Houston Continues Fight Against Southwest Key Baby Jail

Several months ago, we wrote about the proposed baby jail location on Emancipation Avenue, a site that has been fought by the City of Houston and the Houston community. In October, child detention profiteers Southwest Key and millionaire CEO Juan Sanchez sued the City of Houston for more than $8 million in damages, claiming lost revenue based on political targeting. The City’s case is that Southwest Key has simply failed to procure the proper permits, a case supported by protesters at an action of civil disobedience in front of the center in August. After several months in limbo, several new developments have unfolded.

Southwest Key Programs detention center in Houston

First, Southwest Key has hired not only high-priced lawyers but also a high-priced communications team, headed by none other than former Clinton White House aide Jeff Eller. In the past, Eller has handled Firestone’s PR during its blowout scandal and the GM ignition recall. He also handled an anti-transit campaign in Nashville earlier this year that was a focal point of Koch Brothers-connected dark money interests. Eller has been steadily dropping spin into newspapers in the form of written quotes. In late October, Southwest Key claims the City of Houston walked away from a settlement discussion, a negotiation the City of Houston claims was confidential and that Southwest Key would have to comply with the permitting process. Shortly after, Southwest Key asked ORR for a time extension on its $3.3 million agreement. ORR granted Southwest Key an extension that will run out in late December.

In spite of hiring Eller, Southwest Key’s questionable management practices have come to light thanks to in-depth investigation and public protest. Recently, Southwest Key called for an “internal review” after a New York Times piece from earlier this month revealed extremely suspicious financial dealings: “Southwest Key has created a web of for-profit companies — construction, maintenance, food services and even a florist — that has funneled money back to the charity through high management fees and helps it circumvent government limits on executive pay.

The organization, sitting on $61 million in cash as of last fall, has lent millions of dollars to real estate developers, acting more like a bank than a traditional charity. It has opted to rent shelters rather than buy them, an unusual practice that has proved lucrative for shelter owners — who include Mr. Sanchez and the charity’s chief financial officer.

Marcus Owens, the former head of tax-exempt organizations for the Internal Revenue Service under both Republican and Democratic administrations, reviewed Southwest Key’s tax returns for The New York Times. Regulators, he said, seemed to be “asleep at the switch.” Describing the financial dealings of Mr. Sanchez and his colleagues, he said, “I think the word is ‘profiteering.’”

Earlier this week, Southwest Key faced yet another challenge as more than 70 students at one of its Austin charter-track campuses walked out of class in solidarity with the Superintendent, who sought to prevent employee cuts. If you oppose the proposed baby jail on Emancipation Avenue, let your state rep and state senator know. We have collected their contact information below. You can also tweet your opposition using the hashtags #nobabyjails and #noSWKey. Texas State Senators Texas State Senate District 4 Senator Brandon Creighton Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0104 EXT E1.606 Phone: (409) 838-9861 Texas State Senate District 6 Senator Sylvia R. Garcia Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0106 CAP 3E.12 Phone: (713) 923-7575 Texas State Senate District 7 Senator Paul Bettencourt Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0107 CAP 3E.16 Phone: (713) 464-0282

Texas State Senate District 11 Senator Larry Taylor Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0111 CAP 3E.10 Phone: (281) 485-9800

Texas State Senate District 13 Senator Rodney Ellis Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0113 SHB 860 Phone: (713) 236-0306

Texas State Senate District 15 Senator John Whitmire Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0115 CAP 1E.13 Phone: (713) 864-8701

Texas State Senate District 17 Senator Joan Huffman Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0117 CAP 1E.15 Phone: (281) 980-3500

Texas State Representatives Texas State House District 27 Representative Ron Reynolds Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0494 EXT E2.308

Texas State House District 126 Representative Patricia Harless Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0496 EXT E2.408 Phone: (281) 376-4114

Texas State House District 127 Representative Dan Huberty Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0520 EXT E2.408 Phone: (281) 360-9410

Texas State House District 128 Representative Wayne Smith Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0733 CAP GN.8 Phone: (832) 556-2002

Texas State House District 129 Representative Dennis Paul Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0734 EXT E2.814 Phone: (281) 488-8900

Texas State House District 130 Representative Allen Fletcher Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0661 Phone: (281) 373-5454

Texas State House District 131 Representative Alma A. Allen Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0744 Phone: (713) 776-0505

Texas State House District 132 Representative-Elect Gina Calanni Email

Texas State House District 133 Representative Jim Murphy Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0514 Phone: (713) 465-8800

Texas State House District 134 Representative Sarah Davis Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0389 Phone: (713) 664-7095

Texas State House District 135 Representative-Elect Jon Rosenthal Email

Texas State House District 137 Representative Gene Wu Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0492

Texas State House District 138 Representative Dwayne Bohac Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0727 CAP GS.6 Phone: (713) 460-2800

Texas State House District 139 Representative Jarvis Johnson Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0554

Texas State House District 140 Representative Armando Walle Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0924 Phone: (713) 694-8620

Texas State House District 141 Representative Senfronia Paige Thompson Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0720 Phone: (713) 633-3390

Texas State House District 142 Representative Harold V. Dutton, Jr. Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0510 Phone: (713) 692-9192

Texas State House District 143 Representative Ana Hernandez Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0614 Phone: (713) 675-8596

Texas State House District 144 Representative Gilbert Peña Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0460 Phone: (713) 472-3520

Texas State House District 145 Representative Carol Alvarado Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0732 Phone: (713) 649-6563

Texas State House District 146 Representative Borris L. Miles Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0518 Phone: (713) 665-8322

Texas State House District 147 Representative Garnet F. Coleman Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0524 Phone: (713) 520-5355

Texas State House District 148 Representative Jessica Cristina Farrar Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0620 Phone: (713) 691-6912

Texas State House District 149 Representative Hubert Vo Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0568 Phone: (281) 988-0212

Texas State House District 150 Representative Debbie Riddle Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0572 Phone: (281) 257-4222 #Engage #Educate #Resist