Diana Claitor at the Texas Jail Project forwarded us an email stating that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards will begin broadcasting its workshops and quarterly meetings as live webcasts. The first such workshop is this afternoon at 2pm. According to the email from TCJS, the purpose of today's hearing is:
"The Texas Commission on Jail Standards will re-engage its initiative to update some changes to minimum jail standards. We want as much interaction with all stakeholders throughout the process, and so the TCJS Commission will begin meeting in workshop session on November 2, 2011 at 2pm in the John Reagan building, room 120 to discuss proposed changes. The initial workshop session will be to discuss procedures and process."
Tomorrow morning, the Commission will hold its quarterly meeting to review jail compliance and other issues tomorrow, November 3, 2011 at 9am. Both hearings will be viewable via webcast at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/.
Texans should not be surprised by this recent article in Mother Jones (Tim Murphy, "Flush With Prison Industry Dollars, Rick Perry Pushed Privatized Prisoner Care," September 1) that explores the governor's relationship to the private prison industry. The article delves into recent developments that happened during the last Texas legislative session, specifically moves by Governor Perry to privatize the prison health care system.
"Perry's rush to privatize prison health care is consistent with the approach he's taken throughout most of his ten years as governor: slashing public services under the guise of austerity, and then contracting those services out to the well-connected businesses that have made his rise possible. As he put it during his re-election campaign in 2010, as the private prisons industry filled his war chest with donations, "Texas is open for business." To his critics, those words have never rang truer."
According to Mother Jones several prison privatization bills failed to move forward and policy changes that would have empowered the governor's office with new authority. One effort would have transferred the authority for the state’s prison health care board to Perry by giving him the power to appoint the majority of the committee members.
The article also touches upon the limits in authority for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. According to our pal at Grits for Breakfast, before 2003 TCJS had statutory oversight over five private prisons that housed only federal or immigration detainees through intergovernmental agreements with counties. The Mother Jones article quotes Texas criminal justice advocate who states:
"One of the things that the commission has always wanted is to have control over the private prisons," says Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which monitors prison reform in the Lone Star State. "Obviously [the Governor’s office] didn’t like that so this session they tried to dilute the power of the commission by merging it with two other entities."
The article provides quite a read. Here's hoping that Perry's presidential aspirations will continue to bring the relationship between the governor's office and private prison companies to light.
The Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom sat down Texas Commission on Jails Standards chief Adan Muñoz for an interview covering jail overcrowding, privatization, and other aspects of Texas' enormous county jail system (Brandi Grissom, "Adan Muñoz: The TT Interview," August 3). It's no wonder that Muñoz is one of our favorite Texas officials. Here's his reponse to a question about privately operated jails:
"They’ll build the facility above and beyond what is projected for the county's needs... so that they can house either federal inmates or out-of-state inmates in order to generate a profit. What we have been seeing lately, over probably the last year and a half to two years, is a diminishing of those select inmates that are out there for profit. So you've got these facilities that are built and financed by local governments... to bring in extra money for their communities at a time where those inmates were out there and available for these facilities. That's not the case anymore. A certain facility just went up for auction last week in this state, where that facility just basically got abandoned by the private vendor who says, "We’re not making any money, we’re moving." They can notify them and give them 60, 90 days, 30 days notification — whatever it is — and they’re gone. So the facility basically has to fall out of compliance or shut down. It’s a risky situation."
Munoz was also skeptical about proposals floated to privatize Harris County's massive jail system:
"If you run a small jail — when I say small jail, that's anywhere from 7 to 25 prisoners — your daily incarceration may be 7 or 8. So, are you better off shipping them off to the county next door rather than carrying the liability? Certainly. But when you have 11,000 prisoners like Harris County, it's real tough to get out of the jail business. For example, I know that Harris County has spoken of privatization. You really don’t have, in my opinion, you don’t have very many privates trying to do business with Harris, because where is their profit margin going to come from? I mean, if you have a $30 million debt of overtime you encumber or you accept as part of the privatization, where is your profit margin going to come from?"
Read the entire interview and watch the video here.
Two hearings will be held in the next week that could effect the size, effectiveness, and purview of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the state agency charged with overseeing Texas' massive county jail system, including a number or privately-operated jails and detention centers.
1) Joint Budget Hearing: Tomorrow, Wednesday, September 1st, from 9am-10:30am in the Capitol Extension, Room E2.028 will see a budget hearing in which the agency will most likely be fending off budget cuts. Check out Ana Yañez-Correa's excellent guest-post over at Grits for Breakfast for why this hearing is important. Here's the highlight:
In the face of a potential 15% budget cut (including across-the-board 5% agency budget cuts and an extra, requested 10% budget cut), TCJS could potentially lose 2-3 staff members, possibly inspectors (out of a current total of 5 inspectors). Without inspections, TCJS will not be able to fully realize its critical mission to set constitutional jail standards, conduct facility inspections, and enforce compliance with rules and procedures - all of which keep Texas jails safe, well regulated, and run by educated, professional leadership.
2) Interim Charge #4. The Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by Senator John Whitmire, will meet on Wednesday, Tuesday, September 7th, at 10am in Capitol Extension E1.016 (Hearing Room) to discuss interim charges, including Interim Charge #4:
Study and make recommendations related to municipal jails and other detention facilities that operate without state agency oversight. Identify the number of such facilities and the population detained, as well as best practices for municipal jails. Make recommendations to improve services and consider options for oversight of facilities by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
The combined effect of these hearings could shape the debate over TCJS in the upcoming legislative session. On one hand, the agency could be stripped of inspectors and see its ability to oversee jails (both public and private) diminished. On the other hand, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee could lead a charge to expand the purview of the agency to include municipal jails and county-owned detention centers currently exempted from oversight. The latter could make a big difference in regulating problem-facilities like the GEO's Reeves County Detention Center, which is currently exempt from state-oversight.