Sunday, October 7, 2007

The GEO Group Under Heat from Texas Senate, TYC & FBI

The GEO Group, which co-runs the RCDC Complex in Pecos along with Reeves County has come under intense fire statewide this weekend. The heat is coming now from the Texas Senate's Criminal Justice Committee Chairman, John Whitmire [D-Houston] who is reportedly angry following last week's closing by TYC of the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, pictured above, under contract to The GEO Group, after reports of unsafe and squalid living conditions, poor medical treatment, maintenance repair problems and a lack of meaningful rehabilitation and education programming.

We assume this lack of programming includes Substance Abuse Education which, due to an otherwise "compassionately conservative" Texas Legislature's lack of commitment to treatment, education and prevention in this area, has led to allowances by TDCJ in the bidding process that have resulted in cuts across the board in rehabilitation and education programs by private prison contractors. These cuts are leading to the increase of recidivism rates not only in Texas but all across the county, which in its turn leads to prison overcrowding and the need to build even more prisons -- great for bid'ness if you are a private prison contractor but, unfortunately, a cycle that is spinning out of control and leading to American's reputation as a "Prison Nation."

Gee, do ya think maybe it's time for progressive reform? Ignoring claims by amoral bottom-dwellers who have for the past three decades pandered for votes from the "Christian" right-wing, any truly compassionate person -- whether conservative, libertarian, liberal or progressive -- could have predicted that the Law & Order mindset of the current cowboy generation of conservatives would have led to Human Rights abuses such as we are now seeing nationwide.

Germain to this history of prison privatization is the part played by George Dubya Bush and his "compassionate conservative" advisers. After defeating progressive Governor Ann Richards, who initiated a brief period of progressive reform that included the cutting edge in-prison therapeutic community treatment programs that were reducing recidivism rates by upwards of 70%, Bush quietly began cutting back. He doesn't care about people making something of their lives; he never did. The cutbacks have continued under Governor Purdy Hair, who in 2000 replaced Bush. Junior then went on to presidential infamy by causing more domestic and foreign damage to the financial, physical, environmental and social infrastructure of America, as well as to those of oil rich nations in the Middle East [whose oil "we are not after"] and to our international reputation, than any other imperialist leader since Gaius Caligula.

The more immediate crises that have been popping up all over the state, where private prison contractors are involved in providing cut-rate services for profit, is the result of reduced medical, dental, mental health, recreational, commissary and food services. And now we are receiving reports of abject squalor in federal ICE and state juvenile facilities under private management that have state officials hopping mad.


AUSTIN — A Houston lawmaker is launching a broad investigation into a private prison contractor after the state closed one of its youth facilities this week, citing filth, poor safety and health violations.

Democratic Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, cited the "terrible job" Geo Group Inc. did running the West Texas youth lockup and said Thursday he plans to review adult corrections contracts the state has with the company.

Boca Raton, Fla.-based Geo Group, which runs eight adult lockups in Texas, was sued by the Texas Civil Rights Project in 2006 in connection with an alleged rape and suicide of a woman at the Val Verde County Jail.

This morning, The Dallas Morning News filled in a few gaps:

Seven Texas Youth Commission employees were fired Wednesday as a state investigation widened at a privately run West Texas juvenile prison where inmates were found living in filth.

TYC Inspector General Bruce Toney said Wednesday he has begun a criminal investigation of operations at the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center near Bronte.

This morning's Houston Chronicle reports that TYC is launching investigations into prison employee backgrounds at the Coke County GEO facility. We can assume that if they find anything of significance it will lead to increased confrontations with the GEO Group regarding its responsibility to run routine background checks on new-hires. The private prison contractor, in an earlier corporate incarnation as Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, has dropped the ball in the past at the facility by hiring officers with a history of sexual predation. This includes what is commonly referred to as the worst youth facility scandal in history, wherein juvenile inmates at the Wackenhut facility in Jena, Louisiana (yes, that Jena), were beaten and abused on a continuing basis.

