Quantcast

Unclear how end of private prison use will impact Texas

JUAN A. LOZANO | 8/29/2016, 9:41 a.m.
It was not clear on Friday how the Obama administration’s decision to phase out its use of some private prisons ...
Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, Ohio – the nation’s first privately-owned state prison. Scott R. Galvin

HOUSTON (AP) – It was not clear on Friday how the Obama administration’s decision to phase out its use of some private prisons will affect five such facilities currently operating in Texas as well as the communities where they are located.

But some of the private prison companies that operate these facilities said they are hopeful the federal government contracts up for renewal in the next few months will be approved and allow them to continue running several of the prisons.

In a memo to the Bureau of Prisons that was made public Aug. 18, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told it to start reducing “and ultimately ending” the Justice Department’s use of private prisons.

The federal prison population is now at 193,299.

Private prisons hold about 22,100 of these inmates. Texas has more than 9,300 of those – more than any other state in the U.S.

These inmates in Texas are housed at five facilities – four in West Texas and one in Central Texas – that are run by three companies.

During separate conference calls on Friday, officials with two of these companies – Corrections Corp. of America and the GEO Group Inc. – expressed disappointment with Thursday’s announcement and defended themselves against claims by the Justice Department that their private prisons compare poorly to those run by the Bureau of Prisons.

“We believe all of our (Bureau of Prisons) facilities meet or exceed quality standards comparable to government operated facilities,” said George Zoley, the CEO of the GEO Group, which operates three private prisons in Texas for the federal government – two in Pecos and one in Big Spring.

The contract for the prison in Big Spring, which has more than 3,100 inmates, is set to expire in March but is in the middle of a rebidding process.

“We are hopeful of retaining our contract ... and believe that strong consideration will be given to the quality of operations at the facilities that are currently part of this bid,” Zoley said.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department didn’t immediately return emails seeking comment on Friday.

Damon Hininger, CEO of Corrections Corp. of America, also expressed confidence in the renewal of a contract to continue running a prison with more than 1,300 inmates in the Central Texas city of Eden. The company would learn by the end of the year if the contract is renewed, he said.

But if the contract isn’t renewed, the company would explore the possibility of leasing out the facility to another jurisdiction, Hininger said.

In Big Spring, officials say that until they get more information, they’ll refrain from speculating on what might happen to their community’s prison, which employs about 500 people.

“It’s really a little bit early to tell which facilities might be impacted,” said Terry Wegman, executive director of the Big Spring Economic Development Corp. “We’ve got our fingers crossed it won’t impact us. But that remains to be seen.”