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Waco Tribune Editorializes Against New Jail

In addition to the Sheriff's Officers Association, the Waco Tribune's editorial board may be becoming one of the biggest thorns in the side of those advocating a new private jail in McLennan County. The paper already wrote against the proposed privatization effort in July. On Friday, the editorial board penned a piece titled "Why three jails?" questioning the prosed construction of an additional Waco jail. According to the article,

When the county decided to build a new jail off of Highway 6 in 2000, Community Education Centers (CEC), formerly CiviGenics, signed a contract to operate its predecessor, the 329-bed jail on Columbus Avenue. The contract for that relationship expires Oct. 1.

For much of the time the agreement has paid off. Some would have called the private jail a cash cow — netting more than $800,000 a year. But as the county has had to use space at the downtown jail, the bonanza has dwindled. Now the county is netting only a fourth of that.

If nothing else, taking back the downtown jail buys time to consider the county’s options. It also offers a graceful exit from a contretemps stirred with jail staff over proposals to have CEC build and operate a new jail.

In addition, the editorial board saved a few choice words for CEC/CiviGenics, the private prison company that operates the downtown jail and is the sole bidder for the new jail facility, and prison privatization generally (emphasis mine).

The county is investigating claims by former downtown inmates that guards at the CEC-run jail sold drugs and had sex with female inmates.

Whether or not those concerns hold water, the firm running the jail has a spotty record. Indeed, one of the county’s most notorious murders, in which inmate Sherman Lamont Fields escaped and murdered his former girlfriend, occurred under CiviGenics’ watch. He bribed a jail employee.

It’s one thing to entrust such a thing as food service or lawn maintenance to a private firm. It’s another to entrust lives, constitutional rights and the whole of what law enforcement requires.

Entrusting the county jail to a private firm is barely any different than contracting out the police force. The county should put that proposal aside. In the meantime, it should reclaim the downtown jail and consider its penal options for the future — without privatization.

We'll keep you posted on all the developments from McLennan County. For background, see our previous coverage of the McLennan County privatization debate: