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New Report Shows Lax Texas Private Prison Oversight, GEO Lobbying Efforts Increasing

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A new report by Texans for Public Justice and Grassroots Leadership on private prison oversight, effectiveness, and influence in Texas shows a some interesting trends. The full report is available online.

Amongst the findings:

Private Prison Lobbying Expenditures Increase in Wake of Scandal. The report shows that private prison corporations with state prison or youth detention contracts spent up to $1.1 million on lobbying in Texas in 2007, three times the amount from the previous legislative session. The GEO Group, in particular, increased its lobbying expenditures after the Coke County scandal forced the state to close the company's youth lock-up. We reported on this back in October when Senator John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee complained that GEO had sent in its lobbyists after the scandal focused scrutiny on the company.

Oversight Appears Lax at Texas Private Prisons. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice seems to keep more records on publicly run prisons than those operated by private prison corporations. TDCJ couldn't produce data on the number of correctional officers each private facility employs, how many employees have been disciplined, how many prisoners are passing rehab programs, etc. Because the state spends over $200 million a year on its 28 private correctional facilities, it seems like this data would be important to collect, especially because innovation and efficiency is a key argument made by privatization advocates.

Revolving Door Produces Poor Oversight. The report argues that close ties between public officials and the private prison companies creates an environment ripe for abuse. Gary Johnson, a former TDCJ director, was recently hired to oversee GEO's facilities in Texas, after mounting criticism of that company's facilities. In addition, state officials are still investigating whether former GEO employees hired by the state to oversee the Coke County facility were receiving any kickbacks from the company in exchange for glowing reports on conditions at the facility.

Hopefully, these will be some of the issued addressed by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, recently charged with studying private prisons during the interim session. We'll keep you updated on the committee's findings and response from this report.