Avalon Correctional Services, Inc., headquartered in Oklahoma City, owns and manages private halfway houses through subsidiaries in Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. As of 2015, Avalon manages over 3,000 beds. Publicly traded over-the-counter, the company derives its revenue from performing services previously provided by the government or non-profit organizations, as well as from direct payments from inmates. As of 2011 (the most recently-available data), Avalon’s revenues were approximately $25 million per year. Avalon’s gross profit margin is 36.3% compared to an industry average of 32.3%.
Avalon has been subjected to press scrutiny and litigation following numerous reports of escapes and improper treatment of inmates. To remain in Avalon facilities, inmates are required to find employment in the local community, and return to Avalon nightly. In certain states such as Oklahoma, inmates’ wages from such work is used to pay the cost of their incarceration at Avalon. If they are unable to find a job or lose their job at any point, thus becoming unable to pay, they are sent back to state prison. This arrangement creates an exploitative and unsafe environment for inmates in Avalon’s care.
For example, at one Avalon-run women’s facility in Oklahoma, Avalon administrators repeatedly ignored inmate reports of abuse, sexual harassment, and rape against an employer in order to keep the women at the facility. The women were repeatedly threatened with being returned to prison or charged with misconduct for speaking out. As a result 50 women filed suit against Avalon in 2014. As the suit progresses, more women have come forward with similar stories, and investigators have also uncovered incidents of “inappropriate staff/offender relationships.” These are not the first reports of sexual assault by Avalon employees -with staff convictions for raping inmates extending as far back as 2002.
At the same Oklahoma women’s facility, an inmate’s family filed a lawsuit in 2014 after Avalon staff denied her medical care, resulting in her death the next day. Before this incident, Avalon had previously abandoned its non-correctional care facilities (including elderly care)in part due to patient deaths.
Local investigators have criticized Avalon’s policy of underreporting or hiding inmate conduct violations, including escape and rampant drug use, in order to keep inmates at Avalon instead of sending them back to prison. Inmate escapes have been reported in local media at all Avalon halfway houses, including two escapes in 2015 at a Texas men’s facility. After a surprise visit from the Department of Corrections, nearly half of all inmates at Avalon’s Tulsa center tested positive for drugs. Investigations also revealed that almost 30% of inmates had escape-related violations.
Avalon either ignored or downgraded these offenses so as to maintain revenue flow from the state. In 2014 Oklahoma state officials shut down one of its facilities, and issued a corrective plan for another due to Avalon’s reporting problems.The same year, Avalon Tulsa inmates sued the company, “alleging staff members were involved in drug sales among residents and guards, falsified drug test results, engaged in extortion, and arranged fights and beatings between inmates as a form of punishment and gambling activity.”
Similar allegations have surfaced in other states, including insufficient security, unqualified staff, falsified drug tests, sexual relations between staff and prisoners, and inadequate record-keeping. In a suit filed in 2003, former Avalon employees sued both the company and Colorado officials, alleging that state officials had refused to investigate problems that included staffers having sex with inmates or selling them drugs, broken or missing security equipment, and billing for services not actually rendered. Colorado later canceled all of its contracts with Avalon.