In prisons run by private companies, the bottom line is the only thing that matters.
by Peter Gorman, Fort Worth Weekly
Reeves County straddles Interstate 20 in far West Texas, between Odessa and El Paso. The county seat is Pecos, a town anchored in cowboy mythology. Tiny homes, many of them 100 years old and made of stone, line several dozen downtown streets; beyond them, sandy soil dotted with clumps of short grass and tumbleweed surround the town for miles. Oil crickets are more commonplace than trees on the landscape.
It’s the home of the world’s first rodeo and the former home of the legendary Pecos Kid and Judge Roy Bean. Just around the block from the Sheriff’s offices is a replica of Bean’s office and the single cell jail the building housed.
Times change, and these days, a newer prison sits in the southwest corner of town. The Reeves County Detention Center is bigger than Bean’s, with a capacity of 3,700 inmates, most of them non-violent illegal immigrants. The facility is owned by the county and run by the GEO Group, formerly a division of Wackenhut—the giant security firm—a company that runs more than a dozen prisons in Texas, nearly four dozen in the US, and another 10 in Australia, England, South Africa and Cuba. All told, they are in control of over 60,000 inmates worldwide. They’re also a company that has one of the worst track records imaginable in inmate care: the horror stories range from prison rapes to suicides to murder to death because of inadequate medical care.
It’s a company that once put a convicted sex offender in a guard’s position at a facility for juvenile females. It’s not as if something goes wrong occasionally at GEO-run prisons; something goes terribly wrong on a regular basis at GEO’s facilities, and the only explanation is that the corporate atmosphere tolerates prisoner abuse. With GEO, it’s not a question of “Will prisoner abuse occur again at a GEO prison?” It’s simply a question of when, where, and how terrible will it be. Texas alone has twice removed all its inmates from a GEO-run facility because of deplorable conditions. Despite that track record, the company is still supported by the state and federal governments, a testimony to GEO’s connections and enormous lobbying efforts.
And GEO’s work in Texas has been the company at its worst.
“They have simply been horrendous,” said said Bob Libal, coordinator of the Texas division of Grassroots Leadership, an organization aiming to eliminate privatized prisons.
The sprawling prison complex—the largest private prison in the world—sits at the far southwest corner of Pecos, on County Road 204, just past a small cluster of double-wides and a juvenile detention center run by the county. Beyond the complex is a cemetery dotted with colorful plastic flowers.
The minimum-security detention center is made up of several squat, drab buildings surrounded by twin chain-link fences that are covered in roll after roll of razor wire. Most of the inmates are illegal immigrants. Some of them have been convicted of criminal charges; a lot of them, according to Reeves County Sheriff Arnulfo Gomez, are simply immigration violators. Gomez insists it’s not a bad place to be locked up, as lockups go. “They get plenty of time in the yard, good food, good treatment, lots of programs and great medical care.”
Not everybody feels that way: five inmates have died there since August, 2008—three from inadequate medical care, according to the inmates, and two from alleged suicide—resulting in the complex being the site of two major riots in the not too distant past. The first one took place in December, 2008 and the second in February, 2009. The first caused $1 million in damage to the complex; the second, which burned large areas of the prison, was estimated to have caused between $20 and $40 million in damage. Areas of the detention center are still under reconstruction. According to the families of inmates, the immediate cause of the riots were the result of the death of an epileptic who died while in solitary confinement, without medication, just prior to the first riot.
“When an epileptic dies in solitary confinement from seizures—and the allegations are that he asked for his medications and was denied them before he was put in the hole—well, that doesn’t sound like great medical care to me,” said Dotty Griffith, Public Education Director of the ACLU of Texas.
“Prison riots are rare. And in this case, these were mostly non-violent prisoners in a mimimum security prison. It strains the imagination that they would riot without cause.”
The epileptic who died was Jesus Manuel Galindo. He was serving 30 months for illegally crossing into Texas from Mexico at El Paso in 2007. Though he’d grown up in the United States since the age of 13, he remained “illegal” and was deported in early 2007 to Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso. Not having family or friends in Mexico he returned to the states several weeks later. Unfortunately, he had a seizure in a convenience store, and when law enforcement arrived to help, Galindo was arrested and eventually tried and sentenced for illegal re-entry.
