Tribpedia: Geo Group

The GEO Group is a private company that operates prisons, juvenile justice centers, psychiatric hospitals and immigration detention centers worldwide -- and has big business in Texas.

The GEO Group has a troubled history here.

During the Texas Youth Comission's 2007 sexual abuse scandal, agency officials closed GEO's Coke County Juvenile Justice Center saying they'd found atrocious conditions there, including feces on the walls. They fired a GEO guard after learning he was a convicted sex offender.

Earlier that year, an inmate at GEO's Dickens County prison facility slashed his throat, leaving letters complaining of blood-coated blankets and pillows, and floors and walls covered in mold.

In 2006, a woman killed herself at a GEO jail in Val Verde County, after complaining that she had been raped by another inmate and sexually harassed by a guard.

And in early 2009, inmates at GEO's Reeves County Detention Center started fires and took hostages to demand better health care. Later that year, a Texas appeals court upheld a $42.5 million verdict against the company for the 2001 death of an inmate four days from finishing his sentence at a Willacy County facility. The man was beaten to death by other inmates using padlocks stuffed into socks.

In the spring of 2009, lawmakers agreed to spend $7.5 million to fund a new forensic psychiatric hospital in Montgomery County -- a contract the county awarded to GEO. The facility is expected to be up and running by 2011, but the choice of GEO to run it has been controversial. County officials say they desperately need a forensic facility to treat a backlog of mentally ill offenders, and that they're confident GEO is up to the task.

But mental health advocates question the motivation behind the facility -- which they say was never requested by the Department of State Health Services, and only made its way into the budget in conference committee. They want to know how GEO won the contract considering the company's recent track record in Texas.

Fifteen state lawmakers, many of them intimately involved in the oversight of Texas prisons, have accepted campaign contributions from the company. They say while the company has had problems here, its conditions aren't worse than other state or federal facilities, and that these types of facilities come with considerable risk.


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