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New Report Covers History of GEO's Involvement in Texas

Earlier this month, Fort Worth Weekly published an article outlining the history of The GEO Group's involvement within Texas, specifically at the Reeves County Detention Center. Our own Bob Libal was referenced multiple times in the piece for his general knowledge and participation in the protest last December in front of the company's New Braunfels headquarters. The work, by Peter Gorman, is one of the more comprehensive overviews of the relationship between Texas and The GEO Group in recent time. Below are some of the more noteworthy excerpts

...GEO also has one of the world’s worst track records in inmate care: The horror stories range from rapes to suicides to murders to deaths due to inadequate medical care. The company, which declined to respond to questions for this story, once hired a convicted sex offender as a guard in a facility for juvenile females. It’s not as if something goes wrong occasionally at GEO-run prisons — something goes terribly wrong on a regular basis at one or another of their facilities. Texas alone has twice removed all its inmates from a GEO-run facility because of deplorable conditions. And yet the company is still supported by the state and federal governments, a testimony to GEO’s deep connections and deeper pockets when it comes to lobbying expenditures.

GEO’s work in Texas, according to many observers, has been some of the company’s worst. “They have simply been horrendous,” said Bob Libal, coordinator of the Texas division of Grassroots Leadership, an organization bent on eliminating private prisons.

Reeves County complex is touted as the largest private prison in the world. A little over a year ago it was the site of two major riots, the second of which burned large areas of the complex. The inmates who did it were not killers or hardened criminals. Most were immigrants whose only crime was illegally re-entering the United States after having been deported. And they and their families said they were rioting because of medical care so poor that some of them were dying from it...

...GEO annually spends more on lobbying than any other private prison company in Texas. In 2007, at the height of the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center scandal, GEO increased its lobbying expenditures in the state tenfold, leading State Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, to tell The Dallas Morning News that the company and its lobbyists should back off from defending “a very poor facility that probably violates the youths’ civil rights.”

Among GEO’s lobbyists are Ray Allen, a former Grand Prairie legislator and longtime proponent of prison privatization, who had chaired the House Committee on Corrections, and his former chief of staff. When Reeves County threatened to default on $39 million in bonds used to build its third housing unit, the county hired DeLay’s brother Randy to go to Washington to lobby for federal prisoners to fill the new beds. Shortly thereafter, the feds came through with a contract to fill the new unit.

GEO’s lobbying efforts have aimed at keeping its prisons full — which means pushing for major immigration raids periodically if beds start to empty. But it also has worked to keep its Texas prisons from being monitored and held to the rules of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, according to Libal.

“Prior to 2003, Jail Standards would go into facilities like the one at Reeves — which is county-owned but filled with federal Bureau of Prison inmates — and inspect it. But after heavy lobbying, a bill was passed that took away that purview,” he said. So GEO’s federal prisons now are inspected only by monitors hired by the counties, which have a direct financial interest in keeping them full and profitable. “What that means is that if that monitor says things are fine, that’s what they are, even if conditions are atrocious,” Libal said. “At Reeves, they’ve always been understaffed, which has led to a number of problems. But since no one from Jail Standards can inspect the complex, that is just ignored." ("Private Prisons, Public Pain," Peter Gorman, Fort Worth Weekly, 10 March 2010)

This article is a wealth of information and you are encouraged to read the article in its entirety in order to get the full effect of the depth that this article goes in to. We would like to thank Peter Gorman and the Fort Worth Weekly for their efforts in publishing this wonderful article.

Grayson County Commissioners Discuss Hale-Mills Estimate

On Monday, the Grayson County Commissioners met for their usual Monday hearing in which they discussed their downtown Sherman jail. Last year the jail was the topic of a heated controversy revolving around whether or not the facility should be privatized.

The county eventually dropped the idea of privatization and doing anything to the facility until now. Hale-Mills, a Houston-based construction company that specializes in building jails, is no stranger to constructing facilities surrounded in controversy. Most notably, MTC's tent-based Willacy County Detention Center that has been surrounded in controversy, and Hardin, Montana's never-used Two Rivers Detention Center that left the city broke after Corplan Corrections advisers encouraged the construction of the facility based on the perceived success in Willacy County.

