[Pnews] COVID outbreak -- and media crackdown -- at private halfway house in Tenderloin

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 12 11:42:47 EST 2021


https://48hills.org/2021/01/covid-outbreak-and-media-crackdown-at-private-halfway-house-in-tenderloin/
COVID
outbreak -- and media crackdown -- at private halfway house in Tenderloin
By Tim Redmond - January 11, 2021
------------------------------

A halfway house in the Tenderloin run by a private-prison contractor with a
controversial record has been locked down because some residents and staff
tested positive for COVID, 48hills has learned.

A letter to residents, which was posted on Twitter, states that “we have
had a few residents and staff who have recently tested positive for
covid-19.” The document carries the name of Maria Richard, director of the
Taylor Center, a facility at 111 Taylor run by the Geo Group, a national
private-prison operator.

Some residents of the center, who are on parole from state prison or are
considered inmates in the federal prison system, work outside the facility
on a regular basis.

The letter – which reads very much like a directive from a prison, with no
options and with threats to send residents back into custody, is here:
<https://48hills.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/letter-big.png>

Monica Hook, vice president for communications at Geo Care, confirmed that
the letter was issued by the Taylor Center staff.

She told me that “at least three” people have tested positive, but that all
of them have been quarantined off site.
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Among those potentially impacted by the outbreak is the new editor of the
San Francisco Bay View, Keith “Malik” Washington, who lives at the Taylor
Center. He has a job, an apartment waiting in the city, and only about
three months left until he has completed his federal sentence – but despite
the outbreak, the federal Bureau of Prisons won’t let him leave.
Malik Washington is in trouble for telling the news media about a COVID
outbreak. Photo by Benjamin Fanjoy

And after I spoke with Washington about the situation, he told me his cell
phone was confiscated and he was given a disciplinary write-up for
“unauthorized contact with the public.”

*The Taylor Center doesn’t get much news media attention*, but it’s in
essence a private prison in San Francisco. Residents are not allowed to
leave the facility except when they have a permission slip to go to work.
They are housed in congregate settings; everyone has at least one roommate
and sometimes more.

The feds and the state both pay the Geo Group to house people at the
center, although the state Legislature has banned future contracts with
private prisons
<https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB32>
.

I asked the federal Bureau of Prisons for its contact with Geo Group for
the Taylor Center. The bureau told me it might take “up to 12 months” to
get me that information. I haven’t heard back from the state Department of
Corrections.

SF Weekly reported in 2016 on another Geo Group center in Soma, and under
that contract
<https://www.sfweekly.com/news/news-news/prison-company-known-scandals-opens-new-s-f-facility/>,
the center is paid a base of $98,000 a month as well as between $48 and $60
a day for every parolee or inmate. If the same basic terms apply to the
Taylor Center deal, it means Geo Group has an incentive to keep people
locked in the facility; anyone who leaves costs the giant national company
as much as $420 a week.

The Geo Group is a billion-dollar corporation listed on Wall Street that
operates 129 private prisons in the US and the United Kingdom, according to
documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Its revenue for 2019 was $2.4 billion, up $600 million since 2015. Under
Donald Trump, the private prison business has apparently been good.

The company, according to federal and state elections records, donates
heavily to right-wing Republicans, including more than $15,000 to Trump and
$100,000 to “Right to Rise USA,” a PAC that supported Jeb Bush for
president.

In California, the Geo Group gave $140,000 to the state Democratic Party in
2017 and 2018 and another $75,000 to the state Republican Party.

The corporation runs two private detention facilities for ICE
<https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/2020/01/02/4-things-we-learned-geo-groups-lawsuit-over-immigration-detention-california/2798568001/>
in California, and is suing the state to keep those contracts. A plan to
open an ICE facility in McFarland created a huge controversy
<https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/us/immigration-detention-bakersfield-mcfarland.html>
last year, but the town approved the plan anyway
<https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/24/us/immigration-detention-mcfarland.html>
.

The company has come under fire for allegedly forcing detained immigrants
to work for $1 a day
<https://inthesetimes.com/features/ice_immigrant_detention_centers_forced_prison_labor_investigation.html>,
according to a 2017 lawsuit. The Geo Group says the work program is just
fine
<https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/19/opinion/letters/immigration-detention-geo-group.html>
.

At least one major bank had decided not to fund
<https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/06/business/jp-morgan-prisons.html> Geo
Group any more.

But for the past four years, the company has been running a private
facility in the Tenderloin with little notice.

*Malik Washington, a longtime journalist behind bars* who started last year as
the new editor of the Bay View
<https://48hills.org/2020/11/bay-view-newspaper-celebrates-history-and-a-new-era/>,
was released in September from federal prison and sent to Taylor Center. He
will be done with all federal requirements in May.

His fiancée reports that she has an apartment in Bayview and he can move in
as soon as he gets out of the Taylor Center.

Like all center inmates, he wears a monitoring device at all times anyway.

