Thursday, January 04, 2007

Speculative private prison construction in East Texas doesn't match state plans

Apparently anticipating that the Texas Legislature will prove incapable of resolving the state's overincarceration crisis, a new private prison is going up in Henderson for use as an "Intermediate Sanctions Facility" (ISF), reports the Longview News Journal ("New prison under construction in Henderson," Jan. 3).

"The state is full on their bed capacity, so our company made a decision to expand to help that additional need," said the unit's warden, an employee of Management & Training Corp.. MTC currently operates a 300-bed ISF in Longview in a facility rented from Gregg County, so the new 1,160 bed facility would represent a total 860 new ISF beds.

That's a little puzzling to me, because neither TDCJ's budget request, the Sunset Advisory Commission nor the House Corrections Committee recommended expanding these types of facilities.

I guess they figure, "If we build it, they will come."

ISFs are minimum security facilities for parolees who commit violations that don't, in a parole panel's view, warrant returning them to full-blown prison. Texas currently has five ISFs that house around 1,800 prisoners at a time and service 3,780 parolees annually. Just last year TDCJ added intensive substance abuse treatment programs at two of those facilities, according to their Sunset evaluation (pdf, p. 10).

If the company really hopes to house more state parolees, though, this seems like a speculative bet. I suppose that's why they're partially betting taxpayers' money: the municipality of Henderson gave the company 75% off its property tax and 25% off its water bill for seven years to convince them to build there, reports the News Journal. The Henderson Economic Development Corporation kicked in 41 acres of land and another $500,000 cash to seal the deal.

UPDATE: I emailed the House Corrections Committee Chairman about this and he responded, "Watch tomorrow's Austin American Statesman and you will see the ISF mentioned rather significantly. We think we need about 2000-2250 new ISF beds above the current 1800- beds we now have."

Guess it's not so "speculative," then!

NUTHER UPDATE: According to Henderson Daily News coverage ("MTC takes local building project to higher levels," 12/29):
Of the 150-175 anticipated jobs available at the new prison, approximately 25 will be licensed substance abuse counselors or interns working on substance abuse licensure, Bell said.

“Those jobs pay in the $30,000 range. They have to be licensed to do that,” he explained. “We will become a practicum training site for counselor interns.”

Because MTC previously ran Bradshaw State Jail in Henderson, there is already a pool of trained employees available, he said.

“Several of our old employees have already contacted us, asking about coming back,” [Warden Bell] said. “Some people feel there may be a shortage of employees - I don't want to sound overconfident, but I don't think we'll have a problem.”

It'll be interesting to see if they can fully staff the facility. The state sure can't find enough prison guards. Henderson is a small place. I'm personally skeptical of the claim that there is a "pool of trained employees available" on that scale - especially the licensed substance abuse counselors they'll need. It sounds like they plan to have unlicensed "interns" providing some of the counseling for inmates, which also spooks me a little. Though I know it's apples and oranges, it makes me think of the unlicensed guards at the private prison in South Texas where a corrupt cop and five gang members recently escaped.


Anonymous said...

And if you keep them out of the existing TDCJ units (excluding the 'transfer' facilities such as Middleton) then they dont get counted as being in the prison population, thus keeping the official statistics down. Unfortunately, they also then dont come under any regulation related to TDCJ units either.

Anonymous said...

sunray's wench,
You obviously have a limited understanding of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. You are correct in stating that these numbers are not reported the same as transfer or institutional division numbers. (Of course, neither are State Jail numbers) However, you are incorrect in your accusation that these facilities do not follow any TDCJ regulations. Intermediate sanction facilities fall under the supervision of the TDCJ-PD (the Parole Division) not TDCJ-ID (the Institutional Division). TDCJ-PD operates one of the five ISF facilities currently in operation. TDCJ-PD obviously regulates this facility by operating it. The other four ISF facilities have a full-time TDCJ-PD employee assigned to each facility to ensure the private contractors operate the facilities in accordance with TDCJ-PD guidelines. The regulations in effect at these facilities are as follows:
Training, staff development, position qualifications and licenses are governed by TCLEOSE. (Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education) This is the same agency that licenses all Texas peace officers and all county jailers. All other regulations are the same as either TDCJ-SJD (the State Jail Division) or TDCJ-ID. The parolees housed in ISF facilities have the same rights and a few more privileges than the offenders housed in TDCJ-ID facilities.