioned her about the purpose of her visit.

 

ICE officials told Raymond that there had been a clerical error on Rossi’s initial application and that Rossi only had permission to work in the facility as an interpreter, not as a paralegal.

 

Rossi and Raymond decided to reapply for paralegal access.

 

After completing a lengthy re-application for clearance process, Rossi and Raymond were denied once again on March 23. This time, the letter received from ICE gave no reason except that Rossi could not enter, “in the capacity of a paralegal.”

 

Rossi’s article for The Observer was published in February and, described her experience working at the Karnes family detention center:

We’d driven to Karnes because a family we represent—Reza and her daughters, Julie and Dalia (not their real names)—was scheduled to be released that night. Though a judge had set their bond impossibly high—impossible, that is, for an impoverished Honduran woman—we’d cobbled together the funds from individual donations and the San Antonio-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. An $8,000 money order had been deposited at an ICE office in San Antonio that morning. Now it was 3 p.m.; if everything went smoothly, Reza, Julie and Dalia would be free by nightfall.

Growing up, I always heard that immigrants came to this country “in search of better lives,” for “more opportunities.” They wanted to make money and to educate their kids, I was told. But the people in Karnes are scared. They’re running from something. And they’re not running just to the United States. According to the U.N., asylum applications to countries surrounding violence-torn El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala increased by 712 percent between 2008 and 2013. What happened on the U.S. border last summer was not, as some have said, an immigration crisis. It was a refugee crisis.

I could understand Virginia’s urge to see Reza. Karnes seemed like the sort of place where things could go wrong. Phones weren’t allowed past the metal detectors. There is no Internet access inside, and all the walkways and buzzers and antechambers separating the receptionist’s desk from the visiting area meant that communication with the outside world was difficult.

The Karnes detention center was at the center of two hunger strikes this month. In the first, 78 women refused to eat or use any services in the facility from March 31 to April 4. Ten days later, 10 women restarted the fast to protest their detention.

 

This isn’t the first time that ICE has been accused to retaliating against legal service providers. Raymond also told truth-out.org that another paralegal, RAICES' Johana De Leon, was banned from working inside Karnes after ICE accused her of organizing the hunger strike.

 

The Karnes facility holds 532 beds and cribs for refugee women and children and is operated by GEO Group.

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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. 

A Louisiana based company, LCS, while small in comparison, is no stranger to GEO-sized gaffes and scandals. LCS has a long history of not taking proper care of the people in their facilities, racking up a number of wrongful death and corruption suits. Most recently, a former LCS warden was indicted for attempting to bribe a Justice of the Peace in Texas.

The acquisition will expand GEO Group's reach in Texas, where LCS Corrections currently operates the Brooks County Detention Center, the East Hildago Detention Center, and the Coastal Bend Detention Center. 

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:

"I think that if they try to explore some other options, as the police chief mentioned, there's a lot of information about the other groups that we will gladly provide them. All these companies have awful track records."

We'll keep you updated on developments from McAllen.

 

 

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.

Audits and evaluations available for some facilities, such as the Dawson State Jail.  Larger files, like the contract for Reeves County Detention Complex, are split into two parts.  Many federal facilities are under multiple agreements between a county, a federal agency, and a company; check out Newton County Correctional Facility and IAH (Polk) Secure Adult Detention Facility for some examples.

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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."

The Austin protest is part of a state-wide day of action that includes protests by Students United for the Dream Act in San Antonio and a protest of the 287(g) immigration enforcement program and the private prison industry in Houston.   Here is a list of times and locations:

Austin: 3:30-4:30pm, Wells Fargo, Guadalupe & 24th

San Antonio: 3:00-5:00pm 423 N New Braunfels Ave. 78202

Houston: 12:00-1:00pm Wells Fargo, Louisiana & Lamar St

An event is also being organized in Dallas later in the week, I'm told.  The protests are part of a national prison divesment campaign launched last year.  We'll post some pictures of the protests later in the week.

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