Saturday, October 06, 2007

Texas Senate Committee plans hearing on private prisons next week

Private prison operators in Texas will undergo renewed legislative scrutiny next week, and it's about time. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee has scheduled a hearing on the topic on very short notice for Thursday, Oct. 11 at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12 at 9 a.m at the state capitol in Austin. (N.b., the time and day of the hearing have changed.)

In the wake of the Texas Youth Commission's decision to vacate its contract with the Geo Group private prison company to operate a facility in Coke County, Chairman John Whitmire has vowed to examine Geo's entire Texas portfolio - in both adult and juvenile settings - as well as other private prison firms to judge by the committee's hearing charge:
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will meet to discuss the oversight of private correctional facilities in the State of Texas. The committee will hear invited and public testimony.
I'd like to see the committee invite some of the state's experts on private prisons to speak - perhaps Michelle Deitch (also a Blue Ribbon Panel member) and Bob Libal (a knowledgeable writer and long-time activist who blogs at Texas Prison Bidness). I'm not sure what's the precise purpose of this hearing since Ms. Pope has already closed the Coke County facility, but it should be an engaging political spectacle, in any event.

Related coverage from Grits
See more on the Geo Group from Texas Prison Bidness.

UPDATE: See also the Dallas News, "Jail operator Geo's trouble's not limited to Coke County youth lockup."


Anonymous said...

A West Texas Kudos to the Texas Senate Committee. Thanks Grits for this information conduit !

Anonymous said...

This is another Whitmire 15 minute of fame meeting. Nothing productive is going to happen. Whitmire is going to scream and yell about Geo; continue to be a legislative tyrant; and produce absolutey no new information. Another Joe McCarthy moment for Whitmire.

Anonymous said...

Wonder if he will need the Harris County monitor to come and be his punching bag again now that he has Geo.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to another in the never-ending series of Whitmire sponsored, "Deflect Attention from Dimiria's Incompetence" public hearings. While he rants, you will have no choice but to forget that she (after how many months?) still doesn't have a clue. Does anyone out there think Texas will ever have enough of this crap?

Anonymous said...

Hey Grits, knowing what you know about GEO Group Inc. and Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Bronte, would you have taken the same action as Acting TYC Executive Director Dimitria Pope ?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Grits, knowing what you know about GEO Group Inc. and Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Bronte, would you have taken the same action as Acting TYC Executive Director Dimitria Pope?"

No, I would have launched the comprehensive review of privates she ordered after the Dallas News expose about this facility and other privates in July, if not before. Just based on numbers (and types) of sustained complaints I think Coke County deserved attention long before now. Whether it could have been salvaged or whether closure was the only option I cannot 100% say, though I spoke with Will Harrell and he assures me it was comparable to some of the least habitable adult Texas jails, in which case, yes, I'd have pulled the plug, long before now.

I also would NOT expand TYC contract care for 10-13 year olds and older boys in the wake of these revelations. I'd review how the agency handles contractors and make numerous improvements to oversight and QA functions before even contemplating shifting more youth into private prisons, but TYC is moving full steam ahead to do so.

Anonymous said...

All of this media and problems that keep cropping makes you scratch your head and wonder why new leadership has not been called for.

But when you place these TDCJ types in control because corrections are corrections (they do not understand the difference between juvenile & adults) the about face would make your elected officials look bad. They would much rather rant and rave and point fingers at everyone else rather than face the truth.

Does TYC still have a Conservator and if so what is he doing and why have we not heard from him. I believe he is back on the payroll.

Anonymous said...

There are some good contract care facilities out there. The first that comes to mind is Gulf Coast Trade Center which as a good reputation and long history.
Let's hope that is looking at signing more contract facilities like it.

Onyx said...

A tad off topic but,

Private run group homes(probably the vast majority being private run) are even worse than private run prisons.
At least in a privately run prison a judge sentences you to x number of days and the prison has to release you when your release date comes.

On the other hand, private run group homes, which kids often get sent to in lieu of jail time, not only get to make money off you while you're there, but they also get to decide when your times up(AKA when you're "ready" to go home).

