Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Munoz: Jail Standards Commission regulates few private prisons in Texas

Interested in learning more about private prison regulation in light of the recent scandals with the GEO group at TYC and in Dickens County, I emailed the director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Adan Munoz, to request a copy of the testimony and handouts he submitted last week to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. (See Munoz's testimony here.)

I think most people would be amazed at how understaffed they are at the Commission on Jail Standards, and even so, under Munoz IMO it's done a good job. The agency's total number of inspectors: 4 (yes, four), cover nearly 300 facilities all over the state. By comparison, the Texas Youth Commission had SEVEN full-time staff assigned to monitor the Coke County facility, and look what happened there!

Most jails are inspected only once annually, and the commission may have little ability to enforce its standards beyond threatening to shut down a jail entirely, a difficult choice that obviously would have political ramifications.

Munoz told the Senate committee that TCJS only regulates private contractors if they house county jail prisoners. However, if a facility DOES house county prisoners, TCJS inspects and considers itself responsible for all offenders in the facility, even federal prisoners or immigration detainees, because the county government, ultimately, is responsible for everyone housed there.

All told, about 11,000 prisoners are currently housed in private prisons or jails regulated by TCJS, most of them county or federal prisoners. However, that still leaves most private-prison firms unregulated in Texas beyond minimal oversight by contracting agencies (TDCJ, TYC, etc.). For example, according to Munoz's testimony, TCJS only regulates six of the GEO Group's 18 detention centers the company currently operates in Texas.

Of those six regulated facilities, he said, one was consistently in non-compliance: The Dickens unit where the inmate was housed whose mother testified Friday to the Senate Committee about his suicide. In its last two inspections, Dickens was non-compliant regarding "staffing" and "life safety issues," which incidentally strongly corroborates Ms. Noble's point about the conditions to which her son was subjected.

Before 2003, said Munoz, TCJS also had statutory oversight over five other private prisons that housed only federal or immigration detainees through intergovernmental agreements with counties. But a little-noticed bill that year, HB 3517, removed TCJS jurisdiction over over those facilities - three of them run by the GEO Group and two run by private prison vendor MTC:
So a facility could be operating with less than optimal staff, it could be overcrowded or it can continue to have infrastructure problems, but the Commission on Jail Standards has no authority to verify this through the inspection process or force coercive action.
Given news from Dickens and Coke Counties, God knows what kind of squalor these inmates are living in - they've been abandoned by the state of Texas. In addition, private facilities that contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice aren't regulated by TCJS, only through TDCJ contract oversight (unless they also happen to house county prisoners). TDCJ chief Brad Livingston told the committee the agency contracts for more than 17,000 beds statewide, only a handful of which (see below) are regulated by TCJS.

For my own future convenience, and on behalf of interested readers, I've compiled this spreadsheet of the private facilities TCJS regulates, where they are, what counties or other agencies they contract with, and how many beds they operate. As always, Texas Prison Bidness is the go-to blog on private prison issues in Texas for those looking for more information.

Private Prisons Regulated by Texas
Commission on Jail Standards, 10/07

USMS = US Marshal's Service
BOP = Federal Bureau of Prisons
ICE = Immigration and Customs Enforcement
DOC = Department of Corrections
TDCJ = Texas Department of Criminal Justice


Anonymous said...

Grits, you need to make the distiction that TCJS also regulates private prisons holding out-of-state inmates, like Idaho, New Mexico and perhaps others.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, I think you just did. :)

Anonymous said...

Evidently TCJS doesn't regulate too closely. Civigenics has two facilities in Odessa, Texas that are continuosly over populated. They have two sets of books and place inmates in transit status to justify as many as 360 inmates in a facility rated to hold 223. Profit margin is everything in private corrections!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The CiviGenics facilities in Odess aren't on the TCJS regulated list - they must not house county our out of state prisoners, I'm guessing?

W W Woodward said...

As per the Civigenics website, the two Odessa, Texas, facilities hold only federal prisoners which would take them out from under TCJS regulation.

W W Woodward said...

Since reading your "Munoz: Jail Standards Commission regulates few private prisons in Texas" blog post a few days ago and not being fully informed I was hesitant to articulate until I had an opportunity to do some research on my own.