While Hale-Mills has nothing to do with how or if the facility is privatately managed, I find it interesting because Grayson County is in a similar position as Hardin was. From reading the minutes of yesterday's meeting, however, it seems as though Grayson County is not considering a private operator at this time, but rather remodeling the existing facility instead of constructing an entirely new private facility. Hale-Mills was present at the hearing, and presented three options to the commissioners to consider:

  1. Upgrade the existing facility and electronic control systems to bring the facility into compliance with the state Jail Commission for an estimated cost of $4.5 million dollars. 
  2. To include option one and reconfigure the sallyport, intake and processing areas by adding onto the back of the building at a cost of $9.2- $9.75 million dollars.
  3. To include options one and two and the expansion within the city block to add 337 additional beds to the existing 239 beds for a total of 576 beds at a cost of $18.5 to  $19.25 million dollars.

It appears that option three is the choice most likely to be presented in the form of a bond vote to Grayson County citizens, according to a report by local Sherman news. Let's hope that if this option does go to a vote it will be more comprehensive than their last attempt and that it will not leave room for a private operator. We will keep you informed of any official decisions made by Grayson County commissioners.

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Breakout at CEC's Kinney County Detention Center

On October 23rd, an inmate escaped from Community Education Centers' (CEC) Kinney County Detention Center in Brackettville, TX. The inmate, Manuel Guardiola, is an alleged member of the Mexican Mafia who bribed the facility's guards in order to escape. With Brackettville's location about 30 miles from the Mexican border, it is assumed that the inmate, still at large, has returned back to Mexico ("Mexican Mafia soldier escapes from Texas jail," October 26, 2009, Examiner). Shortly after the escape, the warden of the facility, Mickey Hubert, resigned from his position on November 2nd. Additionally, CEC closed down the facility temporarily with no word on if or when they plan to re-open, leaving all employees (even the ones not involved with the bribery) without work. The U.S. Marshals moved the remaining inmates who were left behind to other nearby facilities. 

This incident was the second major problem for the Kinney County Detention Center under the watch of Hubert. In late December of last year, inmates refused to return to their cell and set fire to mattresses, causing a riot and requiring multiple state resources to quell the outbreak. Adan Muñoz, Director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, told me that the guards who work at the facility are not gang members of the syndicate. This fact rules out the possibility of the guards colluding with the inmates in either the riot or the escape and points more to the incompetence of those particular CEC employees at Kinney County Detention Center involved with the bribery. This is not surprising, considering the general lack of labor benefits received as a private prison employee, that one would be quick to accept a bribe in times of economic hardship. However, the actions taken by the guards involved with this breakout are reprehensible.

Read more about the Kinney County Detention Center and CEC here:

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Robstown's Coastal Bend Detention Center Fails Inspection

On Monday, an announcement surfaced regarding a recent failed inspection of the Coastal Bend Detention Center. Prison company LCS Corrections owns and operates the facility and contracts with the U.S. Marshals, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Border Patrol in order to maintain their largely immigrant inmate population.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) director Adan Muñoz explained,"I have to bring any remedial order before the [jail] commission, but this borders really close to complete incompetence" ("Robstown Prison Fails Inspection," Corpus Christi Caller-Times, September 21, 2009).

The inspection revealed a total of 17 compliance issues:

1. Inmate toilet and shower areas have insufficient privacy shields.

2. Jailers are not being trained properly for fire drills.

3. Jailers are not being trained properly in the use of air packs.

4. No documentation outlining generator testing or the transfer of the facility’s electric load at least once a month.

5. Inmates were not classified correctly.

6. Classification reviews were not conducted within 90 days of initial inmate custody assessments.

7. Classification workers didn’t receive the required four hours of training.

8. Internal classification audit logs were not kept.

9. No tuberculosis screening plan had been approved by the health department.

10. Twenty-four officers did not have a required jailer’s license or temporary jailer’s license.

11. Hourly face-to-face prisoner checks were not performed.

12. The facility did not meet the state mandated 1-to-48 jailer-to-inmate ratio.

13. Personnel did not conduct required contraband searches.

14. Disciplinary hearings for minor inmate infractions were conducted by a single person rather than a disciplinary board.

