It's been a bad couple of weeks for LaSalle Southwest Corrections' Burnet County Jail. The facility was the subject to headlines across the state after a Shawshank-like escape where a prisoner broke through bricks under his sink and crawled to freedom through a skylight while guards assumed pillows tucked under his bedding were the prisoner (he has since been apprehended). It appears that both shoddy construction and human error led to the escape.
According to a story on KVUE ("Sheriff: Jail staff to blame for inmate's escape," March 1) LaSalle Southwest Corrections has admitted fault in the incident:
"It's on us," warden Bruce Zeller said. "Like the sheriff said, the responsibility is on Lasalle Corrections, our facility, and our employees."
Burnet County Sheriff W.T. Smith is in a battle of words and wills with members of the Burnet Commissioners Court. Commissioners have blamed Smith's oversight of the jail for the problems, but Smith - rightfully, I believe - complains in the Burnet Bulletin ("War of wards over jail heats up," March 5) that he has limited purview over the facility:
"I would like to have it, yes. But I don’t believe it’s financially feasible,” Smith said. But that’s not my call.” Smith acknowledged that, "Constitutionally, the sheriff is over the jail,” but said he has little authority.
It now appears that structural issues with the jail, constructed by prison construction firm Hale Mills, may be at fault. The facility has flunked its Texas Commission on Jail Standards review, according to the River Tribune ("State officials find Burnet County Jail flunks security review, March 5):
"The Burnet County Jail has flunked a state inspection that found design flaws in the wake of an escape March 1 by an inmate who chiseled a hole in the wall.
The state report says the private-public jail, which opened with 587 beds in April 2009 at a cost of $23 million, is "non-compliant" with security standards. "It means something is wrong," County Judge Donna Klaeger said March 5.
The Burnet County Sheriff's Office supervises the jail, which is operated by the private firm LaSalle Southwest Corrections.
Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspectors recently found "deficiencies" in the network of concrete blocks and reinforcement bars that support walls near cells for handicapped inmates, Executive Director Adan Munoz said."
This is certainly not the first problem for the Burnet County Jail. The prison had another high-profile escape in September of 2009. In the fall-out from that escape, the jail received a sharp rebuke from the Jail Standards Commission for not providing medical care to a pregnant inmate, amongst other problem. At the time, TCJS director Muñoz described the situation this way: “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism." It doesn't appear that much has changed for LaSalle Southwestern Corrections.