From what I can determine, Geo has (maybe I should say "had") 20 Texas facilities under contract. Two of these are "still in development" as per Geo's Website. And, two (Coke County and DCCC in Dickens County) are either no longer under contract or are not long for this world.

Of the 20 facilities 7 appear to (without question) fall under the jurisdiction of Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) as they house either Texas county/city inmates or inmates from other states' jurisdictions.

As per the Geo website seven of the 20 Texas Geo operated/managed facilities appear to house only TDCJ inmates. It would appear that Geo may contract directly with TDCJ -ID and feel they are not required to stay in compliance with TCJS. They may be correct in this assumption - I don't know.

Five of the Geo facilities seem to be housing exclusively Federal inmates which would exclude them from state oversight. Interestingly enough, All Geo facilities (except for the Pecos units) holding Federal inmates are holding the inmates under "Intergovernmental Agreements" (IGA) rather than federal contracts. Geo doesn't have to comply with the McNamara/O'Hara Act regulating salaries for employees working under federal contracts as long as they arrange for the county or municipality owning the facility to enter into an IGA with the Feds. I've been advised by the DOL that an IGA isn't really a "contract".

One of the 20 Geo facilities is a juvenile facility (Coke County) and isn't regulated by TCJS - Of course, that's a moot point.

Your blog post quoted Munoz as telling the Senate committee - that TCJS only regulates private contractors if they house county jail prisoners."

If Mr. Munoz actually made a statement to that effect, he wasn't being exactly accurate.

Texas Administrative Code -
RULE §251.1 Authority

".... In 1997, the Texas legislature affirmed that counties, municipalities and private vendors housing out-of-state inmates are within the commission's [TCJS] jurisdiction."

My [ brackets ]

Texas Government Code

This section of the government code states that TCJS has no jurisdiction over facilities that house ONLY federal inmates and further stipulates that if the facility begins to house state, county, municipal, or out of state prisoners TCJS must be notified.

It would follow that; TCJS WOULD have jurisdiction over Texas jails housing "state", "county", "municipal" or "out of state prisoners". Otherwise why would the statute require that TCJS should be notified if a jail started housing other than out-of- state inmates?

As per the Government Code, the Local Government Code, and the Administrative Code TCJS has jurisdiction over all county jails, municipal jails, or jails operated by private contractors except for those holding exclusively juveniles or federal prisoners.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Excellent, ww woodward, thank you - clearly my interpretation of what I heard at the hearing and the linked testimony was quite incomplete.

I love the blogosphere, where instead of just saying I'm an idiot and don't know what I'm talking about (which clearly I didn't!), somebody just does some research and contributes to the discussion. Thank you. Grits tries to cover a LOT of ground, and I truly couldn't be more pleased when readers correct, clarify, contradict or extend arguments made here - it really helps make the blog greater than the sum of its parts.

I've written before that my idea of how blogs contribute to political discussion comes largely from Christopher Lasch's writing on the value of debate over information. He declared that:

"What democracy requires is public debate, not information. Of course it needs information, too, but the kind of information it needs can be generated only by vigorous popular debate. We do not know what we need to know until we ask the right questions, and we can identify the right questions only by subjecting our own ideas about the world to the test of public controversy. Information, usually seen as the precondition of debate, is better understood as its by-product. When we get into arguments that focus and fully engage our attention, we become avid seekers of relevant information. Otherwise we take in information passively -- if we take it in at all."

I wish Lasch had lived to see and comment about (perhaps even on?) blogs. They're a cool way to learn about the world, and when they work well, the writer learns as much or more than the readers. Cheers!

W W Woodward said...

Thank you for your gracious reply. My Apologies however. I misstated a portion of the second sentence of my next-to-the-last paragraph [see brackets].

It would follow that; TCJS WOULD have jurisdiction over Texas jails housing "state", "county", "municipal" or "out of state prisoners". Otherwise why would the statute require that TCJS should be notified if a jail started housing other than [out-of- state inmates]?

That should have read, “federal inmates”.

Again, my apologies. “The best laid plans…….”