By Eddie Griffin
An October 26, 2011 Star-Telegram editorial reads: “Signs of trouble were apparent at a Hood County juvenile detention facility before the death of a 14-year-old detainee this month.”
The story of what happened to young Jordan Adams, a middle school student who died in his cell at the Granbury Regional Juvenile Justice Center, is symptomatic of the problems with for-profit private detention facilitates for underage offenders.
The editorial speculates “perhaps because too many local and state officials see the for-profit juvenile centers in Texas as a positive economic alternative to government-run institutions for troubled youths.” Notwithstanding, the article points out the repugnancy of transferring juvenile detainees from the State, by adjudication in a court of law, into the hands of private for-profit contractors, and how easily then that the State abdicates its legal obligations and responsibilities to house, feed, and care for these young offenders who were committed to their oversight. Privateers not so bound by law to the same standard of care.
That the trouble signs at the Granbury facilities should have been apparent is an understatement compared to all the previous complaints of youth-on-youth assaults, supervisory neglect and physical and sexual abuse, and which came on the heels of a 2007 investigation that revealed widespread corruption, brutal practices, and sexual exploitation of young inmates throughout Texas Youth Commission (TYC) facilities.
After extensive investigations, resignation of the entire TYC board, and prosecution of several officials, the public was then assured by members of the Texas legislature that these abuses and neglect would not happen again. At the same time, we began a long and arduous task of trying to keep our children out of these facilities, and free those who deserved to be free, setting up a reentry support system to help reintegrate former offenders back into society.
Nonetheless, our social objective runs counter to the profit motives of the Prison Industrial Complex, which relies on bed occupancy in detention facilities. Corporations like the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) promote prison-building, enter into facility management contracts with state and national government, and supply detention staff by locals. The illusion is job-creation and community enrichment.
A former CCA officer wrote: "I work as a correctional officer at the Corrections Corporation of America in Winnfield, Louisiana and I have an interview with GEO Group Inc for a correctional officer in Jena Louisiana. I was wondering what prison do you think is better to work for? Corrections Corporation is low tech understaffed and pays a dollar above minimum wage and GEO pays $11.27 hr."
Correctional officers for private corporations are underpaid and overworked. Even more, to further squeeze profits out of their contracts, they skimp on the cost and care. It is no wonder, therefore, that the Granbury facility has recorded some 250 complaints and 133 cases of juvenile suicide attempts.
In an earlier Star-Telegram report, Hood County juvenile center, originally designed as a public-private partnership that would not cost taxpayers any money, had problems from the start. A coalition that included the county and a detention management corporation built the $6.5 million facility through the sale of tax-exempt certificates of participation (bonds). In a convoluted scheme, the management group was to lease the facility back to the county, then rent the place to operate a juvenile detention center that would pay off the bonds… The private corporation floundered almost immediately when the daily census was far less than the 78 juveniles it needed to be "profitable." The county took over the operation for a while and then closed the facility because it was too costly, resulting in a downgrade of the county's bond rating by Standard & Poor's.
Such is the fate of communities who bank on prison populations and corporations that depend on filling prison bed space. Many Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) facilities are scrambling for detainees in order to make their operations solvent. The negligence found at Granbury is repeated all over again at other for-profit detention facilities.
These problems cannot be fixed so long as profits are squeezed out of facility operations. The promise of jobs and commercial traffic into little prison towns are tenuous, because there are no guarantees in prison population growth projection, and mass incarceration is not a societal aim. Therefore, prisons must decline with deceasing headcount and bed occupancy. There simply is no profit in it.
Realizing that prison-building is a bad investment in our quest toward a healthy, law-abiding society, we see this trend as a losing proposition, whereupon the State must bit the bullet assigned to it by law, to assume the cost, responsibilities, and liabilities for neglect, abuse, and death of inmates placed in its care.