Private Prison Information Act of 2013

This is a letter that concerns making private prisons more transparent. endorses this letter as well.

Please visit the website on which this letter to Repr. Sheila Jackson Lee is published:

We – a coalition of over 30 not-for-profit criminal justice and public interest organizations – urge Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX) to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act during the 113th Congress. The bill, which would extend Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reporting obligations to private corrections companies that contract with federal agencies, is an important first step in bringing transparency and accountability to the private prison industry.

Human Rights Defense Center– For Immediate Release
December 19, 2012
Organization Urge U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to Reintroduce Private Prison Information Act
Washington, DC: – Yesterday, a joint letter signed by 34 criminal justice, civil rights and public interest organizations was submitted to the office of U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, urging her to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act.
The Private Prison Information Act (PPIA) would require for-profit prison companies that contract with the federal government to comply with public records requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the same extent as federal agencies. Currently, FOIA does not apply to private companies that contract with the federal government.
We are deeply troubled by the secrecy with which the private corrections industry presently operates. Whereas the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections are subject to disclosure statutes under the Freedom of Information Act and state-level public records laws, private prison firms that contract with public agencies generally are not,” the joint letter submitted to Rep. Jackson Lee noted. “This lack of public transparency is indefensible in light of the nearly $8 billion in federal contracts that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO) – the nation’s two largest private prisons firms – have been awarded since 2007.”
In fact, according to the U.S. Senate’s Lobbying Disclosure Electronic Filing System, CCA has lobbied against the PPIA when it was introduced in previous Congressional sessions. Other allies of the private prison industry, including the Reason Foundation – which receives funding from CCA and GEO – have also opposed extending FOIA to private prison contractors.
Both CCA and the GEO Group receive over 40 percent of their revenue from federal contracts, which “makes them the perfect candidates for FOIA compliance” because “The private prison industry is fundamentally different in that no citizen can freely purchase incarceration services as a private individual. There is no natural market for incarceration services; the entire market would cease to exist without direct government intervention in the form of taxpayer-funded contracts to operate correctional facilities.”
The joint letter submitted to Rep. Jackson Lee was a cooperative project between UC Berkeley doctoral student Christopher Petrella and the Human Rights Defense Center. Signatories include the ACLU National Prison Project, Florida Justice Institute, In the Public Interest, Justice Policy Institute, National CURE, Prison Policy Initiative, Southern Center for Human Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center, Texas Civil Rights Project, Enlace and YouthBuild USA.
The private prison industry operates in secrecy while being funded almost entirely with public taxpayer money,” noted Human Rights Defense Center associate director Alex Friedmann, who testified in support of the PPIA before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security in June 2008. “The public has a right to know how its money is being spent, and transparency and accountability demand that private prison corporations answer to the public by being subject to FOIA requests to the same extent as federal agencies. If they have nothing to hide from the public, they should not object – but they do, which speaks volumes.”
Obligating private prison companies to comply with FOIA requirements applies a single standard for transparency in corrections reporting regardless of agency type,” added Christopher Petrella. “And because efforts to privatize federal detention facilities are on the rise – populations held in privately-operated facilities have grown by nearly 20 percent over the past year – the time is right to demand meaningful accountability in the private corrections industry.”
The Human Rights Defense Center, HRDC, founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website ( that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.

Christopher Petrella is a doctoral candidate in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley where he is currently working on a manuscript entitled “Race, Markets, and the Rise of the Private Prison State.” His work on the private corrections industry has been cited by a number of national organizations and campaigns including Prison Legal News, the ACLU’s National Prison Project, Southern Poverty Law Center, Justice Policy Institute, Prison Policy Initiative, National Prison Divestment Campaign, and the Real Cost of Prisons. He’s also a frequent contributor to Truthout, Business Insider, Monthly Review, and Nation of Change.

For further information, please contact:

Alex Friedmann, Associate Director
Human Rights Defense Center
(615) 495-6568
Christopher Petrella 
(860) 341-1684

December 18, 2012

The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee
U.S. House of Representatives
2160 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC 20515
Re: Private Prison Information Act