In an unrelated business arrangement, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation was later sold to Norway's Group4-Falk so that George Wackenhut, the company's aging founder, could retire. He took with him the lion's share of the profit from the sale, a power play by Wackenhut that angered his share holders but one he was able to finesse because he held controlling interest and so could call the shots. His cash-out survived a court challenge by board members and stock holders who believed they deserved a larger portion of the profitable sale than the actual pittance they were granted. Disappointed by the result of their legal challenge, members of the board arranged financing and bought back the company under Chairman of the Board, George Zoley, reemerging as The GEO Group, Inc.

Group4-Falk apparently participated from the beginning in the transactions that resulted in the new corrections corporations -- they had no interest in the portion of Wackenhut that provided corrections services because they already had such a subsidiary and keeping the corrections subsidiary of Wackenhut would have forced a company restructuring.


Legislators are apparently fed up with problems in The Texas Youth Commission's juvenile detention operations, problems that have not only caused citizen outrage, but also resulted in embarrassing national attention over the past year.

The TYC crisis came to public light last year when a media report surfaced concerning TYC's apparent attempts to sweep reports of child abuse under the carpet at a West Texas TYC facility. In the meantime, victimized youth were allowed to languish, vulnerable to further sexual abuse and exploitation by staff members at West Texas State School in Pyote, in fear of retaliation and not able to access counseling or therapy for trauma resolution during an unforgivable two-year period of TYC administrative negligence at the Austin central office following the initial report filed locally by Texas Rangers. Two of the top local administrators at the facility were said to have been involved in the abuse and therefore were apparently the main players in the cover-up.

Investigations were finally initiated
after the Texas Ranger who filed the initial reports persistently refused on behalf of the youth to back-off his calls for an investigation. His dogged persistence led to a revolution inside TYC itself.

The Pyote facility, 20-miles east of Pecos on I-20, has recently reopened under a change of management but the spot-light is not likely to grow dim for quite a while. The facility was never managed by The GEO Group but they've had problems of their own that have not escaped the watchful eye of Sen. Whitmire and his Senate Criminal Justice Committee.


In 2001, The GEO Group, under it's previous incarnation as the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, lost it's contract with Travis County for management of the Travis State Jail [pdf] east of Austin when a female inmate became pregnant and a DNA test confirmed her allegation that Security's night supervisor was the father. There were several other abuse allegations that were being swept under the carpet when forwarded by staff. The night shift, as it turns out, was bringing in weed and cocaine and "partying" with female inmates from the women's units. Support staff first became perplexed when they learned that the day shift corrections officers had to pepper spray a female inmate at the time of her release from administration segregation so that they could get her OUT of the ad-seg cell. She refused to leave segregation on the basis that she never had so much fun partying in her life. Imagine that. Then, when counseling staff began reporting complaints from female participants in the substance abuse treatment program and no follow-up was done, a staff member went to the district attorney's office to complain, resulting in 11 officer arrests and that of a case manager.

Adding to the stressful confluence of problems around the state with the current TYC crisis is the fact that it was The GEO Group who was involved in the Val Verde County Jail scandal in Del Rio in August [right], where two foreign nationals died of mysterious causes, causes that still have not been explained in a satisfactory manner even though CDC was called in for an investigation that included the sickness of two other surviving undocumented migrants held for deportation. One of the deceased was never autopsied. He was quickly flown out to his home country.

Add this to The GEO Group scandal in Washington State, where 300 undocumented migrants and a number of staff became ill after eating in the facility's mess hall.

Magots have been reportedly found in food recently served to migrant families in Texas facilities under ICE contracts.

Word hit the wires Friday that a mental health patient is suing The GEO Group for medical negligence in not providing prescribed medications for a condition documented in her medical chart. The site of the alleged medical negligence [left] is The South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas. [Welcome to your new job, Warden Cole].

Today's Austin American Statesmen enumerates these and more in a front page story.

