PRIVATE PRISONS


2014:


    March

    The Private Prison Racket

    Companies that manage prisons on our behalf have abysmal records. So why do we keep giving them business?

    By MATT STROUD

    As inmate populations have soared over the last 30 years, private prisons have emerged as an appealing solution to cash-starved states. Privately run prisons are cheaper and can be set up much faster than those run by the government.

    Nearly a tenth of all U.S. prisoners are housed in private prisons, as are almost two-thirds of immigrants in detention centers—and the companies that run them have cashed in. CCA, the oldest and largest modern private prison company, took over its first facility in 1983. Now it’s a Wall Street darling with a market cap of nearly $3.8 billion. Similarly, GEO Group, the second largest private-prison operator, last week reported $1.52 billion in revenue for 2013.

    There have also been allegations that CCA employees at a Texas prison that has since closed repeatedly denied basic medical care to prisoners who, in some cases, died from their untreated ailments. (The Texas Observer described the story of a woman who bled for nine months during a one-year prison term because CCA employees declined to treat her for endometriosis and a retroverted uterus.)

    Of course, government-run prisons aren’t without their share of troubles. But those troubles and lawsuits are easier to accept when the system behind those problems isn’t making billions on Wall Street. As The Week put it last summer: “Private prisons ultimately pose a greater threat to inmates because of their raison d’être; they exist solely to make a profit off of incarcerated individuals.”

    And then there are the political fiascoes.

    Read more: Here.


    February

    Why I Sold Corrections Corporation of America

    By Bradley Seth, McNew
    February 6, 2014

    Private prisons might not be the sexiest industry, but when you can provide space for inmates at a fraction of the price of the government, you have a good business. Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW) is in the business of private prison operations in the United States. With 65 correctional facilities around the country, and 91,000 beds, Corrections Corp. of America, or CCA, has grown over the last 30 years to become and maintain its position as the industry leader.

    CCA has done well in their 30-year history, and saw large gains from mega contracts during a time when the United States was locking up an unprecedented amount of people. However, now the market, as well as the company's inmate management success rates, are shrinking. Here are the main reasons I bought CCA in the first place, and the reasons I recently sold all of them.

    Why Corrections Corp. Was Attractive
    The company sounds like a low-cost alternative to federal prisons. Offering the option to outsource inmate housing and management was attractive to the government when CCA could house them for at a cost of $59 per day, compared to as much as $154 per day it costs the government to house inmates in more expensive states, such as New York. CCA reported an operating margin of $17.53 per inmate in 2012.

    Over the last few decades, inmate populations have exploded in the United States. The U.S. holds 25% of the world's prison population, but only 5% of the world's people. From fewer than 300,000 inmates in 1972, the jail population grew to 1 million by 1990 and to 1.6 million by the year 2010. Now, roughly one in every 107 American adults is behind bars, a rate nearly five times that of Britain, seven times that of France and 24 times that of India.

    In states with vastly overcrowded prison systems, such as California, which at one point was at 125% of inmate capacity, an offer of help from a company like CCA was very welcome. Because of that, private prisons held nearly 10% of all inmates in 2010.

    The stock itself offers a great dividend yield of 5.7% yield, and a modest P/E multiple of only 12.6; it was a good play for an income stock with seeming stability and plenty of industry growth to point to.

    The only true competitor in the space is The GEO Group (NYSE: GEO) , which has as market cap of $2.39 billion, compared to that of CXW at $3.89 billion. Similar to CCA, GEO group also grew from a vastly increaing market, Now, the company faces the same market declines as CCA.

    Why the stock, and the industry, is now heading for a long-term decline The prison population in the United States has finally reversed its growth trend, and populations fell by 1.7% in 2012. In New York City alone, incarceration rates have declined 32% since 2001. Other cities will likely be following. Attorney General Eric Holder, the country's top law enforcement official, said that "[too] many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason." With political actions toward legalizing marijuana, relaxing strict immigration laws, and relaxing judicial punishment for non-violent crimes, this trend will likely continue during the foreseeable future.


    The rate of incarcerated American's is finally going down. Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics

    Additionally, Corrections Corp. has been the recipient of some bad attention lately concerning their management of inmates. The company was recently under suit from prisoners and families of prisoners after issues involving inmate violence in facilities in Idaho. This is only the most recent in a series of such issues.

    According to reports, 132 inmate-on-inmate assaults were recorded at the Idaho facility during the one-year period of Sept. 2007-Sept. 2008 alone. Compare that to the 42 recorded at the equally sized state-run facility during the same time frame. These rises in assaults have been blamed on poor management and lack of security personnel due to cost cutting.

    Final Foolish Thoughts
    The prison industry is still incredibly large, and companies in this space are still going to continue seeing revenues in the short term. However, taking on a long-term view of the market, the trend shows that the it is shrinking, not growing, and that the time of mass lock-ups is a thing of the past.

    Additionally, Corrections Corp.'s own inmate management issues add a level of legal and political risk to this stock that detract from the it's otherwise attractive yield. If you still wish to put your money in the private prison industry, the GEO group may be a better play with less legal risk. Zacks analysts agree, rating CCA a No. 5 (strong sell) and GEO group a No. 1 (strong buy). Still, consider the market forces at work in an environment of more lenient punishment and incarceration in the United States.

    Why I Sold Corrections Corporation of America


    January

    Top Five Texas Private Prison Stories Of 2013

    1. Closure of Dawson State Jail and Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility
    2. City of McAllen rejects GEO Group prison for immigrants
    3. The campaign to expose and close the Polk Detention Center
    4. Two North Texas counties stand tall, reject jail privatization
    5. Troubles persist at McLennan County's speculatively built private jail


2013:


    Unprotected: Private Prison Personnel and Civil Liability

    By Jennifer Hulvat, J.D. Published: 11/25/2013

    Prison-e The popularity of privatization in the government sector is not without its drawbacks. In a specific area, the privatizing of prisons throughout the country has left a gaping hole in the immunity protections traditionally extended to prison guards and other governmental personnel. The goal of increasing efficiency and reducing operating costs by outsourcing the public function of criminal punishment has left many questions about liability for claims of civil rights violations by inmates. As a result of some rather circumspect reasoning by our Supreme Court, as recently as April of 2012, it appears that prison guards employed by private prison entities, who are outsourced by state governments, do not enjoy qualified immunity protection against civil rights claims by inmates of that very prison. They are, essentially, exposed.

    Clearly, governmental sentiment around the country is that private prisons can undertake the public correctional goals of punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation and incapacitation to the same extent as those institutions administered and funded by the government itself. Query, then, why those who work for those private companies, undertaking this public function, would not enjoy the same qualified immunity protection as their counterparts in purely state and federally funded facilities?

    Historically, Title 42 U.S.C. §1983 has provided a procedural mechanism for state and local prison inmates claiming violations of their civil rights to sue those acting “under color of law”. Qualified immunity, however, bars §1983 suits against certain state, local and federal officials unless the actor reasonably believes that his conduct violates a clearly established constitutional right. Certainly, claims suggesting deprivation of rights rooted in the Fourth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment and the 14th Amendment are ripe in the prison context.

    Proponents of the privatized prison movement suggest that private prison personnel who contract to perform correctional services should enjoy the same immunity protection as their governmental counterparts, as they are operating as “state actors”. Because the function undertaken benefits the state, the suggestion that there be a “level playing field” for purposes of civil rights litigation, and protection, is a compelling argument.

    We need only look as far as the most recent Supreme Court opinion on the matter to quickly conclude that prison guards in private prisons are, for all practical purposes, exposed and vulnerable to liability for civil rights violations. The 1997 Supreme Court case of Richardson v. McKnight established that prison guards working for a private prison company that contracted with the state could not assert the defense of qualified immunity against civil rights allegations. There, two inmates in a privatized Tennessee prison alleged that prison guards subjected them to severe physical restraints, thereby depriving them a constitutionally protected right. The Court believed that “history does not reveal a ‘firmly rooted’ tradition of immunity applicable to privately employed prison guards”. Most notably, the Court found no reason to extend this critical protection to private contracted prison guards. The key factor in the Courts decision was that the person being accused of the constitutional deprivation was not hired directly by the government, rather “a private firm, systematically organized to assume a major lengthy administrative task (managing an institution) with limited direct supervision by the government, underak[ing] that task for the profit and potentially in competition with other firms”. The decision, it appeared, was dispositive, and devastating, for prison personnel working at the behest, and in the best interests, of a contracted governmental employer.

    In April of 2012, however, the Supreme Court decided Filarksy v. Delia, and once again considered the question of liability protection where the government, essentially, “outsources” to a private contractor. Contrary to the rule enounced in Richardson, qualified immunity protection was found to extend to a private lawyer hired by the government to conduct an internal affairs investigation, a traditionally “public” function. The Court chose to view the issue much more narrowly, asking the question: Is a lawyer hired by the government prohibited from enjoying immunity just because he is hired on a non-permanent or part-time basis? In a somewhat convoluted opinion, the Court answered that question in the negative, emphasizing that its employees should not be “distracted” by the threat of litigation against nonpublic employees sued under §1983.

    How, then, might a private prison corporation protect itself from the inevitable allegations of civil rights violations inherent in a correctional situation? Certainly, prisoners are held in these facilities, not at the behest of prison administration and personnel, but pursuant to sentences imposed by the courts for violating our government’s criminal laws. Prison is a complete denial of liberty, imposed for that very purpose, in a completely punitive environment. It is a hotbed of civil rights litigation. Should the employment arrangement of those carrying out the administration of those criminal sentences mean that traditional immunity protections are not applicable? It appears that the nature of the employment relationship, in the eyes of our Courts, outweighs the nature and purpose of the work performed.

    As government entities continue to grapple with shrinking budgets and burgeoning inmate populations, this shift to privatized prisons will continue to make financial sense. One would imagine that the continued efficacy of such an arrangement lies in its financial soundness. Governmental entities which fund and administer their own correctional facilities, and those who are employed there, have always enjoyed qualified immunity protection from claims of civil rights violations where applicable. Why, then, should those employees working for a private company, performing the exact same duties, in the exact same environment, be stripped of that protection?

    The Court in Filarsky was very careful not to overrule Richardson, finding that the employment relationship of a privately retained “one” is quite different than the position and relationship of “many” working for the entity hired by the government. For the time being, then, private prison guards facing civil rights allegations remain exposed and susceptible to liability. That type of reasoning truly begs the question as to why anyone would endeavor to secure employment as a private prison guard to begin with.

    Since 2009, attorney Jennifer Hulvat, from the Chicago area, has been a full-time faculty member at Kaplan University, where she teaches law-based courses in Criminal Justice. Before that, she served Kaplan University as an academic department chair who supervised the Law and Fraud cohort of adjunct instructors. Additionally, she coordinated and interviewed undergraduate internship candidates and became a liaison with law-enforcement agencies on a national level. She joined Kaplan as an adjunct instructor in May of 2005.

    Ms. Hulvat is a 23-year practicing lawyer, holding law licenses in both Illinois and Florida. She has been a prosecutor in Miami, Florida as well as in the Chicago area, and also spent several years representing the criminally accused. She was a staff attorney for Chicago’s CLEAR Initiative Project, an aggressive, non-state-funded project to review, edit and align the Criminal Code and the Unified Code of Corrections in Illinois.

    Unprotected: Private Prison Personnel and Civil Liability


    McAllen Mulls 1,000-Bed Private Prison


    Posted: July 2, 2013
    By Dave Hendricks
    The Monitor

    McALLEN — Know a thing or two about running private prisons? McAllen wants your resume.

    This week, McAllen plans to publish a formal request for qualifications — experience, financial information and references — from private prison operators willing to build a 1,000-bed lockup. The new jail would accept federal inmates under McAllen’s existing agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service.

    Key details, including the jail’s location, haven’t been worked out.

    The deal would dramatically reduce travel and logistical headaches for the Marshals Service, which shuttles inmates from privately-operated prisons in Laredo and La Villa to McAllen for court hearings.

    “There is a great need to have their prisoners held in a facility that’s local,” said police Chief Victor Rodriguez.

    McAllen currently holds about 30 federal inmates at the Public Safety Building on Bicentennial Boulevard, blocks from the federal courthouse on Business 83 in Bentsen Tower. If they’re convicted, the inmates move to federal penitentiaries equipped for long-term confinement.

    The federal government pays McAllen $52 every day for every inmate housed at the Public Safety Building, Rodriguez said.

    As proposed, the new jail would hold inmates under McAllen’s existing agreement with the Marshals Service. In exchange, the jail owner would pay McAllen.

    Exactly how much remains subject to negotiation, Rodriguez said.

    A Marshals Service spokesman in Houston wasn’t able to answer questions about the agency’s inmate holding arrangements on Monday.

    City officials have been working on the private prison deal for more than a year.

    Last spring, The Monitor learned about McAllen’s discussions with GEO Group, the private prison company based in Boca Raton, Fla. At the city’s request, The Monitor didn’t report the news to avoid tipping off potential competitors and skunking the deal.

    Other local governments, including Hidalgo County, have previously discussed building or expanding jails to hold federal inmates.

    While researching the idea, Rodriguez visited the Joe Corley Detention Facility in Montgomery County. GEO Group owns and operates the jail, which holds inmates for the Marshals Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

    “As a matter of policy, our company cannot comment on potential future development projects,” said Pablo E. Paez, vice president for corporate relations at GEO Group.

    Rodriguez also visited a Laredo detention center run by Corrections Corporation of America.

    In February, the City Commission started discussing the project during closed-door meetings under the code name “Project Stripes” — a reference to old-school jail uniforms. Issuing a formal request for qualifications is the next step.

    “We’re in the very early stages,” Rodriguez said.

    The City Commission still must approve the project and negotiate a contract.

    Building the jail would cost about $50 million, Rodriguez said, and employ 300 people. Unlike a government-owned jail, the private prison would pay property taxes.

    With 1,000 beds, the new jail would become Hidalgo County’s second-largest lockup.

    It would be slightly bigger than the East Hidalgo Detention Center, a 900-bed prison in La Villa owned by the Louisiana-based LCS Correction Services, but smaller than the Hidalgo County Detention Center, the county-run jail built to hold about 1,200 people.

    LCS Correction Services couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

    McAllen Mulls 1,000-Bed Private Prison


    TDCJ to Close Two Privately Run Jails in August

    By Elizabeth Koh
    June 11, 2013

    As the Texas Department of Criminal Justice adjusts to both a tighter budget and a smaller prison population, it has decided to end operations at two privately run Texas prison facilities — the Dawson State Jail in Dallas and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility — at the end of the summer.

    On Monday, the TDCJ informed the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit private vendor that operates both facilities, of its intent to “not extend the term of the contract” for the prisons, TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said. The contracts will end Aug. 31.

    In preparation for the closure, Mineral Wells and Dawson will no longer receive new inmates, Clark said. “Offenders will be transferred to facilities with existing capacity in the coming months,” he added.

    Dawson, which is near its maximum capacity of 2,216 inmates, will probably see its male offenders moved to Hutchins State Jail, Clark said. Female offenders at Dawson would probably go to Woodman State Jail in Gatesville, he added.

    The 796 offenders at the Mineral Wells facility will be “transferred to facilities across the system,” Clark said.

    The Texas Legislature slashed $97 million from the TDCJ's budget in May and "made it clear that their intent was to reduce [the capacity of the jails]," Clark said. "We’re moving forward with steps to reduce our capacity."

    State legislators, including Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, pushed to close the Dawson and Mineral Wells facilities in light of shrinking prison populations across the state and allegations of inadequate health care at Dawson. A Dawson inmate filed a federal lawsuit in March alleging prison guards ignored her cries for help as she delivered a premature baby into a toilet. CCA has said the University of Texas Medical Branch provides health care and that the company takes the responsibility of managing that care seriously.

    The Texas chapter of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, which represents prison workers in the state, also supported closing the jails.

    “[The closing] will save state jobs. It'll save taxpayers money," said Brian Olsen, the executive director of the AFSCME Texas chapter, referring to the costs cut by shutting down the prisons.

    Closing Dawson will also make prisons safer, Olsen added. “There needed to be more oversight and scrutiny of those private units, because look at what happened.” CCA says it provides safe inmate housing.

    CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an email that the company has “provided notification to our dedicated professionals so they can plan for next steps ahead of the contract expiration in August.”

    CCA employees at Dawson and Mineral Wells are all being offered “the opportunity to transfer to other CCA facilities,” Owen wrote, adding, “For employees unable to transfer, our team will coordinate opportunities to help them find jobs in the local area.”

    The TDCJ “will work with CCA as much as they’ll allow us” to assist employees at Dawson and Mineral Wells, Clark said. “They can certainly apply for open positions at TDCJ facilities.”

    Owen did not comment on plans for the Mineral Wells facility, which is owned by CCA, saying only that the company is "very focused on our dedicated employees at the facility right now."

    The Dawson facility is owned by the TDCJ, which plans to “work with local and state leaders to determine the final deposition,” Clark said, though the future of the facility has yet to be decided.

    The city of Dallas has expressed interest for years in developing the Dawson property, which lies on the Trinity River. Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm told The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday that the closing of the jail was “very good news.”

    “It’s a nice opportunity, and we’ll go to work on it right away,” Suhm told the Morning News. “We’ll talk to folks, and especially folks who own land around the jail, and see what their interest is.”

    Once inmates have been completely transferred from Dawson, workers from Hutchins will conduct “general minimal maintenance,” checking the air temperature, water and other factors at the Dawson facility, Clark said.

    TDCJ to Close Two Privately Run Jails in August


    TEXAS LEGISLATURE

    Mineral Wells Vows To Fight Devastating Closure Of Prison

    June 09, 2013
    BY ANNA M. TINSLEY
    atinsley@star-telegram.com

    The uncertainty is troubling many in Mineral Wells.

    The question that continues to linger is whether the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility — a 2,100-bed, privately run minimum-security prison — will close.

    State lawmakers last month passed a budget that reduces jail bed capacity by $97.3 million, which is exactly the amount that would be saved if both the Mineral Wells facility and the Dawson State Jail in Dallas were shuttered.

    But the budget, which still must be approved by the state comptroller and Gov. Rick Perry, no longer specifically names the Mineral Wells facility as one that must close, due to legislative maneuvering by state Reps. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and Jim Keffer, R-Eastland.

    Instead, it calls on prison officials, rather than lawmakers, to decide which prisons to shutter and to base that decision on economic factors.

    “It’s not over yet,” King said. “But it’s still an uphill fight.”

    Mineral Wells officials say closing the prison — one of the largest employers in the community of around 17,000 — would devastate the small city, putting more than 200 people out of work and drying up the flow of millions of dollars each year from the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.

    “We’re going to fight this to the bitter end,” Mineral Wells Mayor Mike Allen said. “We will fully support CCA and do our best to keep it here.”

    Some lawmakers say their decision is solely based on finding the best use for taxpayer dollars.

    “I understand the concerns of Mineral Wells’ leadership,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who heads the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “But we have to do what’s best for the state of Texas.”

    Now it’s up to officials at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to determine this summer which facilities to close to reduce the prison budget by $97.3 million.

    Their next two meetings are June 21 and Aug. 23.

    Longtime Concerns

    State officials say this facility about 50 miles west of Fort Worth, which is in Parker and Palo Pinto counties, has been on their radar for years.

    The sprawling prison — bounded mostly by 50-foot-tall netting and a chain-link fence topped with razor wire — is in an industrial park once known as Fort Wolters, an Army camp that became an Air Force base and ultimately an Army helicopter school.

    The base was deactivated in 1973. But by 1989, as the state faced lawsuits and complaints about prison overcrowding, a number of the buildings at Fort Wolters were converted into a pre-parole transfer facility.

    Initially it was a pre-release program for inmates who had been involved with drugs and alcohol, but Whitmire said it hasn’t been used for that in years. Mineral Wells officials say it does prepare inmates before they are released.

    Through the years, various problems brought the prison to the attention of lawmakers, including a crackdown on cellphones in prisons in 2008.

    After people repeatedly tried to throw contraband — cigarettes, cologne, prepaid cellphones, drugs — into the prison yard there, officials installed the large net around the building.

    “This is not a prison,” Whitmire said. “TDCJ has always had to be cautious about inmates placed there. ... We’ve got about 12,000 empty beds in state prisons. Why would we pay $50 million for private beds when we have empty state beds?”

    King said he believes many of the problems in Mineral Wells have been fixed.

    “They really aren’t an issue anymore,” he said.

    Looking Ahead

    Whitmire had pushed to formally strip the CCA money in the state budget, but agreed to a plan that doesn’t specify which two prisons would close, instead letting TDCJ officials choose which facilities to shutter.

    “The agency has not yet identified any specific facility for closure at this time,” said Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman. “The budget is typically signed by mid-June. The decision will be made sometime after that.

    “Mineral Wells’ contract ends Aug. 31.”

    And Perry has until June 16 to sign or veto bills or they automatically become law.

    Whitmire said that state officials will work to relocate workers at any prison that closes to another prison in Texas.

    For now, CCA officials say they will try to discuss the issue with prison officials before any decision is made.

    “Until we have those conversations, we cannot speculate on what the future may hold for Mineral Wells,” said Steve Owen, senior director of public affairs for CCA. “We are proud, however, of our very talented and dedicated staff and remain thankful for the local and state officials who have been advocating tirelessly for the more than 230 professionals employed by CCA at Mineral Wells.”

    Local officials have estimated that the prison has an $11.7 million annual payroll, pays nearly $2 million each year in utilities and more than $75,000 in local property taxes and buys nearly $250,000 dollars in local goods and services.

    Their estimates show the daily cost of housing an inmate at the Mineral Wells facility is $34.80, compared with $42.90 at similar state-owned prisons.

    King said he and Keffer are sending a letter to TDCJ officials, asking to be notified when prison closure discussions begin so they can weigh in on the issue.

    “There are public prisons that cost a lot more to run than the private prison,” King said. “So why shut down the private prison if it operates at significantly less cost than public prisons?”

    Allen said he and other city officials are trying to figure out how to help CCA.

    “The main thing we were hoping for during the session is that TDCJ would make this decision instead of the Legislature,” Allen said. “Hopefully they’ll look at the economic impact, the efficiencies of the prison ... and how it is less expensive than a state prison.

    “Pray for us.”

    Anna M. Tinsley,
    817-390-7610
    Twitter: @annatinsley

    Read more Here


    Dallas' Dawson State Jail on chopping block, but Texas Department of Criminal Justice has final say


    Dawson State Jail sits on property that Dallas city officials want for
    the Trinity River Corridor Project.

    By ROBERT WILONSKY
    Staff Writer
    rwilonsky@dallasnews.com
    Published: 28 May 2013

    Opponents of the privately operated Dawson State Jail are celebrating state lawmakers’ move to shutter the facility by stripping $97 million from the budget approved over the weekend.

    But legislators and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice warn: It’s far from a done deal.

    “The fat lady ain’t singing yet,” said Larance Coleman, an aide to state Sen. John Whitmire, who proposed shuttering Dawson and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility late last year.

    The Dallas jail, operated on the banks of the Trinity River by for-profit Corrections Corp. of America, has long been targeted by Dallas officials who want the land for the Trinity River Corridor Project.

    Lawmakers want it closed because of the drop in the state’s jail population. And groups like the ACLU and the Texas Civil Rights Project have been trying to get the state to withdraw its funding due to a handful of recent health-related deaths there.

    Among those cases, according to a federal lawsuit filed in March, is that of a premature baby who died after she was delivered into a toilet when guards refused the mother’s cries for help.

    “This victory gives us tremendous hope and momentum,” said Kymberlie Quong Charles of Grassroots Leadership, a coalition of groups that’s been pushing for Dawson’s closure. “Texas is the birthplace of the modern private prison industry. If we can get the Texas Legislature to agree that private facilities are not working for our state, that’s good news for the national movement against for-profit prisons.”

    Corrections Corp.’s contract with the Department of Criminal Justice expires Aug. 31, the end of the fiscal year. But even if Gov. Rick Perry signs the budget as is by mid-June, the closure of Dawson and the Mineral Wells lockup are hardly guaranteed.

    Coleman said the Department of Criminal Justice will have the final say. If State Comptroller Susan Combs certifies the budget, and if and when Perry signs it, then TDCJ will be asked to rule whether it needs the jails.

    And no final decision on either closure has been made, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Department of Criminal Justice.

    “Dawson and Mineral Wells have been discussed for possible closure, but for us it’s premature to identify any specific facility,” he said. “It’s true that our inmate population has decreased over the last several years, allowing for lawmakers to look at possible population reduction, and that’s what’s taken place. They’ve reduced our budget and allowed us to look at a number of different factors — population, cost effectiveness – that could lead to some closings.”