Dear Representative Jackson Lee:
We, the undersigned not-for-profit criminal justice and public interest organizations, respectfully urge you to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act (PPIA) during the 113th Congress. The bill, which would extend Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reporting obligations to private corrections companies that contract with federal agencies, is a critical first step in bringing transparency and accountability to the private prison industry.
We are deeply troubled by the secrecy with which the private corrections industry presently operates. Whereas the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections are subject to disclosure statutes under the Freedom of Information Act and state-level public records laws, some state courts have held that private prison firms that contract with public agencies generally are not. This lack of public transparency is indefensible in light of the nearly $8 billion in federal contracts that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO)—the nation’s two largest private prisons firms—have been awarded since 2007.
If private prison companies like CCA and GEO would like to continue to enjoy taxpayer-funded federal contracts, then they should be required to adhere to disclosure laws equivalent to those governing their public counterparts—including FOIA.
Though five separate iterations of the Private Prison Information Act have been introduced in Congress since 2005, each bill has died as a result of vigorous lobbying efforts on behalf of the private corrections industry. According to documentation maintained by the U.S. Senate’s Lobbying Disclosure Electronic Filing System, Corrections Corporation of America has spent over $7 million lobbying against the passage of various Private Prison Information Acts since 2005. They claim that the bill violates their “trade secret” FOIA exemption.
But why should private prison contractors, which are paid exclusively with taxpayer funds, be any less accountable to taxpayers than public corrections agencies such as the Bureau of Prisons? We contend that because the private prison industry relies entirely on taxpayer support, the public has a right to access information pertaining to its operations.
There is little evidence that taxpayers currently have access to the type of information that would allow them to evaluate the performance of private corrections firms in comparison to the public sector. Though the private prison industry routinely cites its record on measures of efficiency and safety relative to public agencies, it nonetheless refuses to disclose the very information required to substantiate its most basic claims of success.
Disclosure statutes providing the public with access to information pertaining to the operations of private prisons is vital if reasonable comparisons are to be made between the private and public sectors.
The time to reintroduce and pass this bill is now. Privately-operated federal facilities have grown 600 percent faster than state-level contract facilities since 2010, and now represent the single most quickly-growing corrections sector. Moreover, business from federal customers like the Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Marshals Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement now accounts for a greater percentage of revenue among private prison companies than ever before.
In the past, critics of the Private Prison Information Act have argued that its passage would set a “dangerous precedent” for FOIA overreach. In his 2007 testimony before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, Mike Flynn, the Director of Government Affairs for the Reason Foundation, testified that applying FOIA to private prison companies could open the “floodgates” to any other federal contractor and, by extension, their contractors and suppliers. “Thousands of individuals, small and large businesses, provide services to the government and products to the government at great efficiency for the taxpayers [and] all of that could be opened up to the FOIA process,” he claimed. He did not mention that Reason Foundation receives funding from private prison companies, including CCA and GEO.
We squarely reject these unfounded assumptions. The Private Prison Information Act should be applied narrowly and judiciously. It is unlikely that the Private Prison Information Act, if enacted, would unwittingly extend FOIA provisions to other private companies because private prison firms hold an exceptional market position relative to other private companies. To our knowledge, no other type of private industry is contracted by the public sector solely to perform an essential governmental function such as incarceration.
That private corrections firms are supported exclusively by public agencies and enjoy the benefits of operating within an artificial government contract-driven market makes them the perfect candidates for FOIA compliance. In most economic sectors there is a free market analogue for many kinds of services that governments typically provide. A field such as education, for example, has a robust market of existing non-profit and for-profit organizations and agencies willing to sell/provide services to a market of potential buyers that includes both individuals and governments.
This is not the case with private corrections firms.
The private prison industry is fundamentally different in that no citizen can freely purchase incarceration services as a private individual. There is no natural market for incarceration services; the entire market would cease to exist without direct government intervention in the form of taxpayer-funded contracts to operate correctional facilities.
We, the undersigned, argue that because private prison firms are ultimately functionaries of the state, they must come under the same FOIA requirements as their public counterparts. We therefore urge you to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act this Congressional session and are willing to support your efforts. Should you have questions or require additional information, please feel free to contact either Christopher Petrella at 860-341-1684 or, or Human Rights Defense Center associate director Alex Friedmann at 615-495-6568 or
ACLU National Prison Project
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Media Justice
Center for Prison Education
Florida Justice Institute
Florida Reentry Resources & Information (FreeRein)
Grassroots Leadership
Human Rights Defense Center
In the Public Interest
Justice Policy Institute
Justice Strategies
Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition
Media Alliance
National CURE
National Immigrant Justice Center
Partnership for Safety and Justice
Prison Policy Initiative
Private Corrections Institute
Private Corrections Working Group
Southern Center for Human Rights
Southern Poverty Law Center
Texas Civil Rights Project
Texas Jail Project
The Center for Church and Prison
The Fortune Society (David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy)
The Real Cost of Prisons Project
The Sentencing Project
The Workplace Project/Centro de Derechos Laborales
Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center
Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform
Voters Legislative Transparency Project
YouthBuild USA, Inc.
And the Prison Watch Network

News about private prisons (especially of GEO) in Louisiana

These news items were posted on the website of the Private Corrections Working Group in 2011. Via Twitter someone alerted us about the GEO group, but the website of the PCWG is a bit user-unfriendly. Also there are no links provided to the newspaper articles of the Jena Times and the Town Talk, so all we can do is mention where we found it: here. we hope this is what the person tweeting to us meant with the “articles” about GEO.