According to reports, Galindo’s seizures increased in frequency while in Reeves, and when he demanded to see a doctor to get his anticonvulsive medication he was instead taken to solitary confinement in the Segregated Housing Unit of the prison. He arrived in the hole on November 12, 2008. A month later he was dead, without having seen a doctor.
When two other inmates also in the SHU saw his body being taken out in a body bag—The Texas Observer wrote that it was purple and that rigor mortis had already set in—they started a fire in a mattress using electrical wires. Guards responded and tried to put the fire out but the mutiny spread quickly. Guards used rubber bullets, stun grenades and other non-lethal weaponry; the inmates forced their way into the yard areas of the prison, covering their faces to prevent identification from surveillance cameras. Two prison employees—non-guards—were taken hostage. That evening, the inmates sent a delegation to meet with negotiators. They demanded less crowded conditions, better food and better medical care. When the negotiators promised to consider the inmate complaints, the hostages were released unharmed and the riot was over.
But the negotiators didn’t follow through, and seven weeks later, on January 31, 2009, a second riot broke out—that time because another inmate, Ramón García, 25, was put into solitary confinement after complaining that he was sick and unable to get attention. That riot lasted until February 5 and burned a large section of the prison, reducing available bed space to 3,000. However, the county expects the complex to be running at its full capacity of 3,700—a figure inmates and their families say is well over reasonable capacity—by August, 2010.
The ACLU has repeatedly requested information from GEO concerning the facility and the events leading up to the riots, but according to Griffith, their requests have gone unanswered. Their requests for an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for the Bureau of Prisons have similarly met with silence.
“When we speak with the inmates and their families, we’re told of horrendous conditions; when we speak with the sheriff we get an entirely different picture. We just want to get at the facts,” Griffith told the Fort Worth Weekly.
According to Lisa Graybill, legal director for the ACLU in Texas, private prisons simply invite problems. “Any time you try to take a layer of profit from the basic cost of housing an inmate, you are going to have to cut that from somewhere.”
But some private contractors have a lot more problems than others, and GEO stands at the top of the list in Texas.
“There’s no question that GEO’s performance in Texas has been markedly worse than any other company running private prisons there,” said Libal. “GEO’s had a number of facilities closed due to horrendous conditions in this state alone.”
The problems GEO’s had at its Texas facilities read like teasers from upcoming potboilers.
* Seven youthful offenders at the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Bronte, Texas, sued the GEO group in 2007 over unfit living conditions. The Texas Youth Commission investigated, found feces on the walls and floor of the facility, bug infested food, filthy bedding and subsequently pulled all of its nearly 200 juvenile detainees from the facility.
In 1999 at the same facility several female juvenile detainees claimed they had been sexually abused by a Wackenhut—prior to the change of name to GEO—employee who had a prior conviction for sexual abuse of a child. GEO settled the suit for $1.5 million.
That same year a female detainee committed suicide following the settlement of an even earlier lawsuit stemming from sexual abuse at the prison which allowed Wackenhut to avoid accepting responsibility for the actions of their employees there.
* At the Dickens County Correctional Center in Spur, Texas, an Idaho inmate committed suicide in 2007, prompting an investigation by the Idaho Department of Corrections Health Director, who called the prison the worst he’d ever seen and removed all of Idaho’s inmates from it. GEO no longer runs the facility.
Idaho also pulled all it’s prisoners from the Newton County correction center in 2006 after widespread reports of prisoner abuse.
* In 2007, at the Frio County Detention Center in Pearsall, a female detainee sued GEO after being denied necessary medication, being put into isolation, stripped, ridiculed and having her crutches taken away by guards.
* in 1999, 11 guards and a case manager were indited on felony charges of sexual assault and improper sexual activity, as well as the misdemeanor charge of sexual harassment at the Travis County State Jail in Austin.
