We've reported about the controversy over the proposed privatization of the jail system up in McLennan County. Seems the lone bidder to build the private jail, CEC/CiviGenics, is having some major problems of it's own.
The company already operates a jail facility in McLennan County which is now under investigation by the McLennan County Sheriff's Office for allegations that private prison guards have been delivering drugs into the facility and having sex with female inmates. According to an article in yesterday's Waco Tribune ("Sources: McLennan County Investigating Complaints About Guards...," July 30) by reporter Tommy Witherspoon,
The investigation was launched earlier this month after a 29-year-old inmate at the downtown jail facility reportedly was caught with a marijuana cigarette in her bra. While investigators were trying to find out how she got the drugs into the jail, the woman, who has at least two felony convictions for drug possession, reported that guards are having sex with female inmates and selling drugs to inmates, four sources familiar with the investigation told the Tribune-Herald.
The 329-inmate facility is operated by Community Education Centers, formerly CiviGenics, in a contract with the county that expires Oct. 1. The investigation is being conducted as the county negotiates solely with CEC to build and operate a new, 1,000-bed facility next to the county jail on State Highway 6, retain operation of the MCDC on Columbus Avenue or several other options being considered by the county to help ease its burgeoning jail population.
The article goes on to list some of the other CEC/CiviGenics problems has had operating facilities in the past here in Texas.
Three guards at a CEC-operated facility in Liberty County recently were arrested on charges of having sex with inmates, and two others were arrested on allegations that they sold drugs to inmates, according to published reports.
In November 2001, Sherman Lamont Fields escaped from the MCDC, then operated by CiviGenics, and killed Suncerey Coleman, a young mother of three children, after bribing a guard to help him escape. Fields, a federal prisoner at the time of his escape, was captured and given a federal death sentence.
Fields escaped from the downtown jail when Benny Garrett, a jail guard, slipped him a key to the fifth-floor fire escape door after Fields promised to give Garrett $5,000 after his escape.
At the same time, yesterday McLennan County Commissioner Joe Mashek called on the county to take over control of the CEC/CiviGenics jail in order to give the county more time to discus options for dealing with it's jail overcrowding problem. According to the Waco Trib blog,
The downtown jail is currently operated privately by Community Education Centers. While this contract is set to expire on Oct. 1, a clause in the contract allows McLennan County to resume control of this facility by giving 10 days notice.
Mashek said doing this would give the county an additional four- to five-year window to “explore other options and make a sound decision.” This would put plans to construct a new 1,000 bed jail on hold.
And this from a commenter at the Waco Trib blog:
I personally attended this meeting and I cannot believe how misinformed our county officials are in regards to prisoner population and it’s projected growth,along with the actual dollar amounts it costs to run our county’s jails. Judge Lewis took his numbers from CEC, who claims Mclennan County will see about a 2000 inmate increase over the next 5 years. Commissioner Mashek said that the Texas Jail Commission projected more like 150 inmates and that they are the people who regulate our jails in the state of Texas.
That's pretty damning stuff. If the County is taking jail capacity projections from the private prison corporation with a clear interest in expanding the jail and not from the state agency responsible for overseeing its jail, then we're very unlikely to have a reasonable debate about the need for a new jail in McLennan County.
Thankfully, the Sheriff's officers and Commissioner Mashek seem to be a little more clear-headed on the subject. As we've reported here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, and Grits for Breakfast has covered extensively here and here, common sense solutions to jail overcrowding exist, and they don't include privatization and expansion. We'll keep you posted on developments from McLennan County.
Update: Grits also has a good post this morning on the subject worth checking out.