LaSalle Correctional Center, Urania, Louisiana
September 28, 2011 The Jena Times

The LaSalle Parish Police Jury served as a Board of Review for property assessments for year 2011 and took action on four protests filed by taxpayers.

LaSalle Assessor Aron Johnson presented each of the four protests, explaining why he had assessed the property in the manner he did and attorneys for the property owners had their say before the Jury took action.

The first protest heard by the Jury concerned a helicopter, which had been assessed to M&M Maintenance of LaSalle. Attorney Joe Wilson asked the Jury to strike the assessment since the helicopter had been sold by M&M Maintenance of LaSalle, LLC, to Everett Mayo and should have been assessed to Mayo. (Mayo is also the sole owner of M&M Maintenance.)

The Jury affirmed the assessment as levied by Johnson at $286,681 and sent the matter to the Louisiana Tax Commission. The next protest concerned Whitehall Plantation Lodge, owned by Justiss Oil Company, Inc. of Jena. Assessor Johnson had set the assessment at $482,824, and Wilson asked the Jury to lower the value to $350,244 because of depreciation.

The Jury voted to reduce the assessment to its 2007 level, which was $380,700. Next on the agenda was a protest from Justiss Oil Company, Inc. concerning the assessment of their office building located on U.S. 84 East in Jena. Johnson had placed the assessment at $850,042 and Wilson asked the Jury to lower the assessment to $793,322 because of depreciation.

However, the Jury voted to affirm the assessment at the figure placed on it by Johnson. The final protest concerned the LaSalle Detention Facility located in Jena and operated by CPT Operating Partner, LP (The GEO Group, Inc.).

Assessor Johnson assessed the facility at $60,918,400 (which included $598,400 for land and $60,320,000 for improvements). A representative of JP Rand for Paradigm Tax Group asked the Jury to lower the value to $30,758,400. However, the Jury voted to affirm the assessment as placed by the Assessor’s office.

Allen Correctional Center, Kinder, Louisiana
February 9, 2011 The Advocate
The Jindal administration is asking companies to detail how much they would charge the state to care for inmates in Allen and Winn parishes if two state prisons are sold to ease budget problems.

Responses to the Request For Information, or RFI, are due Friday as part of a possible move toward selling the correctional centers. Private companies oversee Winn Correctional Center in Atlanta, La., and Allen Correctional Center in Kinder. Winn is managed by Corrections Corporation of America while Global Expertise in Outsourcing, Inc. operates Allen.

Selling the prisons is still just a possibility at this point. However, a sale would force the state to pay the new owners for the care of inmates at the medium security centers. Some elected officials are nervous about how much the state would end up paying.

Michael DiResto, spokesman for the Division of Administration, said Wednesday that the RFI is “for planning and information gathering purposes.”

January 27, 2009 The Advertiser
A prison guard has been booked with helping three dangerous inmates escape from the privately run state prison in Kinder, the Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday. Detective Peggy Kennedy said Jesse Jordan, 19, of Glenmora was held without bond after being booked Monday night on three counts of assisting escape and one of malfeasance in office. He had worked there as a guard since May, Chief Deputy Grant Willis said. “It appears the motivation on his part was for monetary value,” Willis said. He said Jordan was cooperating with investigators. Jordan was employed by GEO — Global Expertise in Outsourcing Inc., the private company that runs the prison, Kennedy said. A call to the prison was not immediately returned.

Daniel Reeder, 24, of Shreveport, Troy Hargrave, 32, of Crowley, and Cecil Stratton, 29, of Berwick were missing at the 6 a.m. head count, prison officials said. They described all three as dangerous and said Reeder and Hargrave were serving time for manslaughter. Three rows of razor wire on the ground in front of the fence had been cut through, but neither the fence nor the razor wire on top of it had been cut, Willis said. “We can’t say for certain that’s the way they got out, or whether it was a decoy,” he said.

