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Private prison is up for sale

Reeves County is thinking of selling their detention center, News West 9 reports.

 

Reeves County announced at the end of May that they would be permanently shutting down two corrections units as a part of the the Reeves County Detention Center complex operated by private prison corporation GEO Group, following the loss of a contract with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The county was negotiating with the BOP to keep a third unit open for another year as they transfer prisoners to other facilities. The negotiations were unsuccessful for the county however, and now the third unit will be closed.

 

County officials are now looking at all available options for the facility, including selling it. The county has received two bids for the facility so far. One was under the estimated price of the facility, and commissioners stated the other was more of a lay away plan. Neither bid was accepted, and the county is now getting an appraisal of the facility before it opening it up to other bids.

 

If Reeves County is looking to profit from their detention centers, they may think again. The closing of the Bartlett State Jail has potential to save the city thousands of dollars a year, while the city of Eden is looking to diversify their economy following the closing of their private prison. Reeves County would do well to invest in long-term solutions, and not prisons that can close at the drop of a hat.

Reeves County is in negotiations to keep a private prison open

Reeves County is negotiating with the Bureau of Prisons to how they can keep one unit of the Reeves County Detention Center open, reports CBS 7.

 Last week, Reeves County announced the closing of two units of the Reeves County Detention Center. The closures follow the loss of a contract the county had with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to detain prisoners. The contract instead went to the GEO Group's Big Spring unit.

 County officials, including the county judge, commissioners, attorneys, and even financial advisors, are working to keep the last remaining unit open. Commissioners voted on Monday to move forward with using the GEO Group to help the county negotiate a bridge contract with the BOP. This would allow the facility to remain open for one year as prisoners are transferred to other facilities.

 Commissioner Paul Hinojos said the county could sell the facility if the bridge contract is not agreed upon. Another option would be to transfer prisoners from other states and government agencies. Hinojos hopes to keep the facility open for another year, afterwhich they will bid on other contracts to fill R1 and R2 (the two closing units).

 

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Two Reeves County Detention units to close down indefinitely

The Reeves County Detention is closing two of its units indefinitely, reports CBS 7.

 County Judge W.J. Bang stated in a release that Unit 1 and Unit 2 of the detention center will be closed after July 31. They will close following the loss of a contract with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The contract, which was for 3,600 prisoners, was instead awarded to the GEO Group at their Big Spring units.

 There is a possibility that Unit 3 of the detention center could remain open for another year, as the county and BOP negotiate a bridge contract that would allow time for relocating prisoners.

 Over the years, the Reeves County Detention Center has been plagued by numerous prisoner deaths, riots, and other issues such as denying attorneys access and using solitary confinement to retaliate against prisoners. Most recently, the detention center canceled visiting hours after placing the facility on "precautionary lockdown."

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"A Death in Texas": More excellent coverage of immigrant detention complex from Tom Barry

Tom Barry continues his excellent coverage of the growing system of private prisons detaining immigrants for ICE, the U.S. Marshals, and the federal prison system in a new article in the Boston Review ("A Death in Texas: Profits, Poverty, and Immigration Converge," November/December 2009) online this week. 

Barry, whose excellent blogging over at the Border Lines Blog, has covered the growing immigrant detention industrial complex in the context of the mess that is the Reeves County Detention Center out in Pecos.  In this new article, Barry takes a comprehensive look at the policies and poverty that have driven poor rural Texas towns into the prison industry, and what some of the disasterous results have been.  Here's a brief sample:

Debbie Thomas, curator of the West of the Pecos Museum (commonly known as the cowboy museum), sighs when asked about the town’s only steady business over the past two decades. “Well, we don’t want to be known as a prison town, but it’s better than being a ghost town,” she says. Pecos was once a busy crossroads and hub of industry. Today, the downtown is dead.  In 1985 Reeves County became the first of a few dozen Texas counties to get into the speculative prison business, when Judge Jimmy Galindo (no relation to Jesus Manuel Galindo) persuaded the County Commissioners Court to take a bold step for Pecos’s economic future. At the time, Judge Galindo and other county leaders argued that Pecos could cash in on the surge in incarceration rates that accompanied the war on drugs. Years later, for the prison’s two expansions, the county and the private operators would rely on the federal government to send them immigrant inmates.

Indeed, immigrant detention has been central to the growth of the “privates” for more than two decades. The Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) 1983 decision to outsource immigrant detention to the newly established Corrections Corporation of America gave birth to the private-prison industry; GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) got its start imprisoning immigrants in the late 1980s.

While the nation’s nonimmigrant prison population has recently leveled off, the number of immigrants in ICE (formerly INS) detention has increased fivefold since the mid-1990s, and continues year after year to reach record highs. Assuming current trends hold, ICE will detain more than 400,000 immigrants in 2009.
The federal government’s escalating demand for immigrant prison beds saved CCA and other privates that had overbuilt speculative prisons. Over the past eight years, the prison giants CCA ($1.6 billion in annual revenue) and GEO Group ($1.1 billion) have racked up record profits, with jumps in revenue and profits roughly paralleling the rising numbers of detained immigrants.

The full article is certainly worth the time to read.  See it here, and check out Barry's other excellent work at Border Lines Blog.

25 GEO Prisoners Indicted for December Riot

The title says it all.  From the KWES ("25 Inmates Indicted in Connection to RCDC’s First Riot"),

The U.S. District Court in Pecos has released documents showing 25 inmates at the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) were indicted for their part in the first riot at the prison.

The federal grand jury documents show those inmates conspired to cause the riot that broke out December 12th at RCDC buildings one and two.

Those inmates set fire to several buildings and held two workers there against their will for hours.

At the time, inmates said they were rioting because they wanted better healthcare and asked to speak with the Mexican consulate.

A second riot broke out about a month later on January 31st and lasted several days.

Both uprisings did millions of dollars in damage to the private prison near Pecos.

Of course, this story raise the real question - who at the GEO Group or Reeves County will be held accountable for creating the conditions that led this riot?  Prison riots don't just happen; they are a response to poor conditions and poor security, two things that seem to be increasingly endemic to the GEO Group's Texas operations. 

See our previous coverage of the Reeves County Detention Center: 

Another Death at GEO's RCDC,  March 27, 2009

GEO Riots Could Cost Reeves County More than $1 Million, February 27, 2009

Family Members Protest GEO Group in Reeves County, February 14, 2009

Reeves County Denies Access to GEO Prison to Attorney Juan Guerra, February 12, 2009

Reeves County Detention Center on Fire Again, February 6, 2009

Second Riot in Two Months Leaves Injuries, Significant Damage, February 4, 2008

Riots and Mysterious Deaths at GEO's Reeves County facility, December 22, 2008

Another Death at GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center

The GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center was home to another prisoner death.  According to a story on KRGV ("Valley family speaks out about relative's death in Pecos prison," March 20), Jose Manuel Falcon died while in custody at Reeves earlier this month.

A Rio Grande Valley family continues to search for justice after their nephew died while serving time in a private West Texas prison.

Jose Manuel Falcon was two months shy of his release from the Pecos prison when he died. The 32-year-old died Thursday, March 12, at the Reeve County Detention Center.

Falcon spent five years there. Family members called it a harsh sentence for being caught illegally in the U.S. without papers.

A GEO Group statement has confirmed Falcon's death, and claimed that he died of suicide, though the Texas Rangers have not reached a conclusion, according to KRGV ("Pecos Prison Death," March 20),

A spokesman for the GEO Group, a private prison company that runs the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos released a statement to NEWSCHANNEL 5.

The statement reads: On March 5, 2009, at approximately 6:40PM, inmate Jose Manuel Falcon took his life by self inflicting numerous lacerations with a disposable razor blade. At the time of the incident the inmate was in a single cell and there is no evidence of foul play. In accordance with state law, the custodial death of inmate falcon was investigated by the Texas Rangers and it has been determined through the investigation that the death was suicide.

A Texas Rangers spokesperson tells NEWSCHANNEL 5 they still consider Falcon's death an open case.

Falcon's family was not convinced, saying that they believe that he was murdered in the facility.  Attorney Juan Angel Guerra, who is representing many of the detainees at Reeves agrees, according to a report at KRGV ("Family Says Son Murdered In Prison," March 19th).  

Thirty-two-year-old Jose Manuel Falcon died last Thursday at the Reeve County Detention Center in Pecos. The prison promises a report on the official cause of death by this Thursday. His mother and Attorney Juan Guerra say they're positive he was murdered behind bars.

Santos Aguallo says the prison officials told the family he committed suicide. But she says it doesn't make sense, since he was just two months away from being released.  Attorney Juan Guerra was outside the prison in Pecos protesting what he calls dangerous conditions at the privately-run facility at the time of the death. He says from what he saw, Jose Manuel Falcon died a violent death.

"It's very obvious he has defensive wounds. As a prosecutor, you look at his hands and he has, where he was defending himself, so this was not a suicide. This was a murder. Someone killed him inside," Guerra claims. 

Whether Falcon died of suicide or a murder, it is not a good sign for the troubled facility.  A protest of family members is being planned for this Saturday, March 28th, at 10am in front of the prison.  In addition, see Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Jail Project's press release with recommendations that include:

  1. An investigation into conditions at the facility by the U.S. Department of Justice;
  2. Allowing the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to inspect the facility;
  3. Transparency and accountability during the investigation process;
  4. Visitation access for attorneys, family members of prisoners, and human rights organizations

We'll keep you posted on developments from Reeves County.  In the meantime, see our previous coverage of the facility:

GEO Riots Could Cost Reeves County More than $1 Million, February 27, 2009

Family Members Protest GEO Group in Reeves County, February 14, 2009

Reeves County Denies Access to GEO Prison to Attorney Juan Guerra, February 12, 2009

Reeves County Detention Center on Fire Again, February 6, 2009

Second Riot in Two Months Leaves Injuries, Significant Damage, February 4, 2008

Riots and Mysterious Deaths at GEO's Reeves County facility, December 22, 2008

 

 

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GEO Prisoner Riots Could Cost Reeves County More Than $1 Million

The two riots in past two months at the GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center that have injured inmates, resulted in guards being taken hostage, and destroyed much of the the facility were apparently sparked by lack of medical care at the facility and several inmate deaths. Now, the county may be on the hook for over $1 million in repairs to the prison, according to an article for KRISTV.com ("West Texas prison riots cost county $1.1 million),

A pair of destructive prison riots in the span of two months at a county-owned but privately managed West Texas prison have cost more than $1.1 million in repairs, according to Reeves County records.

The Reeves County Commission unanimously approved more than $948,000 in repair bills from the riots during a regular meeting Monday and previously OK'd about $320,000 in repair costs.

Reeves County Judge Sam Contreras said it may be some time before officials know the total cost of the riots. The first incident was sparked by an inmate's death in December, and the second incident erupted Jan. 31. But insurance officials have estimated its repairs could exceed $20 million, Contreras said.

"They said we won't know until all the bids come in," Contreras said Wednesday.

In the latest incident, which relatives of inmates said was sparked by poor medical care and other conditions inside the sprawling prison complex, inmates caused widespread damages, even setting fire to one building.

Contreras said two recreation buildings suffered substantial damage in the second riot and one may be demolished.

The Reeves County Detention Center is owned by the county, but Boca Raton, Fla.-based GEO Group Inc., manages the facility that houses about 3,000 federal criminal immigrant inmates. The American Civil Liberties Union has called for a federal probe of the compound.

In fact, no state agency can enter the facility to inspect it. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the agency which until the passage of HB 3517 in 2003 had oversight of county-owned facilities holding federal prisoners, is charged with helping counties avoid liability problems. Adan Muñoz, the head of TCJS, expressed support for reversing 3517 at Monday's meeting of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice. As Nick posted last week,

Expanding TCJS to additional county-owned facilities like Reeves would force the affected prisons to meet basic minimum standards set for other county-owned jails in Texas, positively impacting public safety by decreasing riots and hopefully eliminating hostage situations, and better protecting guards
by forcing observation of a 48-1 inmate-staff ratio. It would also insulate Reeves County from some of the liability for problems at the facility.

It would also hopefully eliminate some of the atrocious conditions we continue to hear from families with loved ones detained at places like Reeves. For background information on the Reeves situation, see our previous coverage:

Family Members Protest GEO Group in Reeves County, February 14, 2009

Reeves County Denies Access to GEO Prison to Attorney Juan Guerra, February 12, 2009

Reeves County Detention Center on Fire Again, February 6, 2009

Second Riot in Two Months Leaves Injuries, Significant Damage, February 4, 2008

Riots and Mysterious Deaths at GEO's Reeves County facility, December 22, 2008

Sunset Recommendations for TCJS

As the 81st Regular Session swings into gear, legislators will consider statutory changes to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) recommended by the Texas Sunset Advisory Committee. Bob submitted Grassroots Leadership's recommendations to Sunset last August, and the Commission adopted the recommendation that TCJS should receive better funding and more staff. Recommendations for TCJS, revealed in the Sunset Commission's January report, seek to improve operations at TCJS and make the agency run more effectively.

These are most of the Sunset Commission's recommendations for TCJS:

  1. Increase funding for TCJS, specifically for technical assistance, inspection staff, and training programs for guards, including training on mental health and physical health issues.
  2. Require TCJS to develop a list of risk factors affecting jails, such as a jail’s compliance history, population figures, complaints, escapes, recent turnover among sheriff s and jail staff, and to use those factors to determine the overall risk level of each jail under its jurisdiction.
  3. Require TCJS to use identified risk factors to guide the allocation of agency resources, so that the agency's 248 jails aren't necessarily divided among four inspectors. Instead, inspector assignments, travel schedules, and use of technical assistance and training would be set according to a TCJS risk assessment plan that includes each facility's risk level.
  4. Require the agency to increase its use of unannounced inspections, and to target unannounced inspections towards facilities with elevated risk factors.
  5. Require the agency to disseminate best practices
  6. Require the agency to better use technology, like email list-serves, electronic newsletters, and its existing website to disseminate valuable information, such as updates in case law, best practices, and notes from Commission meetings that would be valuable
  7. Require the Commission to develop clear, regularly updated internal policies and procedures, so staff understand their unique job responsibilities
  8. Require the Commission to develop complaint procedures, track and analyze complaints, and provide better information about how to file a complaint.
  9. Require the Commission to provide the public with easily accessible information on the compliance status of jails, through newsletters, the agency's website, or press releases
TCJS oversees all of the county and municipal jails in the state with just four inspectors, and the agency is miraculously able to inspect each of the 248 jail facilities every fourteen months. If you don't read the report (you should; it's a quick read), take some time to absorb these other impressive numbers relayed be the Sunset Staff:
"The Commission inspects each jail on an annual basis to determine compliance with standards. An inspection lasts between one day and a week or more, depending on the size of the facility. In fiscal year 2008, the agency completed 350 inspections, including 250 annual inspections, 85 repeat inspections, and 15 special inspections. Thirty-six percent, or 91, of the annual inspections were unannounced." pg. 38

"In fiscal year 2008, the Commission received 1,129 complaints from inmates, family members, and others regarding jail conditions. Th e agency employs a full-time complaint investigator who receives complaints in writing, over the internet, by email, or by telephone, and conducts investigations as necessary." pg. 40
Of the 248 facilities TCJS currently oversees, 19 are private. Only one of the private facilities, Community Educational Centers' Limestone County Detention Center, was listed as noncompliant as of August 31, 2008.

We hope the legislature will consider allowing the agency to oversee other county-owned jails, like GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center. As Nicole and Bob wrote, prisoners rioted and set fires to Reeves in late December of last year and early this February to protest poor medical care and a mysterious inmate death at the facility.

Expanding TCJS to additional county-owned facilities like Reeves would force the affected prisons to meet basic minimum standards set for other county-owned jails in Texas, positively impacting public safety by decreasing riots and hopefully eliminating hostage situations, and better protecting guards by forcing observation of a 48-1 inmate-staff ratio. It would als insulate Reeves County from some of the liability for problems at the facility. 
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Family Members Protest GEO Group in Reeves County

Family members of immigrant prisoners held at the GEO Group's troubled Reeves County Detention Center protested on Thursday against conditions at the prison, according to a video post at Permian Basin 360 ("Family Members of Inmates at the Reeves County Detention Protest," February 12),

Family members started protesting outside the Pecos Courthouse early this morning. They denounced the prison’s management by chanting shut GEO down, and holding signs up.

Then, they moved their protest to the Reeves County Detention Center to see if they could get any word on their family members inside. But, it didn’t go the way they wanted. “We want GEO out completely out. We want the federal government to run our prisons,” protester Maria Reynaga said. These protesters came to Pecos on Thursday with questions. “They pay more attention to dogs in the animal shelter. How come they can't do that to our prisoners? There not animals...there prisoners...they're human beings," a protester said.

Some traveled as far as Oklahoma City to in Pecos today to be the voice outside, of the prisoners inside. "Things are pretty bad inside they have him in cells that still have odor of the smoke and everything and they have them with out clothes. They are giving them cold food," Reynaga said.

Juan Angel Guerra an attorney representing about 200 of the inmates was hired by all people protesting today. But, Guerra still hasn’t been allowed inside the prison to meet with his clients. "We are just asking them to let Juan Guerra in and so he can see our prisoners so he can bring us news about them. We are very worried about them, “Reynaga said. “This would of never happened in a government run prison or state run prison. This is what happens when a private prison like GEO is making billion of dollars," Guerra said. 

For more news from Pecos, check out Tom Barry's excellent coverage of the issue over at Border Lines Blog

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Reeves County Refuses Access to GEO Prison to Attorney Juan Guerra

Former Willacy County attorney Juan Guerra is holding a rally today in Pecos, home to the GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center, where two riots in the past two months were allegedly caused by protests of poor medical care and deaths at the facility. Guerra is representing several hundred inmates at the facility, and the rally was meant to highlight concerns of families of those prisoners, many of whom will be joining him at the prison today.

However, the Reeves County Attorney has denied access Guerra access to the troubled facility and his clients, according to an article in the Valley Morning Star ("Guerra denied access to Pecos prisoners," February 11),

County lawyers in this West Texas city have told attorney Juan Angel Guerra that he cannot meet with his clients inside a prison plagued by riots.

In a letter sent to Guerra, Willacy County's former district attorney, Reeves County officials state that his visit would be unsafe. "We are doing everything possible to meet your request," Reeves County Attorney Alva Alvarez wrote. "However, since the facility was destroyed, there is no secure place for you to meet with your clients at this time."

Before receiving notice of the county's decision, Guerra headed to the Reeves Detention Center in Pecos, which is managed by the GEO Group. Guerra said he would file a request to a federal judge to gain access to nearly 200 clients. In her letter, Alvarez said the county hopes to accommodate Guerra in the near future.

See our previous coverage of the Reeves County Detention Center:

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