Sunday, August 23, 2015

Overbuilt Texas county jails turned private prison boom into bust

John MacCormack at the SA Express-News described in this morning's paper massive overbuilding at Texas county jails which has mostly gone unnoticed by the press and the public:
In June 1995, Texas jails had 64,000 beds, and were operating at 80 percent capacity, with 7,775 beds available. In June 2015, having added nearly 30,000 beds, they were operating at 70 percent capacity, and had 19,870 available beds.

The number of federal and contract prisoners in county jails has declined in recent years, due in part to changes in federal policy.

Where in 2000, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 1.67 million people, by 2014 the figure had dropped to fewer than 487,000, and has stayed low since. Detentions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement also recently have dipped after a longtime rise.
The story describes a phenomenon with which Grits readers should be familiar, in which private prison companies and local politicians carrying their water would argue that:
A detention facility built for federal inmates would create local jobs, a steady cash flow for the county and, once the bonds were paid off, a county-owned prison. And by using a public facilities corporation to borrow the money, taxpayers would be shielded if anything went wrong.

It was an easy money pitch often heard in rural Texas during an era that made the state the private prison capital of the country as companies built more than 50 facilities with as many as 60,000 beds.
Three decades later, the boom is over. And as the public sector's need for private prison beds has diminished, the tally of failing prisons in Texas is increasing, with some already vacant for years.

The bust is evident on a rural tour of the state, where more than a dozen once-profitable facilities have failed. At least seven of them, which together borrowed nearly $200 million, are in arrears on bond payments, figures from Municipal Market Analytics, a bond-research firm, show.

"Twenty years ago, everyone was bringing prisoners and everyone was making money. Then the state and federal governments figured out it cost too much to hold these guys, so they started looking at other means," Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber said during a recent visit to the detention center there.
I must admit, it's particularly odd to see the story of the prison unit in Littlefield being considered a success story, though that's how it's being portrayed.
One of the few bright spots among the communities stuck with empty facilities is Littlefield, a city of 6,500 an hour northwest of Lubbock. There, a 300-bed, city-owned prison that has been vacant for more than five years is about to reopen.

"We have not been in arrears. We have made payments twice a year since it opened in 2000. With utilities and other costs, it's about $1 million a year, which is 13 percent of my budget," said City Manager Mike Arismendez, who announced his resignation last week.

Originally built for the Texas Youth Commission, the prison later held inmates from Idaho and Wyoming before closing.

Recently, Arismendez said, after years of futile searching, the city landed a new tenant, although it is not one that would be welcome everywhere. The Texas inmates will be violent sex offenders who require additional treatment before being released.

"The public seems to be very happy that we're going to reopen the facility and have jobs," he said. 
MORE: See AP's version of the story, the lede of which pithily declared, "More than a dozen once-profitable private prisons in Texas have failed, including one this month in South Texas, and records from a bond research firm examined by the San Antonio Express-News show at least seven are in arrears in payments on nearly $200 million in bonds."


Anonymous said...

The Second Chance Act (Public Law 110-199) authorizes awarding federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victim support and other services to individuals returning to the community from prison or jail.[1] The goals of the Second Chance Act are to increase reentry programming and improve outcomes for offenders returning to their families and communities. Let's be creative and use these empty beds as reentry .

DEWEY said...

"The Texas inmates will be violent sex offenders who require additional treatment before being released." --- And how many have completed the current program and been released ??????

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter how many years they have served, violent sex offenders should not be released into the public. They (male & female) should be forced to work & live on one of these units with no contact with the public (locks switched so they may lock & unlock their doors from the inside). Their 2nd chance should be confined to an area where they can live free but monitored in real time as long as they work and stay on the unit. Quit working or leave the property & its back to prison.

If this seems too harsh, those wishing to live among violent sex offenders should allow them to come live with them and their family. Stop what you are doing and call the local Parole Office and request a couple to be dropped off or go pick up some at the Walls. Just don't freak out when you find one of them violently offending one of your family members, your dog or you yourself. You knew it could happen and maybe even wanted it since you brought home a couple of violent sex offenders.

He's Innocent said...

Good God Almighty 11:15!

Perhaps a bit of education is in order for you concerning "violent sex offenders". Yes, some are indeed violent offenders, but I promise you there are plenty of these folks who are not "violent" in any manner.

In order to be civilly committed, one must be convicted of 2 or more sexually natured crimes; neither had to be "violent" in nature.

I personally know of one man who did indeed touch someone the first time around, but the second conviction was/is a dubious claim of additional touching. This man did his full 20 year sentence but is now civilly committed in Austin at the Del Valle correctional complex. He is almost 50 years old. He is no more a threat to you or me than YOU currently are, statistically speaking.

Your bombastic attitude reminds me of Donald Trump's. It's folks like you and him who are ignorant of reality. Personally, I am afraid of YOU and your views much more than I am of 99% of sex offenders. Your views are what incite others to commit violent acts against those who are simply trying to move on with their lives and make them the best they can be.

God help this country if Trump were to be president and fills his cabinet with the likes of your ignorant and hate-filled type.

Anonymous said...

He's Innocent said Thank You I could not have said it any better.

MCJ said...

And in McLennan County, Texas this year the court agreed to a contract with an opt out clause.

Gadfly said...

Those empty prisons got plenty of room for corrupt Republicans. We just needs us a Perry conviction, a Paxton conviction, and a few more indictments and trials after that.

Graham Baker said...

I wonder how many millions through PACS (or otherwise) those private prison corporations have spent lobbying for longer sentences for more offenses.

Peter M. said...

When you have an "incarceration industry" that is focused on making profits off inmates it is no wonder that Texas has a prison population 50% higher that the entire rest of the country. That's 50,000 individuals at a cost of $1.25 billion to Texas taxpayers. This would pay for 25,000 new teachers by the way.

As for civil commitment, when did the U.S. Constitution get suspended? Everyone has a right to due process which means access to an impartial tribunal not, as in the Texas model, all these cases get sent to one judge who issues these orders.

As for the Smart on Crime policy statement, which is real progress on this subject, the key recommendations have yet to get adopted by the legislature. But at least it is a start. As for sex offender policy, this is not driven by evidence and the science of criminal justice but politicians wanting to create a "Salem witch trials" atmosphere during elections. Fear works.

Anonymous said...

Prisons are just a school for crime they learn something new everyday!!

Anonymous said...

@ "He's Innocent":

A poor understanding of context has led you down an unwarranted rant. When someone says "violent sex offenders" they are talking about "violent sex offenders". That there exist nonviolent ones does not change that. And any rant based on assuming someone who says "violent sex offenders" somehow means "all sex offenders" is ill-advised, wrong-headed and without merit. It says more about you than it does about the person you are making assumptions about.

@Peter M.

Your assertion "Texas has a prison population 50% higher that the entire rest of the country" is completely false; thus it is without merit.

Texas has more incarcerated people than other states True. However, as of 2013:

Texas: 221,800
California: 218,800

Thus your claim it has "50% more then the entire rest of the country" is patently false (not to mention probably mathematically impossible). As you can see above, Texas has less than 3k more than California's total alone. Thus Texas has less than 2% more than California. With 2,012,400 in prison nationwide, Texas (as the second largest state in the union by count of population) has 11% of the total prison population.

Texas does appear to have a slightly higher portion of prison population compared to it's percentage of the total U.S. population. Texas has 8.4% of U.S. population (sans D.C.) and 11% of the prison population. No big outlier there.

So let us look at the *rate* of incarceration. After all, perhaps you meant to say Texas his a higher rate of it's population imprisoned?

Well, the data doesn't support your assertion there either. When looking at how many people are incarcerated per 100,000 adults, Texas comes in at 6th - "beat" by nearly every state in the "Deep South".

Now this does not man there isnot a correlation between private prisons and incarceration rate - there may indeed be one. However, as you didn't bother to do the minimal amount of research to learn the above I doubt you've done the research to see if there is even a correlation between those two. You'd also have to subtract out from the private prisons the out-of-state inmates it houses and apply those back to the states they are incarcerated for.

And regarding "civilly committed", don't trust the poster who claimed that is how it works in Texas. Don't even trust your own assertion that one person sees all these cases as it is false as well. Prison incarceration is a criminal matter, tried by criminal courts with different judges around the entire state - just as it is elsewhere.

As for poor sex offender policy, Texas isn't alone in that and it is we the people to blame for it. We have become a nation where

1) Accusation == guilty.
2) "Send a message!" is more important than justice.
3) Sentencing is about vengeance, not justice.
4) We let our jerk-ridden knees rule our decisions.

It is facile to blame politicians when it is we the people who drive them to it. We raise a ruckus and insist on "doing more!" whenever a case hits the media. Trying to effect change through politicians is placing the cart before the horse. To address the reaction rather than the cause is to never arrive at an effective solution.