* At the Val Verde Detention Center in Del Rio, TX, an African-American guard sued GEO for racial discrimination in 2005 after his superior posed for pictures in Ku Klux Klan garb and had a noose in his office. A year later, the GEO group and Val Verde County were sued by a civil rights organization after an inmate who was denied medication and was sexually abused committed suicide.
The worst single case of abuse at a GEO facility occurred at the Willacy County State Jail in Raymondville, Texas, in 2001, when a prisoner just four days shy of release was beaten to death in front of the warden and guards.
“Two inmates at a GEO Group-operated facility in Willacy County stuffed prison-issued padlocks into socks and beat Gregorio de la Rosa on his head, neck, ribs and back, striking him dead,” wrote journalist Matt Pulle in a 2009 story for texaswatchdog.org.
The family of De la Rosa, an honorably discharged National Guardsman imprisoned for 1/4 gram of cocaine, filed a wrongful death suit and their lawyer was able to show that the GEO Group had destroyed a videotape of the killing. They were awarded $47.5 million, an award upheld on appeal.
The prosecutor on that case was Juan Angel Guerra, then District Attorney for Willacy County. “I was the one who looked into that case from the beginning,” Guerra told the Weekly. “I prosecuted the two inmates who committed the murder and got 25-year sentences for each of them. But while I was prosecuting them I realized that the case was bigger than just an inmate killing. I realized that GEO’s guards and the warden were involved as well.”
Guerra said he called for federal help with his investigation and decided to go after GEO in the family’s civil suit. “By 2006 we had a solid case against the company, and the jury found the death to have occurred due to the ‘malicious acts’ of the company. That means intended, planned actions.”
Guerra, who served a total of 16 years as Willacy’s DA, is now a defense attorney in private practice in Pecos and Laredo. One of the cases he’s working on is the death of José Manuel Falcón, 32, who allegedly committed suicide while in solitary confinement at Reeves a month after the second riot ended.
A GEO statement released at the time said, “On March 5, 2009, at approximately 6:40 PM, inmate Jose Manuel Falcon took his life by self-inflicting numerous lacerations with a disposable razor blade. At the time of the incident the inmate was in a single cell and there is no evidence of foul play…”
Guerra doesn’t believe GEO’s suicide story. “Listen, this guy Falcón had already served nearly his whole sentence of five years. He had two months left. And he winds up with cuts on his arms and hands, and then his throat is slit. The cuts on his arms and hands indicate he was in a defensive position. That makes it murder.”
Like Galindo, Falcon grew up in the US, close enough to the Rio Grande to nearly see it. “Well, when the federal crackdown on illegals started,” said Guerra, “Falcon was caught and deported to Mexico, just across the river. Naturally, because he lived here on the U.S. side, he came back. Three years later he was stopped for speeding and his name came up as having been previously deported, so he was prosecuted and given five years. That was his only crime. And then he has no problems in prison and decided to kill himself by cutting his throat just before he gets out?”
Guerra, who claims to have nearly 200 clients in the Reeves facility alone—clients pay a one-time fee of $100 and nothing further—said that the prison is worse than described by most. “I’ve got one client in there who got an eye infection. No one would treat it and it kept getting worse. Now he’s blind.”
He also said that corruption is not just rife, but part of the system. “When the first riot at Reeves ended and the inmates were checked for contraband, over 400 phones were confiscated. Where do you think 400 phones came from?” he asked. “Inside, the going rate from the guards can go as high as $500 a phone and $100 to charge it.”
He also noted that when the first riot broke out the staff was short 200 guards. “That’s the private prison industry. You’re getting paid per inmate, but if you can save on the salaries of 200 guards, you’re making a lot of money. It’s like its own mafia.”
How is a company with that track record still be able to do business with both the state and federal government? The answser to that can be traced to the company’s roots, which date back to the 1950s. George R. Wackenhut, the company founder, was a former FBI agent who left the bureau to start his own company, Special Agent Investigators, with three former colleagues in 1954. A year later, he split with his associates and formed The Wackenhut Corporation, which specialized in creating and selling dossiers on US citizens to the FBI. According to Sourcewatch, by 1966 the corporation had produced “over four million files, or one for every 46 adults in the country.”
