I hate to say we told you so. In this case, I really, really hate it.
An exposé in the Texas Observer in the month of February confirmed everything we feared about the Treatment Industrial Complex (TIC), a term we use to describe private prison companies’ scheme to expand their revenue by exploiting new markets in healthcare, treatment, and re-entry.
After the last legislative session, Texas lawmakers awarded Correct Care (formerly GEO Care), a company with deep roots in the prison industry, a contract to run a civil commitment center in West Texas. The decision was quite a shock because Grassroots Leadership had been advocating against Correct Care since 2012 and had helped thwart their attempts to take over two state psychiatric hospitals. This time around, the contract was kept under wraps and politics and profit won over safety and justice.
Like Grassroots Leadership’s 2016 research into the Treatment Industrial Complex, this new report about the Littlefield Civil Commitment Center is a warning about an insidious trend in mass incarceration. I hope I don’t have to say I told you so again.
The specifics of the Littlefield story should horrify the community. In 2015, about 200 men who had already completed their prison sentence were rounded up and dumped in a private prison in remote Texas, where most will be locked up for the rest of their lives. Under the guise of a civil treatment program, Correct Care runs a for-profit prison, from which almost no one will ever be released.
The Observer story exposes how the supposedly therapeutic Littlefield Civil Commitment Center provides little to no treatment and the contract incentivizes locking people up for a lifetime. According to the Observer, “Two and a half years after the Texas Civil Commitment Center opened its doors, only five men have been released — four of them to medical facilities where they later died.”
The excessive staff turnover at Littlefield means the men are not receiving promised treatment; the facility does not provide adequate medical care; the state takes a third of any money or gifts received by the men in addition to charging them for ankle monitors; and solitary confinement is used regularly as punishment. Texas has already fined Correct Care $297,000 for noncompliance.
The Observer story reveals a very dark corner of our society: indefinite non-criminal confinement for profit. The men in the program have served their prison sentence and then receive a life sentence; the only way to release is from the for-profit company, but release threatens their bottom line. Even if you say “good riddance” to people convicted of sex offenses, the civil commitment program must be primarily therapeutic in order to be constitutional. Not only is Texas’ program unconstitutional, it is nothing more than a slick move to make money by prison companies who are betting on people not caring.
Of course, we have already accepted detention without charges in another area, the federal government’s so-called “civil detention” system for immigrants. The obvious question is, after they come for immigrants, and after they come for those convicted of sex offenses, who will they come for next?
Cate Graziani is Grassroots Leadership’s Criminal Justice Campaigns Coordinator. Grassroots Leadership works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation and criminalization are things of the past.