I spent the latter part of my youth in group homes and it was rare for one of the kids from Juvenile Justice to be "ready to return home" before shortly before, or up to, their 18th birthday(The point where by law you either have to be ready to return home or shipped off to the Youth Commission).

I think one of the biggest cancers in the Government, killing our budget for sure, is that a lot of decisions get made on issues by people who's jobs/budget are greatly effected by their policy decisions. The ONDCP and other law enforcement agencies are the biggest example that come to mind.

Anonymous said...

Tuff on Crime policy is costing Texans and in fact all Americans huge amounts of money.

You cannot be tuff on crime on the cheap. State or Private facilities to keep youthful offenders are going to be expensive.

Legislators and ultimaely the public need to gain an in depth understanding of the costs. Once the true costs are known, perhaps drug laws will begin to change.

For now, I truly hope this meeting will not be just for show. I hope it will provide a much needed education on the cost of decent juvenile justice policy.

I'm still waiting for the detailed data requested by the ligislators during the last meeting regarding use of pepper spray at TYC.

Anonymous said...

It will be another dog and pony show. Elmer will defend D'Pope & company and tell them what a good job they are doing.(Group hug)

He should not be allowed to sit in on sessions that have to do with TYC because he can't seem to be objective when the current leadership is present! It's like watching a high school kid enamoured with the teacher and he can't make rational sound decisions based on facts and not friendship because she's in the same room with him.

The sadness in this fiasco is that the youth, employees and the agency are all spiralling down at the speed of light with no hope of turning things around and helpless to do so. It is hard to tolerate the tremendous amount of smoke sreens being set up by the TDCJ regime in hopes of saving their jobs. (No group hug here)

The lack of action by this
committee to call for the heads of the current ineffective leadership
is nothing short of deplorable! It is Texas politics at it's worst!

When will one of those committee members stand up to Elmer and oust him out? I'm not holding my breath but I can only hope that sense prevails before it's too late for TYC.

Anonymous said...

How much money has Elmer received from Geo's competition? Did Geo not pay him enough?

Anonymous said...

Let's look at the Reid facility in Elmer's district. Wonder if there is a difference?

This meeting Thursday is just going to be a love fest for DaPope. Madden should call a meeting so the truth can come out.

Anonymous said...

The tough on crime people have let crime run rampant in Texas and upon the adjudicated and convicted population.

The entire basis of the tough on crime philosophy is that people who make mistakes are throw away people, and in the same mold as career criminals.

Until we accept the fact that all people have value and need to be treated as such, this tough on crime philosophy will spread into fascism of the first degree.

whitsfoe said...

I actually agree with Whitmire (believe it's a first). I think those contractors need to be put on notice regarding their operations now and in the future. There's no doubt that QA needs an overhaul before we agree to contract out those 10-13 year olds. That's throwing high risk children in a broken system that exists now. I'd hold off on doing that until the QA piece is fixed.

But for those who have seen this before, remember Littlefield and the little kids we put there? I haven’t seen a contract care facility yet that’s been able to handle that population.

Anonymous said...

The problem or issue is not if any of us agree or disagree with Whitmire, but why does he continue to pull the old "Bait and Switch" in regards to TYC?

Lets look at recent issues-
TYC loses the pepper spray issue.
TYC has no clue or answer about the 19 and 20 year olds.
TYC hires a wonderful Principal in Crockett.
TYC has not treatment plan.
TYC last month told the committee that they could say that all youth were safe in the Texas Youth Commission.

Now all of a sudden we are appalled at the Coke County Detention Center!!!!

Could it be that this was done to take the focus away from these issues just mentioned?

Did TYC have monitors on site? Did they not give high marks to Coke County? Why would long term TYC staff make these reports if they were not accurate? The Fire Marshal, the civic groups, the religious volunteers all said the place was not that terrible. I personally do not know but believe there is more to this story than what we are hearing from the ones barking the loudest. I would also called for an investigation into all of this and hold all accountable if they lied, mislead, or did anything that could not pass the smell test.

Lastly, if this place was so bad why are the leaders at TYC still considering placing 12 and 13 years olds in contract care? Makes you wonder about the sincerity for the children that one keeps espouses to the press?

Anonymous said...

