Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice to Hear Testimony on Private Prisons

November 12, 2008

Prisoner Families, Advocates Decry Abuse and Lack of Oversight in Texas' Private Prisons

AUSTIN, TX – Tomorrow, the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice will hold interim hearings on whether private prisons are complying with state law and how private prisons are performing in comparison to publicly-operated facilities. The hearing will begin at 10:00am on Thursday, November 13th, in the Hearing Room E1.016 of the Texas Capitol.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice head Brad Livingston and Texas Youth Commission director Cherie Townsend will be invited speakers. Also addressing the committee will be family members of those who have died in private prisons in Texas during the past two years. Other speakers will include advocates from Grassroots Leadership, Texans for Public Justice, and people formerly held in private prisons who will provide testimony on private prisons.

Watch Your Assets, a report by Grassroots Leadership and Texans for Public Justice released in February, found that problems at private prisons are magnified by lax oversight and improper oversight. According to the report, "Texas' massive private prison industry has been plagued by recent scandals involving unsafe facilities and prison guards who abuse prisoners entrusted to their care. These scandals have helped expose the woefully inadequate safeguards and oversight that Texas established during its 20-year-old prison privatization stampede." Some private prison incidents have included:

Last October, the Texas Youth Commission shuttered GEO's Coke County Juvenile Correctional Center after "filthy" and "unsafe" conditions including feces on walls and fire exits chained shut were found at the facility. In the wake of the scandal revelations that the TYC monitors at the facility were former GEO employees, State Senate John Whitmire called hearings on private prison oversight. GEO Group responded by substantially increasing its lobbying expenditures in the state over the following months. Seven youths then sued the company over conditions at the facility.

In the spring of 2007, the suicide of Idaho inmate Scot Noble Payne at GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center lead to an investigation into the facility's operation. The Associated Press's expose on the prison described the facility as "squalid" while Idaho's Department of Corrections Director of Health Care called the prison the worst he's ever seen and "beyond repair." Noble Payne's family has subsequently sued GEO over conditions at the prison.

In August, Idaho inmate Randall McCullough committed suicide at GEO's Bill Clayton lock-up in Littlefield, Texas. McCullough had been held in solitary confinement for over a year as administrative punishment for a fight that was not criminally prosecuted. Idaho has since removed all its prisoners from Texas' private prisons.

In July, media scrutiny of the state-contracted Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facilities included allegations that the contracted treatment programs relied on a combination of psychological and physical abuse as supposed treatment measures.

Last month, the GEO Group was indicted for murder in the 2001 death of inmate Gregorio de la Rosa in Willacy County. The Willacy County District Attorney has since withdrawn the indictment on a technicality, but has announced plans to re-file the indictment. De la Rosa's family was awarded a $47 million settlement from GEO (then called Wackenhut Corrections) over the death.


Bob Libal – (512) 971-0487