January 27, 2009 The Town Talk
Three inmates — two of whom were serving time for manslaughter — escaped from a correctional center in Kinder sometime before 6 a.m. Monday, prison officials reported. …

$2.99M deal brokered in NM strip search lawsuit

July 20, 2010
By Scott Sandlin
The Albuquerque Journal

Proposed settlement covers Santa Rosa jail, 5 others in 3 states 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lawyers in a class action lawsuit involving strip searches of pretrial detainees at six jails, including one in Santa Rosa, N.M., have announced a proposed settlement with prison operator GEO Group Inc.

A Pennsylvania law firm, Chimicles & Tikellis, negotiated a $2.99 million settlement, excluding legal fees – up to $400 for all eligible class members – after a federal judge refused to dismiss the case.

The settlement covers GEO-run correctional facilities in Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.

The settlement for the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa covers the period from Jan. 30, 2005, to Jan. 30, 2008.

Class members may be eligible if they entered the GEO-operated facility after being charged with minor crimes that did not involve drugs, weapons or violence, if they have no past criminal history or charges, and did not behave in a way at intake that would give officers grounds for such a search.

The lawsuit alleging constitutional violations was filed in 2006 against GEO, a Florida corporation, over strip searches allegedly conducted regardless of whether there was reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe the person had weapons or contraband. The class representatives included a woman in a pretrial diversion program for a DUI arrest who was taken to a room with other female weekend inmates and strip-searched in front of the inmates, and a man who mistakenly failed to appear for a scheduled court date resulting from a domestic dispute and was strip-searched.

The settlement does not include individuals who were convicted at the time that they were admitted to the facility.

The GEO settlement is one of a half-dozen class actions against county jails in New Mexico based on a blanket policy to strip-search individuals.

A 2006 class action complaint was filed against Management and Training Corp., which managed the Santa Fe County jail, on behalf of an estimated 13,000 inmates. Similar lawsuits were filed against Cornell Companies, for individuals detained at the Doña Ana County jail, and the Valencia County jail.

Bob Rothstein, whose Santa Fe-based firm filed five of the strip-search lawsuits, said thousands of individuals were paid claims in the settlement of the cases.

He said a memo surfaced after the first one was filed in Santa Fe. It was from the New Mexico Association of Counties, warning counties to review their strip-search policies to prevent the kind of litigation Santa Fe was then facing.

“They didn’t,” he said.

Link To Complete Article HERE

Private Prisons, Public Pain

Despite a long record of abuses, GEO is still running Texas prisons.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010 09:01 Peter Gorman

Reeves County straddles I-20 in West Texas, between Odessa and El Paso. Pecos is the county seat, anchored in cowboy mythology. Tiny homes, many of them 100 years old and made of stone, line several dozen downtown streets; beyond them, sandy soil dotted with clumps of short grass and tumbleweed stretch for miles. Oil well pump jacks are more common than trees on the landscape.

The town was home to the world’s first rodeo, the Pecos Kid, and the legendary Judge Roy Bean. Just around the block from the sheriff’s office is a replica of Bean’s office and his single-cell jail.

Times change, though, and these days, a newer prison sits in the southwest corner of town. The Reeves County Detention Center is far bigger than Bean’s, holding 3,700 inmates. The facility is owned by the county and run by the GEO Group, formerly a division of the giant security firm Wackenhut. GEO is one of the largest prison operators in the world — it runs more than a dozen facilities in Texas, nearly three dozen in the rest of the country, and another 10 combined in Australia, England, South Africa, and Cuba. All told, the company controls the lives of more than 60,000 inmates worldwide.

GEO also has one of the world’s worst track records in inmate care: The horror stories range from rapes to suicides to murders to deaths due to inadequate medical care. The company, which declined to respond to questions for this story, once hired a convicted sex offender as a guard in a facility for juvenile females. It’s not as if something goes wrong occasionally at GEO-run prisons — something goes terribly wrong on a regular basis at one or another of their facilities. Texas alone has twice removed all its inmates from a GEO-run facility because of deplorable conditions. And yet the company is still supported by the state and federal governments, a testimony to GEO’s deep connections and deeper pockets when it comes to lobbying expenditures.

GEO’s work in Texas, according to many observers, has been some of the company’s worst. “They have simply been horrendous,” said Bob Libal, coordinator of the Texas division of Grassroots Leadership, an organization bent on eliminating private prisons.

The Reeves County complex is touted as the largest private prison in the world. A little over a year ago it was the site of two major riots, the second of which burned large areas of the complex. The inmates who did it were not killers or hardened criminals. Most were immigrants whose only crime was illegally re-entering the United States after having been deported. And they and their families said they were rioting because of medical care so poor that some of them were dying from it.

