Private Prison Operator Emerald Corrections Out of Business
by Steve Horn
Louisiana-based Emerald Correctional Management, also known as Emerald Corrections, was once among the major movers and shakers in the private prison industry. Today it’s a figment of the past.
Emerald was notorious for atrocious conditions in its detention facilities, as documented in a recent investigative piece co-published by Newsweek and the California-based publication Capital and Main. Incidents at the company’s prisons and jails included the medical-related deaths of immigrant detainees Igor Zyazin at the San Luis Regional Detention Facility in Arizona and Olubunmi Joshua at the Rolling Plains Detention Center in Texas; the “2016 suicide of a 77-year-old county inmate, Kennie Moore, who hanged himself using his boxer shorts as a noose” at Rolling Plains; and a lawsuit filed by Emerald employees who were “forced to work off the clock and weren’t paid for overtime.” The suit was settled out of court.
In 2016, as one of Emerald’s last acts during the two decades it was in business, the company opened the $60 million Prairieland Detention Center. Located in Alvarado, Texas, the 700-bed facility houses detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), though technically the five-year contract is with the City of Alvarado. The center was designated to hold transgender prisoners, isolating them from the general immigrant detainee population.
“Like all Intergovernmental Service Agreements, the deal was made without the transparency that federal contracting rules dictate,” explained Robin Urevich in the June 28, 2018 Newsweek / Capital and Main story. “ICE signed the agreement with Alvarado city officials, but city officials have no role in operating Prairieland.”
At its West Texas Detention Center in Sierra Blanca, which contracted with the U.S. Marshals Service, Emerald faced complaints by detainees that included the use of plastic bags as toilets. The bags were required because, as reported by radio station KJZZ, the toilets were filled with human waste and the facility did not have proper plumbing systems. Other detainees reported “live rattlesnakes in their sleeping quarters,” according to KJZZ.
Both the West Texas and Prairieland facilities are now run by LaSalle Corrections [see: PLN, Feb. 2013, p.1], which faced its own complaints for abusive conditions earlier in 2018, including “verbal insults [such as] racial slurs; dangerous and unsanitary conditions of confinement; and denial of medical and mental health care.”
Best known for operating ICE detention centers, Emerald also formerly ran the Two Rivers Detention Facility in Hardin, Montana, which has struggled to find prisoners to house since it opened in 2007. Under the management of various companies, including Emerald, Two Rivers has largely sat vacant. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.20; Dec. 2009, p.1]. Emerald also previously operated a county jail in Lincoln County, New Mexico – the Lincoln County Detention Center – which is now run by LaSalle Corrections.
In business since 1997, Emerald was managed by four partners: former Louisiana sheriff Raywood J. LeMaire, Glenn Hebert, Clay Lee and W.T. Lee. The company’s CEO was Steve Afeman. Emerald owned five facilities as of 2015, according to an Arizona Department of Corrections contract. A short three years later when it went out of business, reportedly due to financial problems, it had none – leaving only four private prison firms in the United States: CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), GEO Group, MTC and LaSalle.
Sources: www.capitalandmain.com, www.pri.org, www.corrections.az.gov, www.ruidosonews.com, www.npr.org, www.billingsgazette.com