A private prison company’s history of filthy conditions, sexual abuse, suicides, and riots in Texas lockups isn’t stopping the state from paying it $7.5 million to run a new psychiatric hospital near Houston, reports the Dallas Morning News. Lawmakers inserted an earmark into the state budget to fund the future facility starting in 2011. They said they didn’t know until this week that the county had selected the GEO Group to operate it, although GEO lobbyists were pushing for it as early as February.
The new facility came as a post-session shock to mental health advocates, who say they weren’t informed about it and never would have signed off if they knew Florida-based GEO was operating it. “Why would we want to use an entity that hasn’t had a stellar reputation?” asked Monica Thyssen, children’s mental health policy specialist with Advocacy Inc. “If the process had been more transparent, there probably would have been other state officials who would’ve said, ‘I don’t know if GEO is the best use of state dollars.’ ” GEO runs more than 50 facilities in the U.S., including five mental health facilities in Florida. The Texas psychiatric facility, which by 2011 is expected to house more than 100 criminal offenders awaiting trials or competency findings, is expected to solve a major backlog.