The Wackenhut connections with the US government are apparent in a glance at some of the corporation’s early board members. Those included General Mark Clark, former FBI director Clarence Kelley; former Defense secretary and CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci; former Defense Intelligence Agency director General Joseph Carroll, and prior to his becoming the director of the CIA, William Casey was its outside legal council.
In 1967 Wackenhut took the company public, and at about the same time formed a division known as Wackenhut Services, Inc, which quickly went on “to become the largest contract security provider to the Federal government,” according to official Wackenhut history. The company would grow to provide security at nuclear installations, at federally sensitive federal installations and for multinational corporations. Its employees were culled primarily from former military forces.
The unofficial record had Wackenhut operatives also acting as strike breakers in both the US and overseas and as a key element in getting arms to the Contras in Nicaragua during the Reagan era.
In a 1992 Spy Magazine article, CIA analyst William Corbett noted that “For years, Wackenhut has been involved with the CIA and other intelligence organizations, including the Drug Enforcement Administration. Wackenhut would allow the CIA to occupy positions within the company [in order to carry out] clandestine operations.”
In return, said Corbett, Wackenhut was given plum contracts throughout the Reagan presidency, and by the time prison privatization was introduced in the mid-1980s, Wackenhut was in a prime position to become a pioneer in the field. In 1984 the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation was formed as a division of The Wackenhut Corporation. The company won its first contract in 1987, to run the Aurora Processing Center in Denver Colorado, giving it care and custody of 150 illegal detainees for the Bureau of Immigration. (The facility is now the Aurora ICE Processing Center).
By 1992, Wackenhut expanded overseas, developing the Australasian Correctional Management PTY to run prisons in Australia and a year later won a contract to design, build and operate the first privately run jail in New South Wales. In 1996 the company was awarded Scotland’s first private prison project—a contract it has since lost—and shortly afterward formed another subsidiary to provide residential drug treatment services to state and local government agencies. The company would later move into running private prisons in South Africa, New Zealand—the company no longer operates there—and the Guantanamo Bay Migrations Operations Center in Cuba, as well.
The Wackenhut Corporation was eventually acquired by the Danish-based Group 4 FALCK, which in turn merged with Securicor in 2004, becoming Group 4 Securicor, the largest security outfit in the world.
But not wanting to lose its lucrative private prison contracts, the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation bought all of its stock from G4S in 2003, becoming an independent company with the new name The GEO Group, Inc.
The politically connected roots of GEO also run into lobbying and local political connections. Wackenhut was a contributor to both George and Jeb Bush (the company’s headquarters are in Boca Raton, FL), and former Sen. Phil Gramm, who urged prisons to be privatized and the inmates put to work “so that we can produce component parts in prisons…now being produced in places like Mexico, China, Taiwan and Korea.”
While he was still in office, Tom DeLay was a major backer of GEO. More recently, Matt Pulle’s 2009 story for texaswatchdog.org detailed financial links between State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville and the GEO Group. “Zaffirini’s husband, Carlos, is a lawyer and advocate for the firm,” he noted, and Oliveira’s “Brownsville law firm serves as its local defense council.” Further, Pulle wrote that Oliveira’s cousin, David, a partner in the firm, “represented the company [GEO] in a lawsuit alleging misconduct that one judge described as ‘reprehensible.'”
Zaffirini, who purportedly makes $600,000 a year from GEO, insists that his senator wife would never let his position as a lawyer for GEO influence her lawmaking.
For lobbying, GEO annually spends more than any other private prison company in Texas. In 2007, at the height of the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center scandal, GEO upped its Texas lobbying fees from $60,000 to over $600,000, leading Texas’ Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire (D-Houston) to tell the Dallas Morning News, “Now enters GEO with their paid lobbyists attempting to put a good face on this. I’m saying the corporation should back off. They’ve run a very poor facility that probably violates the youths’ civil rights. Kids were stepping in their own feces. The sheets were such that a cat or dog wouldn’t sleep on them.”
