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Austin protestors target Wells Fargo private prison investments

On Tuesday, I participated in an Austin protest against Wells Fargo's holdings in private prison corporations GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.  The coalition of immigrant rights groups (including Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families) called on Wells Fargo to divest of their holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.

Nearly half of the more than 33,000 immigration detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations, and the detention system will cost taxpayers more than $1.7 billion this year. Benefiting from this practice are companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, as well a companies like Wells Fargo, that have invested in the growth of the private prison industry.

For more on the Austin protests, see the Grassroots Leadership or Texans United for Families facebook pages.  And, for more photos and videos from other Wells Fargo protests around the country, check out the National Prison Divestment Campaign, coordinated by Enlace. 

The Sentencing Project Publishes New Report on Private Prisons

The Sentencing Project* recently published a new report on private prisons titled, Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America authored by Cody Mason.  The publication details the history of private prisons in America and documents the increase in their use.  The major findings include:

  • Texas prisoners in private facilities grew by 55% from 1999 thru 2010.
  • From 1999 to 2010 the use of private prisons increased by 40% at the state level and by 784% in the federal system.
  • In 2010 seven states housed more than 25% of their prison population in private facilities. 
  • Savings associated with investing in private prisons appear dubious.
Mason provides an overview of recent studies on prison privatization and charts state-by-state changes in private prison populations as well as changes at the federal level.  Worth a look when you get the chance.
 
* The author of this blog post is employed by The Sentencing Project where she works as the State Advocacy Coordinator.  She provided editorial assistance in the publication of Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America.

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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