The prison complex sprawls along County Road 204, just past a small cluster of double-wides and a juvenile detention center run by Reeves County. Just beyond it is a cemetery dotted with colorful plastic flowers.

The minimum-security detention center is made up of several squat, drab buildings surrounded by twin chain-link fences covered in roll after roll of razor wire.

Sheriff Arnulfo Gomez insists that the prison is not a bad place, as lockups go. “They get plenty of time in the yard, good food, good treatment, lots of programs, and great medical care,” he said.

Not everybody agrees. Since 2008, five inmates have died there — three from inadequate medical care, according to the inmates, and two allegedly by suicide.

In December 2008, the first riot at the prison resulted in damage that cost $1 million to repair. The second, in February 2009, caused more than $20 million in damage that is still being repaired.

According to family members, the first riot started after an inmate with epilepsy died in solitary confinement, without medication.

“When an epileptic dies in solitary confinement from seizures — and the allegations are that he asked for his medications and was denied them before he was put in the hole — well, that doesn’t sound like great medical care to me,” said Dotty Griffith, public education director of the ACLU of Texas.

“Prison riots are rare,” Griffith said. “And in this case, these were mostly non-violent prisoners in a minimum security prison. It strains the imagination that they would riot without cause.”

The prisoner who died was Jesus Manuel Galindo, 32, who had been serving a 30-month sentence for illegally crossing into Texas from Mexico at El Paso. He’d grown up partly in this country but never received legal status here and was deported in early 2007. With no family or friends in Mexico, he returned to the States several weeks later. But his medical condition tripped him up: He had a seizure in a convenience store, and when law enforcement arrived to help, Galindo was arrested and eventually tried and sentenced for illegal re-entry.

According to his mother, Galindo’s seizures increased in frequency while he was in Reeves, and when he asked to see a doctor to get his anticonvulsive medication, he was instead taken to solitary confinement — “the hole” — in the Segregated Housing Unit of the prison. A month later he was dead. According to letters he wrote to his family, he’d never seen
a doctor.

“The more important question,” said Miguel Torres, an El Paso attorney representing Galindo’s family, “is why was someone with a chronic and serious medical condition in need of constant monitoring shut away in solitary confinement without proper supervision?”

When two other inmates also in the SHU saw his body being taken out, they started a fire in a mattress using electrical wires, and the mutiny spread quickly. Guards used rubber bullets, stun grenades, and other non-lethal weaponry, but the inmates forced their way into the prison yards. Two prison employees — not guards — were taken hostage. That evening the inmates sent a delegation to meet with negotiators. They demanded less-crowded conditions, better food, and better medical care. When the negotiators promised to consider the inmate complaints, the hostages were released unharmed, and the riot was over.

But the negotiators didn’t follow through, according to newspaper accounts at the time. Seven weeks later, on Jan. 31, 2009, a second riot broke out because another inmate, Ramon Garcia, 25, was put into solitary confinement after complaining that he was sick and unable to get medical attention. This time the riot lasted almost a week, during which time inmates burned a large section of the prison. No serious injuries were reported, but more than two dozen inmates have been indicted on various charges for their involvement in the uprising.

The ACLU has repeatedly requested information from GEO concerning the facility and the events leading up to the riots, but Griffith said the requests have gone unanswered. Their requests for an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for the Bureau of Prisons have similarly met with silence.

Last December, the ACLU, along with Grassroots Leadership, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and inmates’ families, staged a protest on the steps of GEO’s regional main office in New Braunfels, asking for a meeting with GEO Group administrators. They were refused entry to the building.

“When we speak with the inmates and their families, we’re told of horrendous conditions that range from food to medical issues to the misuse of solitary confinement. When we speak with the sheriff, we get an entirely different picture. We just want to get at the facts,” Griffith told Fort Worth Weekly.

Juan Angel Guerra, a former South Texas district attorney who is now a defense attorney, said he has nearly 200 clients in the Reeves facility alone. (Clients pay a one-time fee of $100.) The prison is even worse than most people describe, he said. “I’ve got one client in there who got an eye infection. No one would treat it, and it kept getting worse. Now he’s blind.”

He also said that corruption is built into the GEO system. “When the first riot at Reeves ended and the inmates were checked for contraband, over 400 phones were confiscated. Where do you think 400 phones came from?” he asked. “Inside, the going rate from the guards can go as high as $500 a phone and $100 to charge it.”

