In the early morning of Oct. 2, Whitmire’s general counsel received a call from lobbyist Michelle Wittenburg on behalf of GEO. “They were very, very aggressive about, you know, defending their practice there, and that they disagreed with TYC,” Whitmire said.Whitmire's Senate committee hearing will be held Friday morning. Here are several topics I hope the committee focuses on in addition to the specific conditions at the Coke County unit:
TYC communications director Jim Hurley said that on Oct. 3, GEO “took people on a tour of a nicely, freshly painted, rejuvenated facility.” Whitmire characterized the occasion as a “pep rally.” Whitmire, House Corrections Committee chairman Jerry Madden (R-Richardson), and Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) each sent a staff person to observe the event, as did Speaker Tom Craddick, Whitmire said.
Hurley said he had been “deluged” by calls from citizens and investors who are concerned about the economic impact that shutting down the facility, which employs about 140 people, would have on the community.
“This is the Texas Youth Commission,” Hurley said, “We are not the Texas Economic Development Commission. Our mission statement says that we are to take Texas’ most incorrigible kids, provide rehabilitative services, treatment—all the things that they need, and try to make them fit to reenter society … Our priority are the youth that we have been charged with handling. That was the only consideration when we took this action.”
The economic side-effects of the action for the community are “unfortunate,” Hurley said, “but our charge is the youth … We do care. But,still, we got to stick with what we do.” ...
According to Whitmire, GEO representatives admitted Wednesday to staff that because they had a month-to-month contract with the state, they were not going to put any capital or improvements there. “That’s why you got sheets that haven’t been washed in three months,” Whitmire said. “That’s why kids have infections from unsanitary conditions.”
As of press time, the company’s corporate communications office had not returned a phone call from LSR seeking comment.
Whitmire said incredulously that GEO representatives claimed that the human feces that the kids were standing in (as reported by TYC officials) were actually glue. “One of the buildings that they were locking the kids in had no restrooms,” he said. “ … The kids were required to urinate or relieve themselves in trash cans or on the floor.” He later added, “If they want a hearing on that, I’ll give them a hearing … They ought to be careful what they ask for.”
Please slow down on contract care.
Why does TYC plan to expand contract care for 10-13 year olds and older boys (a bidder's conference has already been held), when we know for certain TYC contract oversight functions are dangerously inadequate? If Coke County was so bad, why expand contract care further before finding out why the agency's oversight broke down? It doesn't make sense, but that's the direction in which the agency is barreling forward. IMO this ill-considered policy decision should be the main focus of the hearing; the past is the past, but the more pressing concern is what will TYC do going forward?
Need regulatory oversight for private prisons
Unless a private prison houses county jail prisoners, there's no regulatory entity overseeing them in Texas, TYC Executive Director Dimitria Pope said at a press conference last Friday. If nothing else changes thanks to the Coke County case, that should. I say give the job to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, so there's an independent entity looking at these facilities besides TDCJ and TYC contract managers.
Did operating funds from Geo's Texas prisons go to pay off corporate debt?
According to the company's 10-K, company officials earlier this year predicted that Geo's large debt could cause management to siphon funds from operations to pay its loans. Is that what happened here?
Shouldn't we have looked at this a while ago?
The committee should examine allegations of abuse at the Coke County facility documented by the Dallas Morning News, and question TYC officials why they didn't act when that information came out several months ago?
Let's get some expert testimony
People I'd like to see invited to testify at the hearing about Geo's record: Texas Prison Bid'ness blogger Bob Libal, LBJ School instructor and TYC Blue Ribbon Panel member Michelle Deitch, and the mother of the Idaho inmate who who has sued Geo after her son committed suicide and left a 5 page note complaining about squalid conditions at the Dickens County facility. I'd also like to hear the opinions of the Harris County TYC monitor Susan Moynahan on this topic, but given how rudely she was treated the last time she testified at the Legislature that leads us to ...
Mr. Chairman, let your witnesses speak
One problem: If Chairman Whitmire plans to invite people to testify, he needs to let them speak. At the last hearing on TYC even fellow legislators often weren't allowed to finish their questions, and "bullying" is the only reasonable word to describe how the chairman treated any witness critical of TYC. Two different witnesses told me after that hearing they decided on the spot not to inform legislators about additional problems at the agency because it was clear Sen.Whitmire wasn't in the mood to listen to criticisms.
Surely the Coke County fiasco demonstrates that TYC hasn't been "fixed," and indeed it's questionable whether overall conditions haven't worsened. Let's hope at this hearing witnesses are left free to openly describe the agency's problems, or you can be pretty darn sure it won't result in finding solutions.
UPDATE: AP's John Miller reports that the mother of the Idaho inmate mentioned above will be at the hearing Friday to speak about her son's suicide. That should make for compelling testimony.