Black Gold

This little throwaway story is far more significant than it seems. We learn that Florida-based Geo Group has decided to triple the size of the LaSalle Detention Facility in soon-to-be-famous Jena, Louisiana, even though no one is currently operating the facility. Geo Group is confident that the rapid expansion of the prison system in Louisiana will bring a buyer its way sooner or later. This is reminiscent of a prison-building scam that included former Texas Governor, Mark White and the Graham brothers (low-life street hustlers from Houston) that produced small and ephemeral headlines back in the 90s. Six private prisons were built on the assumption that Texas would pick up on the private prison craze. Instead, George W. Bush and Ann Richards got into I’m-tougher-on-crime-than-ya’ll food fight and Texas built 105 new prisons housing 108,000 new prisoners over a five-year period. One of these prisons was built just west of Tulia, Texas. It stood empty for several years before being picked up by the state of Texas for 50 cents on the dollar.

The lock-up in Jena has a troubling history that sheds considerable light on the plight (note the internal rhyme) of the Jena 6. The prison started out as a juvenile detention facility, but was closed in 2000 after charges of racism and sexual harassment created a minor scandal. The prison was re-opened just after Katrina to house overflow prisoners (so to speak) from New Orleans. Once again, the facility was shut down after . . . you guessed it: more allegations of brutality and overt racism. But Geo Group remains confident that the unit will shortly be filled to overflowing with young black males. You begin to understand why the Jena 6 face capital charges over a school fight that resulted in no serious injuries. Mass incarceration may not be good for Louisiana, and it sure ain’t good for America–but it’s sure as heck good for Geo Group: share prices have almost tripled in the course of the past year. The real product being marketed here is poor black males. I wish I was kidding folks, but I’m not.

Alan Bean

Geo to grow in Louisiana
South Florida Business Journal – 4:29 PM EDT Monday, June 4, 2007
Geo Group said it will reactivate and expand a Louisiana detention facility, even though it does not yet have a user for the beds.

The Boca Raton-based correctional, detention and residential treatment services firm said its 744-bed expansion of the 416-bed LaSalle Detention Facility, in Jena, La., should be completed in the first quarter 2008.

Geo (NYSE: GEO) said it is actively marketing all 1,160 beds to state and federal detention agencies around the country.

The facility is one of 11 the company bought with its purchase of CentraCore Properties Trust in late 2006.
“This project is the first of what we believe will be several opportunities to grow our available bed capacity through expansion of our owned facilities,” said George C. Zoley, Geo chairman and chief executive officer.

Shares closed up 84 cents to $28.67. The 52-week high was $28.25 on June 1. The 52-week low was about $10.40 on June 14.