Strange Bedfellows | For-Profit Prisons and Re-Entry Initiatives

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.


New Mexico, Take Heed: More Prison Beds are not the Answer

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.


Victory in Texas - The Dawson State Jail Will Close!

Grassroots Leadership and our allies are celebrating today as the Texas Department of Crim

Int'l Women's Day Vigil
inal Justice has announced that the notorious Dawson State Jail and Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility - both operated by for-profit prison company Corrections Corporation of America - will close on August 31st, according to reports in the press, including the Dallas Morning News. 


New Grassroots Leadership Report, Petition Call for Closure of Dawson State Jail

Today, Grassroots Leadership and a coalition of groups representing criminal justice, civil liberties, policy, and faith organizations released a report, detailing abuses at the privately-run Dawson State Jail in Dallas and outlining further rationale for closing the facility. The report is co-authored by Texas-based Grassroots Leadership and The Sentencing Project, a national organization working for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system.

Operation Streamline Days of Action get underway in Texas and Arizona

This week, groups around the country will be holding press conferences, letter deliveries, and other actions to call on Congress to end Operation Streamline and the criminalization of immigration.

Operation Streamline, a little-known border enforcement program, is part of broader trend funneling immigrants into the criminal justice system and charging them with felony or misdemeanor crimes for crossing the border.   Senate and House negotiators are reportedly considering expanding funding of Operation Streamline and criminal prosecutions of immigrants as part of the comprehensive immigration reform bill being negotiated in Congress.

“These prosecutions channel billions of dollars to private prison corporations and are fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in federal prison,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership.  “It’s time that Congress moved to end Operation Streamline once and for all.” 


Hump Day Hall of Shame | Texas Prison Bid'ness' Top 5 Worst Lobbyists

Welcome to The Hump Day Hall of Shame:  Every Wednesday we highlight the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

With the Texas legislative session underway, the  Texas Prison Bid’ness blog, a joint project of Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies, is shining a spotlight on five of the worst private prison lobbyists in our state.  As they've covered before, GEO Group, CCA, CEC, and MTC pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for lobbying services and campaign contributions for state and federal legislators.  Here are five men and women who profit the most from peddling prisons, jails, and detention centers in Texas:


Hump Day Hall of Shame: Short-term Sentences Become Death Sentences at Dawson State Jail

Welcome to The Hump Day Hall of Shame:  Every Wednesday we highlight the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

In 1997 the state of Texas built the Dawson State Jail, a Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)-operated, medium-security, co-gender prison facility in downtown Dallas.  “State jails” are prisons in Texas designed to incarcerate people convicted of nonviolent offenses serving short sentences of two years or less close to their homes.  The creation of the state jail system was a response to overcrowding in state prisons in the early 1990s.  The introduction of state jails into the corrections system was supposed to alleviate overcrowding in the more expensive, maximum security state facilities and create a greater ability to provide people convicted of nonviolent offenses supports to get them in and out of the system quickly and back into society.

At Dawson, however, far too many people have entered what are supposed to be six-month to two-year stints, and have died inside the prison of medically treatable conditions.  


Victory - Private Prison Corporation Will Not Take Control of Texas State Hospital!

Normally, we dedicate Wednesday blog posts to the the Hump Day Hall of Shame –  highlighting the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

However, today we decided to celebrate some good news from deep in the heart of Texas.  After months of organizing by Grassroots Leadership and our allies across the state, state leaders have rejected private prison corporation GEO Group's bid to take over the Kerrville State Hospital!  According to the Kerrville Daily Times:

"The Kerrville State Hospital will remain under state management — at least for now. Texas state commissioner David Lakey rejected GEO Care’s proposal to privatize the state hospital.

The Daily Times received an internal email from acting superintendent Jay Norwood sent to employees today that confirmed Lakey rejected GEO Care's proposal, which was to privatize the Kerrville State Hospital." [node:read-more:link]

Who gains if GEO Care takes over Kerrville State Hospital?

You already know who doesn’t want Texas to contract with GEO Care, a division of private prison corporation GEO Group, to take over the Kerrville State Hospital.  With our partners and allies at other organizations, Grassroots Leadership sent a letter in opposition to privatization to Governor Rick Perry.  Community members from around the state have also signed on to our petition calling on the Governor to cancel the bidding process.   We have cited numerous potential problems if the Texas Department of State Health Services turns over control of the hospital to GEO Care.

Based on GEO’s history in Texas and beyond, we are concerned about what contracting with the for-profit prison company will mean for patient care at Kerrville State Hospital, for the safety of the employees that work there, and for the community of Kerrville that could see significant downsizing of jobs at the hospital. GEO has promised to cut operating costs there by 10%.



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