Grassroots Leadership Blog

Welcoming the Stranger in Utah – A Report from Father Les Schmidt

The following is a report from the recent trip to Utah by Father Les Schmidt, Coordinator of Grassroots Leadership’s Keeping Faith Campaign.  


The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which encompasses the entire state of Utah, invited Father Les Schmidt, Grassroots Leadership’s Faith Organizer, to give the keynote address at the annual gathering of Catholic lay leaders from across the state. Read more about Welcoming the Stranger in Utah – A Report from Father Les Schmidt

Humpday Hall of Shame: Jails Fargo

Welcome to The Hump Day Hall of Shame:  Every Wednesday we highlight the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

National Peoples Action and Public Accountability Initiative have co-released the first in a series of reports on Wells Fargo’s connections to the private prison industry.  The report shows that more than any other banking institution, Wells Fargo has provided critical financing to the private prison industry’s top giants — Corrections Corporation of America, GEO, and MTC — by either investing in them or by lending them significant amounts of capital.    According to the report’s executive summary:

  • Wells Fargo is a major lender to Corrections Corp of America (CCA), acting as the syndication agent and issuing lender on CCAʼs $785
  • Wells Fargo is a major investor in GEO Group, with $95.5 million invested through its mutual funds, and serves as trustee for $300 million of the companyʼs corporate debt.
  • Wells Fargo is a lender to Management & Training Corp (MTC). MTC is a private company and so it is difficult to find data on its investors and lenders, but Wells Fargo is listed as a lender to MTC in a Utah UCC filing Read more about Humpday Hall of Shame: Jails Fargo.

Victory - Private Prison Corporation Will Not Take Control of Texas State Hospital!

Normally, we dedicate Wednesday blog posts to the the Hump Day Hall of Shame –  highlighting the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

However, today we decided to celebrate some good news from deep in the heart of Texas.  After months of organizing by Grassroots Leadership and our allies across the state, state leaders have rejected private prison corporation GEO Group's bid to take over the Kerrville State Hospital!  According to the Kerrville Daily Times:

"The Kerrville State Hospital will remain under state management — at least for now. Texas state commissioner David Lakey rejected GEO Care’s proposal to privatize the state hospital.

The Daily Times received an internal email from acting superintendent Jay Norwood sent to employees today that confirmed Lakey rejected GEO Care's proposal, which was to privatize the Kerrville State Hospital." Read more about Victory - Private Prison Corporation Will Not Take Control of Texas State Hospital!

Social Justice Hero: Gail Tyree

Welcome to our Social Justice Hall of Heroes: once a month we’ll be highlighting someone in the field fighting to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education.

On Wednesday, October 10th, Grassroots Leadership and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary will be co-sponsoring a guest lecture by Gail Tyree, a Soros fellow and former organizer for Grassroots Leadership.  In honor of her upcoming visit, Gail will be our first Social Justice Superhero.Gail Tyree with Rev. Neal Presa, Moderator of the PCUSA

As a 2011 Soros Justice Fellow, Gail is creating a network of organizations and individuals in the southeast U.S. who can respond quickly and effectively to stop for-profit prisons, jails, or detention centers from moving into their communities.  Currently, she is a board member of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, and Tyree boasts over 30 years of Labor and Community organizing experience.  

Her experience includes: international representative for the Workers United Labor Union; campaign director and organizer with Grassroots Leadership in Charlotte, North Carolina; board member of Workers Interfaith Network; advisory member of the Presbyterian Child Advocacy Network; campaign director for the Southern Faith Labor and Community Alliance in Memphis, Tennessee; project labor organizer with the Communications Workers of America; organizing instructor for the MidSouth Peace and Justice Center. She was also an AFL-CIO Teaching Fellow and a graduate of Southern Empowerment Project 2005 Advance Leadership Preparation Initiative.  Most recently, Tyree was asked to help form the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network and was elected to the board of the Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association.

