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.

1999: Families of girls housed at the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center sue GEO (then Wackenhut), claiming staff sexually assaulted detainees. One of the teenage victims kills herself the day GEO settles suit for an undisclosed amount.

2001: Inmate beaten to death in front of warden and guards at GEO-run Willacy County State Jail in Raymondville. Resulting lawsuit shows GEO destroyed a videotape of the killing, and the company settles for almost $50 million.

February 2006: Texas Civil Rights Project sues GEO after a woman commits suicide inside the Val Verde Detention Center in Del Rio. TCRP and the woman’s family claim prison workers denied medical treatment to the woman after a male inmate at the facility raped her.

August 2006: A crippled and mentally ill woman housed at South Texas Detention Compound in Pearsall sues GEO, claiming she was denied medication, forced into isolation, stripped naked, and ridiculed by GEO staff.

September 2007: Texas Youth Commission conducts an unannounced audit of the GEO-run Coke County Juvenile Justice Center following numerous complaints of squalid living conditions. TYC finds bug-ridden facilities, feces smeared on the walls, and pulls all of its 200 detainees.

March 2007: Scot Payne, an inmate from Idaho, commits suicide at the Dickens County Correctional Facility in Spur. The Idaho Department of Correction’s healthcare director inspects the facility and calls it the worst he’s ever seen. Idaho pulls all its inmates from the facility, and the county eventually ends its contract with GEO.

December 2008: Jesus Manuel Galindo dies when he suffers an epileptic seizure in solitary confinement at the GEO-run Reeves County Detention Center. Riots break out after prisoners view Galindo’s body being carried out of the facility. Galindo family and ACLU later file suit.

February 2009: Inmates riot again at GEO’s Reeves County prison, claiming prisoners are dying from poor medical care.

March 2009: Jose Manuel Falcon dies in solitary confinement at Reeves County Detention Center while serving the last two months of a five-year sentence. GEO issues statement saying Falcon took his own life with a razor blade, but family and attorney claim he had defensive wounds and have announced plans to sue.

In addition to this timeline, Grassroots Leadership has been pointing to GEO-run Montgomery County Mental Health Facility, Texas’ first publicly funded and privately operated psychiatric hospital, which is being fined by the state for 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 Austin American Statesman covered this story in July.

We raise these  examples of GEO mis-management, yet again, to remind folks that our opposition to the privatization of public facilities like prisons, immigrant detention centers, and now health and mental health care facilities is not one of principal alone.  While we stand firmly behind the position that no one should profit from the incarceration of human beings, our concern extends beyond lining the pockets of the CEO’s of these companies.  Someone needs to be held accountable for the tragic failings of these institutions.

We’ve often pointed fingers at the companies that are the helm during these tragedies, and also at the elected officials that played major roles in acquiring state contracts.  There’s another group of people who should be placed under the magnifying glass, though.  In Texas, a tiny handful of individuals is making a fortune in the private prison industry; the individuals that lobby for the corporate interests of companies like GEO.  In the same expose, The Current also shed light on just how much these people are making in Texas alone:

Lionel Aguirre has emerged as GEO’s top lobbyist, making between $900,000 and $1.1 million lobbying for the group since 2007. According to the Texas Ethics Commission, Aguirre, who once worked for the state comptroller’s office, has also lobbied for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, the El Paso Electric Company, and the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo Tribal Council.

Bill Miller has made between $135,000 and $275,000 lobbying for GEO since 2007. Miller, once a consultant to former Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, co-founded influential Austin-based lobbying group HillCo Partners.

Michelle Wittenburg, former general council to Craddick, has lobbied off and on for GEO since 2004, earning her somewhere between $295,000 and $600,000.

Former Texas House member Ray Allen started lobbying for GEO almost immediately after he resigned from his seventh term in the Legislature in January 2006. Allen, who once led the House Corrections Committee while his own firm also lobbied for private interests outside the state, lobbied for GEO in both 2006 and 2007, raking in somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 for his services.

Blocking GEO’s bid for Kerrville IS a matter of life and death for the current and future residents of that facility. GEO and their lobbyists may have the big bucks, but we believe we’ve got the moral high ground on our side.  The ACLU editorial is merely the most recent in a series of excellent pieces by both Texas-based and national news outlets.  In recent weeks the Austin American StatesmanKUT Austin, and Colorlines Magaize have all covered GEO Care’s bid to take over Kerrville State Hospital.  In each article, the notion of the state handing over control of the hospital to a private prison corporation sounds unconscionable, because it is.: Families of girls housed at the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center sue GEO (then Wackenhut), claiming staff sexually assaulted detainees. One of the teenage victims kills herself the day GEO settles suit for an undisclosed amount.