    State Sen. Royce West said taking the land for a Trinity development was the last thing on his mind. In 2009, West introduced failed legislation that would have allowed the city to take the site if it could locate a comparable parcel of property within 20 miles.

    “My focus was on the fact that … we’ve seen a decrease in the prison population and that there have been some reported incidents concerning the staff and inmates,” West said. “When I am trying to get dollars back for higher education, I don’t think the expenditure of state funds at Dawson was a wise expenditure.”

    Dallas' Dawson State Jail on chopping block


    STATESMAN CAPITOL WATCH: STATE PRISONS

    Deal Reported On Plan To Close Two Private Prisons

    Mineral Wells lockup may still be shuttered under new closure rules Posted: May 10, 2013
    By Mike Ward - American-Statesman Staff

    Senate and House negotiators have tentatively agreed on a plan to close two privately run state prisons, potentially resolving a political feud that threatened to derail the reauthorization of the state’s criminal justice agency.

    Officials confirmed Friday that instead of specifying which two prisons should be shuttered, at a time when the state has more than 12,000 empty prison beds, lawmakers will let the prison system’s governing board decide which facilities to close.

    But under new criteria that the Legislature has directed the prison board to use, a Mineral Wells prison that House members have been fighting to keep open will probably still be prime for closure.

    Currently, the Senate’s version of the state budget targets the 2,100-bed Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and the 2,200-bed Dawson State Jail for closure. The House budget continues funding for both.

    Lawmakers said wording will be added to the budget bill specifying that two prisons must be closed — without naming them — while removing $97 million in funding, the cost of operating Mineral Wells and Dawson.

    Leaders in both chambers said an agreement has been reached to close Dawson, but lawmakers who represent Mineral Wells are still fighting to keep their facility open. They argue that closing it would devastate the Mineral Wells economy.

    In Senate Bill 213 — the ‘sunset’ review bill that reauthorizes the prison system’s operations — state Reps. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and Jim Keffer, R-Eastland — both of whom represent the Mineral Wells area — sponsored an amendment giving the prison board the authority to decide which prisons to close.

    The decision is to be based “on the level of community support,” but the board can also consider “the cost-effectiveness of a unit, including all costs to department; safety and security issues; staffing needs,” among other issues.

    Though prison statistics show Mineral Wells is one of the least-expensive private prisons to operate, state records show the lockup has been repeatedly cited for contract infractions, and for having security positions unstaffed.

    In a May 1 letter to Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, prisons chief Brad Livingston said Mineral Wells is at the top of the agency’s list for closure because it was built as a military barracks, not a prison. It shares boundaries with a state park, Weatherford College and private land that exacerbates security challenges that have left it “historically near the top of our list for confiscated cellphones.”

    Because of its design, “the facility cannot be both secure (all interior room and exterior building exits locked) and in compliance with life safety code requirements,” Livingston stated.

    Prison reports show that since 2005, the facility has been plagued by contraband smuggling — drugs and cellphones have repeatedly been tossed over a perimeter fence — and has had several large fights among the prisoners, among other operational issues that include staff shortages.

    Absent specific direction to the contrary, Livingston said his agency intends to let the contract for the Mineral Wells lockup to expire at the end of August. Both Mineral Wells and Dawson are operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

    Mineral Wells was opened in 1989 as a pre-parole transfer facility, designated as such so it wouldn’t under the jurisdiction of a federal prison-reform lawsuit at a time when regular prisons were brim full. It was intended as a stopover point for parolees who were headed out of prison, a mission that state Board of Pardons and Paroles records show it no longer has.

    While nearly 800 convicts were designated for release to such a transfer lockup in 2001, that number was down to 38 in 2012. Since last September, there are only 11.

    “The bottom line is we don’t need it. Why should taxpayers pay to keep it open?” said Whitmire, D-Houston, who has campaigned for more than two years to close the lockups.

    Deal Reported On Plan To Close Two Private Prisons


    Texas Shouldn’t Keep Spending On Unneeded Prisons

    Posted Apr. 29, 2013

    Is it fiscally prudent for Texas taxpayers spend $54 million to preserve 300 jobs in a small community?

    What compelling reason is there to keep spending more than $20 million a year on a program that endangers the well-being of people it oversees?

    Does it make economic sense to taxpayers to spend $19.5 million on an empty, never-used building the state might never need?

    Each of these examples involves a prison facility in Texas. And in each case, the obvious choice should be to save taxpayer money.

    But Texas legislators are being pressured to engage in spending that can’t be justified.

    It’s not that there aren’t arguments in favor of putting these millions into these facilities — they just aren’t the better reasons, and they shouldn’t prevail.

    Take the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility. It’s a 2,100-bed minimum-security prison run by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, and it has 500 empty beds that aren’t likely to fill up anytime soon. Closing it would free up $54 million over two years for the state to spend on numerous other needs. But locals say shutting the place would put people out of work and damage a community that’s hurting for positive economic news these days.

    Surely there would be pain, but is it Texas taxpayers’ role to bolster a large employer in a small town when the services provided come expensively and inefficiently? Isn’t this the kind of government waste that fiscal conservatives want to eliminate?

    All the years when Texas’ prison population kept growing, some communities courted prisons as economic drivers. But it’s no longer a growth industry.

    With Texas prisons operating with more than 11,000 empty beds statewide, Democratic as well as Republican lawmakers are rightly pushing to consolidate facilities and cut costs. Some Republicans in affected communities are resisting mightily, as might be expected.

    The Texas Senate’s version of the state budget for 2014-15 would stop funding for the Mineral Wells prison, as well as the Dawson State Jail in Dallas, another CCA facility that received $43 million the past two years but has been targeted by critics for providing such poor medical treatment to inmates that some have died.

    The House budget, however, did not cut out those facilities.

    In fact, the House would spend $19.5 million for an empty prison the state encouraged Jones County, north of Abilene, to build. But the state didn’t need the facility and ended the contract without ever sending prisoners there. The county wants to get rid of an albatross burdening its residents. But should taxpayers elsewhere have to shoulder the cost of Jones County’s bad bet?

    A House-Senate conference committee will work out budget differences, presumably by the end of the session May 27. Unnecessary expenditures on unneeded prisons should not survive.

    As fiscal conservatives keep hammering home, government can’t be all things to all people; hard budget choices must be made; and taxpayers can’t be expected to underwrite all handouts, even for worthy causes, when there’s a limited amount of money to spend.

    Read more Here


    March 31

    County, Private Lockups Sit Empty, Drain Money As Texas Prisoners Dwindle

    By Mike Ward
    AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

    The $35 million Jones County Secure Detention Facility, built to hold 1,100
    state prisoners whom Texas officials decided they could not afford to send
    there, sits empty on the edge of Anson in West Texas. Jones County now
    faces default on its construction bonds.

    The dusty West Texas ranch town of Anson, once known for its no-dancing law made famous in the 1984 movie "Footloose," has a dubious new claim to fame: the Jail to Nowhere.

    Completed almost two years ago to house 1,100 state convicts who never arrived, the $35 million lockup sits empty at the edge of the town of about 2,300 people. Its promise of creating 195 jobs and a $5 million annual boost to the local economy is just a distant, and bitter, memory for most folks.

    "It's been a huge disappointment," said Jones County Judge Dale Spurgin, who has lobbied state officials for two years without success for help to avoid an approaching default on the bonds that were issued to build the lockup. "We've been holding our breath for 22 months. ... It looks like we're going to have to keep on holding it."

    Spurgin is not alone.

    In fact, research by the Austin American-Statesman shows, the situation is increasingly common in Texas and across the country because of declining crime rates, government budget cuts and increased use of treatment programs that have deflated a 20-year boom in building jails and prisons.

    Although having fewer people locked up should be good news for Texas taxpayers, as the associated costs of Lone Star justice go down, the trend is drawing few cheers in Jones County and other places where taxes are going up to pay for the empty lockups.

    While counties mostly operate jails, which house pre-trial prisoners and those serving time for minor offenses, more than a dozen counties in Texas have for years housed state prison convicts — either in their county jails or in prison-like lockups built with the help of private firms.

    More than 30,000 of the state's 93,000 county beds currently sit empty — both at county jails and at the ones built with county-private partnerships, like Anson, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

    In Littlefield, northwest of Lubbock, a $10 million, 373-bed prison has sat empty for two years — costing local taxpayers $65,000 a month to pay the outstanding loan.

    More than 1,400 jail beds in Angelina, Newton and Dickens counties in East Texas stand vacant as well, and one in Jefferson County reopened only recently — at just a fraction of its former population.

    In Falls County, about an hour's drive northeast of Austin, officials are scrambling to fill beds in a county-built private prison after the private company announced it was pulling out.

    Outside Waco, an 833-bed, $49 million prison sits less than half full — the same problem faced by most of the privately operated county jail beds in the rest of the state, according to statistics from the Jail Standards Commission.

    "The problem is, there just aren't enough prisoners to go around anymore," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson.

    Madden recalled that two decades ago, Texas was short tens of thousands of both jail and prison beds and that dozens of private jail and prison construction projects were under way.

    For a time, Texas rode the wave with the largest number of privately financed or run prisons and jails of any state — 60 in all, by this year.

    Then, about five years ago, growth in the number of state prisoners nationally began to gradually level off, and states that had sent their overflow to the private Texas lockups started keeping them at home again. The private lockups looked to a booming new market: illegal immigrants.

    "The feds are pulling back right now, as well, and that, plus fewer inmates here in Texas, is the reason a lot more beds are empty now," said Adan Munoz Jr., the Jail Standards Commission's executive director.

    "The other reason is that a lot of counties are doing pre-trial diversion, so they don't keep as many people in jail, because it costs less money that way. ... Budgets are tight."

    Pre-trial diversion programs place offenders in community-based rehabilitation programs rather than keeping them locked up behind bars for long periods of time while awaiting trial.

    In addition, Madden said, prison officials in Texas and other states "started using more treatment programs, which reduced their populations and their need for so many beds.

    "The result of all these things is less inmates," he said.

    For Spurgin and officials in tiny Anson, those words offer little solace. Their Jail to Nowhere, as it has become derisively known around town, is costing almost $4,000 a month for utilities and to have public employees go through each month to flush the toilets, check and maintain empty cells and offices, and keep the grounds mowed and maintained.

    Anson is also on the hook for another $2.8 million loan, used to expand its wastewater-treatment plant to service the lockup, that officials said will soon go into default — a crisis that Spurgin says could have an adverse effect on future state public-private partnerships not involving jails or prisons. "Why would anyone want to end up like where we are?" he said.

    Wary about a Texas scandal two decades ago, in which several counties were enticed by private speculators to help fund private prisons for Texas convicts who never showed up, Spurgin said Jones County and Anson proceeded with the project only after they had a contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to house a treatment program in the lockup.

    But the promised prisoners never arrived. Facing budget cuts and a dwindling population at its own prisons, state officials determined they did not need the beds.

    State parole officials looked at leasing the beds for a pre-release center. Nothing came of it.

    Prison officials considered relocating another treatment program to the site, or using it when they closed an old prison near Houston last August. No go, again. Prison officials said last year that they could not find a way to make it work financially, and Jones County officials hired an Austin lobbyist to help them press the Legislature for help.

    Legislative leaders at one point inserted a provision in the tight state budget allowing the prison agency to buy the lockup. But it was deleted before the bill passed.

    Spurgin said the county also tried to secure contracts with federal agencies to house deportation-bound detainees, even overflow prisoners from the Harris County Jail. No go, again.

    "It was built to (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) specs as a treatment center. The feds told us we would have to remodel it — and that was going to cost, I think it was $7 million more," he said. "We couldn't see doing that." "There's not a customer out there right now for these beds."

    With the project already technically in default (the bonds were funded by private investors), county officials say they are pressing ahead to find someone, anyone, to lease the beds — so far without success.

    With the state prison contract gone, a separate deal the county had made with investors to get a new $7.8 million county jail fell apart.

    Spurgin said the county has been forced to buy that nearby lockup — a move that will raise property taxes by about $90 a year for an average homeowner, a big jump for some in West Texas farm country.

    Madden, who chairs a national committee of state lawmakers on criminal justice issues that has been watching the trend, said he feels for Spurgin and other county officials who are facing a financial crisis with empty jail beds.

    But, he said, there is no easy solution.

    "Idaho, Montana, many other states are facing this same issue," Madden said. "They have empty jail beds they can't fill because there just aren't enough inmates out there.

    "The state is not in a position to bail them out," he said. "Sad to say, but they made a business choice, and they're going to have to live with it at some point."

    Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

    County, Private Lockups Sit Empty, Drain Money As Texas Prisoners Dwindle


    Mineral Wells Hopes To Keep Prison That Lawmakers Want To Close


    Posted Mar. 25, 2013
    BY ANNA M. TINSLEY
    atinsley@star-telegram.com

    MINERAL WELLS - The Army and its helicopters are long gone from the U.S. Army Primary Helicopter Center on the edge of this community.

    Now another mission in the industrial complex that once housed the military is at risk, as state lawmakers work to balance their budget.

    State Sen. John Whitmire and others say it's time to close the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility - a 2,100-bed, privately run minimum-security prison - and use the $54 million in taxpayer money that would be spent there over the next two years for other public safety needs.

    "We just simply don't need those beds," said Whitmire, D-Houston, who heads the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "We have 12,000 empty prison beds across the state that are owned by the state of Texas.

    "We all have tough decisions to make in government, but this isn't one of the toughest to make. We don't have $54 million to spend on something that simply is not needed."

    But those who live near it say closing the prison, one of the largest employers in the community, would be devastating to Mineral Wells, putting about 300 people out of work and stopping the flow of millions of dollars that Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America pays into the community for everything from utilities to property taxes.

    "That many people going on unemployment and looking for jobs that aren't out there, that's big," said Brenda Furr, office manager at Furr Building Materials. "But it would impact so many more people than just those who work there," she said. "It would impact all the people in the community. If they don't have money, they won't go out to eat, go to movies, buy stuff to fix up their homes."

    Residents and leaders in this community of around 17,000 are asking state lawmakers to consider saving the prison. Currently, a Senate version of the state's budget bill would strip funding for the prison; the House version would retain the funding.

    State Sen. Craig Estes, whose district includes the prison, is among those trying to keep the local prison open, and he has argued that prison officials, not legislators, should decide which facilities should be closed.

    "These things we do here affect the lives of real people," said Estes, R-Wichita Falls. "All is not lost.

    "I will continue working on it," he said. "Where there's a will, there's a way."

    Lawmakers' Concerns

    State officials say this facility about 50 miles west of Fort Worth, which is in Parker and Palo Pinto counties, has been on their radar for years.

    The sprawling prison - bounded mostly by 50-foot-tall netting and a chain-link fence topped with razor wire - is in an industrial park once known as Fort Wolters, an Army camp that became an Air Force base and ultimately an Army helicopter school. Also in the park are a number of businesses, a Weatherford College branch and a Texas Army National Guard training center.

    The base was deactivated in 1973.

    By 1989, as the state faced lawsuits and complaints about prison overcrowding, a number of the buildings at Fort Wolters were converted into the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.

    Initially it was a pre-release program for inmates who had been involved with drugs and alcohol, but Whitmire said it hasn't been used for that in years. Local officials say it does prepare inmates before they are released.

    Through the years, various problems brought the prison to the attention of lawmakers, including a crackdown on cellphones in prisons in 2008.

    People tried to throw contraband - cigarettes, cologne, prepaid cellphones, drugs - into the Mineral Wells prison yard before the large net was installed around the building to stop that.

    "It regularly rates as a high-risk facility because they can't keep contraband out," Whitmire said. "They put golf netting up because people throw contraband - dope, cellphones - into the area. ... It wasn't designed as a prison. It was designed as a military base."

    A labor union representing state prison guards - the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Corrections United - recommends closing the prison, as well as the Dawson State Jail in Dallas, which also is on the chopping block.

    "Dangerous private prisons breed gang activity and result in higher cost to the taxpayers in the long run," said Lance Lowry, president of the group. "Private prison companies make their profit by filling beds and have been known to encourage incarceration."

    With the state maintaining so many vacant prison beds, Whitmire said, it's time to start shutting down private prisons and shifting inmates to open beds in state prisons. The Mineral Wells prison isn't running at full capacity - an estimated 1,600 inmates are at the 2,100-bed facility.

    "There's certainly reason for concern," Mineral Wells City Manager Lance Howerton said. "We are continuing to work with our legislative delegation in the House ... and we are guardedly optimistic. ... We will continue to fight."

    Local officials estimate that the prison has a $11.7 million annual payroll, pays nearly $2 million each year in utilities and more than $75,000 in local property taxes, and buys nearly $250,000 dollars in local goods and services.

    "I know the community is disappointed, but prisons are not intended to be economic development tools," Whitmire said. "There's plenty of areas we need to spend the money. We're not short on needs. We are badly underfunded in many areas. That's why you don't waste money on the items you don't need."

    'Effective Operations'

    Prison officials say the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is the "exclusive contractual partner" with the facility and declined to say what might happen if state funding is cut.

    "We remain focused on working closely with the Department for the continued delivery of high quality, cost effective operations at Mineral Wells," says a statement by Steve Owen, director of public affairs for Corrections Corporation of America.

    Owen said officials at the prison have "worked in strong partnership with TDCJ for two decades to effectively manage the facility and provide cost effective services in compliance with state and national standards. Those services include a wide range of rehabilitation programs, such as GED courses and faith-based opportunities. The facility also meets the statutorily mandated requirement to save taxpayers at least 10 percent - savings that can be used for public safety or other state priorities."

    Officials say more than 5,500 inmates "were safely and securely housed" in the prison last year "while participating in and completing a wide range of quality rehabilitation programs." Owen pointed out that inmate populations do fluctuate.

    Howerton said the daily cost of housing an inmate at the Mineral Wells facility is $34.80, compared with $42.90 at similar state-owned prisons.

    "They offer a much more efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars," Howerton said. "We're not simply trying to protect a local resource. This is a resource that benefits the entire state."

    And Owen noted that workers and inmates are involved with the community.

    "Our Mineral Wells team works hard each and every day to keep the community safe and to give inmates meaningful opportunities to better themselves," he said. "At the same time, the facility is a strong community partner, with CCA and its employees actively giving of their time, talents and resources to local needs."

    That includes guarded crews of inmates helping clean the city and Lake Mineral Wells State Park, and employees being active in local organizations such as Palo Pinto County United Way, Palo Pinto County Relay for Life, Palo Pinto Meals on Wheels and the Carter Blood Care blood drives.

    Estes said he's working to keep the prison open.

    "Not to offer any false hope, but until the bill is done, there's always hope," he said.

    'A Horrible Loss'

    Howerton said he and other city leaders began reaching out to lawmakers in December, talking about the benefits of the prison.

    "We believe that there is a very positive story about this facility ... and that the facility performs its function for the [department] and for the taxpayers of this state at a significant economic benefit relative to other state-run facilities," he said. "This is a well-run facility, a very efficient facility and it has good value for the taxpayers of the state of Texas.

    "Hopefully that will carry the day for us."

    Bill Bennett, who has lived in Mineral Wells for 50 years and retired from Bennett's Office Supply and Equipment, said his business has done a fair amount of business with the prison.

    Business aside, he said the closure of the prison would leave a big hole, especially since he and others praise the work the prison does throughout the city, such as sending guarded crews around town to mow lawns and repair homes. "It's good for the community," he said.

    Beth Williams, who serves on the local United Way board of directors, said she hopes the prison doesn't close.

    She also touts the work crews but the prison contributes to the community in many other ways, including hosting an annual baked potato sale and donating the proceeds to the United Way.

    "They are instrumental in many charitable organizations around here," Williams said. "Nobody wants to lose any kind of industry out here. But this would be a horrible loss for us."

    Anna M. Tinsley,
    817-390-7610
    Twitter: @annatinsley

    Read More Here


    Groups Urge Lawmakers to Shutter Privately Run Jail

    By Brandi Grissom
    January 24, 2013

    More than two dozen civil rights, human rights and criminal justice groups sent a letter Thursday to Texas lawmakers calling on them to close a privately run state jail in downtown Dallas, citing what they call a history of poor management and inhumane conditions.

    "Recent media accounts of inadequate medical care and a rash of preventable deaths at the Dawson State Jail illustrate problems at this facility," the letter states.

    The Corrections Corporation of America runs the Dawson State Jail under a contract with the state. In an emailed statement, the company said that the University of Texas Medical Branch provides health care at the facility and that the company takes seriously its responsibility to oversee that care.

    "It’s unfortunate that these organizations are so closed-minded when it comes to facts and perspectives that might challenge their political agendas," said Steven Owen, CCA spokesman."CCA simply provides safe inmate housing and quality rehabilitation programming at a cost savings to Texas taxpayers."

    With its position on prime Dallas real estate and the falling number of prisoners in Texas, the groups' letter is not the first suggestion of shuttering the facility. The state jail population has fallen from more than 14,000 in 2006 to just less than 12,000 in 2011, and statewide there are some 10,000 vacant prison beds. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, has called for the closure of two prison units, including Dawson. With that many empty beds, he said, it makes sense to consider shutting down unnecessary facilities that are high-security risks. Dawson has faced criticism recently over allegations that health care there is inadequate. The company has denied any wrongdoing and said it works with the state to provide inmates access to health care.

    In response to the letter, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman John Hurt said the agency would work closely with state lawmakers on decisions regarding the closure of facilities.

    The state's contract with CCA for the Dawson facility operations expires Aug. 31, and the groups said in the letter that lawmakers should heed reports of poor conditions and take note of a 2012 health services audit that found conditions at the facility were not compliant with contract.

    "Closing a facility like Dawson State Jail would save taxpayer dollars that can be better spent on programs that work," Ana Yáñez Correa, director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said in a prepared statement.

    Groups Urge Lawmakers to Shutter Privately Run Jail


2012:


    Prison Break: Budget Crises Drive Reform, But Private Jails Press On

    Posted Oct 1, 2012
    By Terry Carter

    Some saw deviltry in the details of a letter (PDF) the Corrections Corporation of America sent to the heads of state corrections departments in January, offering to buy prisons rather than run them for hire.

    Just two weeks earlier, the CCA—the largest company in the nation’s private prison industry—had made the first-ever outright purchase of a state penitentiary. Now it wanted more, striking while the leg-iron was hot. Until that sale, for more than three decades various for-profit incarceration businesses had only contracted to run state and local lockups or built new private ones themselves. The CCA poured $72.7 million into Ohio’s cash-starved coffers to buy the Lake Erie Correctional Institution.

    Then the CCA dangled $250 million in front of officials in other states agonizing over how to squeeze dollars from dirt in a down economy. In return for sacks of cash, the company wants 20- to 30-year contracts for housing criminals.

    And the already controversial full privatization also requires states to grind out convictions and sentences for two or three decades at today’s pace and severity, maintaining a guaranteed 90 percent occupancy rate—calibrating the wheels of justice to fit a profit-margin spreadsheet.

    But that near-no-vacancy sign might prove difficult to lock in. In each of the past three years, overall population in state prisons has declined a bit—dropping for the first time since 1972, when tough-on-crime policies gained traction. Some states are closing prisons, while others have decided not to build facilities already planned.

    That is largely because more and more states are seeking alternatives to what had become lock ’em up and throw open the wallet. They are finding some early success. “Back in the 1980s, we couldn’t talk about criminal justice without mentioning the broken-windows theory, and now that’s happening with mass incarceration,” says Todd Clear, dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University. “It’s not just the research and findings, but the fact that the discussion is happening. Something fundamental has changed.”

    Where two or more decades of ethical, moral and evidence-based reasoning failed, pinched purses of the public fisc are driving change. The states spend more than $50 billion a year on corrections, according to the Pew Center on the States. Now they’re being forced to get smart on crime. Simply being tough is a luxury.

    The U.S., which puts a greater percentage of its citizens behind bars than do China, Russia, Iran and others considered draconian when it comes to criminal justice, might even lose its perch as the world’s leader at incarceration. Not only do we incarcerate more of our citizens; they’re staying in longer. Prisoners released in 2009 had spent an average of nine months longer behind bars than those let out in 1990, according to a study by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project (PDF). “Some nonviolent offenders serve 40 or more years,” Clear says. “That’s insane.”

    "Back in the 1980s, we couldn't talk about criminal justice without mentioning the broken-windows theory, and now that's happening with mass incarceration," says Todd Clear, dean of the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice.

