Thursday, March 10, 2011

Private prison bubble bursting? Empty, speculative jails in Texas

Yesterday I'd written about the ugly finances underlying the all-but-empty Jack Harwell Detention Center in McLennan County, and it made me realize that right now there are quite a few jail and prison facilities out there - many owned by counties - that overbuilt banking on ever-growing inmate populations that haven't materialized and now appear unlikely.

Here's the list of private or public-private jails or prisons I could come up with off the top of my head in Texas that are currently sitting empty or partially empty for lack of customers, in most cases with taxpayer backed bonds which must be paid whether or not the beds are leased:
*See update below.
    If you're aware of others, please let me know in the comments.

    Webb County is presently considering a similar entrepreneurial jail scheme. And in Cameron County, a speculatively built jail was successful in finding clients, so much so that they had no room for their own inmates and now get paid $36.35 per day to house federal inmates while paying $48 per day to house their own. These schemes never seem to wrok out the way their proponents hope, and taxpayers inevitably are left holding the bag.

    Exacerbating matters, TDCJ last year canceled contracts with counties for 1,900 beds and doesn't plan rent beds from counties under the new budget, and the filed versions of Texas House and Senate budgets have suggested reducing the number of leased private prison beds by 3,519 and 2,119 beds respectively, further reducing the prospects for short-term demand. Each of the above-bulleted entities is hoping the feds will bail them out by leasing more immigration detention beds, but they won't bail out all of them and might not contract with any of them, given that there's lots of competition from other parts of the country. Corrections Corporation of America alone has around 12,500 empty beds nationwide.

    All this to say, whereas just five years ago there was excess demand for private prison capacity, today there is a glut. What's more, quite a few Texas counties got roped into issuing taxpayer-backed debt to participate in this ill-conceived speculative bubble, which now appears to be bursting before our eyes.

    UPDATE/MORE: I sent this post to administrators at the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and was advised by Assistant Director Brandon Wood via email that: "There is a former county jail in Jefferson that had been operated by a private that is now empty ... and the 96 bed juvenile facility at Garza was empty for quite some time, but they may be housing BOP in it now.  ... [T]he one in Littlefield was originally built as a contract juvenile facility and when that market did not materialize, it was converted to adult." Thanks Brandon! According to the latest TCJS population report (pdf), as of March 1 Garza County had 34 contract beds in its 96 bed jail.and remains 35% vacant.

    22 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    what about the new polk county jail. it seems to be overbuilt for a reason but that reason has never been publicly stated

    Anonymous said...

    Ask Franklin and Titus counties how it's working for them. Franklin County had 0 contract inmates and Titus had 13 on the 02/2011 report. At one time and under another sheriff, Titus had anywhere from 80-100 contract inmates.

    Anonymous said...

    Good. We don't need more jails, we need more jobs and schools.

    Anonymous said...

    I think Hood County Juvenile is full. You might call!

    Gritsforbreakfast said...

    1:40: I emailed juvie probation chief Shelli Berry in Hood County and she confirmed "The facility is being used. 4M Youth Services is the company that currently owns and operates that facility."

    I edited the "update" and bullet list accordingly, thanks for catching it. :)

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for checking. They are hard working folks there in Hood.

    bb

    Anonymous said...

    Garza is listed on TJPC's facility registry for Pre and Post juvenile secure. Looks like they contract with county probation depts, TYC, BOP and non-Texas Probation too.
    http://www.tjpc.state.tx.us/publications/other/facilityinfo.asp?ID={1570F69C-B456-466A-9D68-B0CA8475625B}

    It's run by Cornerstone.
    http://www.cornerstoneprograms.com/html/facilities.html

    Anonymous said...

    Brazoria County is running close to full, but it was built with the idea of having private prisoners, which they immediately screwed up by taping the beatings. It's a significant drag on the county's finances.

    Don said...

    Bill Clayton in Littlefield is city owned, and Littlefield taxpayers are on the hook for the $10 million still owed on it. It has been empty about as much as it has been occupied since it was built. City has been hoping that Avalon would win a contract from TDCJ for a ISF, to operate in the facility but that certainly seems doubtful now.