Among GEO’s leading lobbyists are Ray Allen, the former Texas State Representative from Grand Prairie, who chaired the House Committee on Corrections—and a longtime proponent of prison privatization—and his former chief of staff, Scott Gilmore. And when Reeves County threatened to default on $39 million in bonds used to build its third housing unit and the feds didn’t immediately fill it with inmates, the county hired Tom DeLay’s brother to go to Washington to lobby for federal prisoners to fill the new beds. Shortly thereafter, the feds came through with a contract to fill the extra 960 beds.
GEO’s lobbying efforts have aimed at keeping its prisons full—which means pushing for major ICE raids periodically if bed space becomes available. But it also has worked to keep their prisons in Texas from being monitored and held to Texas Commission on Jail Standards, according to Grassroots Leadership’s Bob Libal.
“Prior to 2003, Jail Standards would go into facilities like the one at Reeves—which is county owned but filled with federal Bureau of Prison inmates—and inspect it. But after heavy lobbying, a bill was passed that took away that purview.”
At Reeves and several of its other Texas prisons, what GEO has is a contract with the county—which owns the prison—to administer the facility. That contract calls for all of the prison beds to be filled with federal inmates; in Reeves and elsewhere, they are almost exclusively immigration-related inmates. But with the state having no oversight, the Feds depend on a county appointed monitor who inspects the prison and reports back to the federal BOP.
“What that means,” says Libal, “is that if that monitor says things are fine, that’s what they are, even if conditions are atrocious. At Reeves, they’ve always been understaffed, which has led to a number of problems. But since no one from jail standards can inspect the complex, that is just ignored.”
A bill was introduced in the Texas legislature last year which would have reversed the 1993 law and given inspection responsibility back to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, “but that bill was defeated, and we’re told it was defeated largely because of the lobbying effort of GEO,” said Libal.
The prison complex GEO runs in Reeves County is both the county and Pecos’ biggest employer. It wasn’t always that way. Thirty years ago, Pecos had nearly 20,000 inhabitants and Reeves County that many more. Oil was everywhere; there was enough agriculture that a frozen food plant kept a lot of people working. Firestone ran a tire testing track; the Duval sulfur mine was the county’s largest employer.
But oil booms go bust once the wells are all drilled. And a protracted drought dropped the water table so low the farmers couldn’t afford to water their crops. With no crops to process, the frozen food plant shut down. Firestone moved its track, and finally, the sulfur mine was closed when the price of sulfur dropped, putting hundreds more out of work.
These days, Reeves County has a population of about 9,000, most of whom can be found in Pecos. But even Pecos has been largely abandoned: it’s population is down to 7,000; its two movie theatres closed down years ago, and there are only two bars left in the town, down from about 20 according to locals.
“If it wasn’t for Wackenhut and the Detention Center,” said Linda Clark, Reeves County treasurer, “this county would have blown away by now.”
“This used to be a thriving place,” said Sheriff Gomez, a thick man with a big features, a good smile and mitts for hands. “I had a good time growing up here.”
So how did Reeves, and Pecos, wind up with a prison in the first place?
“Well,” said Clark, “everything was shutting down around here, everybody was out of work and we were near finished. But some of the town fathers spoke to some legislators and found out the Bureau of Prisons needed a prison in Texas, and Pecos was ideal because we’re so isolated out here. So we raised bonds and built one.”
The first prison building opened in 1986 with 400 beds that were filled on a contract by the BOP. The county built it, staffed it and ran it for two years, then turned over the administration to the Corrections Corporation of America.
“In 1990 the county got mad and got rid of them and we went back to running our own prison.”
The county continued to run the prison until 2003. During that time they built a second prison and expanded the first, raising their total bed number to 2,000.
GEO was brought in to administer the prisons in 2003, at the recommendation of the BOP. A third prison was added to the complex in 2005, and expansions on the first two have brought the bed total to 3,700.
“Well, that’s only about 3,000 now, because of the riots,” said Clark. “But we’re told we’ll be completely filled again by August of this year.”