TYC leadership is still considering contract care for 10-13 year olds because Da Pape has no clue how to deal with kids, much less young kids, and placing them in the hands of incompetent contractors takes the blame off of her shoulders and places it somewhere else. (In her feeble mind).

Anonymous said...

TYC leadership is still considering contract care for 10-13 year olds because Da Pape has no clue how to deal with kids, much less young kids, and placing them in the hands of incompetent contractors takes the blame off of her shoulders and places it somewhere else. (In her feeble mind).

Anonymous said...

Whitmire in Action
Mr. Whitmire Welcomes Mr. Patrick to the Texas Senate

whitsfoe said...

That's Elmer as we know him... we've discussed that clip before. Now if Henson could just put this code I'm supposed to use in something I can looks Russian ;)

Anonymous said...

Pope is not our Hope!

Anonymous said...

I understand as many of my fellow "Bloggers" that this sight helps reduce stress from the day to day crap, incompetence, inept, Administrators from Austin that we have to deal with.

What I do not understand is why have we been placed under this leadership and when will the Governor step in and place TYC under real Conservatorship with a person with Juvenile Corrections experience?

Anonymous said...

Can we have an "Amen" to that?

Anonymous said...

I just watched the Whitmire/Patrick exchange/video clip on youtube. What I'd really like to see now is a clip of the GEO lobbyists in action ! Do those tapes exist ?

" Mr. Whitmire said he was upset at efforts this week by GEO lobbyists to convince legislators that TYC had treated the company too harshly.

"Now enters GEO with their paid lobbyists attempting to put a good face on this," Mr. Whitmire said. "


Anonymous said...

"I also would NOT expand TYC contract care for 10-13 year olds and older boys in the wake of these revelations. I'd review how the agency handles contractors and make numerous improvements to oversight and QA functions before even contemplating shifting more youth into private prisons, but TYC is moving full steam ahead to do so."

Grits - It is all about money, momey, and more money for the right people. We have the best state government money can buy in Texas. Contract care is about money for the people who control the politicians. Most high profile politicians are the yapping lap dog of big money. Look at Bush, he is the lap dog of oil money. Until the voters get enough and throw the bums out nothing will change. The corruption is "in your face" and bold these days.

spearshaker said...

I would like to suggest the issue is not contract care for 10-13 year olds. Properly done, it can be a great part of the system, albeit usually for those who do not fit "one size fits all". And, it can be done right even for a profit. I cannot speak for now, but I recall when Texas began using ICF-MR funding (Intermediate Care Facility for Mentally Retarded) to get developmentally delayed adults out of MHMR's State Schools. Based on nursing homes, it had some problems, but it worked well for a lot previously warehoused people, especially when it got down to group homes with only 6 residents. Later HCS (Home and Community-based Services) did even better.

Contractors geared to nursing home mentality (generally the first participants who had facilities available) tried to do it on the cheap, the only way a nursing home could come close to breaking even). Some contractors for the initial group homes (up to 15 residents)noted something in the contracts: services were paid for on a COST PLUS 10%basis. The outcome was that any (legitimate) service, including food, paid a income if the initial cost was higher. For comparison, at the time, a nursing home might budget $2.50/day/resident for food. If it was a facilty for MR, the income for the contractor would be $0.25/day/resident. In the group home, $4.50 per day = 45 cents per day. Doing things on the cheap became cost prohibitive and serious, periodic reviews (about as serious as ACA on return visits)by ICF-MR survey teams made you do the work, document the work and be successful in advancing the skills of each resident to the best of the resident's (not the staff's) ability. Failure to so meant vendor hold.
My conclusion is that if profit is the motivator for the contractor, the State (in this case TYC) needs to make that profit dependent on success with measureable outcomes, such as reading levels, job skill development, reduced aggression and, most of all, lowered recidivism rates than the general TYC population. Sorry about the length, but I did not want to suggest that just throwing money at the situation was going to result in a "cure."

Anonymous said...

I hate to do this, but for obvious reasons I will have to enter my identity as "Anonymous"

It appears that the Senate Criminal Justice Committee's hearing will address "private correctional facilities in the State of Texas".

I work for a "private correctional facility" county owned but presently managed by, you guessed it - Geo.