    PRIVATE POWER

    The private incarceration business remains a relatively small (though powerful) interest, housing about 7 percent of state prisoners and slightly more than 16 percent of federal ones. The numbers and percentages took off in the 1990s with tougher laws and federal subsidies for state prisons before entering a business-model and scandal-fueled tailspin late in the decade. They picked up again and increased by more than a third in state prisons during the 2000s, with even greater growth on the federal side thanks to immigration enforcement after 9/11.

    The two largest companies, the Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group, reported combined revenues of $2.9 billion in 2010. The CCA houses about 80,000 prisoners. Of the more than 60 facilities it operates, it owns 44.

    Private prison operators have spent tens of millions of dollars for lobbying and campaign contributions in the past three decades. Besides ongoing state efforts, the CCA spent $23.4 million to lobby the U.S. Congress and several federal agencies over the nine years from 2003 to 2011, coinciding with increased immigration enforcement and detentions. Last year, the CCA received $208 million from contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corp.) got $216 million.

    What the CCA wants to purchase in the states with its “corrections investment initiative,” says Judith Greene, director of the nonprofit Justice Strategies, “is another way to sustain its once-again-threatened business model. They need more than the bailout from immigration detentions.” Greene’s group researches and advocates for reform in correction and sentencing law and policy. A number of studies have shown private prisons bring little or no cost savings, and their profit margins depend mostly on spending less for the biggest business cost—personnel. That means paying less for prison guards, already an extremely low-paying occupation. One result is high turnover and the incompetence that inexperience brings, Greene says. And that has sometimes been a recipe for disasters like prison breaks or prisoner abuse. CCA spokesman Steve Owen says the company is just “one tool in the toolbox for decision-makers meeting criminal justice needs.”

    “The pendulum swings back and forth going back decades, sometimes with more emphasis on hard-bed incarceration and then back to more community justice alternative solutions,” Owens adds. “There is no one silver-bullet solution.” Just the same, Damon Hininger, CCA president and CEO, was clearly energized during an earnings-call teleconference in November 2011 with analysts, investors and reporters after the Ohio deal was set: “We are excited about our prospects on replicating this type of innovative solution with other state and local governments in this difficult fiscal environment.” Hininger pointed out that states were in the fourth straight year of deficit spending. But the CCA has been less upbeat in its annual 10-K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The 2011 iteration repeated the past few in saying the company could be hurt by new developments in criminal justice such as “the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices, or through the decriminalization of certain activities.”

    LOSING FRIENDS

    That trend in criminal justice has hurt the industry’s relationships with some of its friends. Beginning in 2009, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings together conservative lawmakers and membership-and-fee-paying corporate sponsors in a mini-legislature to develop “model bills,” suddenly abandoned its decades-long support of private prisons. ALEC has been crippled this year by the loss of corporate donors in the wake of criticism for promoting “stand your ground” laws, which came under fire after a Florida teen was shot and killed by a volunteer neighborhood watch member. In the mid- to late 1990s, ALEC pushed model bills for truth-in-sentencing provisions requiring inmates to serve no less than 85 percent of a prison term, and for three-strikes laws and other tough-on-crime measures that were enacted in many states and played a major role in filling and overfilling prisons.

    In what would be its last big push for increased incarceration, ALEC adopted a model bill in late 2009 that within months became Arizona’s SB 1070, which brought harsh state action against illegal immigrants. The U.S. Supreme Court knocked down most of the statute in June as being pre-empted by federal law.

    As the CCA’s senior director of business development, Laurie Shanblum was a member of the ALEC task force that produced that model bill. She was its private sector co-chair—an agenda-setting role, according to ALEC documents. The CCA was active on that task force when the organization developed legislative models that would significantly increase incarceration.

    Corrections Corporation of America spokesman Owen says the company has never promoted criminal legislation, including within ALEC: “It was always, in my recollection, a passive membership that permitted our representative to observe dialogue by decision-makers.”

    But once ALEC had firmly embraced initiatives to lower incarceration rates, the CCA soon quit the organization, in 2010. The company would have severed ties earlier but had prepaid for the year, Owen says, noting that with digital, online information it is now easy to “track and monitor trends” without being involved in ALEC.

    Marc Levin, who directs the justice initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is in the forefront of conservative efforts at criminal justice reform that have gained traction in many states. Two exceptions are Florida and Arizona: "Both give basically no parole and they adopted truth in sentencing for even nonviolent drug possession." That, in his view, "puts corrections costs and prison population increases on autopilot."

    NEW DIRECTIONS

    In addition to the rub of ALEC’s redirected criminal justice priorities, other longtime private prison advocates now question the CCA’s call for a 90 percent occupancy rate in prison purchases. They include libertarians and free-market apostles who embraced the Reagan administration’s revolutionary drives for both privatization of government products and services as well as increasingly harsh laws. “Clearly it would be a very bad public policy and tie the hands of public officials,” says Marc Levin, who runs the justice initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a libertarian think tank that added incarceration to its agenda in 2005. “I’m sure Marriott hotels would like a government guarantee for a 90 percent occupancy rate.”

    Levin has written favorably of the private prison industry and he still feels that way, as long as proper incentives and goal-oriented outcomes are involved. (He mentions England’s experiment linking private prisons’ remuneration to reduced recidivism.) But he has become a leader in the movement against overincarceration. Beginning in 2007, Levin’s foundation was instrumental in a push that put Texas, long known for being one of the states hardest on crime, at the forefront of criminal justice reform.

    He ticks off a list of results like a refrain: a 9 percent drop in the incarceration rate (closing one prison and maybe more soon); a 10 percent drop in the crime rate; and a huge drop in expenditures, with $241 million appropriated the first two years for treating mental illness and substance abuse, and for drug courts and other alternatives to incarceration, rather than appropriating $2 billion for more prison beds over the next five years.

    Much of this has come with little or no change in sentencing law—a very deliberate strategy by reformers. Even Levin’s initial writings for the foundation carefully began with concern for victims’ rights before gently segueing to the problem of overincarceration. Seeking to lessen tough-on-crime policies carries the risk of being tagged soft on crime, which can be fatal for organizations dependent on private funding and politicians subject to election.

    Levin is quick to point out that the foundation hasn’t pushed for reduced sentences, though that has happened for some nonviolent, drug-related crimes. For the most part, existing but long-underfunded alternatives to incarceration have been key. For example, Texas had many parole-eligible prisoners trapped by lengthy waiting lists for mandatory treatment programs and halfway houses.

    Additional resources for drug and mental health issues, as well as alternative housing for those prisoners without families, have allowed them to be released. Those additional resources have also made probation and parole programs more effective at lessening a horrific recidivism rate, especially by lowering caseloads for swamped probation officers.

    Probation reform offers perhaps the biggest bang for the buck. About two-thirds of those on parole and probation end up back behind bars, most for accumulating small infractions such as missed meetings and failed drug tests rather than new crimes.

    The new “best practice” turns out to be a firm-parenting style of reform developed in 2004 by Steve Alm, a state judge in Hawaii. The change has resulted in an 80 percent drop in positive drug tests and an equally significant drop in recidivism there. But the program takes a lot more effort and manpower. Rather than let small problems pile up, closely monitored probationers receive immediate punishment, usually a brief stint in jail.

    According to Alm, the Hawaii model known as HOPE, or Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation Enforcement, has been implemented in Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Missouri and Washington, and is being set up in certain cities in Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oregon and Texas. The U.S. Department of Justice also is experimenting with HOPE. Alm, a Honolulu First Circuit Court judge, says he created the program out of frustration with the repetition of failure in probation. “This is Parenting 101, Personal Responsibility 101,” Alm says. “One reason it works is because even the offenders think it’s fair. They used to go along with infraction piling on top of infraction, over and over with no consequences. Now there is some jail every time, though it’s brief—it is swift, certain and proportionate. They get it.”

    While the powerful simplicity of Alm’s narrowly tailored innovation is catching on in some states, others have also been adopting significant reform measures, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon and South Carolina. But there are bumps in the road. Kansas, for instance, saw quick results after adding resources to probation and other community efforts in 2007: a 61 percent success rate for probation in 2008 (compared to 46 percent two years earlier) and a 6 percent drop in prison population. But in 2009’s weakened economy, budget cuts hit those programs hard and the trends reversed. And last year North Carolina enacted the Justice Re-investment Act, which would include closer supervision in probation and parole and more treatment programs. But the legislature didn’t fund it, leaving state Department of Public Safety officials bewildered.

    Hawaii Judge Steve Alm's highly successful probation reform program has been implemented in several states. "One reason it works is because even the offenders think it's fair. They used to go along with infraction piling on top of infraction, over and over with no consequences. Now there is some jail every time, though it's brief—it is swift, certain and proportionate. They get it."

    NO JAIL FOR MORE

    A major point in such legislation is to save even more money by lowering incarceration rates. Prisons account, on average, for 88 percent of state corrections budgets. Prisons have become expensive warehouses where all that matters is time served. One result has been to produce, on average, even more hardened criminals as nonviolent offenders turn into violent ones, especially when returned to the streets abruptly and with little or no training, counseling or bonds to the community.

    “We say, ‘Distinguish between those we’re mad at and those we’re afraid of,’ ” says Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

    After working on such issues with other free-market think tanks in the State Policy Network, Levin realized many of their efforts were similar, isolated and ad hoc. In December 2010, he and others launched the coalition Right on Crime.

    They seek to reclaim criminal justice policy with conservative solutions, admitting their tough-on-crime policies had been counterproductive, though in reaction to what they believe were misguided ones wrought by liberals.

    The foundation on which ROC sits is a statement of principles that includes incentives for both inmates and the corrections system. But what gives the document gravitas is its list of signatories, 51 high-profile conservatives, most of whose names have long been synonymous with “tough on crime”: former Attorney General Edwin Meese; former drug czar William Bennett; Newt Gingrich; former American Conservative Union chairman David Keene; Richard Viguerie, a conservative movement godfather; and the no-tax-hike-pledge guru Grover Norquist, among others.

    “It really helps us when working on these reforms in the states,” says Pat Nolan, director of the Justice Fellowship, which seeks legislative reform of criminal justice policy. The organization is an arm of the Prison Fellowship, the outreach ministry created by Charles Colson after serving time for his role in the Watergate scandal.

    “I used to call Ed Meese or Bill Bennett or some others, time after time, to get them to call individual legislators in support of bills, but now we can just point to the statement of principles and the names behind it,” says Nolan, who had been the Republican leader in the California State Assembly until he was caught accepting illegal campaign contributions. He went to prison in the mid-1990s, where he would follow Colson’s faith-based, redemptive path. Nolan developed the list of big-name conservatives, and he is on it. “The legislators see they’re not alone and supporting oddball aberrations, but are part of the mainstream conservative movement.”

    Even those on the liberal side give props to ROC for speeding up and spreading reform. Criminal justice has become significantly bipartisan at a time when so much else on the public agenda falls into a deep political gorge.

    “Pat Nolan and others deserve an awful lot of credit,” says Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which for 26 years has advocated for sentencing and incarceration reform. “They’re providing a different comfort level for mainstream or conservative lawmakers, letting them know that it’s OK to buy into some of this stuff.”

    But ROC’s imprimatur hasn’t been enough to overcome some setbacks. After several hundred inmates gained early release under a new New Jersey law in 2011, two of them committed murders. Even without the new policy, they would have been on the streets just weeks or months later, and the program’s overall statistics were quite good.

    Still, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used the flap as an opportunity to call out a political rival who had sponsored the legislation, saying she contributed to the murders. The legislature promptly repealed the law. “We know that staying a few more weeks or months in prison won’t change you for the good,” says Rutgers’ Clear. “And somehow prison itself is never held accountable for what people do after they leave.”

    "I used to call Ed Meese or Bill Bennett or some others, time after time, to get them to call individual legislators in support of bills, but now we can just point to the statement of principles and the names behind it," Pat Nolan, director of the Justice Fellowship.

    REFORM RISES …

    Despite bumps in the road, incarceration reform is gaining momentum.

    Bill Shepherd, the ABA Criminal Justice Section chair, was once Florida’s statewide prosecutor, heading eight offices concerned largely with criminal networks, including gangs. He is now a leader in ABA efforts to help states develop reforms.

    The section, along with other ABA entities, is promoting five detailed proposals for legislators: pretrial release, decriminalization of minor offenses, effective re-entry programs, community corrections programs, and increased use of parole and probation.

    Sweeping reform is also under way in California, though not wholly by choice. Voter initiatives scheduled for this fall would significantly curtail the state’s onerous three-strikes sentencing law and abolish the death penalty, an expensive venture for any state, especially a large one.

    But perhaps the most interesting and promising reform effort in the country is California’s response to a federal court-ordered release of 30,000 inmates over the next two years because of prison overcrowding. California had the highest number of state prisoners in the country and is in the process of releasing 20 percent of them.

    Among a number of tactics, such as increased parole and earned time-reduction credits, the most novel and closely watched was pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown. In October 2011, under the Criminal Justice Realignment Act, the state turned responsibility for certain prisoners not convicted of sex offenses or violent crime back to the localities that convicted them.

    Those criminals will no longer be housed in state facilities. The localities get some (but not much) money from the state to deal with the changes, and it is up to them to decide between alternatives to incarceration and building new jails.

    … BUT NOT EVERYWHERE

    Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat who spent seven years in Arizona's legislature before resigning to run for Congress this year, takes issue with the state's decision to steer foreclosure settlement funds to private prisons.

    Still, two states are notable for continuing with lock-’em-up approaches that burden budgets. “Florida and Arizona have been stubborn,” says Levin, whose libertarian-backed reforms in Texas were rebuffed when broached in Arizona. “They have some commonalities: Both give basically no parole and they adopted truth in sentencing for even nonviolent drug possession—without parole. That puts corrections costs and prison population increases on autopilot.”

    Earlier this year, a bipartisan legislative effort in Florida stopped a fast-track push to put 27 of its prisons into what would be the largest single-state private prison network in the nation. The effort seemed teed up for the Geo Group, a Florida-based company and the CCA’s main competitor. (The state already is one of a handful that account for most of the nation’s private-prison business.)

    At the same time, Florida moved to tighten its corrections belt, with the legislature recommending cuts that would include the loss of 256 probation officer positions.

    Arizona is something else entirely. Facing serious budget problems in 2009, the state tried putting its full faith in saving money through privatized incarceration—a promise its own studies have discounted. That September, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law that would have made up to nine of the state’s 10 prison complexes privately run. It was repealed with less fanfare in March 2010 because of concerns about the ability of private prison companies to run maximum security facilities. But the state remains undeterred in its belief in more prisoners and more prisons, especially those run privately. In May the legislature passed a budget that contained a provision eliminating “the requirement for a quality and cost review of private prison contracts.” Until then, private prisons had to cost less and provide more.

    “They zeroed it out of the budget so that it can’t happen,” says Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat who spent seven years in Arizona’s legislature before resigning in January to run for the U.S. Congress. “But even when it was required they didn’t do it. So there were no annual quality and cost reviews being done anyway.”

    Shortly before the legislative move, the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group focused on criminal justice reform, released a study (PDF) indicating Arizona’s cost for private prison beds between 2008 and 2010 was $10 million greater than it would have been with public facilities.

    Arizona’s expensive overincarceration problem has been fed in part by highly symbolic policies concerning clemency and pardons. Brewer is not only setting a modern record for the fewest grants of clemency; in April she replaced three of the five members of the clemency board after its unanimous recommendation to free a model prisoner whose mandatory sentence had been called “excessively harsh” even by the judge handling the matter. And at a time when most budget items have been slashed in Arizona, money for corrections continues to increase.

    When the state received nearly $98 million in a settlement with several financial institutions for foreclosure abuses, $50 million was diverted to the general fund. Coincidentally, the budget calls for spending $50 million to develop another 500 maximum-security prison beds and twice that many in private prisons.

    “They took that money and put it in private prisons,” Sinema says. “It was supposed to be dedicated to foreclosure prevention.” Arizona has suffered one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates.

    Things are somewhat different in Louisiana, where legislators have rebuffed Gov. Bobby Jindal for the past two years when he tried to sell state prisons to private-prison companies in order to pump tens of millions of dollars into the shrinking revenue stream. Louisiana has the distinction of incarcerating the highest percentage of its population of any state, and thus is the leader in a nation that holds the same record worldwide. Sheriffs running local prisons fatten their own budgets with per diems from the state for prisoners they hold.

    According to an in-depth series earlier this year by New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, about half of Louisiana’s inmates are in local prisons, including private ones—a far higher percentage than in other states—while local sheriffs and the private prison industry are hauling in $182 million a year to operate them.

    But when Jindal made a bid to sell some prisons outright, Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy likened the governor to “a junkie selling the television set and radio to generate money for his next fix.”

    OPENING THE CELLS

    Few think the lock-’em-up approach is sustainable for much longer. The incarceration reform movement seems inexorable, despite concerns that if the economy continues to stall, U.S. legal systems will find more reasons and ways to put people behind bars—or that if flush times return, we will be able to afford ever-growing prison populations.

    But no matter how much the economy might recover, battles will only increase over funding for education, crumbling infrastructure, various entitlement programs, outlays for medical care and more on a list of social priorities likely to eclipse the need to lock up those with whom we might be angry, but who otherwise don’t pose much threat.

    “These things are enormously expensive and people care about them a great deal,” says Clear, the Rutgers criminology dean. “It used to be that in surveys of what people are concerned about, crime would be No. 1, 2 or 3. Now it’s not in the top 10, and hasn’t been for 15 years.

    “I believe this change will have some legs,” Clear says. He’s been nudging it for three decades and is more hopeful than some colleagues. “History will show that the mass incarceration era has ended.”

    Prison Break: Budget Crises Drive Reform, But Private Jails Press On


    Advocacy Groups Target Private Prisons for Immigrants

    • By Maurice Chammah
    • September 13, 2012

    The unnecessary prosecution of nonviolent illegal immigrants is sending ever larger numbers to poorly managed private prisons, a coalition of advocacy groups said in a report released Thursday, calling on Congress to reject the appropriation of $25,865,000 for 1,000 new private prison beds.

    The coalition, which includes Justice Strategies, the ACLU of Texas, Grassroots Leadership and the Sentencing Project, argued that “petty immigration violations” are sending more Latinos to prisons where they face “poor management, lack of medical care, prolonged lockdown and human rights violations.” These facilities, called “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons, are run by private companies including the Corrections Corporation of America, the Management & Training Corporation and the GEO Group.

    “Conditions in CAR facilities are intentionally separate, unequal and wholly inhumane,” Krystal Gómez, policy and advocacy counsel for the ACLU of Texas, said in a news release. She said she has interviewed more than 100 CAR prisoners.

    “Prisoners reported conditions that violate both constitutional protections and human rights norms, such as refusal to diagnose or treat disfiguring and progressive tumors, denial of critical medication to manage chronic diseases like diabetes and epilepsy," she said, "and failure to identify and treat dangerous communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, which pose significant risk to public health.”

    The groups are asking Congress to reject an appropriation of nearly $26 million for 1,000 new prison beds proposed in the 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which would likely go to one of the three companies, which all have a large presence in Texas. A facility in Willacy County on the Texas-Mexico border and managed by the Management Training Corporation (MTC) was converted last year from an immigration detention center to a CAR prison for convicted immigrants.

    The demand for immigrant detention facilities grew in 2005 with the beginning of a program called Operation Streamline, which directs law enforcement who catch illegal migrants to turn them over for prosecution, rather than return them to Mexico or send them to immigration courts. Although there are no specific statistics for immigration detention centers, private corrections companies like CCA and MTC currently house 13,812 federal inmates at seven facilities in Texas, according to statistics from the Bureau of Prisons.

    Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said that his agency cannot respond to complaints about conditions, and that it is up to the companies themselves to deal with the specific concerns of inmates.

    CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the criticism is misplaced. "Ultimately, these groups are seeking to engage in a discussion about immigration detention policy, which CCA neither makes nor enforces," he wrote in an email. "Further, under longstanding corporate policy, we do not lobby for, promote, or in any way take a position on immigration detention policy. We hope these critic groups will shift their time, effort and money to the appropriate policy forums rather than attacking a company providing solutions to some very serious problems facing our country."

    Issa Arnita, a spokesman for MTC, said critics of private prison companies miss the point of the services they provide.

    "We are a partner with government agencies to save money and because we bring expertise," Arnita said.

    Advocacy Groups Target Private Prisons for Immigrants


    AUGUST 25, 2012

    Private prison roundup: Investors betting on immigration detention boom continuing

    Grits for Breakfast posted a good article that point out a few items related to private prisons...

    Read the whole entry »HERE


    As East Texas Public-Private Psych Facility Struggles, State Plans More Privatization

    By Andrea Ball
    Published: July 21, 2012


    Eric Swist/Courier of Montgomery County

    Sixteen months after the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility opened in Conroe, the state's first publicly funded, privately run psychiatric hospital is facing at least $53,000 in state fines for serious shortcomings in patient care.

    The private operator, Geo Care, is a subsidiary of Geo Group, a private prison company that has drawn attention in recent years because of deaths, riots and sexual abuse at some units in Texas and other states.

    Geo Care spokesman Pablo Paez declined to comment to the American-Statesman. Montgomery County Commissioner Ed Chance said all deficiencies cited by the state have been fixed.

    Meanwhile, the facility's construction, by a different firm, is the target of a separate federal grand jury inquiry.

    The problems come to light as the Department of State Health Services prepares to privatize one of the 10 public psychiatric hospitals it oversees. If Geo Care bids on the ongoing privatization effort — and it has expressed interest to public officials in doing so — its work in Montgomery County could be a harbinger of what taxpayers can expect if a for-profit company wins control of a public state hospital.

    This week, the agency will accept bids from contractors seeking to run one of those facilities for at least 10 percent less than the current cost, a move that could save the state millions of dollars each year. If an offer is accepted, a private company could be running a state hospital by the end of the year.

    The privatization process also comes at a time when the public psychiatric hospitals are mired in their own problems. Last month, former Austin State Hospital psychiatrist Charles Fischer was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on charges that he sexually abused five patients under his care at the facility.

    Since March 2011, the Montgomery County hospital has been comprehensively reviewed three times by State Health Services. All three visits have found problems, including unauthorized restraint and seclusion of patients, incomplete medical records, failure to show patient consent for medications and failure to report serious injuries to the state.

    The hospital also did not adequately monitor patients, kept patients for months after they had been deemed competent to stand trial and had overly restrictive phone policies, according to reviews.

    A June 2011 report stated that one patient seriously injured himself and then ate fecal matter, but the incident was not reported to the state as required or addressed through his treatment plan. Classes designed to help patients recover were described as "bedlam," and numerous patients refused to attend, the report states.

    A review this spring by a team from the state hospital division indicated many of the same problems.

    In one case, a patient was required to clean up his own feces and urine, the report states. In another case, a patient hurt himself in isolation, but staffers were afraid to enter the room to help him, according to an email written by state hospital accreditation/certification coordinator Jo Ann Elliott, who was part of a team reviewing the facility.

    "While in seclusion for four hours, patient banged his head on the seclusion room window and walls, causing lacerations to both eyes and a bruise to head. Patient threatened staff if door was opened," Elliott wrote to other members of the team. "Why was mechanical restraint not considered to protect patient from self-harm?"

    Such incidents alarm mental health advocates.

    "You should have such training where you know how to deal with it when someone is doing that to themselves, period," said Robin Peyson, executive director of NAMI Texas, an advocacy group for people with mental illness.

    Chance said that the hospital took the state's concerns seriously, making staffing changes, adopting new rules and providing additional training to employees.

    "Although deficiencies have been reported by (state) regulatory staff in the past, Geo Care has promptly taken steps to address each concern." Chance said.

    Geo's History In Texas

    Geo Group is best known in Texas for its rocky history in the prison system. In 2007, officials shut down the company's Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in West Texas, citing unsafe and unsanitary conditions. In 2009, inmates at the Reeves County Detention Center, also in West Texas, rioted over the quality of health care and other complaints.

    Although state records don't indicate such extreme conditions at the Montgomery County hospital, State Health Services proposed in May that the facility pay a $107,000 fine for its deficiencies. Last week, the state tentatively knocked that fine down to $53,000, but the decision is not final.

    "The facility is still getting its feet on the ground and is dealing with some startup issues as a new facility," State Health Services spokeswoman Carrie Williams said. "We need to see improvements, and we're giving them the opportunity to do that. We continue to work with them and expect them to get it right."

    Plans for a psychiatric hospital in Montgomery County publicly emerged three years ago, when Texas legislators signed off on the idea to help ease the growing number of forensic patients, mentally incompetent criminal defendants waiting in jails to be transferred to a state hospital.

