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Privately run prisons profit from detainees

Some question whether for-profit prisons are a good idea

In south Texas, more than 12,000 people go to sleep in cells at privately run prisons. It's a big business, but some are questioning whether its a good idea for companies to profit off of prisoners.
In south Texas, more than 12,000 people go to sleep in cells at privately run prisons. It's a big business, but some are questioning whether its a good idea for companies to profit off of prisoners.

You may have seen one and not even known it.

There's one north of San Antonio off of Interstate 35 in Kyle, one southwest of town in Pearsall and even one in the heart of San Antonio just steps from the Bexar County Courthouse.

In south Texas, more than 12,000 people go to sleep in cells at privately run prisons. It's a big business, but some are questioning whether it's a good idea for companies to profit off of prisoners.

"In south Texas you see one of the greatest concentrations of for-profit prisons of anywhere in the country," said Robert Libal of Grassroots Leadership, a group critical of these prison businesses.

There are more than 50 private prisons that can be found in every part of the state-- prisons that will house detainees for a fee, a formula that has built a $1 billion industry.

"For private prison corporations, every person that's in prison is a dollar sign. Rehabilitation is bad for business; a shrinking prison population hurts the bottom line," said Libal.

In 2012, a study published by humanrightsfirst.org showed the average per-prisoner rate for these facilities was $164 per day, or nearly $5,000 per month. The biggest local player in the prison business is GEO Group. KSAT contacted their office on Loop 410, and they referred us to their corporate headquarters in Florida. Their comment at the time was basically "no comment."

GEO runs some of the biggest prisons in south Texas. In downtown San Antonio they run the Central Texas Detention Facility with 688 beds, as well as the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall.

It is one of the area's largest with 1,904 beds. A conservative estimate reveals in Pearsall alone, the GEO Group makes roughly $9 million per month, or almost $114 million per year.

Afraid to give her full name, Christy worked in Pearsall for the GEO Group for two years.

"It's all about the money. It not only puts their life at stake, the detainees, but it puts our life at stake too," said Christy.

She still has her uniform and ID. Christy claimed she was fired for being a bad officer after filing a sexual harassment claim against another officer. She claims to have seen firsthand the shortcuts taken: faulty equipment, not enough staff, inmate on inmate fights where no reports were ever filed.

"GEO would be a good company if they would follow their policies and their regulations," said Christy.

Christy didn't want to go on camera because she said she is afraid of the GEO Group, and the money and power she said they wield.

Click here to read a full statement issued by The GEO Group, Inc. in response to KSAT's report.

Click here to watch more videos on KSAT.com.


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