The private sector prison management people seem to think that the only people qualified to operate a county correctional facility are ex-TDCJ-ID majors, assistant wardens, wardens, and the like. They are either unaware (or just do not care) that adult private correctional facilities are regulated by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS).

Most of the wardens and Geo Corporate officers [mostly ex-TDCJ-ID] I have worked under have exhibited a total unwillingness to learn about, much less conform to, Texas jail standards. When advised that one of their memos, orders, or written directives does not conform to jail standards, their standard answer is, Well, that's the way we did it at TDC."

Statutes regulating the operation of TDCJ-ID and those regulating the operation of a county jail and/or a "private correctional facility" are "two separate sacks of cats."

The correctional facility I work at houses pre-trial detainees (county, state, and federal), convicted county inmates doing county time, convicted federal inmates waiting transfer to a federal prison, convicted state inmates waiting transfer to TDCJ-ID, some municipal inmates laying out fines, and even convicted felons from out-of-state.

Administrative level personnel encourage treating all these inmates "just like we did at TDC." It doesn't seem to matter that a great number of these inmates have not been convicted of the crimes with which they are charged and that some may be found not guilty of criminal charges.

Another area where the ex-TDCJ-ID people are unwilling to conform is hiring standards. They are totally unconcerned with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) rules concerning the hiring, termination, and training of county jailers - mainly, I suspect because TDCJ-ID is not regulated by TCLEOSE. Ex-TCD people are unaware that hiring standards for county jailers are considerably more stringent than those at TDCJ-ID.

I spent some 15 years trying to educated various wardens and jail administrators about TCJS and TCLEOSE and succeeded for the most part in just making them angry because they had already made their minds up to do it the way "we did it at TDC." When they get caught in a violation, they invariably say, "I didn't know." It wasn't because they weren't told. They really cannot plead ignorance - only arrogance.

I highly recommend that every county or municipality owning a jail facility and leasing it to a private management company incorporate into their contracts a clause requiring the contractor to pay the salary of a monitor/auditor/inspector who is totally familiar with TCJS and TCLEOSE and answerable only to the County Sheriff and the Commissioners Court or to the governing body of the municipality. Otherwise, the county or municipality is running the danger of the contractor getting crosswise with TCJS and/or TCLEOSE and then walking off and leaving the county or municipality high and dry.

With apologies to Dennis Miller - Thanks for reading my rant.

Anonymous said...

Imagine that! Former TDCJ staff being hired as adminstrators and not trying to find out about the laws applying to them.

Anonymous said...

Hey, this hearing is just an excuse for Elmer to get out of town and go to his favorite watering hole.

TJDO said...

When all this privitazation started in the 80s, it started with brokering for rehab services. It should never have gone beyond that. Look at privatization now. It's just a total mess. My question is, why is Whitmire just targeting GEO? Look at all of the operators. But we know he won't. Nothing will change as a result of this hearing. Like one poster lamented, its a ploy to save Pope.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Grits! Did you also see this OAG opinion request (RQ0631GA) from Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal? If Chuck ponies up the money to lease or purchase, who would operate the facility?

Anonymous said...

Another question one would ask is why would Houston ask to lease or buy a facility between Big Spring and Sweetwater Texas?? Just 9 hours away from the great city of Houston, is this "Not in my backyard" politics.

I hope the people making this request are not involved with any of the folks that requested TYC to place youth in regions closer to home, because this does not even come close.

Anonymous said...

The reason that Harris County is asking if has authority to buy an existing facility is because it is cheaper and quicker to buy it. Harris County has capacity problems which it needs to alleviate and it would probably take two years to acquire the land and build one assuming that there was money to build it and not too much public opposition to Harris County building one in Harris County, either of which could add another couple of years.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

8:19, what are you talking about? The county seat of Colorado County is Columbus, TX, only an hour and a half outside of Houston.

Anonymous said...

My bad, I thought I read Colorado City, not County.

Anonymous said...