Can all this be coincidence? We think not. We think it is obvious that the unethical practice of withholding services, even if due to fiscal issues created by the bidding process in acquiring state and federal contracts, is causing only part of the problem. The corporatist profit motive explains most of the issues involving poor food (both quality and amount), poor medical services and the canceling or reduction of rehabilitation programs.


GEO is not taking this laying down [so to speak]. As the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday, Senator Whitmire is upset because the company is bringing in a cadre of lobbyists to tell their side of the story, a reaction that apparently influenced this report by The Austin American Statesman from the Texas capital:

A West Texas youth prison shuttered three days ago for squalid and unhealthy conditions by Texas Youth Commission chiefs had passed numerous recent health and safety inspections, local officials confirmed Wednesday as they challenged the closure decision.

The disclosure came amid a growing political storm over the surprise shutdown of the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center.

Lawmakers have demanded an investigation into what they characterized as an ill-conceived publicity stunt, and an influential state senator called for an expanded investigation into other state contracts held by the company that operated the 200-bed lockup outside Bronte.

The company, Geo Group Inc., contended that it received no notice of deficiencies before Youth Commission Acting Director Dimitria Pope canceled its contract Monday evening. By midday Tuesday, all 195 young offenders had been bused to state-run lockups.

The reason, Youth Commission officials said, was unsanitary and unsafe conditions: dirty bedding and clothes, feces-smeared cells, broken fire alarms and sprinklers, and a lack of meaningful rehabilitation programs, among other things.

State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, and Coke County Judge Roy Blair said the lockup had passed all recent inspections — including those by on-site Youth Commission monitors. Just last Friday, the Youth Commission had signed a 30-day contract extension with Geo to continue operating the facility, the latest since the original contract expired more than a year ago.

"If it was so bad, why did they extend the contract?" asked Darby, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. "There's no logical explanation for this action, and I want to see everything TYC has that they think can justify this."

You can bet your war bucks that if there is feces smeared on the walls and fixtures have been broken [apparently since the last inspection -- wink, wink], it was not the corporate heads of The GEO Group in Boca Raton who have been having temper tantrums on their facility tours and throwing shit at the walls. Well, at least not any execs I have seen lately. They are too happy out spending our tax money for such "adolescent" shenanigans. In fact, some I have seen are so happy with their jobs they could shit....maybe there is something to the prior claim.... At any rate, they usually can be expected to occupy themselves in more pro-social endeavors -- such as lobbying our legislators with our own money. Funny how "pictures of Ben" can change a Senator's mind so quickly.

But then, the only place I have witnessed this primate phenomenon
is in psychiatric hospitals -- not in youth detention facilities -- which raises my eyebrows quite a bit. This behavior suggests either the need for an inspection of offender mental health histories or a check to make sure corrections officers are getting off their asses to unlock cells for a bathroom break. Notwithstanding the obvious -- that if you don't let an inmate out of his cell when it's time he may very well shit on the floor, there may in fact be an indication here of mental health issues not being addressed. Not only TDCJ but especially Texas prison contractors have a notoriously poor record on medical services for the mentally ill -- this, despite that the prison system in Texas is now effectively operating as the state's primary care facility for those with mental illness. This is scandalous in itself.

Another alternative explanation -- as long as I'm typing -- is that the youth have staged a bit of an attention getter here, one that has had more than it's intended effect, if group acting-out to force a crisis is indeed the case. Do ya think? Have to wait and see, but the damage may be irreversible for the GEO Group in Coke County, given their less than stellar reputation as fiscal tight-wads all over the country, tight-wads who can squeeze the turnip for every ounce of stock holder benefit. Their stocks are soaring currently. Prison bid'ness is good -- real good.


Acting TYC Director Demetria Pope came out fighting this morning. We have this report from The Austin American Statesman, entitled, "Questions linger about West Texas youth prison closure":

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Demanding that critics back off, the head of the embattled Texas Youth Commission on Friday made public the details of conditions at a privately run West Texas youth prison that was closed this week.