2001: Inmate beaten to death in front of warden and guards at GEO-run Willacy County State Jail in Raymondville. Resulting lawsuit shows GEO destroyed a videotape of the killing, and the company settles for almost $50 million.

February 2006: Texas Civil Rights Project sues GEO after a woman commits suicide inside the Val Verde Detention Center in Del Rio. TCRP and the woman’s family claim prison workers denied medical treatment to the woman after a male inmate at the facility raped her.

August 2006: A crippled and mentally ill woman housed at South Texas Detention Compound in Pearsall sues GEO, claiming she was denied medication, forced into isolation, stripped naked, and ridiculed by GEO staff.

September 2007: Texas Youth Commission conducts an unannounced audit of the GEO-run Coke County Juvenile Justice Center following numerous complaints of squalid living conditions. TYC finds bug-ridden facilities, feces smeared on the walls, and pulls all of its 200 detainees.

March 2007: Scot Payne, an inmate from Idaho, commits suicide at the Dickens County Correctional Facility in Spur. The Idaho Department of Correction’s healthcare director inspects the facility and calls it the worst he’s ever seen. Idaho pulls all its inmates from the facility, and the county eventually ends its contract with GEO.

December 2008: Jesus Manuel Galindo dies when he suffers an epileptic seizure in solitary confinement at the GEO-run Reeves County Detention Center. Riots break out after prisoners view Galindo’s body being carried out of the facility. Galindo family and ACLU later file suit.

February 2009: Inmates riot again at GEO’s Reeves County prison, claiming prisoners are dying from poor medical care.

March 2009: Jose Manuel Falcon dies in solitary confinement at Reeves County Detention Center while serving the last two months of a five-year sentence. GEO issues statement saying Falcon took his own life with a razor blade, but family and attorney claim he had defensive wounds and have announced plans to sue.

In addition to this timeline, Grassroots Leadership has been pointing to GEO-run Montgomery County Mental Health Facility, Texas’ first publicly funded and privately operated psychiatric hospital, which is being fined by the state for 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 Austin American Statesman covered this story in July.

We raise these  examples of GEO mis-management, yet again, to remind folks that our opposition to the privatization of public facilities like prisons, immigrant detention centers, and now health and mental health care facilities is not one of principal alone.  While we stand firmly behind the position that no one should profit from the incarceration of human beings, our concern extends beyond lining the pockets of the CEO’s of these companies.  Someone needs to be held accountable for the tragic failings of these institutions.

We’ve often pointed fingers at the companies that are the helm during these tragedies, and also at the elected officials that played major roles in acquiring state contracts.  There’s another group of people who should be placed under the magnifying glass, though.  In Texas, a tiny handful of individuals is making a fortune in the private prison industry; the individuals that lobby for the corporate interests of companies like GEO.  In the same expose, The Current also shed light on just how much these people are making in Texas alone:

Lionel Aguirre has emerged as GEO’s top lobbyist, making between $900,000 and $1.1 million lobbying for the group since 2007. According to the Texas Ethics Commission, Aguirre, who once worked for the state comptroller’s office, has also lobbied for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, the El Paso Electric Company, and the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo Tribal Council.

Bill Miller has made between $135,000 and $275,000 lobbying for GEO since 2007. Miller, once a consultant to former Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, co-founded influential Austin-based lobbying group HillCo Partners.

Michelle Wittenburg, former general council to Craddick, has lobbied off and on for GEO since 2004, earning her somewhere between $295,000 and $600,000.

Former Texas House member Ray Allen started lobbying for GEO almost immediately after he resigned from his seventh term in the Legislature in January 2006. Allen, who once led the House Corrections Committee while his own firm also lobbied for private interests outside the state, lobbied for GEO in both 2006 and 2007, raking in somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 for his services.

Blocking GEO’s bid for Kerrville IS a matter of life and death for the current and future residents of that facility. GEO and their lobbyists may have the big bucks, but we believe we’ve got the moral high ground on our side.  The ACLU editorial is merely the most recent in a series of excellent pieces by both Texas-based and national news outlets.  In recent weeks the Austin American StatesmanKUT Austin, and Colorlines Magaize have all covered GEO Care’s bid to take over Kerrville State Hospital.  In each article, the notion of the state handing over control of the hospital to a private prison corporation sounds unconscionable, because it is.