In communications to the Bureau of Prison, Mary Ratcliff, the outgoing
editor of the Bay View, noted that

[Washington] has amazed me with how quickly he’s learned to do nearly
everything it takes to put out a paper and keep up a news website and
social media. He’s already well known among journalists and leaders,
including major figures, in the community and government. He also will now
be a weekly guest commentator on the most prestigious radio news and
analysis show in the Bay Area. He’s done all that while living at 111
Taylor for only three months. I hope you’re as proud of him as I am. He’s a
real success story.

In a Dec. 15 letter, she explained that, at 88 and with a cancer diagnosis,
she can no longer take on the full-time job of running the paper:

The community we serve, the Black community, is at greatest risk. Our
newspaper is literally a lifeline for the most vulnerable people in the
nation. The Bay View staff is obliged to serve our people’s need for
lifesaving information and inspiration just as medical professionals are
obliged to serve the need for effective health care.

I do not have the strength to lead the Bay View to fulfill this obligation.
Keith does have that strength. He needs to work full time – and more – to
not only keep our business alive but to keep our people alive.

He must also stay healthy himself. We cannot lose him, and he must not
carry COVID to infect me and my husband, as it’s very unlikely we could
survive.

The last place he needs to stay is in a congregate living arrangement in an
area where the infection rate is especially high. And he need not stay
there. He and his fiancé now have a home only three blocks from the Bay
View office.

PLEASE – I beseech you – let him live there so he can walk those three
blocks to work, avoiding not only the dangers of the Tenderloin but the bus
ride from there to here.

I believe the rules allow home confinement to be approved when the
circumstances are extraordinary and compelling. If the circumstances I have
outlined in this letter are not extraordinary and compelling, I question
what would meet those criteria in the eyes of Geo Group and the Bureau of
Prisons.

Maria Richard, the director of the Taylor Center, did not respond to my
emails. Hook initially told me that there “are currently zero staff or
resident cases at Taylor Center.”

She said that

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)
determines who is eligible/referred, length of stay, conditions of
community release, etc. We are working closely with the Health Department
and CDCR and following recommended Centers for Disease Control guidelines,
so I would refer you to CDCR or the Health Department for additional
COVID-related information.

Washington is not under the jurisdiction of CDCR. He’s a federal prisoner.

I sent Hook the letter posted on Twitter. She called me back to say that in
fact there was an “outbreak” – defined by the state as three or more cases
in 14 days – and that “any individual who tested positive was taken off
site.”

She said that “we are trying to find out” how the information wound up on
Twitter, but that residents of the facility are allowed to have cell phones
and communicate with the outside world.

“Individuals have access to the community,” she said.

Apparently that doesn’t apply to Washington. Here’s an email I got from him
this morning:

I just received a disciplinary report for sharing the memo with the public
regarding the Covid Outbreak. It s a violation of CODE 327. UNAUTHORIZED
CONTACT WITH THE PUBLIC

THE INCIDENT REPoRT SPECIFICALLY CITES TEXT MESSAGES I HAD WITH TIM REDMOND
OF 48 HILLS.

THE SEVERITY OF THIS DISCIPLINARY REPORT IS NOT GREAT BUT THE ENCROACHMENT
ON THE EXERCISE OF MY FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT TO SPEAK TO THE MEDIA AND THE
PUBLIC AT LARGE IN ORDER TO COMMUNICATE THE RISK TO THE RESIDENTS HERE AS
WELL AS THE PUBLIC AT LARGE, MUST NOT BE IGNORED.  GEO GROUP HAS A DUTY TO
INFORM THE PUBLIC WHAT IS HAPPENING INSIDE THIS PLACE AND I SHOULD NOT BE
THREATENED OR PUNISHED FOR EXERCISING MY FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS.

I am awaiting further response from Hook, and will update when she gets
back to me.

UPDATE: Hook just sent me the following:

“At the Taylor Street Center, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) determines
length of stay and which individuals are eligible for community-based
residential housing. BOP determines eligibility for home confinement, not
GEO Reentry. Residents have access to the community while at Taylor Street,
and may use the public access phones on-site or their own personal cell
phones for employment purposes, family contact, and contact with the
community. GEO residential facilities are congregate settings and the cell
phone policy includes restrictions regarding taking photos in the facility.

Regarding whether individuals are permitted to leave the facility, Taylor
Street staff continue to work in collaboration with the BOP, CDCR, and
Public Health officials and will adhere to their guidance and facility
recommendations for limiting the further spread of COVID-19. At this time,
resident movement is restricted to essential workers only. Four residents
have tested positive for COVID-19 at Taylor Street since January 1, 2021,
however there are currently no positive COVID-19 cases housed at the
facility. Those that test positive are either housed off-site or in
quarantine, depending on agency contract requirements.

Staff have implemented and are following Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention guidance for Management of Coronavirus in Correctional and
Detention Facilities. We take our responsibility to ensure the health and
safety of all those in our care, and our employees, with the utmost
seriousness.”


Tim Redmond <https://48hills.org/author/tim/>

Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San
Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive
editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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