    The 100-bed, $33 million hospital has a mock courtroom, a gymnasium, a library and other amenities. It brought 175 jobs to Conroe and saves the county from routinely having to drive inmate patients to Rusk State Hospital, more than 100 miles away.

    The facility opened in March 2011. The county has a two-year, $15 million-per-year contract with the state to house forensic patients. Hospital staffers provide treatment such as medication and classes designed to make patients competent to stand trial. When patients regain competency, they are returned to their communities or local jails to await their legal proceedings.

    State Health Services contracts with Montgomery County, which then pays Geo to run the facility. Geo won the contract through a competitive bid process, Chance, the county commissioner, said.

    Although the county commissioners have the final say in decisions regarding the hospital, State Health Services plays a role in oversight by investigating complaints, receiving regular contract compliance reports and ensuring that the facility is providing appropriate services.

    Chance said the Montgomery County operation has proved cheaper to run than the public psychiatric hospitals. In May, the commissioner told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that costs to run the Conroe hospital were as much as 31 percent cheaper than at other state facilities.

    That's exactly what legislators said they wanted when they directed State Health Services to solicit bids to privatize a public psychiatric hospital by this fall.

    Exactly what a privatized hospital would look like is unclear, as the proposals have not yet been submitted. How much money would be saved is also an unknown. Individual hospital costs vary greatly because of differences in the number of patients served and the services they provide. Austin State Hospital, for example, has a $47 million annual budget; the El Paso Psychiatric Center runs for $13 million.

    But State Health Services has already laid out numerous guidelines for what it would expect of a contractor. The agency, for example, would have to approve all employees in key positions, such as the superintendent or clinical director. The Department of Family and Protective Services would investigate abuse, neglect and exploitation complaints, as it does now at the public hospitals. The contractor would also need to continue the hospital's accreditation with the Joint Commission, which sets performance standards for medical facilities.

    Federal Investigation

    Meanwhile, the construction of the facility has come into the spotlight.

    In September 2009, Montgomery County commissioners hired Alliance Development Inc., to build the hospital. The Shenandoah-based company also constructed the Joe Corley Detention Facility, which is owned by the county and is run by Geo Group. It opened in August 2008.

    Now, the construction of the jail and the hospital are part of a federal grand jury investigation. In May, the U.S. attorney's office in Houston issued a subpoena to the county, asking for records, contracts, subcontracts and other information related to the development of those projects. They also wanted to know how the county chose Alliance Development for the jobs.

    Chance said the county has complied with the subpoena and turned over the required documents.

    "I'm absolutely confident there's nothing wrong," he said.

    Commissioners are also talking about selling the hospital. Chance said that consideration of a sale is a routine part of the county's annual assessment of its assets and that no decision has been made. But Geo Care has already indicated to Montgomery County Judge Alan Sadler that it might be willing to pay $50 million for the hospital, said Doris Golemon, Sadler's aide.

    "The judge said that he even expects them to offer more," Golemon said.

    How that potential sale would work, what legal hurdles might arise and what that would mean for State Health Services is unclear.

    "It's something we'd have to evaluate," spokeswoman Williams said. "We'd need specifics from the county. We'd be looking very closely at how a sale could impact services and whether that would line up with lawmakers' original intent for the facility."

    Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who was instrumental in gathering legislative support for the county hospital in his district, said through a spokesman last week that he did not have time to talk to the American-Statesman about the latest developments with the facility. But the senator continues to support the hospital, said spokesman Jason Baxter.

    "He's for whatever works, and he thinks privatization is working in Montgomery County to provide the most services to the most people," Baxter said. "Yes, they've had hiccups, but the county is taking actions to address those."

    Contact Andrea Ball at 912-2506

    Watchdog coverage

    Andrea Ball has covered social services for the American-Statesman since 2002. Her recent work has included reports on the lack of shelter space for homeless women in Austin, hospital psychiatrists with a history of sexual improprieties with patients, and problems at state centers for people with intellectual disabilities.

    As East Texas public-private psych facility struggles, state plans more privatization


    Why Private Prisons Will Lock Up Your Returns

    By Justin Loiseau, The Motley Fool
    Posted 06/28/12

    Pop quiz: What's a $74 billion industry with a potential customer pool of 1.6 million users, a monthly membership cost of $1,500, and a retention rate that would leave Sirius XM or Netflix drooling? The answer: private prisons. However, a critical look at the failings and financial fudging of these corporations reveals several reasons why this sector is destined for destruction.

    A history of private prisons, abridged

    Private prison companies offer the public sector something very valuable: a buyout contract with immediate revenue in exchange for incremental long-term cost. Ready to hand over the keys, decision makers from police chiefs to the federal government are happy to wash their hands of prison management and enjoy some extra cash while they're at it. Private prison companies are sweetening the deal even more with campaign contributions and promises of new jobs.

    From 2000 to 2010, the number of inmates kept in private prisons rose nearly 50%, from 87,000 to 128,000. While this amounts to less than 10% of all prisoners nationwide, it represents a serious trend toward privatization as budget-squeezed states look for ways to cut costs.

    The Wardens

    Corrections Corporation of America (NYS: CXW) and GEO Group (NYS: GEO) hold half of all prison contracts and collectively pulled in $3.3 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2011. In an industry that lives by economies of scale, CCA enjoys a net profit margin of 9% -- nearly double that of GEO Group. However, both companies have seen decreases in net profit margins over the last four years, even as revenue has consistently risen. This is due in large part to decreases in prison occupancy rates. Like for Superman, less crime means less business for these companies.

    In terms of stock price, CCA is trading about 25% higher than my purely quantitative calculation of intrinsic value. But a fundamental analysis of these companies and the industry at large shines an even brighter light on its dark future.

    Bad News For Prison Blues

    At a fundamental level, the mandate of a private prison is inherently different from that of a state-run institution. Whereas a state-run prison's motives center around ideals of rehabilitation and societal improvement, private prisons view inmates as a cost to society that should be minimized. While public prisons are no picnic, private prisons are known to consistently short-staff personnel, scrimp on guard training, shrink inmate medical-care services, and ignore facility maintenance.

    A few tangible results from this economization include escaped felons, undisrupted gang violence, dysfunctional surveillance equipment, and cell-robbing, drug-dealing guards. In a period of 14 months at a CCA prison, there were 13 stabbings, two murders, and six violent escapes. The Department of Justice is investigating GEO Group for alleged staff sexual misconduct described as the "worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation." Now, remind me again who's supposed to be behind bars?

    Cutting Costs?

    In an unprecedented 2010 report by the Arizona Department of Corrections, an "adjusted cost per capita" determined that private-prison costs are not significantly different in minimum-security prisons and are actually higher for medium-security prisons. "Adjusted" accounts for the fact that various private prison companies refuse to accept costly (i.e., violent, sick, and/or developmentally disabled) inmates. Looks like the bottom line just got a little fuzzy.

    Source: Author, using data from Arizona Dept. of Corrections FY2010 Operating Per Capita Cost Report.

    Did The Prison Bubble Just Burst?

    In 2010, prison releases exceeded prison admissions for the first time since the Bureau of Justice Statistics began collecting data in 1977. Private-prison use has been falling since 2007 and has remained constant or negative over the past two years.

    Source: Author, using data from Bureau of Justice Statistics. A big increase in search-engine interest about privately managed correctional facilities suggests that the general public is paying attention, too.

    Source: Author, using data from Google Trends.

    And guess what the public owns? Stocks and votes. As public outcry continues to grow, contracts have already begun to flutter away. More than a third of CCA's contracts and approximately half of GEO's contracts expire in 2012, creating even more opportunities for governments to make their great escape. With no growth and no competitive advantage, it's only a matter of time until financial markets follow suit. Private prisons make neither sense nor cents, so make your break today.

    Private Prisons and your Portfolio might not mix, but the upcoming presidential election offers a unique opportunity to make the most of politics and your portfolio picks, regardless of how you vote. Be sure to check out how this year's elections could mean major returns by reading our free report now.

    It's as free as this article, so grab yours today!

    The article Why Private Prisons Will Lock Up Your Returns originally appeared on Fool.com.

    Why Private Prisons Will Lock Up Your Returns


    Private Prison Pitch Slammed

    March 2nd
    Reported By; Patti Hart
    Houston Chronicle's City & State columnist

    A proposal by a for-profit prison company to purchase state prisons – at a time when many states are facing budget shortfalls – is under fire from activist groups and at least one Texas lawmaker.

    The American Civil Liberties Union, joined by a coalition of 60 policy and religious groups, Thursday released a letter sent to Gov. Rick Perry (as well as the nation’s other governors) urging him to rebuff the offer by the Corrections Corporation of America.

    “It is insulting that these for-profit companies come into towns and counties across the state pretending that they have our public safety in mind. For-profit prisons have one priority, and that is to make money for shareholders,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas.

    The ACLU director also called CCA’s proposal “a backdoor invitation to take on additional debt while increasing CCA’s profits and impeding the serious criminal justice reforms needed to combat the nation’s mass incarceration crisis.”

    According to news reports, CCA offered to purchase a prison if the selling state would guarantee to keep it filled 90 percent capacity for 20 years. The ACLU predicted such agreements would unravel prison alternatives that are proving more effective at deterring crime.

    “It is unconscionable to line the pockets of private companies whose existence depends on the nation’s addiction to incarceration, a grave social crisis that exacts a huge toll on taxpayers while providing no public safety benefit and leaving a disproportionate number of people of color behind bars,” said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “In order to reduce corrections spending, we need to commit to the systemic reform of our criminal justice system.”

    Meanwhile, the chairman of the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, John Whitmire said he did not see the CCA proposal gaining “much traction in my office.”

    Whitmire, who has championed prison alternatives like drug and alcohol treatment, said he didn’t want to retreat on sentencing alternatives that are “leading the way” in the rest of the country.

    The alternative programs actually “lowered our recidivism rate” and need for new prison construction by placing inmates in alcohol and drug treatment, he said.

    Just this year, he pointed out, the state closed a facility in Sugar Land.

    “We ought not to try to fill prisons,” he said. “Prisons should be about public safety, not earning a profit.”

    Private prison pitch slammed


2011:


    NOVEMBER 22, 2011

    Bearish on private prison stocks if mass-incarceration bubble bursts

    Over the past several years Wall-Street analyst types have been touting private prisons as a wise long-term investment, primarily for three reasons:
    ^The rise of mass incarceration over the last three decades, assuming the trend will continue
    ^State budget cuts reducing the likelihood that state governments will spend to build more prisons, and
    ^A massive increase in immigration detention policies that began under Bush II and escalated dramatically under Obama.

    So I was interested to notice that Market Intelligence Watch, which has been bullish on private prison stocks for a quite a while, in the last couple of months issued statements about the two largest private prison firms - Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group declaring both suffer from "bearish technicals," which would be much closer to my own assessment.

    Geo stock recently hit a 52-week low, down 30% from just a year ago.

    For several years now, Grits has believed that, examining the underlying fundamentals, both firms (particularly GEO) are far too laden with debt to justify bullish advice to investors. GEO has warned in corporate filings that its debt load could soon require them to divert money from operations to pay for debt amassed to gobble up competitors. Similarly, CCA's latest 10-K report on file with the SEC says its large debt could "require us to dedicate a substantial portion of our cash flow from operations to payments on our indebtedness."

    Even more than their massive debt loads, though, a bigger potential problem for these companies may be the possibility that we're nearing the end of the largest incarceration boom (read: bubble) in the history of the planet. The three bulleted factors above all could easily reverse in the next few years. More states are contemplating de-incarceration measures because of budget shortfalls, for example, and states like Texas have seen their incarceration rates decline. If states implement such policy changes on a wider scale, it could reverse the upward trend mentioned in the first bullet and debunk the premise of the second - that incarceration rates will continue to increase even if states can't afford new prison construction.

    Meanwhile, the boom in immigration detention is a short to medium-term phenomenon at best, driven largely by nativist sentiments that will not prevail long-term in political circles because of their radical impracticality. Even Rick Perry has suggested a program to let the 12-14 million undocumented immigrants get visas to stay here legally, while bipartisan proposals for comprehensive immigration reform, like the bygone McCain-Kennedy legislation, would likely go even farther. Immigration detention on its present scale is at best a short-term fix that will decline dramatically whenever a long-term political solution, of any sort, is finally reached. The companies' long-term debt, however, won't go away just because their number of contract beds decline.

    If Grits is right that we're nearing the end of America's mass-incarceration bubble - and admittedly that may be wishful thinking, though I believe there are signs of a sea change in both elite and public opinion on the topic - then in coming years these companies' high debt loads will become entirely untenable. As CCA put it in their 10-K:
    A decrease in occupancy levels could cause a decrease in revenues and profitability. While a substantial portion of our cost structure is generally fixed, a significant portion of our revenues are generated under facility management contracts which provide for per diem payments based upon daily occupancy. We are dependent upon the governmental agencies with which we have contracts to provide inmates for our managed facilities. We cannot control occupancy levels at our managed facilities. Under a per diem rate structure, a decrease in our occupancy rates could cause a decrease in revenues and profitability. When combined with relatively fixed costs for operating each facility, regardless of the occupancy level, a decrease in occupancy levels could have a material adverse effect on our profitability.

    These companies' biggest nightmare would be a combination of drug legalization and comprehensive immigration reform. Again from CCA's 10-K:
    The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

    Investing in private prisons basically is a wager that the United States has such a dysfunctional political system that we can't solve the immigration question or scale back the drug war, ever, and for many years that's seemed like a prescient gamble. Betting on the intelligence and competence of government officials will always get you poor odds. But if that longshot comes in and America's mass-incarceration bubble finally bursts, investors in both these companies will take a huge hit. The "bearish technicals" identified at CCA and the GEO Group may just indicate that, at this particular point in history, those long odds could be getting shorter. I certainly hope so.

    POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST

    LABELS: GEO GROUP, PRIVATE PRISONS


    Nov. 22nd

    ACLU Report on Private Prisons

    The ACLU recently published a report, Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration, which details the rise of the for-profit prison industry, its links to higher incarceration rates, and consequences of private prison use - both in financial and human costs.

    Please click Here to learn more about the risks of privatization and to download a copy of the ACLU's report.

    During Texas' 2011 legislative session, policy-makers made the responsible decision to reject a measure that would have given control of state jails to private vendors.

    Click Here to read TCJC's own brief on the negative ramifications of privatization.

    Reported By: TCJC


    SEPTEMBER 04, 2011

    Private prisons and "faux privatization"

    At Forbes, E.D. Kain provides a poignant analysis of why "faux privatization" of prisons really isn't privatization at all, but merely a way to transfer monopoly rents from public coffers to private ones.

    In a post last week he posited:
    Here’s the problem with faux privatization: If all you do is take taxpayer money and give it to a private corporation to do a mandated public service like prison work, you’re not actually shrinking government.

    That’s just a ruse. All you’re actually doing is giving a monopoly rent to a private contractor who then goes about the same business the state would have provided. This is often referred to as “cronyism”.

    Some services the state provides can actually be privatized. Imagine if the state provided snow shoveling services for all sidewalks. You could reasonably privatize this by deciding that the state would no longer provide the service and people would need to either shovel their own sidewalk or pay somebody else to do it.

    That’s real privatization. The government is out of the equation altogether.

    This simply doesn’t work with prisons, for obvious reasons. No matter what, the state is responsible for locking people up. Thus any ‘privatization’ that occurs is simply the transfer of the provision of a government service (in this case, incarceration) to a private contractor. The contractor still operates with the full force of the law. In other words, it’s still government, just government-for-hire or for-profit government.

    Profiting off of crime should make us uncomfortable, I think, especially when it involves pocketing taxpayer money.

    There are times when it makes sense to use a private contractor. For instance, government buildings are typically built by private construction companies. It makes very little sense for governments to have their own construction outfit. But things like construction are services for the government rather than for the taxpayer. Furthermore, they’re temporary. A contractor building a prison is very different from a contractor actually running a prison. Incentives differ in important ways.

    So when we talk about prison privatization, it’s important to remember that it’s not actually privatization at all. It’s just a way to transfer monopoly rents over to private companies.

    Bingo! Unless you believe government has no function at all, imprisoning convicted felons must be a primary one. Private-prison companies provide at best short-term savings but bring with them more long-term problems. That's true both when the state leases beds (or management of its facilities) long term, and when counties overbuild their jails based on suggestions or promises from this or that private prison contractor. In the end, the company is obligated for no longer than the contract stipulates. By comparison, the government can't walk away from its obligation to incarcerate, so as contract partners go, it has a lot more skin in the game.

    What's notable, but unstated: Mr. Kain's appraisal applies pretty much across the board to the entire private-prison industry, which collectively runs hundreds of units across dozens of states and countries. Is there any private-prison contract that withstands the critique that it "transfer[s] monopoly rents to private companies"? With scarce few exceptions, the entire industry relies upon a business model subject to Mr. Kain's harsh judgment. The stance, "You should not exist" is not one subject to too much compromise.

    Given that, how should we regard Mr. Kain's provocative suggestion? From the perspective of theoretical economic efficiency regarding how to deliver monopoly public goods - the way the gray-haired Keynesians taught me as an economics major back at UT-Austin many years ago - Kain's analysis is right on track. From a practical perspective, there are times when private companies allow states to expand capacity more rapidly than would otherwise be possible, as Texas did in 2007 with new treatment and diversion dollars. And from a political perspective, private prison companies give a lot of money to a lot of incumbents, not just governors, and by comparison there's no powerful, monied PAC advocating on behalf of sound economic theory in these matters, now is there?

    "Faux privatization," it is, then.

    POSTED BY GRITSFORBREAKFAST
    LABELS: PRIVATE PRISONS


    Flush With Prison Industry Dollars, Rick Perry Pushed Privatized Prisoner Care

    Corrections industry lobbyists and execs donated generously to the Texas governor's reelection campaign. He advanced policies that would benefit the prison industry. Coincidence?

    —By Tim Murphy
    Sep. 1, 2011

    Under the banner of closing the state's $27 billion deficit last winter, Texas Gov. Rick Perry floated a proposal to privatize the state's prison health care network. Whether the plan would actually save the state any money was a matter of debate, but one thing was clear: The move would have been a boon for the private-prison industry, whose executives and lobbyists, including Perry's former chief of staff, had donated generously to his 2010 reelection campaign.

    The plan met bipartisan resistance in the state Legislature, but it was just one of a handful of recent proposals by Perry's office that would have benefited the industry—all in the name of deficit reduction.

    Private prisons are a big business in Texas, where the combination of federal immigration policies and one of the nation's largest inmate populations has led to a boom in construction over the last two decades. As governor, Perry, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, has supported privatizing everything from public lands to highways, but according to Scott Henson, a criminal-justice watchdog who runs the blog Grits for Breakfast, the governor had remained largely quiet on the prisons issue—until this year.

    That coincided with an influx of campaign contributions from private-prison executives and lobbyists, among them his former top aide, Michael Toomey, a political powerbroker who represents the nation's largest private corrections contractor, Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, per its website, "provides health care services to male and female inmates and youthful offenders who are housed in local jails, detention facilities, and correctional institutions around the country." (Toomey told Mother Jones he had not lobbied Perry's office or the state Legislature on the prison health care plan; Perry's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)

    Toomey, who had not contributed directly to any of the governor's previous gubernatorial campaigns, opened up his wallet for two separate $10,000 donations to Perry two months before Election Day in 2010. Thomas Beasley, the founder of CCA, has given $17,000 to Perry’s campaigns over the last decade. Another private prison firm, the GEO Group, poured $15,000 into Perry’s 2010 reelection effort in 2010 through its eponymous political action committee. Luis Gonzalez, a GEO Group lobbyist, meanwhile, gave $50,000 to Perry’s reelection bid.

    Perry first floated the health care privatization proposal in his 2011 budget, which noted: "The Governor’s budget recommends canceling necessary contracts early to explore private sector delivery options, or instructing the state-supported institution to provide correctional care according to the constitutional minimum level." Mike Ward of the Austin American-Statesman reported that Perry adviser Mike Morrissey held a closed-door meeting in March to discuss the privatization proposal with potential vendors—but not, pointedly, the state-university-operated facilities that currently run things.

    A flurry of privatization bills were introduced by Republican lawmakers during the regular, biannual legislative session, but all of them fizzled out. And then in June, as the Legislature scrambled to put together a budget during a special session, the plan resurfaced in two different pieces of legislation. First, an amendment was attached by a GOP lawmaker to an unrelated bill that 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. That proposal, which was jettisoned after it came to light, would have effectively given the governor's office the power to unilaterally make sweeping changes to the system.

    "There was no evidence that it could be done cheaper," says state Rep. Jerry Madden, a Republican, who chairs the House corrections subcommittee and worked to have the language removed. A second proposal, a few days later, would have explicitly granted the corrections agency the power to solicit bids for prison health care services but not mandated it.

    Earlier, Perry’s office had floated another proposal that seemed designed to please the private-prison industry. It sought to eliminate the independence of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and fold it, along with two other public-safety commissions, into a single agency. The governor’s office justified the move, which ultimately fell short, as a spending measure, a chance to eliminate bureaucratic redundancies. But critics saw a pattern.

    "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."

    Perry has drawn scrutiny for his cozy relationships with top donors. According to the groupTexans for Public Justice (PDF), nearly 20 percent of the governor’s fundraising totals since 2001 have come from people whom he has appointed, while programs like the $200 million Texas Enterprise Fund, designed to help the state lure new businesses with tax incentives, have been criticized as a "slush fund" for Perry donors. Toomey, the aide-turned-lobbyist who Texas Monthly ranked as one of the 25 most influential politicos in the state, was the key player in Perry’s decision, overturned by the Legislature, to require all adolescent girls to receive an HPV vaccination. At the time, Toomey was a lobbyist for Merck, the pharmaceutical company that manufactured the vaccine.

    Toomey, known in Austin as "Mike the Knife," served as Perry’s chief of staff for almost two years, from November 2002 through September 2004. The two have remained close—in August, Toomey formed a Super PAC, Make Us Great Again, specifically to support Perry’s presidential campaign. He added CCA to his client roster in 2007.

    In 2003, Perry signed a line-item veto eliminating the funding for the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council, a state agency tasked with providing "objective analysis and assessment of state criminal justice programs and initiatives." According to the Austin Chronicle, the decision to pull the plug on the agency came from Toomey, who had lobbied for prison contractors before he worked for Perry. (Toomey has denied any involvement in the program’s elimination.)

    Perry's rush to privatize prison health care is consistent with the approach he's taken throughout most of his 10 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 reelection campaign in 2010, as the private-prison industry filled his war chest with donations, "Texas is open for business." To his critics, those words have never rang truer.

    Tim Murphy is a reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com. Get Tim Murphy's RSS feed.

    Flush With Prison Industry Dollars, Rick Perry Pushed Privatized Prisoner Care


    Proposed bill could privatize prisons, charge inmates more for health care

    By Heather Nolan
    Published April 17, 2011

    Rep. Erwin Cain, R-Como, proppsed an amendment to HB3386 that could require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to seek private companies to operate all state jails.

    Private companies already operate five of the state's 20 jail facilities. Cain's proposal would affect the other 15 state jails, which includes the Gist Unit in Beaumont.

    State Rep. Joe Deshotel, whose district includes parts of Jefferson and Orange counties, said he wasn't familiar with Cain's amendment but that he's not in support of it.

    Cain's amendment asks the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to conduct a study to determine the most efficient and cost-effective way to run state jails.

    If contracting with a private company proves to be more cost effective than the state being in control, Cain's amendment says the criminal justice department "shall enter into the contracts necessary to maximize cost savings in the operation of state jail felony facilities."

    Other changes that could be made through HB3386, authored by Jerry Madden, R-Richardson:

    ■ Inmate health care fees. The bill says inmates will pay a $100 annual health care services fee to cover their health care costs instead of the current $3 per visit they pay to see a prison doctor. The money will come from the inmate's trust fund accounts. If the inmate doesn't have $100 in his or her trust fund, the criminal justice department will take half of all deposits into the account until the $100 is paid.

    ■ More phone time. The bill could double the number of minutes inmates are allowed to use prison pay phones each month from 240 minutes to 480. That would be broken down to eight 10-minute calls.

    Read more: Proposed bill could privatize prisons, charge inmates more for health care



    House Lawmakers Propose Privatizing All State Jails

    • By Brandi Grissom
    April 1, 2011

    House lawmakers are considering a plan to privatize all of Texas' state jails for low-level felony offenders, a move they say could save the state up to $40 million.

