You already know who doesn’t want Texas to contract with GEO Care, a division of private prison corporation GEO Group, to take over the Kerrville State Hospital. With our partners and allies at other organizations, Grassroots Leadership sent a letter in opposition to privatization to Governor Rick Perry. Community members from around the state have also signed on to our petition calling on the Governor to cancel the bidding process. We have cited numerous potential problems if the Texas Department of State Health Services turns over control of the hospital to GEO Care.
Based on GEO’s history in Texas and beyond, we are concerned about what contracting with the for-profit prison company will mean for patient care at Kerrville State Hospital, for the safety of the employees that work there, and for the community of Kerrville that could see significant downsizing of jobs at the hospital. GEO has promised to cut operating costs there by 10%.
Controversy abounds in this decision. We’ve already shared with you the potential conflict of interest involving former Kerrville superintendent Stephen Anfinson, now an employee of GEO. Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine why the state would move forward on a proposal with only one bidder, especially when that bidder is already being fined by the same agency for mismanagement of another mental health facility, Montgomery County Mental Health Facility, over serious shortcomings in patient care.
So, what does Texas have to gain from pushing forward a contract with GEO Care to privatize Kerrville State Hospital? You don’t have to look to far to figure out that GEO has made some big investments in having influence over the legislative process for privatizing state institutions. According to the Texas Ethics Commission, between 2008 and 2012, GEO spent between $1,190,000 and $1,450,550 on lobbyist salaries in Texas (these numbers do not include other expenditures like meals, gifts, etc.). During the same years, more than 50 Texas elected officials received campaign contributions from GEO Group’s Political Action Committees (PACs).
And the largest contributions have gone to the leaders with the most power. Governor Rick Perry, who has ultimate decision-making power in whether or not GEO will be awarded the Kerrville bid, received $11,000 in GEO PAC money. State Senator Tommy Williams, who was instrumental in pushing the 2009 budget rider that privatized of Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment facility, has also consistently received large campaign contributions from GEO. Senator Williams is now chair of the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate body that is responsible for authoring the state budget. In addition to Williams, nine out of the thirteen members of the Senate Finance Committee have received GEO contributions.
Patient care, worker safety, and prosperous communities should be the priorities when Texas makes decisions about the management of state mental health facilities. It’s time that state legislators start paying attention to their constituents and not big-money private prison corporations.