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Fort Bend Star on Opposition to Transfer of Prisoners to CiviGenics' Dickens Lock-up

This week's Fort Bend Star ("Grass roots group opposes Fort Bend Sheriff's plan" May 14, 2008) has an article about growing opposition to the transfer of Fort Bend County inmates over 500 miles to the Dickens County Correctional Center, a private jail operated by CiviGenics. As we reported last week, there a number of concerns have been raised by local residents, including Sue Ann Lorig, who was quoted in the Star article.

Sue Ann Lorig, the Fort Bend County resident who authored the letter that prompted the response, did research on the Dickens County Correctional Facility and found a number of alarming situations in the past of the previously owned company.

Lorig not only pointed out the problems for families and legal counsel having to go so far away to have contact with the inmate, but voiced fear that Fort Bend County is opening the county up to lawsuits as well.

The Star's article focuses on letters sent by my organization, Grassroots Leadership, and the Texas Jail Project's Diana Claitor. According to Claitor's letter, available in its entirety here,

It may be that humanitarian concerns about the huge number of miles family or counsel would have to travel to see inmates are not a priority, but commissioners should take a look at the financial impact on your county. While Dickens is under new management, the new private company CiviGenics has almost as bad a record as the previous one. Just last week, Texas Jail Project received reports from people with relatives incarcerated at Dickens; those inmates were evidently locked in blocks with gang members who administered beat downs that were ignored until serious injuries (some requiring surgery) occurred. The families are considering lawsuits against the county that put their prisoners here (Taylor County) as well as CiviGenics. Your county government will be liable if similar situations arise with your inmates.

Moreover, upon release, inmates will be returning to their homes in your area and many will then have the infectious diseases, traumatic injuries and mental and emotional damage resulting from lack of care for which the Dickens jail is notorious. They will require ongoing services that will further impact your county.

My letter, online here, focused on the troubled history of the Dickens Couny Correctional Center, including the tragic death of Scot Noble Payne which revealed "squalid conditions" at the prison and ongoing management problems at CiviGenics jails in Texas. Specifically, my concerns on the deal include:

1) Moving prisoners hundreds of miles from family members is bad public policy. Studies show that isolation of prisoners from their family members increases recidivism and undermines public safety. Children of these inmates will suffer from lack of contact while parents and spouses have additional anxiety from not being able to see their loved ones.

2) Conditions at the Dickens County Correctional Center are historically unsafe and unsanitary. DCCC became the subject of national scrutiny last year after the suicide of Scot Noble Payne, an Idaho inmate held at the prison. A subsequent inquiry by the Associated Press determined that the facility was “squalid.” The Idaho Department of Corrections health director called the facility the worst prison he’d ever seen and “beyond repair.”

3) The current management of DCCC has had a string of management problems at other facilities. Management of the facility has changed ownership from the GEO Group to another private prison corporation, CiviGenics. CiviGenics has had its own record of poor jail operations in Texas. A guard at CiviGenics’ Texarkana facility was indicted on civil rights charges in 2005 for alleged sexual activity with a female inmate. Similarly, At CiviGenics Waco unit, a guard was indicted for sexual contact with a female inmate. And just last month, an inmate took his own life at CiviGenics-managed prison in Ector County, Texas. It is important to note that counties can retain liability for incidents which happen at private facilities.

Interestingly, Fort Bend County's Sheriff's Department doesn't seem too keen on talking about the situation. According to the Star,

It is unknown how many, if any, inmates have thus far been transferred to the facility. Sheriff Milton Wright does not respond to information requests from members of the Fort Bend Star.

We'll keep you posted on the developments from Fort Bend County County and the Dickens County Correctional Center.

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