    "Government is not always the efficient provider," said state Rep. Erwin Cain, R-Como, who filed an amendment (page 272) toHB1 that would require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to seek private bids for the operation of all state jails. The department would be required to turn over the jail operations to private bidders if the result is at least a 10 percent savings to the state.

    Cain said, though, that he would rescind his amendment because of technical concerns about the language. Instead, he will attach the proposal to a corrections-related bill by state Rep.Jerry Madden, R-Plano, the chairman of the House Corrections Committee.

    Madden said he was "all for" finding out whether private companies can do the job cheaper than the state. Five of Texas' 20 state jail facilities are already privately operated; the new proposal would affect the remaining 15 facilities.

    Texas created state jail felonies — offenses that carry a sentence of up to two years — in 1993. In August 2009, there were more than 12,500 inmates in Texas state jails, according to TDCJ reports.

    But state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, cautioned against the notion of more privatization, saying it could cost the state more in the long term. Past attempts at privatization, he said, have shown that companies are interested only in less expensive inmates. The state is left to shoulder the burden of housing the most-costly inmates: those who are sick and mentally ill. And, he said, there's no guarantee that private providers' rates won't skyrocket in the future.

    Turner argued he has a more effective proposal. Many of the offenders in state jails, he said, are there because they committed technical violations of their probation terms. Turner filed a bill that would give probationers incentives to abide by the terms of their sentences and stay out of state jails in the first place. "To me, that is a much more novel approach," he said.

    Ana Yañez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said privatizing jails provides a perverse incentive to continue policies that keep more people in jail, because it results in more profits for the companies running the facilities. "The real cost savings is going to come out of minimizing the number of people who don’t need to be there," she said.

    House Lawmakers Propose Privatizing All State Jails


    Private Prison Promises Leave Texas Towns In Trouble

    by JOHN BURNETT
    March 28, 2011

    The country with the highest incarceration rate in the world — the United States — is supporting a $3 billion private prison industry. In Texas, where free enterprise meets law and order, there are more for-profit prisons than any other state. But because of a growing inmate shortage, some private jails cannot fill empty cells, leaving some towns wishing they'd never gotten in the prison business.

    It seemed like a good idea at the time when the west Texas farming town of Littlefield borrowed $10 million and built the Bill Clayton Detention Center in a cotton field south of town in 2000. The charmless steel-and-cement-block buildings ringed with razor wire would provide jobs to keep young people from moving to Lubbock or Dallas.

    For eight years, the prison was a good employer. Idaho and Wyoming paid for prisoners to serve time there. But two years ago, Idaho pulled out all of its contract inmates because of a budget crunch at home. There was also a scandal surrounding the suicide of an inmate.

    Shortly afterward, the for-profit operator, GEO Group, gave notice that it was leaving, too. One hundred prison jobs disappeared. The facility has been empty ever since.

    A Hard Sell

    "Maybe ... he'll help us to find somebody," says Littlefield City Manager Danny Davis good-naturedly when a reporter shows up for a tour.

    For sale or contract: a 372-bed, medium-security prison with double security fences, state-of-the-art control room, gymnasium, law library, classrooms and five living pods.

    Davis opens the gray steel door to a barren cell with bunk beds and stainless-steel furniture.

    "You can see the facility here. [It's] pretty austere, but from what I understand from a prison standpoint, it's better than most," he says, still trying to close the sale.

    For the past two years, Littlefield has had to come up with $65,000 a month to pay the note on the prison. That's $10 per resident of this little city.

    A Resident Burden

    Is the empty prison a big white elephant for the city of Littlefield?

    "Is it something we have that we'd rather not have? Well, today that would probably be the case," Davis says.

    To avoid defaulting on the loan, Littlefield has raised property taxes, increased water and sewer fees, laid off city employees and held off buying a new police car. Still, the city's bond rating has tanked.

    The village elders drinking coffee at the White Kitchen cafe are not happy about the way things have turned out.

    "It was never voted on by the citizens of Littlefield; [it] is stuck in their craw," says Carl Enloe, retired from Atmos Energy. "They have to pay for it. And the people who's got it going are all up and gone and they left us ..."

    "...Holdin' the bag!" says Tommy Kelton, another Atmos retiree, completing the sentence.

    The Declining Prison Population

    The same thing has happened to communities across Texas. Once upon a time, it seems every small town wanted to be a prison town. But the 20-year private prison building boom is over.

    Some prisons are struggling outside Texas, too.

    Hardin, Mont., defaulted on its bond payments after trying, so far unsuccessfully, to fill its 464-bed minimum security prison. And a prison in Huerfano County, Colo., closed after Arizona pulled out its 700 inmates.

    According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the total correctional population in the United States is declining for the first time in three decades. Among the reasons: The crime rate is falling, sentencing alternatives mean fewer felons doing hard time and states everywhere are slashing budgets.

    The Texas Legislature, looking for budget cuts, is contemplating shedding 2,000 contract prison beds. Statewide, more than half of all privately operated county jail beds are empty, according to figures from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

    "Too many times we've seen jails that have got into it and tried to make it a profitable business to make money off of it and they end up fallin' on their face," says Shannon Herklotz, assistant director of the commission.

    The packages look sweet. A town gets a new detention center without costing the taxpayers anything. The private operator finances, constructs and operates an oversized facility. The contract inmates pay off the debt and generate extra revenue.

    The economic model works fine until they can't find inmates.

    In Waco, McLennan County borrowed $49 million to build an 816-bed jail and charge day rates for bunk space. But today because of the convict shortage, the fortress east of town remains more than half empty. The sheriff and county judge, once champions of the new jail, now decline to comment on it.

    Former McLennan County Deputy Rick White, who opposed the jail, had this to say about the prison developers who put the deal together: "They get the corporations formed, they get the bonds sold, they get the facility built, their money is front-loaded, they take their money out. And then there's no reason for them to support the success of the facility."

    Two of Texas' busiest private prison consultants — James Parkay and Herb Bristow — declined repeated requests for interviews.

    The Inmate Market

    According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the total correctional population in the United States is declining for the first time in three decades. Among the reasons: The crime rate is falling, sentencing alternatives mean fewer felons doing hard time and states everywhere are slashing budgets. Private prison companies insist their future is sunny.

    A spokesman for the GEO Group declined to speak about the Littlefield prison, but he sent along a slew of press releases highlighting the company's new inmate contracts and prison expansions across the country.

    Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison operator, says the demand for its facilities remains strong, particularly for federal immigration detainees.

    New Jersey-based Community Education Centers, which has been pulling out of unprofitable jails across Texas, issued a statement that "the current [jail] population fluctuation" is cyclical.

    One of the places where CEC is canceling its contract is Falls County, in central Texas, where a for-profit jail addition is losing money. Now it's up to Falls County Judge Steve Sharp to hustle up jailbirds: "If somebody is out there charging $30 a day for an inmate, we need to charge $28. We really don't have a choice of not filling those beds," he said.

    Another place where they're desperate for inmates is Anson, the little town north of Abilene, Texas, once famous for its no-dancing law. Today, Jones County owns a brand-new $34 million prison and an $8 million county jail, both of which sit empty. The prison developers made their money and left. Then the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reneged on a contract to fill the new prison with parole violators. The county's Public Facility Corp., which borrowed the money to build the lockups, owes $314,000 a month — with no paying inmates. They've got a year's worth of bond service payments set aside before county officials start to sweat.

    "The market has changed nationwide in the last 18 months or two years. It's certainly a different picture than when we started this project. And so we're continuing to work the problem," Jones County Judge Dale Spurgin says.

    Grayson County, north of Dallas, said no to privatizing its jail. Two years ago, the county was all set to build a $30 million, 750-bed behemoth twice as big as was needed. But the public got queasy and county officials ultimately scuttled the deal.

    "When you put the profit motive into a private jail, by design, in order to increase your dollars, your revenues, your profits, you need more folks in there and they need to stay longer," says Bill Magers, mayor of the county seat of Sherman, a leading opponent.

    When the supply of prison beds exceeds the demand for prison beds, there are beneficiaries.

    The overcrowded Harris County Jail in Houston, the nation's third largest, farms out about 1,000 prisoners to private jails. Littlefield and most other underoccupied facilities in Texas have all been in touch with Houston.

    "It really is a buyer's market right now, especially a county our size," says Capt. Robin Konetzke, who is in charge of inmate processing for the Harris County Sheriffs Department. "They're really wanting to get our business. So, we're getting good deals."

    Nearby, disheveled and unsmiling men are brought from a holding cell to stand before a booking officer for their intake interviews. The detainees are wholly unaware that they may soon become the newest commodities of the volatile inmate market.

    Mose Buchele, of member station KUT, and Aarti Shahani contributed to this NPR News investigation and report

    Private Prison Promises Leave Texas Towns In Trouble


2010:


    The Rainmakers: Banking On Private Prisons In The Fleecing Of Small-Town America

    By Beau Hodai, In These Times (US)
    March 5, 2010

    The sleepy town of Hardin, Mont., began its foray into the private prison industry in 2004, an adventure that would eventually saddle it with millions in debt and an empty, 464-bed prison collecting dust at the edge of town.

    It all started when James Parkey, the founder, owner and president of Texas-based Corplan Corrections, met with then-Montana Gov. Judy Martz (R) at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport while Martz was en route to the Western Governors Association meeting in Santa Fe, N.M.

    Since the 1980s, Parkey's company has developed 33 private jails or detention centers in New Mexico, Texas, Idaho, Louisiana and Colorado. Corplan's fortunes, along with those of private-prison giants Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut), date back to the "tough-on-crime" legislation of the '80s and '90s, when mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines pushed the U.S. prison population up to about 2.5 million -- an 800 percent increase over the number of people incarcerated in 1970, the year before the commencement of Nixon's War on Drugs.

    But with the prison population leveling out and more states facing budgetary crises, lawmakers have questioned the wisdom of stiff sentencing guidelines. Consequently, the private-prison industry has moved onto the greener pastures of immigration detention centers.

    Unfortunately for Parkey and members of his private prison consortium -- a group of construction companies, bond underwriters, consultants and small private prison operators -- the biggest federal contracts to build immigration facilities are snapped up by big-dog corporations such as CCA and the Geo Group.

    Small operators gnaw primarily on the scraps provided by state, county and municipal adult and juvenile inmate populations.

    Enter the Rainmakers

    Parkey's scheme goes like this: he and/or one of his pitchmen approach an economically-depressed and isolated community -- preferably within 100 miles of a federal courthouse -- and convince local government leaders during a period of wining and dining -- and sometimes bribing -- that a private prison, jail or immigrant detention center is just the thing to cause long-dormant clouds of cash to burst open and rain prosperity down on their blighted town.

    Bond underwriter Municipal Capital Market Group (MCM), a core component of the Parkey-led consortium, commissions a feasibility study, which invariably indicates that the time and placement of such a facility is indeed ideal. Soon, a "private facility corporation" (PFC) is created by the county to issue bonds.

    After MCM and another bond underwriter produce a document detailing the prison's construction and operation, and a municipality signs off on it, the project begins. Though the actual underwriters, designer and analyst used remain unchanged through the vast majority of Corplan developments, the scheme has three recurring pairs of operators and builders -- Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC) and Hale-Mills Construction; Emerald Companies Corporation and McInnis Brothers Construction (both based in Louisiana); and Management and Training Corporation (MTC) and HMC Contracting South Texas, LLC (an incarnation of Hale-Mills).

    The facility is then built, and the community is left to deal with the consequences. Meanwhile, all contractors involved in the development have been paid in advance out of bond sales.

    Following the 2004 Las Vegas meeting, Parkey and representatives from Hale-Mills, MCM and CEC were invited to Billings, where they met then-director for Hardin's Economic Development Paul Green, who invited the consortium to look into the possibility of construction east of Billings. In 2006, after two feasibility studies commissioned by MCM and conducted by Howard Geisler of GSA, Ltd., presented a need for up to 400 prison beds in the region, Hardin's PFC issued $27 million in bonds. The bonds were to be paid off with revenues -- on top of the supposed $100,000 annually the town was set to make in revenue -- generated through per diem payments received from other jurisdictions for housing their overflow inmates in the new prison.

    The prospectus used to sell the bonds detailed a guaranteed fee of $19.8 million to be paid to the designer and builders of the jail, Hale-Mills. While neither Parkey's name nor Corplan appear anywhere in the bond statement, Parkey is an architect by trade and bills himself as a designer of prisons. Parkey declined to comment on his compensation in the deal, but it is safe to infer he drew his pay out of this nearly $20 million cut.

    The facility was completed in 2007, but Hardin was unable to find any prisoners in Montana to house in the jail. It began looking out of state, offering its services to the Wyoming Department of Corrections. An inspection, however, found the new facility unfit to contain long-term felony offenders -- and indeed it was, having been designed and built as a dormitory-style jail intended to house low-risk inmates awaiting trial or sentencing.

    Had Hardin officials looked into the consortium's past, they would have discovered that, at about the time Parkey was arriving on their doorstep in 2004, a jail that Corplan and MCM developed in Pioche, Nev., in 1993 had been sitting vacant for more than a decade. That same year, it was purchased by Lincoln County, Nev., for $500,000 -- pennies on the dollar for the $3.5 million issued in long-since defaulted municipal bonds.

    As Hardin's economic development director, Green says alarms began going off.

    "I was getting calls from people as far away as Alaska -- people telling me that private jails and these people are nefarious." So in 2004, intent on checking out the group's claims for himself, Green traveled to several rural communities in southwest Texas that host Corplan-developed detention facilities.

    A Mess in Texas

    Hudspeth County is very similar to Hardin in some ways: population about 3,500, 70 miles from a decent-sized city (El Paso), a high rate of unemployment and a largely uneducated work force.

    Hudspeth County was, at that time, constructing the West Texas Detention Facility (WTDF). Hudspeth County Judge Becky Dean-Walker, head of the county commissioner's court, denies that bonds were ever issued by the county to construct the WTDF. But in 2003, a group of citizens gained a restraining order against the WTDF Corporation (the PFC headed by Sheriff Arvin West and two county commissioners), the Hudspeth County Commissioner's Court, and bond underwriters Herbert Sims & Co. (another bond underwriter commonly associated with the consortium) and MCM, on the grounds that they had violated Texas Open Meetings Law in approving the bonds without public knowledge.

    A Texas district court judge later voided the order and the bonds were issued.

    "There was some stuff that went through and the county signed some papers on it, but the county did not issue the bonds," says Dean-Walker, who is listed as the detention facility's contact on the Corplan website.

    She insists that the jail was solely financed by some group of private investors whose names she does not remember. She says the facility is not owned by the county, Emerald (the facility's operator) or Corplan. It is, she says, the sole responsibility of the "private investors."

    However, according to the bond statement on file with the Texas Bond Review Board, in 2003 the West Texas Detention Facility Corporation issued about $23.5 million in bonds as a public instrumentality of Hudspeth County for the construction of the facility. Much like in Hardin, the county was supposed to help pay off the debt using per diem prisoner revenues.

    According to the Texas Bond Review Board, the county already owes some $17 million in interest on the bonds issued for the facility, which opened in 2004 and which initially had a difficult time finding inmates.

    On March 25, 2005, Corplan consultant David Cortez went before a federal judge and pled guilty to charges of giving $10,000 each in bribes to two Willacy County, Texas, commissioners in another prison-building project. The commissioners both pled guilty to accepting the bribes two months earlier.

    Parkey denies any involvement or knowledge of wrongdoing in Willacy. "I think they just worked a deal among themselves and split some fees," he says. "We had nothing to do with it."

    In Hudspeth County, Walker says, "I can't sit here and tell you that nobody ever took a bribe from them or anything, but as far as I know, they didn't at least not to the point of getting caught."

    As for his frustrated former clients in Hardin -- who cannot even afford to hire staff for their still-empty $27 million facility -- Parkey says: "I have no opinion on it -- it's a local issue."?

    Beau Hodai is a Red Lodge,
    Mont.-based freelance writer.

    He can be reached at; mo_idaho@yahoo.com.

    Original: The Rainmakers


2009:


    September 19, 2009
    NATIONAL BRIEFING | SOUTHWEST
    By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Texas: Immigrant Families Moved

    The last remaining families have been moved from a former Central Texas prison that had held immigrant children and their parents.

    Advocates say the few remaining families left the T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor on Thursday.

    The facility will now house only female detainees. More women are expected to arrive in the next week.

    Federal officials announced last month that the Hutto facility would no longer hold the families of illegal immigrants.

    Instead, they will be detained at the much-smaller Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pa.

    Hutto opened as a family detention center in 2006.

    Immigrant Families Moved


    Private prisons seen taking more U.S. inmates

    Aug 20, 2009
    By Nick Zieminski

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - The biggest publicly traded U.S. prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America (CXW.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), is ready to take thousands of prisoners from budget-strained states, but it is not yet investing in additional capacity, its incoming chief executive said on Thursday.

    Private prisons operators will grow market share in coming years, Correction Corp.'s Damon Hininger, said in an interview on Thursday.

    Private prison operators currently hold about 8 percent of the states' and federal government's inmates, up from less than 6 percent at the start of the decade. Market share has never fallen in the industry's quarter-century history, Hininger said.

    "We will see a higher percentage of the population housed in private facilities, versus a state making a decision to appropriate dollars to build new capacity, and I think that will be exacerbated further by budget deficits," he said.

    Growth in market share will be gradual, he added.

    The company, which runs 65 facilities in 19 states, said this week CEO John Ferguson would retire on October 15, while remaining chairman. Hininger, the current president and chief operating officer, will then become CEO.

    Corrections Corp. houses about 77,000 inmates and has about 6,500 empty beds, about a third of which are being held in reserve for a possible transfer of prisoners from cash-strapped California.

    Current open capacity is above the typical range of about 4,000 to 6,000 beds. At profit margins of about $22 to $23 per inmate per day, filling those extra beds could mean a double-digit boost to earnings, Hininger said.

    The incoming CEO said the company tries to always have spare capacity ready, since a contract could come on short notice, but it is not yet willing to boost capacity further until more of its empty beds are filled.

    "We'd like to see more meaningful absorption before we turn on any more new capacity," he said.

    OVERCROWDED PRISONS

    A three-judge panel this month ordered California to reduce its prison population by about 40,000 over two years to address severe overcrowding. Many of those inmates may be released rather than transferred, and the state Attorney General, Jerry Brown, may appeal the judges' ruling.

    "We'd love the opportunity" to take more California prisoners, Hininger said. The company currently houses about 8,000 California inmates, including some in Arizona.

    Correction Corp., which has about half the market share of privately- managed prison beds in the United States, this month reported better- than-expected quarterly profits and raised its full-year forecast.

    Its shares have more than doubled from their March lows, to above $20, and the company now trades at a higher price-to-earnings multiple that peers. These include the GEO Group Inc (GEO.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), Cornell Companies Inc (CRN.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), America Service Group Inc (ASGR.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), which handles health care, and privately-held Community Education Centers.

    Hininger said it is too soon to gauge the impact of the current recession on prison populations, but the 2001-2002 downturn resulted in "pretty dramatic growth."

    Already, U.S. state prisons are running, on average, at about 110 percent of capacity, while the Federal Bureau of Prisons is at 137 percent capacity.

    Some states have deferred investments in new capacity, forcing them to make do with existing facilities by cramming more people into finite space, but have avoided the cost of sending more inmates to private operators.

    "As states get more of a breather relative to their budget situation, that helps them be proactive on ... overcrowding, "Hininger said. "That could be an opportunity for us."

    States have largely set their budgets for the current fiscal year, but may review those as conditions change. Whether states' budgets have hit bottom may not be apparent for several quarters, Hininger said.

    Some states, like Florida, have a severe shortage of prison beds. Florida has the fastest projected growth in prison population over the next 5 years, but its current budget does not fund new construction.

    Hininger, who started as a corrections officer in Leavenworth, Kansas 17 years ago, said most people's perception of prisons is colored by movies and by television shows like "Oz" and "Prison Break."

    Visitors are often surprised.

    "Their reaction is, 'It's cleaner and brighter and a better environment than I'd have thought,'" he said.

    (Reporting by Nick Zieminski, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

    Private prisons seen taking more U.S. inmates


    June 30, 2009

    TDCJ prisoner decline could bust privatization scheme for Grayson County Jail

    In Grayson County last year, officials were enamored of the idea that they could expand their local jail without taxpayers "footing the bill" if they built it out much larger than necessary, allowed a private company to operate it, and leased out empty space to the Department of Criminal Justice. But with the jail building decision drawing near, TDCJ's population is down and they're not leasing as many beds from counties as they have in the past. Reported KTEN-TV ("Less inmates in Texas, more trouble for Grayson County jail," June 29):

    Over the past few months commissioners have discussed privatizing the jail to reduce costs.

    They hope building a larger facility will allow them to house more inmates from across the state and that the fee per inmate will be less than what their paying now. On the other hand, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice says the number of inmates in has fallen, which would lead some to believe a new, larger jail in Grayson County may be sitting empty, yet county Judge Drue Bynum says he not worried.

    "Their feasibly study came back and said in the next 20 years we would need a facility that would hold between 720 and 750 people, so we were making our decision based on the jail commission feasibility study that we just engaged."

    The new jail is slated to be built near the corner of Frisco Road and Graystone on the Northeast side of Sherman.

    The company now being considered is Southwest Corrections. They hope to run a new 750 bed jail here.

    I'd identified this issue when Grayson first proposed the idea of overbuilding and privatizing its jail, writing that "if the company can't find other entities willing to lease the beds at an inflated price, the county will be stuck with the full tab for space it doesn't need.." Now on the eve of the county's vote on the project next month, that possibility appears less remote than when the economy was booming.

    Judge Bynum now says it's no big deal if they can't lease the extra space, but as a practical matter, this new development sure seems to put a dent in the county's financing scheme. After all, he pitched the privatization idea saying it would mean taxpayers won't "foot the bill for the jail." They were operating under the assumption that profiteering off extra incarceration would pay for the county's baseline jail needs, but now, in the midst of a recession and with state inmate numbers falling, that strategy appears less viable.

    Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

    Labels: County jails, Grayson County, Private prisons, TDCJ


    Private Prison Companies Happy with Obama

    By Matt Kelley
    Published June 04, 2009

    The nation's two biggest private prison management companies are pretty happy with the signs they're seeing from the new President.

    A column in The American Prospect this week by Business of Detention co-authors Renee Feltz and Stokely Baksh reviews the massive expansion of immigrant detention under the Bush Administration and questions whether President Obama is committed to changing things.

    In 2006, the Bush administration began to encourage local law enforcement to help federal immigration authorities apprehend "criminal aliens." The Obama administration has responded to criticism of the program by touting Secure Communities, a new initiative that supporters say will be more focused in its pursuit of undocumented immigrants with felony records. However, there is growing concern among immigrants' rights activists that this new program has begun to veer off course as well.

    Obama's strategy lies in Secure Communities and the focus on deporting people with criminal records. But Feltz and Baksh point out that the database isn't too discerning.

    The National Immigration Law Center's immigration policy director, Joan Friedland, says Secure Communities has a "deceptively benign appearance." The database, she notes, could punish both guilty and innocent immigrants and fails to distinguish "why they were arrested and whether or not their arrests were based on racial or ethnic profiling or were just a pretext for checking immigration status."

    And whether it's Bush's lockup or Obama's lockup, the private prison companies are loving it. Most people detained for allegedly entering the country illegally are held in privately run facilites. Most of those facilities are managed by the Corrections Corporation of America or the GEO Group. CEOs of both companies told investors recently that the the outlook is good for growth of federal detention.

    "We believe ... ICE will continue providing meaningful opportunity for the industry foe the foreseeable future," CCA Presorent Damon Hininger told investors on a recent conference call.

    I agree that deporting people convicted of violent crimes is more important than deporting moms who work 60 hour weeks to feed their kids. But I worry about the slippery slope when we start deporting people who are simply arrested or accused of a crime - those policies fuel the perpetuation of broken law enforcement and detention practices without real reform. Feltz and Baksh sum it up well by looking to next week:

    Obama should keep this in mind when he meets with his Cabinet on June 8 to discuss comprehensive immigration- reform proposals. Putting enforcement before reform doesn't address what to do with an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and it would be too cumbersome and costly to deport all of them, not to mention a humanitarian and public-relations fiasco.

    As (North Carolina Rep. David) Price says, "The best-designed enforcement program in the world can't carry out comprehensive immigration reform."

    Private Prison Companies Happy with Obama


    Texas Private Prisons Fact

    05/19/2009

    As of 2007, Texas holds the highest number of the nation's private prison beds and has the largest number of state prisoners in private facilities -- over 15,000.