Guerra noted that when the first riot broke out, the staff was short by 200 guards. “That’s the private prison industry. You’re getting paid per inmate, but if you can save on the salaries of 200 guards, you’re making a lot of money. It’s like its own mafia.”

One of the cases he’s working on is the death of Jose Manuel Falcon, 32, who allegedly committed suicide while in solitary confinement at Reeves a month after the second riot ended.

A GEO statement released at the time said Falcon killed himself “by self- inflicting numerous lacerations with a disposable razor blade.” The release said Falcon was alone in a cell and that there was no evidence of foul play.

Guerra, who’s representing the Falcon family in a planned lawsuit against GEO, doesn’t believe the suicide story. He pointed out that Falcon had only two months left on a five-year sentence. “And he winds up with cuts on his arms and hands, and then his throat is slit,” Guerra said. “The cuts on his arms and hands indicate he was in a defensive position.”

Like Galindo, Falcon grew up in the U.S., close enough to the Rio Grande to nearly see it. He was caught and deported in 2001 but came back as soon as he could to the country he thought of as home. Three years later when he was stopped for speeding, the deportation was discovered. He was prosecuted for illegal re-entry and got a five-year sentence — his only crime.

GEO officials say the Reeves prison offers all kinds of vocational classes, “high-quality” drug and alcohol counseling, and recreational activities like leather crafts, music, and sports. County officials were vague about who teaches those classes.

ACLU officials and family members say the inmates don’t mention any of those classes or activities. But they do talk about dangerous levels of tension between Mexican and Cuban inmates and about the awful medical care.

Anna Maria Alfonso Garcia’s son is an inmate at the prison. She said the doctors treat inmates “worse than a dog.”

Her son had a terrible earache, she said, and was told he had to make a request to see the doctor. But since her son didn’t speak English, the doctor wouldn’t see him. By the time he finally got someone to write the note for him, she said, the earache had moved from one ear to the other. “And the doctor said he couldn’t look at his right ear because the request said the earache was in his left ear.”

It’s perhaps not surprising that the inmates say the medical care is bad. The county’s $7 million contract with the Physicians Network Association, from Lubbock, calls for one doctor to be on site four days a week, to serve 2,700 inmates in two of the housing units. One dentist and two assistants are on duty for less than a single shift, five days a week, and there are two mental health workers, though no psychiatrist or psychologist. Two nurses and two medication aides are on duty most of the time, seven days a week, plus one emergency medical technician. A few months after PNA was hired in 2002, the prison warden publicly congratulated the firm for slashing the number of surgeries, outside care visits, and other instances of care provided to inmates.

The physicians group has run into trouble at other prisons. At a New Mexico facility where PNA worked, Justice Department investigators concluded in 2003 that inmates suffered “risk of serious harm from deficient medical and mental health care.”

Guerra said he has received reports that five men have died in the Reeves County prison since August 2008, but he believes the actual numbers are higher. “We have evidence that people who are going to die are removed … to die elsewhere, to keep the numbers down.”

Libal, of Grassroots Leadership, said GEO’s performance in Texas “has been markedly worse than any other company running private prisons there. GEO’s had a number of facilities closed due to horrendous conditions in this state alone.”

The list of problems GEO has had at its Texas facilities reads like teasers from upcoming potboilers.

Seven youthful offenders at the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Bronte, in West Texas, sued the GEO group in 2007 over unfit living conditions. The Texas Youth Commission investigated, found feces on the walls and floor of the facility, bug-infested food, and filthy bedding. The TYC subsequently pulled all of its nearly 200 juvenile detainees from the facility.

In 1999, at the same facility, several female juvenile detainees claimed they had been sexually abused by a Wackenhut employee (this was prior to the corporate name change) who had a prior conviction for sexual abuse of a child. GEO settled the suit for $1.5 million.

That same year a female detainee committed suicide following the settlement of an earlier lawsuit stemming from sexual abuse at the prison. The settlement allowed Wackenhut to avoid accepting responsibility for the actions of their employees there.

At the Dickens County Correctional Center in Spur, an inmate from Idaho committed suicide in 2007. The death prompted an investigation by the Idaho Department of Corrections health director, who called the prison the worst he’d ever seen and removed all of Idaho’s inmates. GEO no longer runs the facility.

Idaho also pulled all its prisoners from the Newton County correction center in 2006 after widespread reports of prisoner abuse.

In 2007, at the Frio County Detention Center in Pearsall, a crippled female detainee sued GEO after she was denied necessary medication, put into isolation, stripped, ridiculed, and had her crutches taken away by guards.