The contracts between Reeves County and GEO call for Reeves to hire and pay all of the guards and general staff at the detention center, build and maintain the complex, and provide medical services for the inmates. GEO hires its own warden and the other administrators—as well as screens all employees—and sees to the day to day operations. The 2006 contract—the most recent the Weekly could get—calls for Reeves county to pay GEO $362,000 monthly—$4.34 million annually—on top of administrative salaries and any other expenses incurred. The county share of the funds the BOP pays per prisoner daily was a net of $3.1 million last year—the BOP paid nearly $70 million all told to Reeves—despite having heavy riot damage that cost tens of million to repair and having lost 700 inmates a day. “We’ll be well over that when we’re full again,” said Clark.
For a sparsely populated county such as Reeves, that’s a windfall, considerably higher than all county property taxes combined. “To be honest, we’d prefer not to have a prison here. But we would not have survived without it,” said Clark.
According to GEO’s website, the company currently runs 14 correctional facilities in Texas—though others put that number as high as 19. They range from the minimum security short term offender North Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility in Fort Worth to state jails, maximum security prisons and several immigration detention centers run for the federal Bureau of Prisons. Reeves County Detention Center falls into that last category. Its inmates are nearly all immigration violators, who will be deported following the conclusion of their sentences, which range from one-to-5 years. Most of those inmates are Mexican, though there is a smattering of blacks, whites and other Latino races among the population. Some are imprisoned simply for having been deported for illegal entry and subsequently caught trying to reenter the US or while living here. Others were deported following conviction of a crime—mostly small drug crimes, said Sheriff Gomez—and then caught trying to illegally reenter. That crime, aggravated reentry, can bring as much as 20 years.
GEO claims the Reeves facilities offer “Classes in electrical repair, typing, basic computer skills, basic home wiring, GED classes and ‘English as a second language’ classes. There are also vocational programs such as auto mechanics and horticulture… high quality drug and alcohol counseling… Recreational activities available to inmates include leather and hobby crafts, the opportunity to play in one of several inmate bands and the opportunity to participate in sporting tournaments.”
“They are inmates,” said Sheriff Gomez, “but they have it very good. We basically pamper them, give them whatever they want.”
But organizations including the ACLU of Texas and Grassroots Leadership question whether those programs exist on anything but paper.
“I’ve never heard of any of that,” said the ACLU’s Graybill. “None of the inmates we’ve interviewed ever mentioned those things. Which doesn’t mean they’re not there, but if they are, how many inmates have access to them? Generally, because these inmates are mostly due for deportation, the federal government doesn’t want to spend money on them, so I’d be surprised if those programs are in place.”
Gomez insists they are—or were—before the riots. “They really hurt themselves. Those guys burned down the gymnasium, the crafts shop, everything.”
Still, when asked about teachers for the various programs, Gomez wasn’t sure how many there were or who hired them, and GEO didn’t return phone calls to respond to questions for this story. Clark said she thought that was done through GEO, but didn’t think most of the teachers were actually certified. She tried several times to get the information from the administration but she said they were too busy to get it for her.
Christina Fernández, one of several inmate family members contacted by the Weekly, said everything on the GEO site was a lie. “My husband, who is Cuban, has been in the Safe Housing Unit—segregation—for over five months because of a racial incident that happened on the basketball court between two Mexicans and a Cuban. All three were sent to the SHU but as days passed the Mexican population”—which greatly outnumbers the Cuban population—”started to get more and more aggressive with the Cubans, until the Cubans asked to put in the SHU for their own safety.”
Fernández says that the food has always been poor quality, and that the medical treatment has always been awful. Reeves county did hire another doctor after the riots, but to see him “an inmate must file a request form and wait until the doctor consults him through a window on the unit door, and then, if necessary, the doctor will put the inmate on a list of patients to see physically.
“As for the music and classes, I’ve never heard of them.”
Another family member who says the medical treatment is far from adequate is Anna Maria Alfonso García, the mother of an inmate. “You have to make a request to see the doctor. But the request has to be in English. My son doesn’t speak English, so the doctor wouldn’t see him. But he had a terrible earache in his left ear and needed to see the doctor. By the time he finally got someone to write the note in English, the earache had gone from his left ear to his right ear. And the doctor said he couldn’t look at his right ear because the request said the earache was in his left ear. That’s treating a person worse than a dog. If anyone says the prisoners have a good life there, they’re lying.”