TYC is nothing but a FAKE. We're not helping these kids. I take that back, we ARE helping these kids, we're helping them become young adults who, at the taxpayer's expense, think they can say and do anything to anyone and the only cost will be to send them to a place where it's better than home (not for all of them mind you) in the first place. TYC has come up with this ridiculously simple method of curing all the problems. It's a huddle-up. If a youth does something, anything, just call a huddle-up on them. If that doesn't work, send them to the ISS room where they will write the huddle-up down on paper (boy that will teach them) and then we'll send them right back to whatever setting they were in. If that doesn't work, we'll promise them a candy bar if they'll be good or blame the staff who were TRYING to actually hold them accountable and make a better person out of them. Of course by this time, whatever the students were supposed to be doing has now come to an end and it’s time to move on to something else so all interventions have to start over or we’ll move that youth or others to a different person who has no idea that this youth has been keeping all the others from learning whatever they were supposed to be from their last activity. Not knowing that this youth has been a terror before, he/she gets to do it all over again from square one now and this goes on all day long. I can tell you one thing.....we sure do look better on paper. We now have very few 225's (of course you have to jump through about 15 hoops before you can write one). Almost no security referrals (that's reserved for the ones who can be verified on tape (so we can't find a way to blame the staff) assaulting someone. It's a very dangerous place to work. If you care anything about your safety or mental well-being, stay away. This place can kill you and maybe just literally. Now, if you can ignore terrible behavior and buddy up with the youth and feed into their negativity and sleep at night and swear that you didn't hear or see anything a youth did, this is the place for you. You might even move up in rank quickly since you don't have any problems with the youth. If you can sit in a position of authority and never have experienced this or it’s been so long you really don’t know what it’s like, we might just have a higher position for you. You will; however, have to promise to never (and I mean never) admit that this crap…I mean method, isn’t working and always, always find a way to find fault with the staff and not the youth. If you can do this well, we’ll put you in charge of staff so things will run more smoothly. We won’t even make you do any huddle-ups and we’ll give you authority to send them directly to security. That way, the students will realize your power and they’ll never, never back talk or bother you and you’ll be able to run around talking about how you are so good at getting the youth to do whatever you need them to. I once thought the wheels were falling off this wagon, but we’re way past that. They have fallen off about 10 miles back and we’re still dragging the wagon with us and wondering just why it’s harder to pull. After over 30 years of helping youth, I’m about to decide that we’re not going to be allowed or given the tools to help these youth. If you’re a parent of one of them, I apologize because I’ve sure tried to help every one of them I have come in contact with. I just don’t know how much longer I can hang on. I never thought I’d say that they system and the kids have won and I need to move on, but I’m closer than I’ve ever been. I just don’t know how much more of this I can take. Please, please help us to actually help the youth of Texas who need us desperately and quit playing these cover-up games. Yes, it just might mean that a few of them might have to stay a little while longer, but it will pay off in big dividends when they don’t victimize others when they get out and actually become productive citizens. Quit worrying about the numbers and give us the tools we need to actually hold them accountable for their actions. Maybe if they practice doing right for a few months, it just might rub off some on them. Doing wrong until their MLOS is up and then releasing them isn’t going to work. I’m convinced of that.

Anonymous said...

NO, don't quit worrying about the numbers. Just give us different numbers. I'd like to know how many of these youth TYC has released and how many crimes they have committed since they have been released. I said committed, not got caught on or got arrested on or got prosecuted on. Oh, and I wouldn't mind knowing how many other victims (extended ones would be nice too)will now be scarred for life because we let them out when they clearly weren't ready. Just following orders, sir.

Anonymous said...

Is Harris County trying to purchase the former CSC facility in Eagle Lake?

Anonymous said...

Is there hearing open to the public?

Anonymous said...

Legislative hearings are open to the public.

Anonymous said...

It's not about Whitmire being a Democrat, it is about Whitmire being Whitmire. Remember, he sold out the Democrats back in '05 during the redistricting fiasco! Whitmire's only loyalty is to Whitmire.

Anonymous said...

Can you refresh our memories on Whitmire and '05?

Anonymous said...

I believe 12:22 pm might be referring to when the 11 Dems left Texas for New Mexico to break a Senate quorum for the redistricting vote and under threat that Perry would call a second special session.

After a few days (I don't know how many) Whitmire went back to Austin and to the Senate, giving the Republicans the quorum and the Texas districts. Whitmire then became Quitmire.