Dimitria Pope, the commission's acting executive director, released a 10-page audit report and 13 pages of photographs detailing sanitation and safety infractions at the 200-bed Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Bronte. The list includes broken smoke detectors, feces-smeared floors and ceiling lights, incorrect medical reports and dirty floors, bedding and clothing.

Insects, dead and alive, were found in light fixtures and on the floor. Intercoms were inoperative. Treatment programs were in disarray.

Some youths had to urinate and defecate in containers because their cells did not have toilets. Door locks did not work.

Some Youth Commission officials who toured the lockup had to scrape feces off their feet after they got outside, Pope said at a news conference during which she released the report and chastised contractor Geo Group Inc., which operated the facility.

"I wouldn't have kept my dog there, if I had a dog," Pope said. "Geo should be ashamed, and anyone who's rallying behind Geo should be ashamed."

Even so, the report states, "volunteers' perceptions of the facility varied. Some thought it was 'clean and nice.' "

Geo spokesman Pablo Paez did not return phone calls. But in an earlier statement, company officials defended their operation of the lockup, which housed offenders who were considered the most troublesome in Texas' juvenile corrections system.

Pope closed the facility in Bronte, near San Angelo, after a surprise inspection Monday, ordered the 195 residents moved to a state-run facility in Mart near Waco, and canceled the contract with Geo Group.

Pope reserved her harshest words Friday for her critics. Some have assailed the agency for not closing the Coke County facility sooner, and others have said that the problems were not that bad and that she should not have closed it.

"I feel like my integrity and my judgment has been questioned to no end," Pope said. Complaining that the agency "has been under the microscope far too long," she said, "I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't.

"It's time we get the confidence and respect we deserve."

The agency has been under increased scrutiny since last spring's sex-abuse and cover-up scandal. Gov. Rick Perry appointed a conservator to take over management and make quick changes, and lawmakers passed reform legislation.

Despite insistence by GEO Group officials that they have had no notice of deficiencies and despite somewhat suggestively self-incriminatory protestations by Coke County Judge Roy Blair that there have been no prior reports of problems at the facility, Acting Director Pope is sticking with her guns. In fact, by the tone of her statements and her planned course of action over the next several weeks, it appears as though she is expecting that much more will be revealed as she trudges the road to happy destiny -- perhaps a destiny that will include the Coke County Grand Jury itself.

Pope said that seven Youth Commission employees who were involved in monitoring the contract have been fired and that another has resigned.

She said ongoing criminal and agency investigations are under way to determine why Youth Commission field inspectors and others — including medical providers, local health inspectors and state school monitors — who should have been aware of the problems did nothing.

On Friday, officials began special on-site reviews of the agency's other residential contract providers. The sweep will include residential centers in Austin, Houston and San Antonio; apartments and a group home in Houston; the Brookhaven Youth Ranch in West; the Garza County Regional Juvenile Center in Post; a trades center in Cisco; and a facility for new mothers in Marion.

Go here for the entire Statesman Sunday story.

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*A wealth of archived stories can be found at the following blogs, both premier Texas progressive sites for tracking not only this story; but also, stories on the issue of prison privatization and other criminal justice related concerns:




**Go here for the corporate secrets:








I make no claims as to the authenticity of any or all of the above links. For your own fun and entertainment, I suggest you simply enter "Wackenhut" or "The GEO Group" on a search engine and add what ever qualifier you like, such as "Latin America," "Cobazon Reservation," "Bio-lab," "PROMIS Software," "CIA," "Cocaine," "Iran-Contra Affair," "CIA Front Company," ad infinitum.

Remember, this WAS Wackenhut. If we consider that George Wackenhut saw himself as a strident Christian, a hero of Law & Order, a John Bircher and a patriot in the Cold War fight against Communism, then the involvement of his company in the IRAN-CONTRA AFFAIR doesn't seem all that alien in comparison to characters like Erik Prince of Blackwater, the super-Zealot-Christian mercenary, right-wing chum of the Bush Administration & major GOP campaign doner ....then again on second thought.....I think we should call on the Sacred Guardians of a Higher Order!



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