In 1999, 11 guards and a case manager were indicted on felony charges of sexual assault and improper sexual activity, as well as the misdemeanor charge of sexual harassment at the Travis County State Jail in Austin.

At the Val Verde Detention Center in Del Rio, an African-American guard sued GEO for racial discrimination in 2005 after his superior, who kept a noose in his office, posed for pictures in Ku Klux Klan garb. A year later, the GEO group and Val Verde County were sued by a civil rights organization when an inmate committed suicide after being denied medication and being sexually abused.

The worst single case of abuse at a GEO facility occurred at the Willacy County State Jail in Raymondville in 2001, when a prisoner just four days shy of release was beaten to death in front of the warden and guards.

Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. wasn’t even sentenced to prison when he was convicted of possessing a quarter-gram of cocaine. He was given probation but wound up at the jail when he couldn’t pay his fine. He had served six months when he was set upon by two other inmates who beat him to death with prison-issued padlocks they’d put into socks.

The family of de la Rosa, an honorably discharged National Guardsman, filed a wrongful death suit. Their lawyer, Ronald Rodriguez, was able to show that the GEO Group had destroyed a videotape of the killing. They were awarded $47.5 million, an award upheld on appeal.

Following the initial suit, filed in 2006, Guerra, then the Willacy County D.A., brought a charge of murder against the GEO Group. The grand jury indicted the corporation on the murder charges — but the indictment was thrown out after Guerra left office.

“I was the one who looked into that case from the beginning,” Guerra told the Weekly. “I prosecuted the two inmates who committed the murder and got 25-year sentences for each of them. But while I was prosecuting them, I realized that the case was bigger than just an inmate killing. I realized that GEO’s guards and the warden were involved as well.”

How is a company with that track record still able to do business with both the state and federal governments?

“We monitor all of the facilities with which we have contracted, and as of now, we are satisfied with the way all of them are being run,” said Tracy Billingsley, a Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesperson.

Jason Clark, public information officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told the Weekly that the state facilities operated by GEO “have not had any of the issues that we’ve heard about from federal prisons run privately. The contracts we have for state prisons call for a full-time, on-site prison monitor who works for the TDCJ to oversee every aspect of the prison, and those prisons must met the TDCJ standards.”

The company has had deep ties to the federal government since it was founded in the 1950s. George R. Wackenhut was a former FBI agent who left the bureau with two colleagues in 1954 to start a company called Special Agent Investigators. A year later, he split with his associates and formed The Wackenhut Corporation, which specialized in creating dossiers on U.S. citizens and selling them to the FBI. According to Sourcewatch, a publication of the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group, by 1966 the corporation had produced “over four million files, or one for every 46 adults in the country.”

A list of Wackenhut’s early board members reveals the depth of the company’s connections. They included retired U.S. Army Gen. Mark Clark, a much-decorated World War II hero; former FBI director Clarence Kelley; former defense secretary and CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci; and former Defense Intelligence Agency director Joseph Carroll. Prior to his stint as director of the CIA, William Casey was the company’s outside legal counsel.

In 1967 Wackenhut took the company public and at about the same time formed a division known as Wackenhut Services Inc, which soon became “the largest contract security provider to the federal government,” according to the firm’s official history. The company diversified and began providing security for U.S. nuclear facilities, other sensitive federal sites, and multinational corporations. Its employees were culled primarily from former military personnel.

Wackenhut offered services in other areas as well. In 1992 CIA analyst William Corbett told Spy Magazine that Wackenhut had been involved for years with the CIA and other intelligence organizations, including the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Wackenhut would allow the CIA to occupy positions within the company [in order to carry out] clandestine operations,” he said.

In return, Corbett said, Wackenhut was given plum contracts by the Reagan administration. By the time prison privatization was introduced in the mid-1980s, Wackenhut was in a prime position to become a pioneer in the field. In 1984 the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation was formed as a division of The Wackenhut Corporation.

By 1992, Wackenhut had expanded overseas, developing a subsidiary to run prisons in Australia. From there, the company expanded its operations to South Africa and England. It also runs a U.S. jail outside this country — the Guantanamo Bay Migrations Operations Center in Cuba.

Wackenhut Corporation was eventually acquired by a Danish company that would become Group 4 Securicor, the largest security outfit in the world. But in 2003 the officers of Wackenhut Corrections Corporation bought all of the subsidiary’s stock from Securicor and recreated it as an independent company, the GEO Group Inc.

