When officials at the Texas Youth Commission handed over management of the crumbling Coke County Juvenile Justice Center to the GEO Group in 2003, they may have thought they had washed their hands of the place. Or perhaps it was just another day at the office. After all, Texas has done a heckuva job outsourcing its correctional facilities in recent years; GEO now operates at least twenty prisons in the state.
But you can’t make a scandal disappear simply by passing the buck to a private contractor. On Monday, following a surprise audit, TYC officials learned that they had a Coke-sized problem on their hands. Citing “unsafe conditions,” Dimitria Pope, the agency’s acting executive director, ordered an immediate shut-down. All of the nearly 200 juvenile offenders held at the facility will be–or have already been–transferred to other facilities in the state. “TYC’s number-one priority is the safety and well-being of those youths under our care,” Pope said in a statement. “The unsafe conditions I witnessed at Coke County this weekend are unacceptable. We have zero tolerance for any form of abuse within the system, and those responsible parties will be held accountable.”
See, but that’s the problem with privatization of public institutions. It makes it difficult to figure out who the “responsible party” is, or should be, when things go awry. Who’s accountable here: GEO or TYC?
UPDATE: The TYC has launched an investigation.