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May 14, 2002     (512) 463-0300

Criminal Justice Committee Examines Private Prison and Mental Health Services

AUSTIN -- The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will be reporting to the 78th Legislature on the status of private prisons and the state of mental health services for juvenile offenders. To gather information for those reports, it held a hearing today, May 14, 2002, in Austin.

Regarding Charge Number 4, relating to private prisons, Lauri Shamblum of Corrections Corporation of America led off the invited testimony giving a brief overview of the company's history in Texas, saying it opened its first private correctional facility in 1989, and that it currently operates approximately 75 hundred beds across the state under what she called "stringent" state regulation.

Reed Smith from Wackhenhut Corrections reported that his company has nine facilities throughout the state. Smith said that with the creation of the Private Facilities Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) oversight has increased over the past two years and has become more consistent.

John Gilbert from TDCJ gave the senators a rundown on how and why the private facilities division of the TDCJ was created and how it monitors private prisons. Bonita White from TDCJ's Community Justice Division reported that her office works to ensure that beds provided by private contractors are properly allocated. Public testimony followed.

Regarding Charge Number 5, focusing on mental health, Tony Fabello from the Justice Policy Council testified as to how TDCJ determines the number of inmates that need mental health treatment and how they are selected. Next, a panel including Dee Kifowit from the Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments, Vicki Spriggs from the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and Bonita White described the needs of Texas prisoners who are currently in the mental health system.

Janis Bane, from the Harris County Corrections Department, Orlando Torres, a probation officer from San Patricio County and Gracie Ortega, MHMR Service Coordinator from San Patricio County followed. They described how MHMR programs are working in their areas, especially how they assist in identifying which offenders need help. Public testimony followed.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee is made up of seven senators, including Chairman Kenneth Armbrister of Victoria, the Vice-Chairman is John Whitmire of Houston. Members include Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Todd Staples of Palestine and Royce West of Dallas. The Committee recessed subject to call of the chair, with its next meeting at a time and place to be announced at a later date.

You can access the archived video webcast from the web page of Criminal Justice Committee.

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