A group of lawmakers, including Texas’ senators, have asked the Bureau of Prisons to put the brakes on a contract for 3,600 beds in private detention facilities that could result in closures of prisons in Texas.
They’re asking the Obama administration to hold off on granting the contract, which at one time was slated for more than 10,000 beds in seven states, including Texas. That number was reduced drastically this year after the Justice Department announced it would begin phasing out its use of private prison operators.
The contract, which could be shared by several companies, would have been a renewal of existing agreements to operate prisons for the bureau. The reduced contract could result in the closure of some facilities.
The letter was hailed by private prison company GEO Group, which employs about 1,500 people in Texas through BOP contracts, but was criticized by an Austin-based advocacy group as the latest effort to delay the contract until President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
Bob Libal, the executive director of the Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, which has opposed private prisons, said the company is likely to lose its challenge. He wondered if the letter and the protest by GEO are part of a “stalling technique” in hopes that a Trump administration will award larger contracts. The Justice Department’s decision to phase out private prisons was based not just on the problems identified but a declining inmate population, Libal said.
“They’re trying to thwart the common-sense move that, if you don’t need prison beds, you don’t sign contracts with substandard prisons to continue to operate them,” he said.