    Texas Private Prisons Map

    According to research by our allies at the Private Corrections Institute, as of May, 2007, eight private prison corporations were operating over 47,000 prison beds in Texas. These include lock-ups operated by private prison corporations that are serving as:

    ^Local county jails
    ^Prisons holding Texans under Texas Department of Criminal Justice contracts
    ^Prisons holding people under contracts from other state systems
    ^Prisons holding people under contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons
    ^Pretrial detention centers under contract with the US Marshals Service
    ^Immigration detention centers under contract with the Immigration and Customs ^Enforcement (ICE) agency
    ^Youth prisons
    ^Pre-release or halfway houses
    ^Prisons holding people under contracts from a mix of local, state or federal agencies.

    The map does not include lockups that are publicly run (by the state, county, or federal government) or any lockups run by nonprofits.

    Each of the eight corporations has its own color on the map:

    Company Name
    Color on map

    Civigenics - Purple
    Cornell Companies - Gold
    Corrections Corporation of America - Dark Green
    Emerald Companies - Light Green
    Youth Services Incorporated - Black
    Louisiana Correctional Services - Pink
    Management and Training Corporation - Light Blue
    The GEO Group - Dark Blue


    CCA Holds 2009 First Quarter Investor's Call

    05/11/2009

    The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) held it's investor's call for the first quarter of 2009 earlier this month. During the call, CCA officials emphasized a positive outlook that drove stock prices to increase by 19% following the conference call.

    According to CCA, 9,300 new beds were brought online during 2008 and 2009, and the average daily compensated population increased for the quarter to 4.2% from the the previous year.

    CCA remains the nation's largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities, managing 64 facilities, 44 of them CCA-owned, designed to house approximately 86,000 prisoners.

    On the call, company officials informed investors of a 10,000 bed vacancy among current capacity. However, folks at CCA implied the for profit business strategy of building prisons on speculation in anticipation of demanded capacity would positively impact investment.

    Specifically, CCA officials mentioned the federal stimulus package's assistance in helping states avoid budget shortfalls should help attract new demand to fill currently vacant beds.

    CCA reps are projecting the potential demand may come from the 19 states -- including Texas -- the company currently does business with. According to the company's analysis those states' prison populations will grow in excess of planned capacity past 2013.

    It will be interesting to see if CCA's projections bear out.

    We will keep following the company's contracts particularly those in Texas.

    Stay tuned...

    Texas Prison Bidness


    Michael Moore to tackle private prisons in new film?

    05/06/2009

    Will Michael Moore make private prisons the focus of his newest documentary expose?

    That's the question the film-indusry blog slashfilm.com:

    A film crew for Michael Moore’s next yet-to-be-titled documentary was in Wilkes-Barre, PA last week interviewing people involved with the Luzerne County Courthouse scandal. According to FilmBuffOnline, Moore wasn’t present during filming. For those who don’t know, county judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. accepted a $2.6 million from two privately owned juvenile detention centers in exchange for helping secure contracts worth upwards of $30 million.

    Details about Moore’s new documentary have been kept tightly under wraps, but it was announced as a quasi-follow- up to Fahrenheit 9/11, focusing on a post-Bush administration world and the financial crisis. Privately owned prisons have become a big business over the last decade, but what does outsourcing government services to the private sector have to do with the big picture? The Geo Group has recently come under fire for possible mistreatment of prisoners, which may have resulted in inmate deaths at some of their facilities.

    We'll keep you posted on developments...

    Texas Prison Bidness


    HB 3903, private jail accountability bill, killed on house floor

    05/12/2009

    HB 3903, a private jail accountability bill, suffered an inglorious defeat on the house floor on Tuesday.

    Amongst those effectively killing HB 3903 were Tracy King, whose district includes several private jails and detention centers, Jim McReynolds, chair of the House Corrections Committee, and Jerry Madden, the former chair of the House Corrections Committee. The bill was one of over 80 bills to be heard as part of the Local, Consent, and Resolutions calendar.

    HB 3903, filed by Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr., was fairly moderate measure which would have subjected private jails to the same open records law as public facilities, mandated that counties hold hearings before privatizing their county jails, and made it illegal for public officials such as sheriffs to be on the payrolls of private prison corporations.

    King, Madden, and McReynolds were amongst seven signatories on a card to remove the bill from consideration and send it back to the Local and Consent Calendar Committee, a move that will ensure the bill's defeat at this late stage in the legislative session. None has given any public reason for their rejection of the bill.

    In coming weeks, we will publish a full list of Texas legislators who have received money from the private prison industry this legislative session.

    HB 3903, private jail accountability bill, killed on house floor


    Court Upholds $47 Million Verdict Against GEO Group in de la Rosa Murder Case

    4/05/2009

    The Thirteenth District Court of Appeals has affirmed a $47.5 million lawsuit judgement against the GEO Group to the family of Gregorio de la Rosa. The court found that "Wackenhut’s conduct in maliciously causing Gregorio’s death and thereafter spoliating critical evidence so offends this Court’s sense of justice that a high ratio is warranted."

    De la Rosa, who is represented by Laredo attorney Ron Rodriguez, was brutally murdered in a GEO Group (then called Wackenhut) prison in Willacy County. The first line of the court's judgment describes the case:

    This case involves the horrific and gruesome death of Gregorio de la Rosa, Jr. (“Gregorio”). Gregorio, an honorably discharged former National Guardsman, was serving a six-month sentence at a prison operated by Wackenhut Corrections Corporation for possession of less than 1/4 grams of cocaine. A few days before his expected release, Gregorio was beaten to death by two other inmates using a lock tied to a sock, while Wackenhut’s officers stood by and watched and Wackenhut’s wardens smirked and laughed.

    De la Rosa's case sparked the criminal indictment of GEO Group for murder in Willacy County last fall, a charge that was ultimately dismissed.

    The appeals court opinion means that the bulk of the $47.5 million judgment will be awarded to de la Rosa's family.

    According to the judgment, the company's testimony about the destroyed video evidence of de la Rosa's murder was inconsistent at best.

    At trial, the family contended that a videotape existed that showed the beating but that this video had been lost or destroyed by Wackenhut. Warden Forrest testified during his deposition that there was a video camera on one of the perimeter posts that was focused down on the beating. In his sworn testimony, he admitted to seeing a tape of the beating and described the video and the beating in detail. His stated that the video showed “that one inmate had beat another inmate with a sock filled with a lock,” and it showed an inmate kicking and punching Gregorio.

    After reviewing his deposition, however, Warden Forrest changed his testimony, claiming that the video never existed. At trial, he admitted to describing the video in his deposition testimony, but he claimed that his prior testimony describing the video was “based on all the information that I received regarding that incident over and over receiving information.” He explained that he had created his “own little movie” in his mind:

    I did that based on all the information that I received regarding that incident over and over receiving information. I put that picture —painted that picture in my head that I believed that’s what I saw, and that’s what I testified to, and I corrected it that day and at a later date. . . . I described what I thought I saw based on the information of everyone telling me what happened. I painted a picture of that incident in my mind, and I played it over in my mind many, many times since then.

    This judgment is certainly not good news for the GEO Group, which has been rocked by scandal after scandal here in Texas. We'll keep you posted on developments on this case and other GEO scandals.

    De la Rosa v. The Geo Group - Court of Appeals Opinion

    Court Upholds $47 Million Verdict Against GEO Group


    Texas Southern University Private Prison Conference Now Accepting Papers

    03/10/2009

    An academic conference discussing the private prison industry will be held at Texas Southern University in Houston August 6-8 of this year. Here's a description of the conference, entitled "The International Prison Privatization Experience: A Transatlantic and Transpacific Dialogue,"

    Criminal justice scholars, community activists, law enforcement personnel, community development specialists, juvenile justice advocates, and immigration officials are cordially invited to attend the first international conference on prison privatization. This conference will highlight the inimical effects of prison privatization on women, minorities, and the poor.

    Please join us as we explore alternative strategies for sentencing, economic development in rural communities, re-entry prevention, and prison privatization.

    With nationally and internationally recognized speakers and presenters, conference participants can look forward to thought-provoking, energetic, and cutting-edge discussions and information to share with their organizations and communities.

    Conference sponsors include the Barbara Jordan Institute for Policy Research, the Administration of Justice Department from the Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, Grassroots Leadership, and Justice Strategies.

    Confirmed Speakers:

    Judith Greene, Justice Strategies.
    Si Kahn, Grassroots Leadership.
    Michael Hallett, Professor and Chair, Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice University of North Florida.
    Stephen Nathan, Prison Privatisation Report International, published in London by the Prison Reform.
    Byron E. Price, Texas Southern University, BJ-ML School of Public Affairs Political Science Department.
    Jeffrey Ian Ross, Fellow of the Center for International and Comparative Law at the University of Baltimore.

    Papers should investigate comparative aspects of prison privatization and grassroots initiatives geared toward reducing prison privatization.

    Proposals should be between 200-400 words and examine critical issues such as race, gender and crime and the impact on families' and prisoners' communities.

    Papers should fit into one of the following categories:

    Session 1: Financial and Social Costs of an Increasing Use of Imprisonment

    Session 2: Commodification of Prisoners and Human Rights

    Session 3: Constitutional Implications of Private Prisons

    Session 4: The Commercialization of Justice

    Session 5: Interjurisdictional Issues and Common Concerns

    Session 6: Demystifying Prison Privatization

    Session 7: Privatized Detention of Immigrants

    For more information contact:

    Prof. Byron E. Price,
    The Conference Chair
    at 713-313-4809.
    Please send proposals,
    preferably as a Word or
    pdf attachment,
    to pricebe@tsu.edu
    By April 1st of 2009.

    We'll keep you posted as the conference develops.

    Texas Southern University Private Prison Conference Now Accepting Papers


    Legislation would keep Private Prison Labor from competing with Free World Labor

    03/10/2009

    In late February, State Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) and State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) , introduced companion bills to drastically alter state prison labor programs. According to the legislators, both bills, (SB 1169 and HB 1914) would stop job loss and unfair competition by:

    Eliminating sweetheart deals and requiring businesses using prison labor to pay a fair market value for use of facilities;
    moving oversight of the program from the Prison Industry Oversight Authority to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) board;
    preventing TDCJ from approving contracts resulting in job loss anywhere in Texas;
    allowing employers to submit a sworn statement that their business would be hurt and jobs could be lost by approval of a specific prison industry contract;
    requiring job and product descriptions be specific so employers can recognize a prison industry contract that would unfairly threaten their business;
    creating notification for area businesses and posting information about programs online; and notifying the state senator and state representative in whose districts the project would be located.

    The measure would certainly increase transparency and accountability for such contracts. It is a significant measure from the chair of the House Corrections Committee.

    In related materials, the legislators cite a specific example of the company Direct Trailer, which paid only $1 a year to lease 70,000 sqare feet of factory from a local state prison and advertised they could sell their products for less because of prison labor.

    A competitor of Direct Trailer is Lufkin Industries Inc. which claims that it could not fairly compete and sell products for similar prices. As a result, Lufkin Industies recently closed its trailer manufacturing division and layed off 150 employees.

    We will be tracking the developments of these bills as they navigate their way through the legislature. Stay tuned...

    Legislation would keep Private Prison Labor from competing with Free World Labor


    03/05/2009

    Immigration, a branch of Homeland Security, is now experimenting with a new kind of prison:

    One that incarcerates entire families from infants on up.

    Privately owned of course.

    Details:
    Hutto America's Family Prison

    - Brasscheck

    P.S. Please share Brasscheck TV e-mails and videos with friends and colleagues.


    America's Outsourced Immigration Prisons a Booming Business

    By Tom Barry
    Center for International Policy
    Posted on February 25, 2009

    Imprisoned immigrants in the large prison complex outside the small West Texas town of Pecos have rioted twice over the past few months complaining about inadequate medical care. Their complaints, sparked by the death of a sick inmate in solitary confinement, echo a chorus of similar complaints around the country about medical care in immigrant prisons.

    Medical care, like most aspects of imprisonment in America, is outsourced at the Reeves County Detention Center. As a result, imprisoned immigrants don't know who exactly is imprisoning them, who is responsible for their medical care, and who they should petition when they have grievances.

    Throughout America but particularly along the Southwest border, hundreds of thousands of immigrants, both legal and illegal, find themselves at the center of a booming prisoner outsourcing business.

    The imprisonment of immigrants is enriching a handful of private prison corporations and correctional healthcare firms while providing a stream of revenues to county governments in rural America.

    Back in the mid-1980s the Reeves County government decided that its best hope for economic development was building a "speculative prison." At the time, this remote county, which occupies the northern reaches of the Chihuahua Desert, was reeling economically.

    Cotton farmers and cattle ranchers abandoned their homesteads as ground water levels dropped and drilling costs increased. The oil boom that started in the 1950s went bust in the 1980s as oil reserves dwindled. The closure of the area's large sulfur mine and a food processing company in the early 1990s left hundreds more unemployed.

    Seeking to take advantage of its remote location and the large number of unemployed, the county entered into the incipient business of outsourcing prisoners in 1986.

    By bidding down the costs of providing prison beds and employing prison guards, Reeves County has over the past couple of decades expanded the initial 300-bed prison to the current 3,763-bed prison complex. The Reeves County Detention Center is now the center of the county's economic life.

    The county, where one of every three residents lives below the poverty line, is projecting $67.2 million of revenues to come streaming into county coffers in 2009 from the immigrant prison business. Nearly 500 residents find employment in the immigrant prison, which pays guards $14.95 an hour.

    Prison outsourcing is all about expenses, revenues, and profits. In other words, prisoner providers—in this case, mainly the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)—seek to do business with public and private prisons that have the lowest costs and hence lowest per-diem bed costs. The more prisoners that occupy the beds of the Reeves County Detention Center, the higher the revenues that come from the per-diem payments, and the higher the profit.

    The bottom line of the prisoner outsourcing business is essentially the same as any other business, namely the sum of revenues and expenses. But in the case of Reeves County Detention Center, as with scores of other immigrant prisons, the prison business is somewhat more complicated—involving a labyrinth of federal agencies, local governments, private contractors and subcontractors, public bonds, and private investors.

    The Reeves County Labyrinth

    Not having enough room in federally-owned prisons and unwilling to build new ones, the Bureau of Prisons, like most federal detention agencies, outsources an increasing number of its charges and most all of its immigrant detainees. BOP outsources virtually all of its low- security "criminal alien residents" to county/private prisons in the Southwest.

    Anticipating an ever-increasing demand for what the prison industry calls "beds," Reeves County has issued a series of project revenue bonds to finance the construction and maintenance of its ever- expanding prison. Convinced that the boom in the prison business will endure, private investors buy these bonds, thereby providing the $90 million the county needed for its prison project.

    Reeves County functions as a kind of front man for the private prison industry. Being a government, it can issue revenue bonds that attract investors because the bond income (from a portion of the per-diem payments from the federal government) is not subject to income tax.

    Because the prison is a public facility, all capital and operating expenditures are also exempt from sales and property taxes.

    The federal, state, and local governments lose all these tax revenues. But being tax-exempt keeps costs low, and makes the Reeves County Detention Center an attractive proposition for both the federal government and the private prison industry.

    Although Reeves County initially ran the prison itself, it now contracts with GEO Group, the world's second largest prison corporation, to manage and operate the prison. For three years, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) also ran the prison for the county.

    GEO Group has no investment in the prison, portions of which were destroyed by fire during the recent riots. It receives a large annual management fee—$4.75 million in 2008—from the county as well an annual administrative fee—$1.25 million in 2008—to cover the payroll costs of its 12-member management team, including the warden with his $125,000 salary.

    The immigrant inmates, who are technically under federal government custody and held in a government-owned prison, see only the private face of America's prison industry. That's GEO Group, which runs the prison and hires and supervises the hundreds of prison guards who are paid by the county. The premier spot in the prison's parking lot is reserved for "GEO Executive," and the warden and all the other top management are GEO officials that answer to corporate headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida.

    GEO Group, which represents the "20-year evolution of Wackenhut Corrections," says it is a "global leader in the delivery of diversified government outsourced services." Founded with the slogan, "Global Expertise in Outsourcing," GEO Group is a transnational corporation that specializes in providing security and prison "services" to governments around the world.

    Working closely with GEO at the Reeves County Detention Center is Physicians Network Association (PNA), which is a private firm that says it specializes in "correctional healthcare." PNA is responsible for the healthcare at the Reeves immigrant prison and at nine other prisons run by GEO, including five others in Texas. PNA was contracted by the county before the GEO operations and management contract. In GEO's contract with the county, healthcare services are explicitly left as county responsibilities. But the county has subcontracted out medical services to PNA, which receives a $5.85 per- diem fee from the county.

    Private-Public Complex

    The BOP and other federal agencies could, of course, build and operate their own prisons. However, since the early 1980s the federal government has increasingly outsourced its inmates, especially immigrants.

    The launching of the "drug war" that resulted in mass imprisonment of drug users and low-level street distributors set the stage for this new era of prisoner outsourcing. Faced with the rising number of convicted prisoners and the rise of illegal immigration, public prisons and detention centers became overcrowded. But there was little political will either at the federal or local level to use tax money to build new prisons.

    Conveniently, the rise of the political right in the late 1970s and especially during the Reagan administration brought with it a new widely shared ideological conviction that favored government downsizing and privatization. In 1983, faced with increasing numbers of detained immigrants, the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS), with the blessing of President Reagan, began outsourcing immigrants.

    While INS took the first step toward outsourcing federal detainees to private prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Prisons eventually followed. At first, most of this outsourcing went directly to private firms. CCA and Wackenhut got their start in the prison business as outsourcers of detained immigrants for the INS in 1983-85.

    Over the last couple of decades, county governments have joined the prisoner outsourcing bandwagon, commonly in collaboration with the private prison industry. CCA, GEO, and other private prison firms have seized on the opportunity of public financing to build and maintain the prisons they operate.

    Today, there are scores of counties that have followed the example of Reeves County, building new prisons with project revenue bonds to house outsourced prisoners from federal agencies and state governments. These generally poor and rural counties now constitute a central component of America's prison outsourcing industry.

    What started out as a privatization of a core responsibility of government has over the past 25 years evolved into a prison complex in which private investors and corporations are dominant but in which local government has a new and expanding role.

    As seen in Reeves County, the prison business is a complex labyrinth that is run for profit by corporations such as GEO. Yet the booming private prison industry in Pecos and elsewhere is fundamentally dependent on the government for a steady supply of prisoners, for ever-increasing per-diems, and even for the capital to build and maintain the private prison labyrinth.

    When the Bureau of Prisons signed the most recent contract with Reeves County to provide as many as 3,763 prison beds for "criminal alien residents," it was GEO Group, not the county, which announced the new contract. In its January 2007 media release to business publications, GEO Group boasted that it believed "that the Reeves County Detention Complex (the 'Complex') is the largest detention/ correctional facility under private management in the world."

    It's a part of a yet larger complex that is immensely profitable. At a time when most other industries are retracting, the private prison industry continues to boom. GEO Group experienced another record year in 2008, as its net income rose more than 14%.

    Key to the prison complex's lustrous bottom line are the outsourced immigrant inmates of Reeves County. Even as they rioted to demand decent healthcare, these outsourced immigrants were a major source of profits for the private/public prison complex.

    Tom Barry directs the TransBorder Project of the Americas Program (www.americaspolicy.org) at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC. He blogs at http://borderlinesblog.blogspot.com.

    America's Outsourced Immigration Prisons a Booming Business


    02.25.09

    West Texas prison riots cost county $1.1 million

    THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

    PECOS, Texas -- 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.

    West Texas prison riots cost county $1.1 million


    Guards threaten strike at San Antonio-area immigrant detention facility

    February 10, 2009
    Associated Press

    SAN ANTONIO – Guards at the largest immigrant detention facility in Texas readied to strike Tuesday in a dispute with the same private contractor running a West Texas prison disrupted by two inmate riots in as many months.

    Unionized workers at the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall say that unless The GEO Group Inc. agrees to better wages and working conditions Tuesday, more than 300 employees could walk off the job as early as this week.

    Negotiations began in August, and union officials said the meeting with GEO in San Antonio was the last chance to hammer out a deal. About 1,400 detainees are being held at the facility because of their immigration status.

    "I'm hoping (GEO) will be serious this time," said Ricardo Luna, 50, a detention officer at the facility and the union president. "But I don't know. It could go either way."

    GEO spokesman Pablo Paez said the company does not comment on ongoing negotiations or employee-related matters as a matter of policy. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which contracted GEO to run the facility, has previously said the agency is "prepared to respond appropriately" no matter the outcome but did not elaborate.

    A strike would be the latest problem in Texas for GEO, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based private contractor that is still sorting out two inmate riots since December at a federal prison the company manages in Reeves County.

    The latest riot began Jan. 31 and ended Thursday in the remote West Texas town of Pecos. The disturbance left buildings heavily damaged, sent smoke billowing from the facility, and SWAT teams driving inside and out.

    Inmates and relatives have told news media the riot was prompted by poor treatment, including medical services. Another riot in December left one housing unit damages and cost the county at least $320,000 in repairs.

    In San Antonio, union workers arrived to the bargaining table prepared with 100 red picketing posters that read, "ON STRIKE AGAINST GEO GROUP INC. – UNFAIR."

    Luna said the safety of detention officers has been compromised by poor equipment and new guards who he says have not received the proper training.

    Located about 60 miles south of San Antonio, the Pearsall detention center is the only unionized GEO facility in the nation, union officials say.

    Workers are seeking increased wages, more affordable health benefits and improved working conditions. The standard wage there is $14.37 an hour, according to union officials. Negotiations last broke off in January.

    Guards threaten strike


    Prison has meant jobs, unrest for Texas community

    By ALICIA A. CALDWELL and DANNY ROBBINS
    Associated Press Writers
    © 2009 The Associated Press
    Feb. 6, 2009

    PECOS, Texas — As officials in a remote West Texas county have sought to keep their local prison full and financially viable, it has become the scene of mounting inmate unrest, including two riots in the last six weeks.

    Reeves County faced a major boondoggle — a prison without prisoners — when it turned to a private company, The GEO Group Inc., about five years ago to manage its sprawling detention center and fill it with federal inmates.

    The influx of prisoners has allowed the facility, the county's largest employer, to stay in operation, but not without a series of disturbances and protests, some of them incendiary.

    The prison and its management have come under increasing scrutiny as authorities dealt with the latest incident, a riot that started Jan. 31 and left buildings heavily damaged.

    The riot followed a similar disturbance in another portion of the prison in December. Two employees were taken hostage and an exercise room was burned. That incident caused at least $320,000 worth of damage, according to county records.

    These and other matters detailed in news accounts and court documents indicate widespread tension among inmates over a variety of issues, most notably medical treatment. And, for some observers, they give more voice to the oft-stated criticism of private prisons.

    "Generally, these (disturbances) are not random," said Bert Useem, a Purdue University sociology and anthropology professor who has written extensively on prison issues. "They occur in prisons that are facing serious difficulties."

    The GEO Group did not respond to an e-mail from The Associated Press seeking comment.

    The publicly traded company based in Boca Raton, Fla., has attracted scrutiny before over conditions in its prisons.

    In 2007, the Texas Youth Commission fired the company after nearly 200 teenage offenders were removed from a juvenile justice center it operated in Bronte, citing health and safety violations.

    The company has also come under fire for its operation of a facility that houses illegal immigrant detainees in Pearsall, Texas. A federal lawsuit charges that two Mexican immigrants were not treated for their mental illnesses.

    Meantime, correctional officers at the facility are threatening to strike over pay and working conditions.

    "They operate as a bare-bones, profit-making machine," said Howard Johannssen, an official with the union representing the Pearsall officers.

    In Reeves County and Pecos, its largest town, The GEO Group is largely viewed as the savior of a sinking ship.

    At the time the company was hired to manage the prison, the county was unable to find enough inmates to fill a newly built third unit.

    The lack of prisoners put the county at risk of defaulting on the bonds used to finance the unit's construction.

    Since joining forces with The GEO Group, the county has filled the center with more than 3,300 federal inmates, including more than 1,207 in unit III, turning the situation around. Many of the prisoners are non-U.S. citizens.

    The facility employs more than 500 people, most of whom work for the county, and has become increasingly important to the economy as the area has lost several other employers in recent years.

    "Any small community with a prison that employs that number of people would see (the value of having such a facility)," said Robert Tobias, executive director of the Pecos Economic Development Corporation.

    The significance of The GEO Group's work on the county's behalf was underscored in January 2006 when the Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce gave the company its "Citizen of the Year" award. At the presentation, chamber president Jim Dutchover cited the company for injecting an "infusion of ideas and money" into the community.

    But recent events have cast the situation in a different light, leaving the impression that the prison, while full, has been poorly run.

    "Prisoner riots are a relatively rare occurrence," wrote the American Civil Liberties Union in a letter to the Department of Justice requesting that it investigate the center. "For this reason, two serious disturbances within a two-month period at a single facility is sufficient cause for great concern."

    According to information posted on the Web site of another advocacy group, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the latest riot began when authorities refused to respond to prisoners' request that a gravely ill inmate be released from solitary confinement and transferred to a hospital.

    A federal lawsuit filed by an inmate in 2007 claims prisoners were sprayed with mace after staging a hunger strike to protest the quality of medical care and meals. As part of the suit, filed without an attorney, the prisoner included an undated memo purportedly from a prison official saying he was working toward improving meals, medical care and recreational equipment.

    The prison was accredited last month by the American Correctional Association, the nation's only such program for adult and juvenile detention facilities.

    The accreditation, required by the federal Bureau of Prisons, was based largely on the results of an on-site audit in October in which representatives of the organization would have reviewed paperwork and interviewed inmates outside the presence of prison authorities, said James Gondles, the group's executive director.

    "To my knowledge, our auditing didn't raise any red flags," he said. However, because of the riots, it is likely that another auditing team will be sent to the prison, Gondles said.

    "Are we concerned when an incident happens at an accredited facility?" he said. "The answer is yes."

    Associated Press writer Betsy Blaney contributed to this report.

    Prison has meant jobs, unrest for Texas community


    Immigrant Prisoners Stage Uprising in Texas

    By Editorial Staff, Frontera NorteSur
    Posted on February 5, 2009

    Details are still sketchy of an inmate uprising at a privately- operated federal detention facility in West Texas last Saturday.

    Reports in the U.S. and Mexican press suggest the revolt, involving hundreds prisoners at the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Tex., erupted after complaints of poor medical treatment went unheeded.

    Initial accounts report the uprising spanned two days, with inmates setting fires and possibly even seizing guards’ radio communication equipment. An unidentified Reeves County official earlier told El Diario de El Paso the situation was “dangerous” inside the facility managed by the Geo Group.

    The uprising is now declared over, and as many as 700 former Pecos prisoners are reportedly confined at another detention center in Sierra Blanca, Tex., because sleeping areas were destroyed during Saturday’s rebellion. Many of the inmates at the Pecos prison were held on immigration law violations.

    The Jan. 31 uprising was the second time inmates have staged violent protests at the prison in a period of less than two months. Although a complete assessment of injuries and property damages was not officially disclosed, at least three inmates could have been injured and hospitalized in the latest incident.

    Managed by the Florida-based Geo Group, the Pecos facility is among many immigrant detention centers in the United States currently run by private companies. The jail has a capacity of 2,400 inmates, according to information posted on Geo Group’s Web site.

    Formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, Geo Group calls itself a “world leader” in the privatized management of correctional institutions. According to the company’s web site, “The North American market is growing rapidly, and we are focused on expanding Federal procurement opportunities.”

    Geo Group reported raking in $1.024 billion in revenues during 2007, with income totaling nearly $42 million. Besides the United States, the company manages prisons in several nations, including the United Kingdom, where it also provides immigrant detention services.

    Sources: El Paso Times, February 2, 2009. Article by Stephanie Sanchez. Newspaper Tree/Associated Press, February 2, 2009. El Diario de El Paso, February 2, 2009. Article by Nancy Gonzalez. Lapolaka.com, February 2, 2009. Thegeogroupinc.com. Investing.businessweek.com

    Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

    © 2009 Frontera NorteSur All rights reserved.

    View this story online at: Immigrant Prisoners Stage Uprising in Texas


    Prison riots show continued flaws of private prisons

    February 2, 2009

    More than 2,000 inmates rioted at the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas on Saturday, the second disturbance at the prison facility in the less than two months, reports CNN. Rioting inmates were brought under control late Sunday, authorities said.

    The privately-run federal prison is about 430 miles west of Dallas holds more than 2,400 inmates. The GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Fla., has run the prison through contracts with Reeves County and the Federal Bureau of Prisons since 2003. The prison holds more than 2,400 inmates.

    Officials told CNN that they do not know what prompted the riots. In December, rioting inmates took two workers hostage and set fire to the recreation area at the prison. Among the prisoners demands were for better medical treatment and more humane conditions.

    The riots have also shed a new light on the continued problems with private prisons. Private prisons have always had a troubled history and high rates of prisoner maltreatment. For years, the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corp.) has been at the center of scandal in its private prisons and detention centers in places such as Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Texas. Charged with squalid conditions, prison abuse, ill treatment of prisoners and even prisoner deaths, the corporation has faced several lawsuits by prisoner family members who say the facility did not provide adequate medical care or proper supervision for inmates.

    As the DailyKos reports:
    [The GEO Group] operates prisons around the country and is frequently in the news for its abuse of prisoners in its care resulting in many preventable deaths. At least eight people died at the Geo Group- operated George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, the state's only privately run jail. Several of those deaths resulted in lawsuits by family members who say the facility did not provide adequate medical care or proper supervision for inmates.

    GEO, based in Florida, also has been under fire in Texas, where it operates more than a dozen correctional facilities. Last fall, the Texas Youth Commission abruptly canceled its $8 million contract with GEO after investigators found unsanitary living conditions at its juvenile facility. Several of the teens said they were sexually assaulted by a guard who was a convicted sex offender, according to lawsuits. GEO lost its contract at an adult facility in west Texas last year after an inspector reportedly characterized the prison as "the worst correctional facility I have ever visited." The inspection was sparked by an inmate's suicide.

    Texas legislators have called for a review of all of GEO's contracts with state and local agencies.

    Prison riots show continued flaws of private prisons


    Riot at Texas prison ends

    Published: Feb. 2, 2009

    PECOS, Texas, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Rioting inmates were brought under control at a western Texas prison Sunday, authorities said.

    April Orsoco of the Reeves County Sheriff's Office said the department was told by prison officials about 4 p.m. that the situation at the Reeves County Detention Center was "under control," CNN reported. As many as 2,000 inmates had been involved in the fighting.

    But about 700 prisoners were to spend the night in tents because of the two-day disturbance, the network said.

    Three inmates were reported to have been injured Saturday.

    One building at the corrections facility was heavily damaged.

    No explanation was provided for how the riot was brought quelled or what prompted it in the first place.

    It was the second riot at the 2,400-bed, low-security detention center, located near Pecos, in less than two months. The facility, run by Geo Group Inc. (NYSE:GEO), houses federal prisoners and inmates from other states.

    Riot at Texas prison ends


    Riot Continues at West Texas Prison

    Day-old riot continues Sunday at privately run federal prison in West Texas

    02/01/09
    The Associated Press
    PECOS, Texas

    Law enforcement authorities in Texas say they are still trying to restore order at a privately run federal prison where a riot broke out.

    Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange (TEE'-lah maynj) said the disturbance at the Reeves County Detention Center was still going on Sunday, a day after it started.

    Officers from various agencies were at the prison.

    No details were available on the extent of the riot.

    Representatives of the GEO Group, which runs the lockup, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment Sunday.

    Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. redistributed.

    Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

    Riot Continues at West Texas Prison


    February 1, 2009

    Officer: Inmates Riot Again at West Texas Prison

    By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

    PECOS, Texas (AP) -- Inmates at a privately run federal prison in western Texas started a riot and set at least one fire Saturday for the second time in less than two months, authorities said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

    The disturbance broke out in an area of the Reeves County Detention Center that houses up to 2,000 inmates, corrections officer Matt Guerra said.

    ''They took over the compound,'' he said. ''They burned half the stuff over there.''

    Guerra said rioting inmates were close to a control area where ''they can open practically everything.' ' He said he could see smoke coming from the area.

    Guerra said prison officers were safe but that he wasn't sure whether inmates were injured.

    Helicopters and Department of Public Safety troopers from the Pecos area had descended on the facility.

    ''You name it, we've got it out there,'' Guerra said.

    DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said earlier that the disturbance was in the prison yard. She said she had no information on injuries.

    A spokeswoman for the Reeves County Sheriff's Department said he had no information about the riot.

    Sylvia Garza, an executive secretary at the prison, said officials had no comment.

    In December, rioting inmates at the facility about 430 miles west of Dallas sought better medical treatment. Officials said there were minor injuries.

    The GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Fla., has run the lockup through contracts with Reeves County and the Federal Bureau of Prisons since 2003. The prison holds more than 2,400 inmates.

    Pablo E. Paez, a spokesman for GEO, did not immediately respond to phone or e-mail messages Saturday night.

    Inmates Riot Again at West Texas Prison


    2008:


    Second Inmate Dies at Pecos Prison

    Posted: Dec 17, 2008

    PECOS - For the second time in less than a week an inmate has been found dead at Reeves County Detention Center.

    The first death happened this Friday and as a result more than 1200 inmates started a riot. The inmates held two people hostage and burned down the recreational facility.

    Geo Group officials confirmed that a second inmate died at Lubbock University Medical Center Sunday night. They believe it was due to natural causes. Autopsy results are still pending.

    Second Inmate Dies


    South Texas DA looks at West Texas prison riot

    © 2008 The Associated Press
    Dec. 16, 2008

    PECOS, Texas — A South Texas district attorney who tried to prosecute Vice President Dick Cheney for his investments in private prison companies is now trying to probe an inmate death and prison riot hundreds of miles outside his jurisdiction.

    Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra said Tuesday he suspected a cover-up at a privately run prison in Pecos, some 600 miles northwest of his Raymondville office. Inmates at the prison rioted and held two prison employees hostage last week after the death of another inmate.

    "This hostage thing, it's probably going to end up it's not true," said Guerra, who acknowledged he had no evidence to show any wrongdoing. "More than likely all the information that is coming out is not true."

    Reeves County Sheriff Arnulfo Gomez, whose deputies and other local and state law enforcement responded to the riot, said he hadn't met with Guerra on Tuesday but had no idea what he was talking about.

    "I think he's got some sort of personal vendetta," Gomez said of the prosecutor whose now-dismissed indictments of Cheney, state Sen. Eddie Lucio and Florida-based The Geo Group Inc. prompted a judge to bar him from appearing before a grand jury without the presence of a pro tem district attorney. "There were two hostages, they were prison employees."

    Gomez said masked inmates at the prison told hostage negotiators that the employees were not hostages, but being held by the inmates to keep police at bay. Gomez said an investigation, which includes trying to identify the inmates involved, is ongoing. He said it was unclear who, if anyone, would face charges for the riot and standoff.

    Gomez said an autopsy of the deceased inmate is pending, but investigators believe the inmate either committed suicide or died of natural causes.

    A telephone message left with the warden at the Pecos prison was not immediately returned.

    Guerra, who is set to leave office at the end of the month after failing to win re-election earlier this year, said he won't try to prosecute anyone in this case, but hopes his successor and Ward County District Attorney Randall W. "Randy" Reynolds will take up the investigation.

    "This is not an isolated incident," Guerra said. Reynolds was not in his Pecos office Tuesday and did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

    West Texas prison riot


    Texas grand jury indicts Cheney, Gonzales of crime

    Posted 2008/11/18

    HOUSTON, (Reuters) — A grand jury in South Texas indicted U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and former attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Tuesday for "organized criminal activity" related to alleged abuse of inmates in private prisons.

    The indictment has not been seen by a judge, who could dismiss it.

    The grand jury in Willacy County, in the Rio Grande Valley near the U.S.-Mexico border, said Cheney is "profiteering from depriving human beings of their liberty," according to a copy of the indictment obtained by Reuters.

    The indictment cites a "money trail" of Cheney's ownership in prison-related enterprises including the Vanguard Group, which owns an interest in private prisons in south Texas.

    Former attorney general Gonzales used his position to "stop the investigations as to the wrong doings" into assaults in county prisons, the indictment said.

    Cheney's office declined comment. "We have not received any indictments. I can't comment on something we have not received," said Cheney's spokeswoman Megan Mitchell.

    The indictment, overseen by county District Attorney Juan Guerra, cites the case of Gregorio De La Rosa, who died on April 26, 2001, inside a private prison in Willacy County.

    The grand jury wrote it made its decision "with great sadness," but said they had no other choice but to indict Cheney and Gonzales "because we love our country."

    Texas is the home state of U.S. President George W. Bush.

    Bush and his Republican administration, which first took office in January 2001, leave the White House on January 20 after the November presidential elections won by Democrat Barack Obama. Gonzales was attorney general from 2005 to 2007.

    (Reporting by Chris Baltimore and JoAnne Allen, Editing by Frances Kerry)


    Idaho ends contract with GEO-run Texas prison

    By REBECCA BOONE
    Associated Press Writer © 2008 The Associated Press
    Nov. 6, 2008

    BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Correction has terminated its contract with private prison company The GEO Group and will move the roughly 305 Idaho inmates currently housed at a GEO-run facility in Texas to a private prison in Oklahoma.

    Correction Director Brent Reinke notified GEO officials Thursday in a letter.

    Reinke said the company's chronic understaffing at the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas, put Idaho offenders' safety at risk.

    An Idaho Department of Correction audit found that guards routinely falsified reports to show they were checking on offenders regularly — even though they were sometimes away from their posts for hours at a time.

    "I hope you understand how seriously we're taking not only the report but the safety of our inmates," Reinke told The Associated Press on Thursday. "They have an ongoing staffing issue that doesn't appear to be able to be solved."

    The contract will end Jan. 5. Reinke said the department wanted to pull the inmates out immediately, but state attorneys found there wasn't enough cause to allow the state to break free of the contract without a 60-day warning period. In the meantime, Reinke said, Idaho correction officials have been sent to the Texas prison to help with staffing for the next two months.

    GEO will be responsible for transferring the inmates to the North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayer, Okla., which is run by Corrections Corp. of America. GEO will cover the cost of the move, Reinke said, but Idaho will have to pay $58 per day per inmate in Oklahoma, compared to $51 per day at Bill Clayton.

    Amber Martin, vice president for The GEO Group, of Florida, said she couldn't comment on the audit or on Idaho's decision to end the contract. She referred calls to the company spokesman, Pablo Paez, who could not immediately be reached by the AP.

    As of Oct. 1, Idaho had nearly 7,300 total inmates.

    The Bill Clayton audit describes the latest in a series of problems that Idaho has had with shipping inmates out of state. Overcrowding at home forced the state to move hundreds of inmates to a prison in Minnesota in 2005, but space constraints soon uprooted them again, this time to a GEO-run facility in Newton, Texas.

    There, guard abuse and prisoner unrest forced another move to two new GEO facilities: 125 Idaho inmates went to the Dickens County Correctional Center in Spur, Texas, while 304 went to Bill Clayton in Littlefield.

    Conditions at Dickens were left largely unmonitored by Idaho, at least until inmate Scott Noble Payne committed suicide after complaining of the filthy conditions there. Idaho investigators looking into Payne's death detailed the poor conditions and a lack of inmate treatment programs, and the inmates were moved again. That's when the Idaho Department of Correction created the Virtual Prisons Program, designed to improve oversight of Idaho inmates housed in contract beds both in and out of state.

    The extent of the Bill Clayton facility understaffing was discovered after Idaho launched an investigation into the apparent suicide of inmate Randall McCullough in August. During that investigation, guards at the prison said they were often pulled away from their regular posts to handle other duties — including taking out the garbage, refueling vehicles or checking the perimeter fence — and that it was common practice to fill out the logs as if the required checks of inmates were being completed as scheduled, said Jim Loucks, chief investigator for the Idaho Department of Correction.

    For instance, Loucks said, correction officers were supposed to check on inmates in the administrative segregation unit every 30 minutes. But sometimes they were away from the unit for hours at a time, he said. The investigation into McCullough's death is not yet complete, department officials said.

    The audit also found several other problems at Bill Clayton. The auditor found that "the facility entrance is a very relaxed checkpoint," prompting concerns that cell phones, marijuana and other contraband could be smuggled past security.

    In addition, the prison averages a 30 percent vacancy rate in security staff jobs, according to the audit. Though it was still able to meet the one-staffer-for-every-48-prisoners ratio set out by Texas law, employees were regularly expected to work long hours of overtime and non-security staffers sometimes were used to provide security supervision, according to the audit.

    "Based on a review of payroll reports, there are significant concerns with security staff working excessive amounts of overtime for long periods of time," the auditors wrote. "This can lead to compromised facility security practices and increased safety issues."

    When the audit was done, there were 29 security staff vacancies, according to the report. That meant each security staff person who was eligible for overtime worked an average of 21 hours of overtime a week. That extra expense was borne by GEO, not by Idaho taxpayers, said Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray.

    The state's contract with GEO also required that at least half of the eligible inmates be given jobs with at least 50 hours of work a month. According to the facility's inmate payroll report, only 35 out of 371 offenders were without jobs. But closer inspection showed that the prison often had several inmates assigned to the same job.

    In one instance, nine inmates were assigned to clean showers in one unit of the prison — which only had nine shower stalls. So although each was responsible for cleaning just one shower stall, the nine inmates were all claiming 7- and 8-hour work days, five days a week.

    GEO is responsible for covering the cost of those wages, Ray said. "While the contract percentage requirement is met, the facility cannot demonstrate the actual hours claimed by offenders are spent in a meaningful, skill-learning job activity," the auditors wrote.

    Auditors also found that too few inmates were enrolled in high school diploma equivalency and work force readiness classes.

    Idaho ends contract with GEO


    Texas Senate Committee To Hold Private Prison Hearings on November 13

    From the Texas Senate Commitee on Criminal Justice's website:

    COMMITTEE: Criminal Justice
    TIME & DATE: 10:00 AM, Thursday, November 13, 2008
    PLACE: E1.016 (Hearing Room)
    CHAIR: Senator John Whitmire

    The committee will meet to hear invited and public testimony for the following:

    Interim Charge 1: Determine how private prisons are complying with state laws and how cost, safety, living conditions and rehabilitative services at private prisons compare with state-run facilities. Include an assessment of the staff turnover rates and compensation of private contractors when compared with state-operated facilities, and of the contract bidding processes used by the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    Interim Charge 4: Monitor the implementation of the new and expanded programs provided to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) within the Fiscal Year 2008 and 2009 budget, and identify their impact on the criminal justice populations. Study security issues within TDCJ, including staffing issues, use of lock down procedures, the control and containment of infectious diseases and the introduction and control of contraband within the institutions. Review the use of career ladders for employees of TDCJ and issues surrounding the retention of professional corrections staff. Study the issues of independent oversight of TDCJ, including the use and effectiveness of the TDCJ ombudsman system. Provide recommendations for the reduction or elimination of barriers to an effective corrections system.

    Interim Charge 9: Review the processes for re-entry of criminal offenders into communities. Identify barriers to the successful return to law-abiding behavior, including the absence of employment opportunities created by restriction on obtaining certain state occupational licenses.Provide recommendations for improvements to our current statutes governing this matter.

    Private Prison Hearings


    Private prison company indicted for murder

    © 2008 The Associated Press
    Oct. 24, 2008

    McALLEN, Texas — A Florida private prison company has been indicted in South Texas on a murder charge in the death of a prisoner days before his release.

    A three-count indictment alleges The GEO Group allowed other inmates to beat Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. to death with padlocks stuffed into socks. The death happened in 2001 at the Raymondville facility, just four days before de la Rosa's scheduled release, according to Thursday's indictment from Willacy County.

    Calls to The GEO Group and the Willacy County District Attorney's Office were not immediately returned Friday.

    The GEO Group was formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections Corp.

    In 2006, a jury ordered the company to pay de la Rosa's family $47.5 million in a civil judgment.

    Private prison company indicted for murder


    09/22/08

    Laredo 'Superjail' launched

    Texas Prison Bidness informs us that the so-called Laredo Superjail - a controversial 1,500 bed facility that earlier drew staunch opposition - finally opened last week. TPB blogger Bob Libal offered this account:

    I was able to attend the opening, and have to admit it was even more surreal than I could have imagined - complete with a high school mariachi band singing Spanish language ballads, a cake in the shape of the GEO Group's corporate logo, and a slew of new GEO Group prison guards (many of whom looked to be 18 or 19) wearing desert-camo style uniforms.

    GEO Group executives George Zoley and Wayne Calabrese mingled with local politicos, including Laredo mayor Raul Salinas and Webb County judge Danny Valdez, who apparently have forgotten their respective councils' rejection of GEO money a little over a year ago.

    The prison will hold pre-trial federal detainees for the U.S. Marshals - many of whom will be immigrants prosecuted for criminal violations under the program Operation Streamline. The facility was proposed back in 2003, and even before the official launch of Streamline, the Marshals capacity was being pushed almost exclusively by expanded criminal prosecution of immigration violations (GroundZero; PDF), a departure from the old style of dealing with immigration issues in the immigration court system.

    Simply put, this $100 million gift to the GEO Group is almost exclusively due to the government holding border-crossers in criminal jail for 30-90 days before deporting them. Doesn't seem too "streamlined" to me.


    Idaho's 'Virtual Prison' monitors oversee Texas facilities

    Three prisoner deaths including two suicides in Texas are spurring a debate in Idaho over the state's reliance on out of state private prisons, according to a lengthy article in the Magic Valley Times News
    ("Families feel loss as out of state prison population grows,":
    Sept. 21, 2008

    Idaho has so many prisoners scattered around the country that the IDOC last year developed the Virtual Prison Program, assigning 12 officers to monitor the distant prisons.

    In 2007 Idaho sent 429 inmates to Texas and Oklahoma. This year; more than 700 - and by one estimate it could soon hit 1,000.

    The Virtual Prison program is documenting problems, even if it's not necessarily solving them:

    During recent visits to the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas - where about 371 Idaho inmates are now held - state inspectors found there wasn't a legal aid staffer to give inmates access to courts, as required by the state contract. Virtual Prison monitors also agreed with Aragon's assessment:

    "No programs are offered at the facility," a state official wrote in a recently redacted Idaho Virtual Prison report obtained by the Times-News. "Most jobs have to do with keeping the facility clean and appear to be less meaningful. This creates a shortage of productive time with the inmates.

    "Overall, recreational activities are very sparse within the facility. Informal attempts have been made to encourage the facility to increase offender activities that would in the long run ease some of the boredom that IDOC inmates are experiencing, " according to a Virtual Prison report.


    GENOCIDE INSIDE THE USA

    ARE AMERICAN JAILS NOTHING BUT ANOTHER METHOD OF GENOCIDE? (WRITTEN April 4, 2008)

    Genocide the American way is all encompassing and involves many supporting institutional constructs! America has more of its citizens in prison than any other country in the world today. Nearly one in four of all prisoners worldwide is incarcerated in America.

    What does it take to get Americans to sit up and notice?

    Germany had the most widely advertised system of extermination of a group of people. But American has outdone Germany by getting all the institutions in America involved. The incarceration of over two and one half million Americans or 1 in every 100 has spawn many supporting institutions.

    These institutions include:

    1. Religion-ministers can take college courses in serving inmates,

    2. Higher Education-Colleges- Universities have courses and majors in Criminal Justice and management of jails and prisons.

    3. The private Industry has become involved by running jail and prisons for profit,

    4. Social Science Institutions have developed courses in the Schools of Social Service to train American citizens in the counseling and services to inmates.

    4. Private Industry has developed testing of their new product using prisoners.

    5. Medical Institution have developed agencies to obtain prisoners for medical student interns practice and testing and to get the bodies of prisoner for their Schools of Medicine.

    6. Town and Counties have developed Lobbying for locating prisons and jails in there districts to elevate unemployment.

    7. The TV media has entered into propaganda for making the institution of incarceration an accepted "American way of life" (e.g. MSNBC LOCK DOWN, etc),

    8. The State legislatures haves added legitimacy to the unavoidable activity of male on male sex in prisons by making it possible for prisoners to marry their homosexual partners while in jail.

    9. This has a method of population control of unwanted groups. When you consider that the average American family consists of two and one half children; then the two and one half male prisoners would be responsible for the production of about 5,000,000 more individuals if they were not in prison.

    Of course there is a need for the incarceration and punish and rehabilitation of criminals. But America has allowed this function to evolve into an unfortunate way of doing other things. Between marijuana and movement of manufacturing to cheaper labor overseas producing extraordinarily high unemployment the jails will be costing more than all other public services combined!!

    Ask did your uncle Joe, your brother little June Bug, or sister Mary Jo do so much Harm/bad that they must be jailed for life??

    Dr J. Alva Scruggs, BS, MS, MA, EdD
    Look Forward to Your Comments
    E-MAIL: JSCRU5750@AOL.COM
    Website: Frankly Speaking


    Prison privatization ginning up local controversies

    08/15/2008

    It's surprising how many acrimonious local debates are going on right now in Texas over jail and prison privatization. Yesterday I mentioned that McLennan County is lurching toward building a private local jail in Waco in the face of strident opposition, and now I find news of a group in Nacogdoches gearing up to oppose a private prison there that's also backed by local leadership. To judge by a report from the Longview News Journal ("Nacogdoches group plans to step up prison protests," Aug. 13), some folks there are pretty unhappy with the project:

    Burton Byrum, a retired business manager for a computer company, drew applause from the crowd when he urged the group to supplement their "passive" protests — such as bumper stickers and signs — with more active demonstrations.

    "We've got to affect NEDCO, and the only thing they understand is dollars and cents," he said.

    Byrum proposed that COPS members remove their savings from Nacogdoches banks and transfer all their money to banks in Lufkin, such as Angelina Savings, Capital One, Huntington State Bank and Texas State Bank.

    The group is also targeting the city and county commissioners, and COPS is going to request a discussion item on the agendas of city and county commissions.

    Some group members also proposed a boycott of all businesses owned by commissioners.

    That's quite a grassroots protest! Their group name, I thought, was pretty clever. It's COPS, which stands for Citizens Opposed to the Prison Site. While the purely NIMBY aspects of the opposition I think are unfortunate, a great deal of the debate in Nacogdoches has centered around whether private prisons benefit or retard the economy and what it may do to the local culture.

    Meanwhile in Corpus Christi, the commissioners court is struggling to disengage from their own past experiment as incarceration entrepreneurs. Nueces County two years ago lost a longstanding federal contract to house prisoners locally because the federal marshals said jail conditions had deteriorated beyond their minimum standards.

    The loss of their sole customer created a revenue hole in the county budget, and shows how making local government dependent on private prison revenue can easily backfire. One day the money's there, the next day it's not. (Expect the same thing to happen with immigration detention if comprehensive reform is ever passed.)

    Now the Nueces jail has passed inspection, but a majority of commissioners don't want make the same mistake of paying to build extra jail space just to re-enter the contract, reports the Corpus Christi Caller Times ("County may not seek to house federal prisoners," Aug. 14):

    "Would it make more sense to make room by coordinating with our district judges and whoever puts people in jail, for them to quit putting people there, to make space," [Commissioner] Ortiz said. "If there is room for them, whoever puts them in jail will put them in jail just because there is room for them."

    Sheriff Jim Kaelin said late Wednesday that there is no quick way to move state and local inmates out of the jail so that he can move federal prisoners in.

    "I don't believe I can house additional inmates without that pod," Kaelin said. "We have done the math. I am at capacity now. I am already working with the courts now, to get as many people as possible out."

    Many of the misdemeanor cases already have been moved out of the jail, Neal said. The current population is mostly felony-related, with roughly 750 felons in the county jail Wednesday.

    "They are the ones you can't just move out," Neal said.

    While Ortiz said the police and judges putting people in jail should slow down, Cazalas said he does not support bringing federal prisoners back because he is unwilling to redo the pod or "kick 50 people back out on the street" who are currently in jail, to accommodate the federal prisoners.

    "Long term with the growth in the population here as well, some future court is going to have to contend with the size of our current capacity," he said. "Do we want to put ourselves in the position of focusing on the revenue piece?"

    For the record, the Caller Times story overstated the number of felons in the Nueces County Jail. The actual number was 576 felons as of July 1 (pdf), and of those 101 were state jail felons, which are low-level drug and property crimes, not really "the ones you can't just move out." The majority of felony defendants in the jail (332) as of July 1 were awaiting trial, as were 107 misdemeanor defendants.

    So if judges in Nueces County or local police agencies wanted to do so (it's not really in the commissioners court's hands), they could take Mr. Ortiz up on his offer to reduce the number of jail inmates to free up room for the federal contract. But the majority on the court is right that such an arrangement should be viewed as an extra, only worth entering into when capacity exists - it would be unwise to make entrepreneurial investments just to get such a small-time contract.

    The Caller Times story is full of grave talk about cutting "meat" in the county budget if this revenue stream goes away, but we're talking about a small tax hike at most to make up the difference, plus simply touting the contract total ignores how much Nueces would have to spend to house and guard the prisoners. After all, earlier this year the same reporter was congratulating the Sheriff for reducing staffing costs at the jail, but those costs go back up if they expand to house federal prisoners.

    Too often Texas counties have viewed jail privatization as a source of "free money," as in Corpus, without paying attention to related monetary and opportunity costs as well as unintended consequences. In that regard, it's good to see such projects receiving more local scrutiny.

    Posted by Gritsforbreakfast;
    Labels: County jails, Nacogdoches County, Nueces County, Private prisons


    Dollars and Sentences: Prisons more than just an issue of economics

    By ANDREW GOODRIDGE
    The Daily Sentinel
    July 26, 2008

    Local officials have boiled down the complicated tangle of concerns surrounding a proposed private prison in Nacogdoches to one issue — the bottom line.

    "In my heart, the biggest thing is that the cash it would bring into our system will later be reflected in sales tax and perhaps some home sales," said Nacogdoches Mayor Roger Van Horn. The prison, operated by the firm Management Training Corp. could bring in nearly $1 million per month in salaries, he said, with starting wages for correctional officers likely to be around $30,000 to $32,000 per year.


    Christy Wooten/The Daily Sentinel
    [Northwest Stallings Drive, where Management and Training Corporation has received local government's support to build a federal prison.]

    However, recent research shows that prisons aren't necessarily the economic boon they were once thought.

    And in rural areas, prisons have, in some cases, proven to be more of a hindrance to economic development than a help.

    That's according to a study published in "Social Science Quarterly," which found that prisons can impede economic growth in rural areas. And Calvin Beale, senior demographer with the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said it "is questionable whether prisons will give rural communities a foundation for long-term growth."


    NEDCO
    [The proposed site for a federal prison sits just inside Loop 224 on Northwest Stallings Drive.]

    The data is backed up by several studies that have been published in criminal justice journals such as "Federal Probation" and "Crime & Delinquency," the book "Private Prisons in the United States: An Assessment of Current Practice," and a study sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

    Research also shows that private prisons aren't as cost effective as once believed.

    A study by prison expert John J. Dilulio, published in the book "Crime & Justice in America: Present Realities and Future Prospects," says that privatization was originally projected to save anywhere from 10 to 25 percent from the nation's correctional budget.

    That's wasn't supported by the findings of two prison experts, Martin Schwartz and Dana Nurge, who wrote in their article "Capitalist Punishment: Ethics and Private Prisons," published recently in the journal "Critical Criminology," that there is "no reason to believe that private prisons can or are saving money as compared to public prisons."

    A 2001 Bureau of Justice Statistics report also states that "savings simply have not materialized."

    Concerns voiced in Nacogdoches by the local anti-prison group Citizens Opposed to the Prison Site (COPS), have focused primarily on the prison's impact on local economic expansion, tourism and public safety. However, there are other issues to consider when governmental duties are transferred to the private sector.

    Without guaranteed constant oversight from state or federal agencies, what are the standards of private prisons regarding management and staff training?

    What about the treatment of prisoners? What human rights issues arise when the federal government allows a private corporation to imprison people for profit?

    Local response

    The facility in Nacogdoches would be just one of Texas's many private prisons, which currently house 10.8 percent of the state's prisoners. That's nearly double the national average of about six percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    MTC Communication Director Carl Stuart said it is "a corporate philosophy" not to build and operate prisons without the support of the local community.

    Stuart said that the company has "received unanimous support for our proposal from the Nacogdoches City Commissioners, the Nacogdoches Commissioners Court and the local Economic Development Authority." He said there is often a "small minority of citizens" opposed to building prisons, but he believes the support from local politicians is representative of Nacogdoches County as a whole.

    But there's more than one organized group against the prison in Nacogdoches.

    In addition to the outspoken COPS, a group of SFA students attended the last COPS meeting to voice their concerns, as well. This is not the first time an organized student activist group has targeted private prisons. As reported in "Village Voice," a group of 10 colleges, including SUNY-Binghamton, Oberlin College and Ithaca College, staged protests and boycotts after discovering Sodexho Marriott Services, the company that supplies food for more than 900 student dining facilities, is owned by Sodexho Alliance, a major corporate investor in CCA. After the demonstration, which was organized by the Manhattan-based Prison Moratorium Project, several campuses ended their relationship with Sodexho.

    This data is not meant to aggrandize state-operated prisons by comparison. As sociologists James Austin and Garry Conventry, authors of "Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons," write, "if nothing else, the private sector has shown that it is as equally capable of mismanaging prisons as the public sector."

    But the highly controversial issue of privatizing prisons — turning incarceration into a profit-driven industry, where economics and ethics can intersect (as they so often do) at the expense of public safety and humane treatment — deserves major consideration from the local government, as well as from the people who elect them to office.

    "Cost may be the most important issue to many legislators, " write Schwartz and Nurge. "But scandal has the potential to stir up people who vote."

    Ethics

    The ethics of privatized incarceration is a hot topic among criminologists and sociologists, according to Ronald Burns, associate professor of criminal justice at Texas Christian University. Privatization is "controversial in many ways," he said, including the treatment of prisoners in private facilities. In some cases, there is no government agency to monitor private prisons (including safety standards, staff training and prisoner treatment), according to Schwartz and Nurge.

    Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who has worked in a maximum-security prison, said "It sickens me to think that individuals sit in corporate boardrooms talking about increasing their bottom line when the commodity they are dealing with is captive human lives."

    The major allure of private prisons is that they can alleviate overcrowding in state facilities, and they purport to reduce state and federal incarceration costs, according to Schwartz and Nurge.

    "Americans seem mainly to be interested in costs, with little concern left over for human rights," they write. "The sole purpose of private prisons is to maximize shareholder profit. Prisoners are being turned into commodities, producers of income to be fought over ... They are valued for their bodily ability to generate per diem payments to their prison keepers."

    Dilulio writes that "opponents of privatization claim that major cost cutting can be achieved only at the expense of human treatment." Private firms are typically paid on a per-prisoner basis, and therefore have no incentive to reduce overcrowding, according to his research.

    This is supported with evidence from Joel Dyer, whose book, "The Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits from Crime" uncovered a private correctional facility in Texas, which was converted from an old warehouse, that housed 26 inmates in each cell. Inmates were locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, where it regularly reached over 100 degrees. Each unit, he writes, "had only one toilet, which apparently became dysfunctional shortly after the inmates' arrival. As such, inmates slept, ate and spent virtually their entire day among feces and urine." An independent inspection agency later assessed the facility and corroborated Dyer's findings.

    Overcrowding in private prisons is not limited to this one facility, according to Schwartz and Nurge. Federal law restricts overcrowding in state-run facilities, but this law does not apply to privately owned prisons. Schwartz and Nurge found that private prisons intake excess inmates from state-run facilities and "double-cell" their prisoners, which helps bring down their housing costs.

    But private prisons increase profits in other ways, too. David Blair-Loy, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego, said that private prisons may have "a direct financial incentive to prevent people from getting (medical) treatment."

    The ACLU has brought two lawsuits against the private prison company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) because of complaints from prisoners about a lack of adequate medical treatment. The lawsuit alleged that some detainees were either denied treatment or waited months to receive it.

    According to an article in the (Palm Springs) Desert Local News, one plaintiff in the case, a diabetic man, was denied care for an injury until he developed gangrene.

    Another private prison in San Diego was accused of failing to provide medical attention to detainees. A prisoner complained to the medical supervisor of chest pains, but the staff could not locate his medical records. The prisoner was told he would need to file a request before receiving treatment, according to the San Diego County medical examiner's report. The inmate died in his cell while awaiting treatment.

    Because these prisons are privately owned, they do not have to comply with the Freedom of Information act, and they tend to refuse access to records and files, according to Schwartz and Nurge.

    U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert said that he will support whatever decision the local community makes, but he does not necessarily agree with privatization of prisons. "Prisons are an inherently governmental function," he said. "And I struggle with whether or not we should have private prisons at all."

    Public safety, management and escapes

    Public safety topped a long list of concerns expressed at the last COPS meeting, though Nacogdoches County Sheriff Thomas Kerss said he doesn't believe that the inmates housed in the facility would be a threat to the community.

    Proposed inmates would predominantly be illegal aliens classified as minimum-security prisoners with sentences of fewer than 90 months, according to Michael Bell, warden of MTC's private prison in Henderson.

    But private prisons have a history of misclassifying prisoners in a way that puts the community at risk. In 1997, CCA built the 2106-bed Northeast Ohio Correctional Center facility, which was equipped to handle medium-security inmates. NOCC won a contract to house 1700 inmates from Washington's Lorton Penitentiary. According to sociologist J. Hallinan, author of "Going up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation," Lorton needed to close quickly, so high-risk inmates imprisoned in Lorton were sent to Ohio and subsequently reclassified as "high medium" risk prisoners so that NOCC could legally house them. NOCC could not adequately handle the higher risk inmates, and experienced several assaults, two fatal stabbings and "a rash of escapes," including a highly publicized escape by convicted murderers, according to Hallinan.

    Eric Bates, who published his article on NOCC and private prisons in the journal "Prisons," said the problems in Ohio were caused by "understaffing, inexperienced staff, collusion to misclassify prisoners and an overall brutal atmosphere where guards were instructed by management to engage in violent, degrading treatment of inmates."

    When state legislators came to inspect NOCC after a streak of negative publicity, they were refused admission, according to Bates, because it was not guaranteed in the government's contract that the facility had to allow government inspectors inside the prison. Later, the American Correctional Association still awarded "near perfect" ratings to the prison despite the assaults and two deaths, according to Schwartz and Nurge's article. Following the violence and negative press, Washington removed its prisoners from the Ohio prison, and it currently sits empty.

    While Ohio is a long way from Nacogdoches, private prisons in Texas have a history of misclassifying prisoners too, according to Schwartz and Nurge. They found a private prison in Texas, managed by CCA, that was supposed to serve as a detention center for minimum-security illegal aliens, much like the proposed facility in Nacogdoches.

    In reality, the prison was housing 200 sex offenders that CCA had contracted through the state of Oregon. CCA did not disclose that information to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice until two inmates escaped. The two escapees had violent histories, including convictions for rape, robbery and assault, according to the article.

    Private prisons are "widely criticized for lacking or ignoring classification procedures, combining inmates of varying risk levels and/or housing inmates of a higher security designation than the facility is equipped to handle," write Schwartz and Nurge. Dyer's findings in Texas also supported this, as he and the independent inspection agency found that the 26 inmates housed in each cell were of varying classifications, with violent and non-violent prisoners housed in the same units.

    Judy McDonald, recently retired as president and CEO of Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation said in announcing the proposed prison that it would be so attractive that "no one's going to want to break out. They're going to want to break in."

    Regardless of the aesthetics of its architecture, there still exists the possibility that inmates might try to escape, and escapes have been more frequent in private prisons than in federally or state-run prisons, according to a 1999 report by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

    The BOP report recorded the "spate of inmate escapes" from private prisons in 1999, and states that data "suggest(s) that the private sector prison providers had problems in maintaining adequately trained and experienced staff and appropriate security practices." There were 12 reported escapes from private prisons that year, with only one reported escape from a Bureau of Prisons facility. The escape from the BOP prison was the first in three years.

    MTC has had one escape — in 1999. According to the report, three prisoners escaped from a minimum-security facility in Promontory Prison in Utah.

    According to a private prison watchdog group, MTC, which owns five prisons in Texas, is not immune from controversy.

    "MTC is certainly a company that has run into numerous problems over the years," said Bob Libal, Texas coordinator for Grassroots Leadership. Libal described "terrible conditions" in some MTC prisons, including maggots in prisoners' food in the Raymondville, Texas, facility. That prison, which housed illegal immigrants, dubbed a "tent-city" by the media because the facility was not a building, but a series of Kevlar tents that held 200 detainees each, according to an article in The Texas Observer.

    As Bates suggested, the higher frequency of escapes in private prisons may be due to understaffing and poorly trained correctional officers. Dilulio writes that private prison staffs are "ill-trained, under-educated, poorly paid, and unprofessional," calling them "correctional versions of 'rent-a-cops.'"

    Hiring inexperienced staff is another example of private facilities cutting corners to save money, according to Schwartz and Nurge, and the already understaffed facilities have higher incidences of violence when compared to government run facilities. According to a 2001 report published through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, there were 49 percent more assaults on officers and 65 percent more assaults on fellow inmates in private prisons compared to government-operated prisons.

    Related content:
    Prison Questions and Answers
    Map of the prison site
    Selections from the government's request for proposals [pdf]
    Nacogdoches City Commission's resolution supporting the prison [pdf]

    Dollars and Sentences


    June 27, 2008

    A prison so nice people "want to break in"?

    In Nacogdoches the Utah-based private prison firm Management and Training Corporation hopes to construct a new immigration detention facility reports the Daily Sentinel ("Federal prison proposed for Nacogdoches, " June 26). As usual, boosters portray the project as all but a dream come true, both boon to the economy and source of civic pride for the town.

    The President of the Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation actually had the nerve to tell the paper, "Once they see this facility, no one's going to want to break out. They're going to want to break in." Hmmmm. Wanna bet? Reporter Matthew Stoff contacted me for the story and also Texas Prison Bidness blogger Bob Libal, giving the blogosphere a particularly strong voice in the article. Reported the Sentinel:

    MTC, which operates five other prisons in Texas, has been criticized for its operation of several facilities, especially an immigrant detention facility in Raymondville, known as "Tent City" because of its prefabricated, windowless appearance.

    "MTC is certainly a company that has run into numerous problems and controversies over the years," said Bob Libal, who is the Texas coordinator for the private prison watchdog group, Grassroots Leadership, and who co-authors Texas Prison Bid'ness, a blog that tracks issues related to Texas prisons. "The Tent City example is certainly an egregious one. There have been maggots in the food at Tent City ... Really terrible conditions you hear about in some of these private prisons."

    Libal's blog also recorded federal charges filed against four MTC employees in Brownsville for apparently smuggling illegal immigrants using a company van.

    Bell responded to the criticism, saying the company is committed to meeting federal standards for prisons. "No one can make any guarantees that something won't draw criticism, but overall, our practice is to run a good, secure correctional facility to ensure that we meet compliance of the contract." Some oversight by federal employees would provide an additional assurance of quality, Bell said.

    Scott Henson, a public policy researcher who authors the Grits for Breakfast blog about Texas criminal justice, said the private prison industry as a whole faces an uncertain future in the U.S. The demand for prison beds to house immigrant detainees may decline with changes to federal policy dictated by the next president, he said.

    "The rise in the need and demand for immigration beds is a result of very specific policies," Henson said. "Expansion in cases for Texas U.S. Attorneys in the last 3 years is incredibly dramatic. That was a choice. They could choose not to do it when the next president gets in.

    "Who's the next president going to be, McCain or Obama? Both of them favor comprehensive immigration reform. Do you think their attorneys general are going to continue the high rates of prosecution? Probably not. Do you think that once we have comprehensive immigration reform, immigration detention facilities will be a viable investment? Probably not."

    Henson also said the prison could hurt Nacogdoches' tourism and its efforts to recruit retirees.

    "When Nacogdoches gets in the newspaper, I know that the chamber of commerce would prefer that it not be because prisoners had maggots in their food," he said. "One nasty story in the Dallas news about mistreatment there, and all those Dallas retirees all of a sudden say, 'Well, maybe I'll go to Tyler.'"

    Dr. Gregory Hooks, a sociologist at Washington State University, said his research casts further doubt on claims that prison construction can bolster economic development. His paper, published in Social Science Quarterly in 2004, examined every prison in the U.S. and its impact on surrounding counties.

    "We find no evidence that prison expansion has stimulated economic growth. In fact, we provide evidence that prison construction has impeded economic growth in rural counties that have been growing at a slow place," the paper concluded.

    Posted by Gritsforbreakfast Labels: Immigration, Nacogdoches County, Private prisons


    Private Prisons Have a Lock on Growth

    JULY 6, 2006
    Industry in Focus
    By Palash R. Ghosh

    Private Prisons Have a Lock on Growth

    With state-run prisons overflowing, outfits such as Corrections Corp. of America stand to benefit

    Prisons in the U.S. are bursting at the seams and the nation's jail population is likely to keep growing at an estimated 3% to 5% a year. Private correctional facility operators such as Corrections Corp. of America ("CXW" ) and Geo Group ("GGI" ) are viewed by some experts as well-positioned to handle the overflow of convicts, thereby alleviating the congestion in state-run institutions, and at a lower cost.

    According to the Justice Dept., U.S. prisons held about 2.19 million inmates as of midyear 2005, a 2.6% increase over the prior year. From 1995 to 2005, the country's imprisoned population ballooned by more than 600,000. Even more alarming, at midyear 2005, jail facilities were operating at 95% of capacity.

    INCREASED DEMAND. Florida, one of the nation's largest prison systems, presents an interesting microcosm of the current crisis. According to the Florida Corrections Dept., the state's inmate population totaled 84,901 as of midyear 2005, a 3.6% gain from the prior year, a 19.2% rise over the five-year period, and a 37.0% jump over the past decade. Florida estimates that care of each prisoner costs $18,101 annuallynearly $50 per day.

    The situation in California, which boasts the country's largest prison population with about 171,000 inmates, is particularly dire, with many jails already at double capacity. According to the California Corrections and Rehabilitation Dept., the price to the taxpayer for running these prisons totals about $7 billion annually.

    Wayne Willems, CEO of Brazos Capital Management, is bullish on the private prison industry because of the favorable supply-demand scenario. "States and the federal government are not willing to spend money to build more prisons, and the private sector is," he says. "They can take more inmates from state and federal institutions. " Plus, private prison facilities are poised to increase business given the federal government's plan to catch and retain illegal immigrants, he says.

    REDUCE RECIDIVISM. According the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 12% of all federally sentenced offenders and about 6% of state prisoners are currently managed by private corrections companies, and these figures are growing. As such, the private prison subsector has significant upside, Willems says.

    Texas, which has the nation's second largest prison complex, is committed to the privatization program. The state has more than 40 private jails and prisons capable of handling nearly 30,000 inmates, says Marc A. Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. In total, Texas prisons house about 152,600 inmates, and the state's Legislative Budget Board projects this figure will rise to 165,300 by 2010. Levin estimates that 16,000 Texas prisoners are currently housed in private facilities.

    Levin believes private prisons are more economical than state institutions. "Savings in Texas from private prisons have been estimated at 10% to 14%," he says. "Moreover, private facilities, such as those run by Corrections Corp. of America, often provide far better access to programs such as drug treatment and job training. Such programs have also been demonstrated to reduce recidivism."

    SAFE HAVEN. The Texas Criminal Justice Dept. estimates that it costs $40 per day to incarcerate someone, not including construction costs and state administration. Based on that figure, Levin estimates that the current system costs $2.2 billion. "We estimate that building another 14,000 units would cost approximately $1.24 billion," Levin says. "However, we think that innovative policy changes can reduce or eliminate the need for new units and that any new capacity can more efficiently be created by leasing beds from private operators rather than by building new state-run prisons."

    Corrections Corp. of America is a core holding in three of the Brazos mutual fundsBrazos Small Cap fund ("BJSCX" ), Brazos Mid Cap fund ("BJMCX" ), and Brazos Growth fund ("BJGRX" ). Willems says he likes Corrections Corp. of America given its recurring revenue stream and the fact that the company has delivered upside earnings surprises over the past three quarters. "CXW can predictably provide 20% annual earnings growth,"" he says. "And considering the poor market climate we are now in, with the specter of rising interest rates and inflation, stocks like CXW offer a safe haven as they are not economically sensitive.

    Corrections Corp. of America's stock price has risen 26% since the beginning of the year (see BusinessWeek. com, 6/2/06, "Corrections Corp. Breaks Out"). The company has approximately 71,000 beds in 63 facilities under contract for management in 19 states and Washington, D.C. The majority of these prisons are located in the South and Southwest, including 15 in Texas alone. About 62,000 inmates are currently under the company's supervision.

    Its main rival, Geo, was spun off from Wackenhut several years ago and currently operates 62 correctional and residential treatment facilitieswith capacity of about 51,000 bedsin the U.S., Australia, South Africa, Canada, and Britain. A third major player in this field, Cornell ("CRN" ), has contracts to operate 82 facilities in 18 states and D.C. with a service capacity of 19,500.

    Ghosh is a reporter for Standard & Poor's Fund Advisor
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