Humpday Hall of Shame
On Monday Texas House member Cecil Bell Jr. tweeted from a lunch with GEO Group representatives:
Representative Bell, lunching with the GEO Group really isn’t a great look. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, where you have decision-making power over how state funds are allocated, this for-profit private prison corporation is going to take an interest in you because they want you to support their stability and expansion in your region and across the state of Texas. We’re sure you’re aware that in Montgomery County, which intersects your district, GEO has been managing operations at the Joe Corley Detention Center since 2008 and the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility (MCMHTF) since March 2011. Last spring GEO finalized the purchase of the Joe Corley Detention Center, is looking to purchase MCMHTF, and planning on building a second federal prison in Conroe. Evidently, local law-makers in Montgomery County are anticipating that GEO is turning their county into a hub for their business -- the business of profiteering from incarceration, mind you. As a former Deacon and a person of faith, we know you understand the moral conflict in caging human beings for profit.
The thing is, GEO’s track record with these two facilities hasn’t been great. The contract with GEO and the construction of the Joe Corley Detention Center were done on speculation of a rate of occupancy that has not panned out, and the financial burden was left to the county. Furthermore, scandals, deaths, and lawsuits have brought much negative attention to the state of Texas, Montgomery County, and GEO. This July 2012 article in the Austin American Statesman provides a comprehensive and damning overview of GEO’s troubles at MCMHTF and other Texas facilities, for your reference.
Others’ alignments with GEO haven’t gone so well, either. In May this year, Florida Atlantic University’s president Mary Jane Saunders had to resign because of the negative attention she received for her heavy involvement in brokering a deal with GEO to name FAU’s football stadium after the private prison company! Students started calling the stadium “Owlcatraz” and even Stephen Colbert got wind of it. It was pretty embarrassing.
Principle number four of the Public Safety and Justice Campaign, a national coalition for which Grassroots Leadership provides coordination, reads:
Public safety and justice can only be achieved when criminal justice policy is free of corporate influence and expressly intends to enhance the public good.
Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat representing a large chunk of Texas’ border with Mexico, provides a prime and disappointing example of the consequences of allowing the for-profit private prison industry to lobby and financially contribute to political campaigns.
At first glance, Cuellar’s reputation appears to be a mixed bag. He voted against building a fence along the U.S./Mexico border, and he does not support the Minutemen Project, a volunteer-based movement of civilians taking on surveillance of the border region, claiming to do what they believe ought to be the duty of the Federal Government. He was also a champion of the aforementioned Operation Streamline, the 2005 policy that funnels immigrants into the federal criminal justice system to be prosecuted for entry or re-entry without authorization which will be expanded under the immigration bill currently in play. Grassroots Leadership has critiqued Operation Streamline heavily, in large part because when the number of prosecutions of these two crimes increases, such as they have in the Southern District, for-profit private prison companies benefit substantially.
A story out of McLennan County in Central Texas this week reminds us how private prison companies’ incessant pursuit of profit can end up hurting local governments.
After finishing out the current fiscal year with the jail $2 million over budget, McLennan County officials, including law enforcement, judges, and prosecutors, are looking to streamline the local justice system and cut jail costs. McLennan County Judge Scott Felton told KWTX News 10 that the county could save $2 million a year by reducing the prison population by 10 percent.
But, there’s a catch.
Any savings would be offset by a deal the county struck with private prison corporation LaSalle Corrections in May, which requires the county to pay LaSalle for 325 prison beds at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, regardless of whether or not there are prisoners to fill them. In other words, even if the county reduces the number of people behind bars, which would save money and strengthen communities, the county remains obligated to fill LaSalle’s pockets with taxpayer dollars.[node:read-more:link]
This week the Travis County Sheriff’s Office is hosting the inaugural “Vision Summit: Looking Toward the Future of Re-entry”, right here in Grassroots Leadership’s backyard in Austin, Texas. The gathering’s intention of bringing together the re-entry advocacy and service delivery community in order to better collaborate and communicate toward the goals of reducing recidivism and improving re-entry programs is one we appreciate. It acknowledges the need, both locally and nationally, for reforms that effectively shift people out of confinement and back into society, and across the country there is a growing number of innovative and creative solutions doing just that. The Vision Summit is a promising convening where the opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas and experience will enhance the growing trends in rehabilitation and re-entry.
However, we question the Vision Summit’s wisdom in inviting private prison corporation GEO Group representatives to deliver a workshop on evidence-based practice and re-entry. Surely the Travis County Sheriff’s Office and its conference partners are well aware of the presence of private prisons and mental health facilities operated by private prison companies in Texas. Not only is there a private facility in virtually every corner of this state, but there have also been highly publicized scandals at several of them, including those operated by GEO Group, whose reputation in Texas has been littered with repeated escapes, contraband smuggling by guards, abuse, neglect, and even death. The company’s national rap sheet reveals more of the same.[node:read-more:link]
Last week we learned that Curry County, New Mexico commissioners may be looking to strike up a deal with city officials in Littlefield, TX to alleviate an overcrowding crisis at their county jail.
The deal would allow Curry County officials to send overflow prisoners slightly over an hour away to the currently empty Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, TX. The facility has been empty since 2009 after the Idaho Department of Corrections cancelled their contract with private prison operator GEO Group to house Idaho prisoners there. Consequently, GEO Group pulled out as well, leaving the residents of Littlefield with increased taxes and fees necessary to pay back the $10 million the city borrowed to construct the facility in 2000.
The Idaho Department of Corrections’ decision to sever the contract with GEO Group came in the wake of the death of Idaho prisoner Randall McCullough at the Littlefield facility, who allegedly committed suicide while in GEO Group’s custody. McCullough’s death led to a massive lawsuit alleging “grossly inhumane treatment, abuse, neglect, illegal and malicious conditions of confinement, and subsequent cover up of wrongdoing” by the private prison company.[node:read-more:link]
Welcome to the Humpday Hall of Shame, where we highlight the private prison industry’s influence on public policy and the big money that supports incarceration for profit.
This week, we turn our focus from private prison corporations' practices to the money behind private prisons. As we've reported, companies like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group have become multi-billion dollar corporations, making money off the incarceration and detention of human beings. What is less known is that these companies are traded on the stock exchange, enriching investment institutions in addition to private prison executives.[node:read-more:link]
This week, National Immigration Forum posted their report, The Math of Immigration Detention: Runaway Costs for Immigration Detention Do Not Add Up to Sensible Policies, examining the cost to taxpayers of detaining immigrants, the majority of whom have no criminal record. Additionally, the report highlights how the private for-profit prison industry stands to gain the most from the growing number of immigrants in detention facilities.
The report paints a clear picture of the exorbitant amount of money the federal government continues to spend on detaining hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year, while funding allocated for alternatives to detention, which would keep immigrants in their communities with their families, remains dwarfed in comparison to detention.[node:read-more:link]
In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that California’s severely overcrowded state prison system had resulted in such poor prison conditions that they were in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Accordingly, the court ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to take immediate action to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 prisoners.
Though the state has reduced the number of prisoners in its 33 prisons from 150,000 in 2009 to about 119,000 prisoners today, a federal three-judge panel has rejected Governor Brown’s recent request to delay the order, ordering the state to further reduce its prison population by approximately 9,600 by the end of the year.[node:read-more:link]