GEO: Private-Prison Company Somehow Keeps Getting Contracts In Texas

Categories: Cover Story
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Illustration by Keri Rosebraugh
A look into private prisons
When Arthur William Brown left his Houston halfway house December 15, he did the usual: he signed the check-out form that residents of the facility have to sign whenever they leave the premises for the day. Only on that day, Brown, paroled after serving 31 years for aggravated sexual assault of two women and a 16-year-old child, had his bags packed. He signed his name and walked out, and even though he had a GPS locked on his ankle, it didn't look like he intended to return. 

Five days later authorities alerted the media, providing Brown's photo and a warning that he was considered armed and extremely dangerous.It was now up to law enforcement to find and arrest him, because the second Brown left the property, he was no longer the problem of the company that ran the halfway home, GEO Group. All the staff there had to do, per their contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, was alert authorities within an hour.

Brown was the fourth parolee to just walk away from the Reid facility in two years.  

Fortunately, he was arrested Christmas Eve. But in October, when Anthony Ferrell left the property, police say he shot and killed a man before he was found again. The victim was 24-year-old Sam Irick, who tried to protect a woman Ferrell was robbing at gunpoint.

Irick's death, and the escape of a violent rapist two months later, is of no financial or contractual consequence to the publicly traded GEO, which recently bought out Houston-based Cornell Companies. Legally, GEO did absolutely nothing wrong. An average of one escape every six months appears to be acceptable to TDCJ, as well as GEO's shareholders.

And while GEO has lost contracts with TDCJ, it picks up new ones as well. On the surface, private prisons appear to offer a cheaper per-diem cost per offender, but critics say there are many hidden costs, both financial and personal. This week's story looks at some of those costs.

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