“It’s things like that which make us want information,” said the ACLU’s Griffith. “You hear one thing from the people in the county, but something entirely different from the families of inmates.”
It’s not surprising that Clark and Sheriff Gomez would think the medical treatment is fine: Reeves county pays more than $7 million annually to the Physicians Network Association, out of Lubbock, to handle the medical, mental health and dental needs of inmates. But for that money, they don’t appear to get a lot. Their contract for the 2,700 inmates in the facility’s original two housing units calls for a doctor to be on site less than a single eight hour shift only four days a week. A dentist is on site less than a single shift five days a week. There’s a 40 hour-per-week dental assistant and a 32-hour per week hygienist. With the contract mandating that the hygienist see each prisoner twice a year, it’s hard to imagine a thorough teeth-cleaning for everyone in that time. There are two mental health workers five days a week for one shift each—but no psychologist or psychiatrist on staff; two nurses and two medication aids on duty seven days a week, for most of all three shifts; and one EMT on duty seven days a week on the second and third shift only.
PNA came on board at Reeves in 2002. Their specialty is inmate care, having control of about 17,000 inmates in two dozen facilities across the US. But care is a considered word here: less than four months after the company arrived at Reeves, the warden at the time, Rudy Franco congratulated them at a county commissioners’ meeting for slashing the number of surgeries, outside visits and other services inmates received.
“That care, if you can use that word, has abused a lot of prisoners,” said Guerra. “The reports say five men have died—including the two alleged suicides—in Reeves alone since August, 2008. But we have evidence that people who were going to die are removed from Reeves to die elsewhere to keep the numbers down. We’ve found three inmates at Reeves that are not included in the death toll because they were taken elsewhere to die. And reporters don’t catch on because local hospitals aren’t used. They send them to Dallas or somewhere just as far away and nobody can make the connection. But those men were abused at Reeves, and their deaths are the result of that abuse.”
Over the years, PNA’s poor track record has resulted in numerous lawsuits and at least one Justice Department investigation at a private prison in Santa Fe, NM, in 2003 which found, “We find that persons confined suffer harm or the risk of serious harm from deficiencies in the facility’s provision of medical and mental health care, suicide prevention, protection of inmates from harm, fire safety, and sanitation.”
The Santa Fe detention center was not a GEO prison, but the lack of medical care by PNA appears to be similar to that at GEO facilities all across Texas and the US.
“Let’s be honest,” said Ken Kopezynski, of the Private Corrections Working Group, which collects information on private prisons from around the world. “The truth is that in for-profit prisons you do whatever you can get away with. You give inmates the least amount possible of everything, doing just the minimal to make sure they don’t rot. Anybody who tells you differently about a private prison is misinformed or lying.”
Nobody in Pecos is ready to apologize for building the prisons and bringing in GEO. And they probably aren’t apologizing in Montgomery County for building the Joe Corley Detention Center and having GEO run it there. Or in Laredo or El Paso or anywhere else across the state where GEO runs facilities.
In Pecos, everyone who was asked said they wished they were working at Reeves. They said it was the best paying job around. When asked why they didn’t apply, some said they had minor criminal records; others said they didn’t have a good enough credit score and that the BOP insisted that everyone who works at facilities that house BOP inmates needs a good credit score so that they’ll be less tempted to get involved with corruption. Others said they were afraid to work at a place that housed murderers and rapists. Told that no one in the entire facility had committed those types of crimes, and that in fact most of the inmates were doing time simply for illegally crossing into the US, no one believed it. “If they weren’t criminals they wouldn’t be in prison,” was the general response.
And despite the problems Reeves has had with prisoner abuse and inmate deaths, Linda Clark isn’t about to apologize either. “We were desperate and that prison was our chance and when you don’t have a choice you do what you have to do to survive.”
Even if it’s a deal with the devil.
This story first appeared March 10 in Fort Worth Weekly.
The GEO Group Inc.
Source Watch page on Wackenhut
Private Corrections Working Group
From our Daily Report:
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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, July 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution