Pubdate: Wed, 30 Apr 2003
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Thom Marshall


Some of our state lawmakers want to turn over another major chunk of the 
state's correctional facilities to be run by private corporations.

State Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Corrections 
Committee and sponsor of the bill to privatize more state cells, told me he 
is convinced the measure would save the state money. He is convinced 
private companies can run prisons more efficiently and make a tidy private 
profit while saving the state some money.

Critics say if there is any actual cost savings in privatizing prisons it 
comes at the expense of security and safety. They say lower wages and 
benefits result in high turnover rates and a staff that is less qualified, 
with supervisors who are generally less experienced than those in state 

After a pleasant chat with Allen Tuesday morning, I called his office back 
late afternoon to ask whether he had any financial connection to the prison 
industry. Since he was out, I spoke with Allen's chief of staff, Scott Gilmore.

'No conflict of interest' Gilmore said that, yes, Allen has received 
campaign donations from private prison companies, all duly recorded and 
reported in accordance with all the applicable rules and regulations. Many 
other lawmakers have also received donations from private prison companies, 
he said.

Also, Gilmore said he works with Allen's consulting company, and they do 
consulting and marketing work in other states for some prison industry 
companies, and they also do some lobbying in Congress, but they don't do 
any consulting or marketing or lobbying in Texas.

"We've gone to great lengths," Gilmore said, to make sure there's no 
conflict of interest. He said it's been run past the Texas Ethics 
Commission and is "completely legal."

A check of Chronicle files turned up a story that ran eight years ago when 
Allen was co-sponsor of the bill allowing Texans to carry concealed 
weapons. He was chairman of the House subcommittee and the House-Senate 
conference committee appointed to hear the bill, which was later signed 
into law by Gov. George W. Bush. It requires those wanting to carry 
concealed handguns to take a firearms training course.

Allen recognized an opportunity and opened a firing range and firearms 
training facility in Grand Prairie. Again, completely legal.

Our state already leads the nation in the number of folks we lock up, and 
our town leads the state. In fact, Allen and other lawmakers have pointed 
out that fully half the folks now doing time in our state jails are from 

Allen said that is one reason he authored a bill to place offenders caught 
with less than an ounce of a controlled substance in a treatment program 
rather than in the prison system.

While some of us don't like his idea of turning over state jail operations 
to for-profit companies, we do like the idea of treatment programs instead 
of prison.

And while our lawmakers are confronting the prison population and budget 
problems, some of us wish they could figure out a quick and efficient way 
to identify and release all who don't belong in prison.

For example, we have 13 people from Tulia still locked up after spending 
about four years behind bars, despite a judge's recent recommendation that 
their convictions be overturned. The undercover cop whose testimony in 
those cases was determined to be unreliable (and who has since been 
indicted on three counts of aggravated perjury) was responsible for 
numerous other convictions elsewhere in the state.

Legislation for fairness We don't know how many dozens or hundreds or 
thousands more have been convicted because of bad evidence or tainted 
testimony coming out of Houston's police crime lab, or as a result of other 
crises in criminal justice credibility that have occurred in other towns 
and cities.

How about a bill to provide some means of quickly identifying all the 
people who have been put in prison unjustly as a result of these scandals?

A bill that would ensure everyone gets a fair shake any time bad evidence 
or tainted testimony is uncovered.

A bill that would cut through the appeals court red tape and set them free 
without delay, without further state expense and without profit for private 
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