AUSTIN (Texas Tribune) – One of the nation’s largest private prison corporations defrauded Texas by raising millions of dollars for prison therapy programs it failed to provide during the pandemic, according to a new lawsuit filed. with the state auditor.
In 2020, as the coronavirus killed thousands of prisoners across the country, a push to release more people eligible for parole was met with stiff resistance from the Texas Board of Pardons and Pardons. It continued to require that most prisoners approved for parole first complete a treatment program, which typically takes three to nine months and focuses on life skills, drug rehabilitation or treatment of persons convicted of sexual offences.
But with sick staff and prisoners, Texas prisons largely kept men and women confined to their cells or dorms, and those inside told the Texas Tribune in 2020 that much of the required programming was not occurring. On Monday, prisoner rights group LatinoJustice alleged that despite the lack of services, Management & Training Corporation continued to bill the state for the programs and forced prisoners to forge documents showing they had received a treatment.
“Instead of providing group therapy sessions and one-on-one counseling to those enrolled in rehab programs, MTC employees simply gave people paperwork to fill out on their own time,” wrote LatinoJustice’s lead attorney. , Andrew Case, in a letter to the auditor presenting the complaint.
“The MTC then forced people to fill out time sheets indicating that they had received treatment from MTC counselors that the MTC had not provided,” Case continued. “People were told by MTC staff that if they did not complete the fake time sheets, they would be disciplined or lose their parole and be forced back to jail.”
The complaint, citing state contracts, program reports and dozens of interviews with incarcerated men and women, asserts that the fraudulent practices still occur.
MTC spokesman David Martinson declined to answer questions on Monday, referring the Tribune to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. TDCJ spokesman Robert Hurst sent a statement saying the prison system would cooperate fully with the state auditor’s investigation into the complaint and launch its own internal investigation.
“Consequently [COVID-19] protocols, alternative treatment plans were implemented to ensure that inmates remained in treatment and that appropriate treatment in group sessions would take place with social distancing requirements,” the statement read.
The agency said compliance with treatment schedules was ensured through random site visits.
This is not the first time that MTC, an operator of private prisons that also contracts with state prisons for rehabilitation programs, has faced allegations of fraud. Just last week, Mississippi’s state auditor demanded MTC pay nearly $2 million for charging the state for thousands of unstaffed prison guards, after an investigation by The Marshall Project. MTC said it had already repaid penalties for not having enough workers under the terms of the contract.
LatinoJustice’s lawsuit focuses primarily on three Texas prisons that contract with MTC for pre-release substance and alcohol abuse programs, which combined have earned the company more than $5 million. from March 2020 to January. The advocacy group noted that MTC globally has 17 active contracts with TDCJ, worth more than $100 million.
Contracts between MTC and TDCJ require the company to provide a minimum of group therapy, individual therapy, and other services. The requirements are also enshrined in state law. The programs are meant to help prisoners make the transition to the free world, often with programs tied to their prison sentence.
For Joshua Ladd, that meant he had to go through a drug treatment program before he could be paroled for a methamphetamine-related conviction. But the 48-year-old said he received no help from MTC to stay clean on the outside when he was transferred to Gist State Prison for treatment in April 2020.
Instead of group or individual counseling, Ladd told the Tribune, prisoners were given work packets to complete. And although they were required to fill out forms indicating they were receiving daily treatment, most were content to sit and wait to go home.
“Maybe once every two weeks a counselor would come for an hour,” he said when employees finally began to enter the dormitory filled with about 60 men. “A counselor just sat there and said, ‘I’m just going to give you the floor.’ …She just sat there and read her book.
He said a sample time sheet was taped on one of the dormitory windows, telling them to mark 20 hours straight through when all they received was paperwork.
“It was just a joke, a complete joke the whole way through,” Ladd said. “And it’s so disgusting that they get away with this stuff. “Just sign here so we can get paid.”
Ladd and several other inmates jailed in 2020 wrote affidavits to be associated with LatinoJustice’s complaint. But the allegations don’t just apply to programming dropped at the height of the pandemic. A woman who is currently enrolled in an MTC behavioral prerelease program at Halbert State Prison said the practice continues.
Kathryn Theune, 32, said there are group programs, but they are run by prisoners and not MTC employees. She said she had not received any one-on-one therapy since joining in September.
“Furthermore, we are often brought[sic] to the common room early in the morning to have an hour of ‘programming’ where no counselors are present,” Theune said in an affidavit last month. “We are not allowed to leave the day room during this hour, and instead sit in silence for an hour after documenting that we were present.”
The advocacy group argues that MTC did not stop providing programs to prevent the spread of coronavirus in prisons, but because it “realized it could make more money that way”.
LatinoJustice said it was unclear how much the TDCJ knew about the cuts in services, as the agency battled in court against the release of documents regarding the programs and the pandemic. The group argued that such documents could “reveal the extent to which TDCJ was aware of the fraud MTC was committing.”
“For example, if these communications show that TDCJ was aware of MTC’s reductions in service, but did not demand a reduction in what it had to pay, then TDCJ bears responsibility for the fact that MTC charged services ever provided,” Case wrote with LatinoJustice attorney Norma Esquivel.
The Texas auditor will review the complaint, as it does all allegations of fraud involving public funds, but it’s unclear when and what will happen next.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texatribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates — and engages with — Texans about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.