FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 28, 2013
Austin, TX – A coalition of criminal justice, faith, labor, inmate families, civil rights and grassroots organizations are celebrating the Texas legislature’s decision to close two privately operated prison facilities this year. The state budget that the legislature passed this year eliminates $97 million from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), and the agency is instructed to recommend two private prisons for closure.
The coalition, which includes the ACLU of Texas, Grassroots Leadership, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Texas NAACP, Texas State Employees Union, AFSCME Local 3807, the Texas Civil Rights Project, the Texas Jail Project and the Texas Inmate Families Association, joined Senator John Whitmire’s call at the beginning of the 83rd session for the closure of Dawson State Jail. Dawson, located in downtown Dallas, is operated by Corrections Corporation of America, and has been the site of the deaths of three female inmates over the last two years, and the death of an infant baby girl who was born to her incarcerated mother at Dawson in a toilet with no medial personnel on site.
The Senate’s version of the state budget specifically named Dawson State Jail and Mineral Wells Pre-parole Transfer Facility for closure. However, amid pushback from interest groups, the closure instructions were amended in the House to leave it to TDCJ to recommend which private facilities should closed. Advocates against prison privatization are nonetheless pleased, and called on TDCJ to close Dawson and Mineral Wells.
“Two facilities will close in Texas, but there are many more private prisons to close before our job is done, “ said Kymberlie Quong Charles of Grassroots Leadership, which coordinates a national campaign against for-profit prisons. “This victory gives us tremendous hope and momentum, though. Texas is the birthplace of the modern private prison industry. If we can get the Texas legislature to agree that private facilities are not working for our state, that’s good news for the national movement against for-profit prisons.”
“The primary goal of executives at private prisons is to maximize profits for shareholders, not promote public safety, “ said Terri Burke, Excutive Director of the ACLU of Texas. “The closure of two private prisons will be a victory for Texas taxpayers who subsidize these operations and for inmates who must suffer the poor conditions and corruption prevalent at these facilities.”
Michelle Smith, a prisoner advocate with the Texas Civil Rights Project said, “It violates everyone’s civil rights and it’s unconstitutional when private, for-profit companies like CCA cut corners and provide inadequate care. It also leaves the state open to lawsuits when tragedies happen, like the deaths of the women at Dawson. The state has made the right decision to shut down privately operated facilities.”
“The Texas state jail population has decreased significantly since 2007, leaving many empty beds that tax-payers are funding unnecessarily,” said Caitlin Dunklee, policy analyst with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “We call on TDCJ to select Dawson State Jail and Mineral Wells for closure, and we hope that policy leaders continue to shutter poorly operated private prisons and help prevent further loss of life.”
In addition to human rights violations at Dawson, advocates have pointed to other concerns about contracting with private companies motivated by profits to manage correctional facilities. These concerns include false claims of cost-savings, sub-par employee pay, benefits, and training, understaffing, and the lack of transparency and accountability to the public at privately operated facilities. Coalition members are committed to a continued effort to end contracts with private prison operators in the state of Texas.
Kymberlie Quong Charles, Grassroots Leadership