Here’s how business makes money off the state’s mentally ill and sex offenders

Familiar names, familiar problems.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership

As the public rethinks harsh mandatory sentences swelling prison populations, a GEO Group offshoot and other private prison firms are focusing on another cash-for-inmates opportunity: privatization of state mental health hospitals and civil commitment centers, particularly in Florida and Texas.

Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based criminal justice advocacy group, is taking aim at this “net-widening,”especially in Florida and Texas,  with a report released Wednesday.

It’s a perfect profit center, the report’s authors said, because unlike traditional prisoners, terms of confinement can leave people there indefinitely.

Some aren’t going to make it out alive, such as the mental patient who died in a scalding bathtub in South Florida State Hospital, the tissue on his face “sloughing” off, as The Post reported in 2013

As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.
As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.

Last month, another man died in  the state’s privately run 198-bed Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center. He had reportedly been punched by another inmate.

If Grassroots’ criticism of mental health and civil commitment centers seem familiar, so does the company involved. Boca Raton-based GEO Group spun off its medical unit a few years back; the spinoff became part of Correct Care Solutions LLC. A former GEO executive became  president and CEO of Correct Care.

Correct Care is running three of Florida’s troubled state mental hospitals, part of the state system blasted in a recent Tampa Bay Times/ Sarasota Herald Tribune investigation. It also runs Florida’s civil commitment center housing sex offenders.

That’s of particular concern, given GEO’s track record of treating inmates, exposed in a Palm Beach Post series.

On the other hand, not everyone is worried about Correct Care. Late last year, the company announced its work at the state’s South Florida State Hospital and South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center was recognized for meeting key quality benchmarks by The Joint Commission, the top accreditation group for U.S. health care organizations.

The same month, it announced it had snared a Department of Justice deal valued at up to $65 million to run the federal prison in Coleman.

But, said Caroline Isaacs, Arizona program director for the American Friends Service Committee, when it comes to privatizing prisons and criminal justice, “There is a clear disconnect between performance and contract acquisition.”

AFSC is working with Grassroots to research privatization issues, and, said Isaacs, “We see consistent patterns of abuse, neglect, lawsuits, escapes, riots and somehow  these corporations are still getting contracts.”

That was the case with Corizon, which snared a $1 billion-plus contract with Florida to provide medical care to prison inmates despite a trail of horrific inmate care both in Florida and other states.




GEO: Feds gave Karnes immigrant center clean bill of health

Earlier this month, an estimated 40 immigrant women announced a hunger strike at the Karnes County Residential Center in Texas, where GEO Group houses immigrant women and children on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The women, some of whom had already cleared the first hurdle to being granted asylum, were demanding that they and their children be released.

It’s the federal government, not GEO, which makes release determinations.

But immigrants had also previously alleged mistreatment, including physical mistreatment,  at the GEO-run facility that went beyond immigration status decisions. In a written response, GEO told The Post that, “Earlier this year, the findings of a comprehensive investigation conducted by the Office of the Inspector General corroborated the unfounded and unsubstantiated nature of prior allegations.”

Karnes, wrote GEO,  “provides high quality care in a safe, clean, and family friendly environment, and on site U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel provide direct oversight to ensure compliance with ICE’s Family Residential Standards.

“Our company has consistently, strongly denied allegations to the contrary.”

Further, said GEO, just about anyone can come to the center and see for themselves, citing “an open and transparent policy of allowing visits to the Center by the public, elected local and national officials, federal officials from ICE and other government agencies, as well as nongovernmental organizations.”

The hunger strike, meanwhile, appears to have ended.


Marco Rubio’s immigration reform policy and generous prison friends

Immigration reform may yet be a millstone around presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s neck, Politico speculated today. Rubio+book+vertical

But nothing Rubio has suggested would win him anything but bouquets from Florida-based GEO Group, the prison management  company. It has already showered him and his chief of staff’s former lobbying firm with cash.

GEO bristles at the suggestion that it lobbies for any law that would impact the number of prisoners jailed or immigrants who might be detained.

But it does give to lawmakers who do.

Rubio got $29,700 from GEO and its executives for his Senate run and another $5,000 for his PAC.

Protesters outside GEO’s annual meeting in Palm Beach.
Protesters outside GEO’s annual meeting in Palm Beach.

Then, once in Washington, Rubio named lobbyist Cesar Conda his chief of staff.

Conda continued to accept money from the lobbying firm he co-founded, part of a payout arrangement blessed by Senate ethics advisers.

And Conda’s former lobbying firm quickly started accepting money from GEO. Within months of Conda’s appointment, GEO hired the firm, paying it $100,000.

The next year, GEO boosted payments to $120,000, about the same time Rubio’s support of a border security bill that would almost certainly have grown the number of immigrants in detention.

Conda and Rubio’s office shrugged this all off back in 2013, when The Post was asking questions. It wasn’t important enough for them to answer.

It probably still isn’t, what with a presidential campaign heating up.

But it’s worth noting that Rubio’s major immigrant reform ideas, which for now seem to focus on such things as people who overstay visas and beefing up border security, also would lend themselves to increased detention.

Pro -immigration reform protesters a few blocks from Rubio's local office.
Pro -immigration reform protesters a few blocks from Rubio’s local office.

For a look at where GEO puts its dollars – more than five million of them – Follow The Money provides its analysis here.

Allegations of substandard inmate conditions at facilities run by GEO and its competitor CCA, including immigrant detention facilities, were detailed by The Post in 2013.