At the most recent congress of the PCUSA, Tyree represented the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network as a resource person to the Social Justice Committee.  Gail was integral in passing the overture “On Instructing MRTI to Report to GAMC on the Corporate Practices of Publicly Traded Corporations That Operate For-Profit Prisons.”  For Gail, this overture is an extension of the Presbyterian Church’s 2002 condemnation of for-profit prisons; she’s glad to see the denomination finally “putting its money where its mouth is” as it ensures against investment in companies that profit from imprisonment.

Despite her impressive CV as an activist, Tyree maintains that her work and her journey are more personal and spiritual than occupational.  I had an opportunity to talk with Gail on the phone and over email.  Click "Read More" to see my interview with Gail.

Read more about Social Justice Hero: Gail Tyree

Humpday Hall of Shame: A Fox in the Henhouse?

Welcome to The Hump Day Hall of Shame:  Every Wednesday we highlight the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

Right now New Hampshire is considering privatizing its entire public prison system.  Although this New England state’s prison population is relatively small compared to others’, we are concerned about the precedent that statewide privatization could set, being that no other state in the country has privatized its entire system, and we are worried about what opening this floodgate could mean for the rest of the region.

Read more about Humpday Hall of Shame: A Fox in the Henhouse?

Hump Day Hall of Shame: The Privatization of the Justice System Beyond Prisons

Welcome to The Hump Day Hall of Shame:  Every Wednesday we highlight the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

In a recent blog post on GEO Care’s potentional take over of Kerrville State Hospital and private prison companies getting into the business of mental health care, Jim Rigby, a well-known progressive Presbyterian minister in Austin, wrote, “When one lives in a capitalist culture where everything is for sale, one get(s) used to privatization.”

This led to me wonder where else privatization and profit are driving forces in the justice system beyond the movement to privatize prisons and immigration detention centers.   Per Rigby’s statement, I found myself looking at two issues that are rarely scrutinized for the private aspects of their practice; the businesses of debt collection and writing bail bonds.  It seems as though, in our culture, we have accepted as a norm the delivery of these services as being in the purview of business and not core government functions.   As it turns out, just like prisons, both debt collection and bail bonds have been built into industries in which private businesses are able to make a profit off of individuals’ interaction with the criminal justice system, and so their interest is in ensuring a consistent flow of “customers” in their direction.  It also turns out that there are alternatives. Read more about Hump Day Hall of Shame: The Privatization of the Justice System Beyond Prisons

Privatizing Kerrville State Hospital is Unconscionable

Over the weekend the Houston Chronicle ran this editorial by Maria Ramos, a mental health expert and board member of the ACLU of Texas.  The first line reads, “There's a scandal waiting to happen if GEO Care gets its hands on another Texas mental health hospital,” and we agree.  GEO’s history in Texas of mismanaging prison and health care facilities has been well-documented.  Back in 2011 the San Antonio Current, a local weekly publication, ran an excellent piece on GEO’s expansion in Texas and featured “GEO Group Texas Death Watch,” a timeline of deaths in GEO-run facilities in Texas since 1999.

Over the weekend the Houston Chronicle ran this editorial by Maria Ramos, a mental health expert and board member of the ACLU of Texas.  The first line reads, “There's a scandal waiting to happen if GEO Care gets its hands on another Texas mental health hospital,” and we agree.  GEO’s history in Texas of mismanaging prison and health care facilities has been well-documented.  Back in 2011 the San Antonio Current, a local weekly publication, ran an excellent piece on GEO’s expansion in Texas and featured “GEO Group Texas Death Watch,” a timeline of deaths in GEO-run facilities in Texas since 1999.

Read more about Privatizing Kerrville State Hospital is Unconscionable

Grassroots Leadership Welcomes Piper Madison

Grassroots Leadership is pleased to welcome Piper Madison to our team in the Austin office.  Piper comes to us through the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.'s Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) Program, which matches young adults with non-profits for a year of service.  This is the first year that Austin is hosting participants in the program. The goals of the YAV program include: to experience living in intentional Christian community; to focus on spiritual formation; to engage young adults in the [Presbyterian] church’s mission; to assist YAVs in vocational discernment; to be present in communities of need and to facilitate young adults’ engagement in communities of need.

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Who gains if GEO Care takes over Kerrville State Hospital?

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%.

Read more about Who gains if GEO Care takes over Kerrville State Hospital?

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