Wackenhut was a contributor to both George W. and Jeb Bush (the company’s headquarters are in Boca Raton, Fla.) and to former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who urged that federal prisons be privatized and the inmates put to work “so that we can produce component parts in prisons … now being produced in places like Mexico, China, Taiwan, and Korea.”

While he was still in Congress, Tom DeLay was a major backer of GEO. And in South Texas, a state legislator’s law firm and a state senator’s husband both provide legal services for GEO.

GEO annually spends more on lobbying than any other private prison company in Texas. In 2007, at the height of the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center scandal, GEO increased its lobbying expenditures in the state tenfold, leading State Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, to tell The Dallas Morning News that the company and its lobbyists should back off from defending “a very poor facility that probably violates the youths’ civil rights.”

Among GEO’s lobbyists are Ray Allen, a former Grand Prairie legislator and longtime proponent of prison privatization, who had chaired the House Committee on Corrections, and his former chief of staff. When Reeves County threatened to default on $39 million in bonds used to build its third housing unit, the county hired DeLay’s brother Randy to go to Washington to lobby for federal prisoners to fill the new beds. Shortly thereafter, the feds came through with a contract to fill the new unit.

GEO’s lobbying efforts have aimed at keeping its prisons full — which means pushing for major immigration raids periodically if beds start to empty. But it also has worked to keep its Texas prisons from being monitored and held to the rules of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, according to Libal.

“Prior to 2003, Jail Standards would go into facilities like the one at Reeves — which is county-owned but filled with federal Bureau of Prison inmates — and inspect it. But after heavy lobbying, a bill was passed that took away that purview,” he said. So GEO’s federal prisons now are inspected only by monitors hired by the counties, which have a direct financial interest in keeping them full and profitable.

“What that means is that if that monitor says things are fine, that’s what they are, even if conditions are atrocious,” Libal said. “At Reeves, they’ve always been understaffed, which has led to a number of problems. But since no one from Jail Standards can inspect the complex, that is just ignored.”

A bill introduced in the Texas Legislature last year would have given inspection responsibility back to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, “but that bill was defeated, and we’re told it was defeated largely because of the lobbying effort of GEO,” said Libal.

Thirty years ago, Pecos had nearly 20,000 inhabitants and Reeves County that many more. Oil was everywhere; there was enough agriculture that a frozen food plant kept a lot of people working. Firestone ran a tire-testing track, and the Duval sulfur mine was the county’s largest employer.

But oil booms go bust once all the wells have been drilled. And a protracted drought dropped the water table so low the farmers couldn’t afford to water their crops. With no crops to process, the frozen food plant shut down. Firestone moved its track, and finally, the sulfur mine was closed when the price of that mineral dropped, putting hundreds more people out of work. These days, the GEO-run prison complex is the county’s largest employer.

Since the boom days, the population of Reeves County has dropped to less than a quarter of what it was. In Pecos, both movie theaters closed down years ago, and there are only two bars left, down from about 20, according to locals.

“If it wasn’t for Wackenhut and the detention center, this county would have blown away by now.” said Linda Clark, the county treasurer,

“This used to be a thriving place,” said Sheriff Gomez, a thick man with a good smile and mitts for hands. “I had a good time growing up here.”

By the mid-1980s “everything was shutting down around here, everybody was out of work, and we were near finished,” he said. “But some of the town fathers spoke to some legislators and found out the Bureau of Prisons needed a prison in Texas, and Pecos was ideal because we’re so isolated out here. So we raised bonds and built one.”

The first prison building opened in 1986 with 400 beds. It wasn’t until 2003 that GEO was brought in. A second prison had been built by that time, and a third building was added in 2005.

The contracts call for the county to hire and pay all of the guards and general staff at the detention center, maintain the complex, and provide medical services. GEO hires its own warden and the other administrators, screens all employees, provides overall management, and sees to the day-to-day operations. The 2006 contract, the most recent provided to the Weekly, calls for the county to pay GEO $362,000 a month — $4.34 million annually — on top of administrative salaries and any other expenses incurred. In return, the county gets part of the per-inmate money that the Bureau of Prisons pays. The bottom line: After expenses, including repairing the heavy riot damage, and after having lost daily payments on 700 inmates, the county still made $3.1 million off the prison last year.

That’s more than the county makes off property taxes or from any other source, Clark said.

“To be honest, we’d prefer not to have a prison here. But we would not have survived without it,” she said. “We were desperate, and that was our chance, and when you don’t have a choice, you do what you have to do to survive.”

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