    Anonymous said...

    Scott - the Lubbock County jail is not sitting empty or near empty. Last time I checked (recently)it was at about 80% plus occupied. It was built to replace an old jail, not a spec jail. I don't want to have to tell you again!

    Plato

    Don said...

    Anan is correct about Lubbock Co. The old jail was beyond repair and could not be added to because it was land locked. The new facility is over 80 percent and that is even with a lot of detainees being moved into TDCJ recently.

    Gritsforbreakfast said...

    Plato/Don, when the Lubbock Jail was proposed, county commissioners told taxpayers it would pay for itself by leasing out extra beds and the old jail would not be closed so they could lease those beds too. It was all going to be a big moneymaker, generate "profit," etc.. NOW they're likely to close the downtown jail for good, it's true, because the market for inmates went bust, but that's because an ill-conceived something-for-nothing scheme blew up in their face. Any search of the Avalanche Journal archives would confirm it. Look for example, at this story leading up to the 2002 bond vote, where the Sheriff said the old jail would be a "cash cow" from leasing out beds. That's how the whole thing was pitched!

    In the end all that "pay for itself" crap turned out to be a big con job, and you're both right, NOW they'll close the downtown jail for good. But that's because reality intervened to stop foolish plans, not because that outcome was what was portrayed to the voters on the front end.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinions, Plato, but not their own facts.

    Anonymous said...

    "leading up to the 2002 bond vote, where the Sheriff said the old jail would be a "cash cow" from leasing out beds."

    Well the sherrif can still mine the interstate and other roads for revenue.

    Anonymous said...

    Never was a quid pro qo, Grits. We needed a new jail. Leasing old jail to a private was "a possibility" but never was it contemplated that leasing the jail old jail to a private would pay for the new one.

    You gonna believe me or what some damn reporter wrote?

    Don't make me come down there, Grits!

    BTW - how big an old boy are you?

    Plato

    Anonymous said...

    West Texasn vs. the city slicker. Hummm bets on the Raider!

    Anonymous said...

    The new Polk County jail is now a ICE facility...

    john said...

    Well, it makes no sense for us to pay to fill it with Mexicans, et al. Yah, they shouldn't have made the beatings public. Maybe The Dick Cheney can go hunting with folks and torture them, afterwards.
    I'm tired of profit instead of protection from criminals. I hope they go bust.
    But I bet we all go bust first, due to inflation and few jobs. Gosh, lawyers are going to hate all that pro bono work.

    Gritsforbreakfast said...

    Plato, it wasn't until the market for inmates went bust that any course of action was suggested besides keeping the old jail open and leasing it out. I defy you to show me a quote from any elected official before the new jail opened saying the old jail would be closed. You won't find it because that wasn't the plan. See this A-J story from 2009 which says "Commissioners had expected the facility to generate its own revenue from federal and out-of-county inmates at this point." It's not just "some damn reporter, it's the totality of A-J reporting on the topic for nearly a decade! Lubbock thought the jail would be a cash cow, and instead it was the county budget that got slaughtered.

    And of course, as always, you're welcome to come down and visit. I'm about 6'1", 230 lbs. :)

    DeathBreath said...

    Stupid, self-serving politicians are to blame for this, plain & simple. Some have been duped by tempting packages. Oink, oink, oink. You don't get something for nothing. There is always a cost. Why are these sitting empty? Did greedy politicians not get enough kickback money? Some should be arrested for fraud.

    Anonymous said...

    Grits - you musta lost a lot of weight since I last saw you! lol

    Gritsforbreakfast said...

    Perhaps so, 1:49. I think I maxxed out around 255. I tend to hover just shy of 1/8 of a ton. :)

    Anonymous said...

    Bell County: Sheriff's Department Training License Revoked

    http://www.kwtx.com/ourtown/home/headlines/Bell-County-Sheriffs-Department-Training-License-Revoked--191076721.html

    Contact Philip Jankowski at philipj@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7553