15. Jail did not respond to inmates with grievances within 15 days or resolve issues within 60 days as required.

16. Inmates did not receive one hour of supervised physical education three days per week as required.

17. A fire panel doesn’t show an inspection tag.

While each of these issues is important, some of them are outright travesties.  Not testing for tuberculosis or giving adequate exercise time are both grossly negligent to the health of the inmates, and jailers without licenses not making face-to-face checks or searches for contraband combine to form ideal conditions for a riot to erupt and a subsequent failed attempt at subduing it.

This marks the second failed private prison inspection in Texas this month. In both cases, the TCJS deemed the facilities non-compliant after inspection for mostly the same reasons of negligence in inmate supervision. Coastal Bend Detention Center's warden Elberto Bravo defends, "I know the report looks bad. They say it is the worst they have ever seen. But honestly, we are going to be OK. It’s just going to take me a little bit of time to do it" ("Robstown Prison Fails Inspection," September 21, 2009).

This is not the first time the LCS Corrections has had troubles with this facility, though. Earlier this year in January, the facility had to lay off 35 employees in order to cover for their lack of filled prison beds. Later in March, just a couple months later, the facility rehired 40 more employees in an attempt compensate for a large influx of prisoners after earlier having too few. Warden Bravo claims he will have his facility in compliance with the Texas standards by the end of October, and you know we will be watching.

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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).

County Judge, Drue Bynum

Yay
Precinct 1 Commissioner, Johnny Waldrip

Yay
Precinct 2 Commissioner, David Whitlock

Yay
Precinct 3 Commissioner, Jackie Crisp

Yay
Precinct 4 Commissioner, C.E. "Gene" Short

Nay

The vote will happen next November, and voters will see the following proposition on the ballot: "The issuance of $34,000,000 of Grayson County tax bonds for constructing, improving, renovating, equipping and acquiring land for county jail purposes and the levying of a tax payment thereof" ("Jail Bond Stirs More Controversy;" KTEN).


The original intention of the vote was to determine whether or not the county jail should be privately or publically operated. However, the "loose" wording in the proposition says nothing about these options, and merely declares that the county will have $34 million "for county jail purposes." What these purposes are, exactly, have not yet been laid out for the public. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the vote's passing will keep a private company from operating the facility in the future. All that has been guaranteed is that 750 beds will be added -- either to the downtown jail or to a new structure which will assumedly be privately run. 


"Many residents, county and city leaders, including Sherman's Mayor Bill Magers, have questioned if the county needs a jail that large, and believe a smaller facility will do. [County Judge] Bynum has consistently said the 750 bed figure comes from approval by the Texas Jail Commission over the projected needs for the county in the next two decades" ("$34 Million Bond to Build or Renovate Grayson County Jail Will Go Before Voters;" KTEN).


"I think it speaks for itself," said Judge Drue Bynum. "We've bent over backwards. This is a tough, tough proposition and endeavor we're taking. Sometimes when people say one thing and have to put their money where their mouth is, obviously, you get a different reaction and we saw that today..." Grayson County resident Tony Beaverson has been an outspoken critic of the court and it's decision to precede with the private route. He told KTEN he was encouraged when he heard the court was taking the issue to the voters, but not when he learned the details. "The people will vote on a bond issue with no substance, no particulars behind it," said Tony Beaverson. "[The Court is saying] just give us a blank check and with that blank check they can still do what they originally planed to do." From now until November, the court is still going to precede with the private option. Monday morning they signed off a number of proposals with Southwest Correctional. Bynum says they are doing that, so in case the bond fails, they'll be ready to move forward with the private option because something has to be done quickly ("Jail Bond Stirs More Controversy;" KTEN).

The vote appears to be a move by the Commissioners to give the appearance of choice to the citizens of Grayson County, but the wording, as it stands now, does not protect the county jail from privatization either now or in the future. Additionally, there is no precise plan for what the money will be spent on. On the same day as the vote was declared, the County moved ahead in negotiations with Southwest Correctional, because no matter which way the vote goes, there is a potential for privatization. Whether the vote passes and the County spends the money on "county jail purposes," which could include renovations to the downtown jail or a new facility (without a guarantee that either the renovated downtown jail or the new facility will not be privatized), or the vote fails and Southwest Correctional constructs their own facility, the private option has already won before the vote is conducted. Until the Commissioners change the wording in the proposition, or scrap it all and start over with a clearer plan, it seems as though the citizens have no choice but the private choice, with the commissioners selling out the democratic process in a faustian pact for wealth.

 

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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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