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What should Ellis County know about Community Education Centers?

Yesterday, Piper reported that Ellis County was considering turning over its county jail operations to a for-profit corporation.  The County's jail management evaluation and feasibility committee has received bids from two-companies - Community Education Centers and LaSalle Southest Corrections.

CEC's bid was rated 65 points out of 100 while LaSalle's received only 53 points out of 100.  We aren't sure what the evaluation criteria was, but 65 out of 100, a D grade for most schools, doesn't seem too impressive.

We thought that Ellis County should know a little more about its top bidder, New Jersey-based Community Education Centers.  CEC was the subject of a New York Times front page series last year exposing the company's operation of halfway houses in its home state.  The problems the Times uncovered including escapes, widespread violence, and rampant drug use.  The company's executives used connections with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to win halfway house contracts, the Times wrote, despite the fact that the company was in such bad financial shape in 2010 that it defaulted on its debt and contemplated bankruptcy.

The company has run into its fair share of problems in Texas as well.  Here are some highlights:

- CEC was dumped by McLennan County earlier this year after failing to win a federal contract to fill its detention center.  CEC also walked away from its contract with Bowie County in November 2012 leaving the county "high and dry" according to the Bowie County Citizen

- CEC's Polk County Detention Center has been the subject of protests (including by my organization, Grassroots Leadership) after being named amongst 10 of the worst immigrant detention centers in the country in a national report by the Detention Watch Network.

- In May of this year, a 22 year-old CEC guard was arrested and accused of smuggling drugs into the company's Liberty County Jail.  The same facility was under investigation in September 2012 by the Texas Rangers for alleged sexual misconduct involving a male guard and an incarcerated woman.  And, in June of this year, eight former CEC guards at the company's Ector County Detention Center were sentenced to federal prison after being accused of delivering contraband to incarcerated people in exchange for cash.  

-  The Liberty County lock-up was also one of our Big Stories of 2012 after a plan to reduce jail costs by diverting some prisoners away from jail was thwarted because of the county's contract with CEC.  75th District Court Judge Mark Morefield, who supports the inmate reduction plan, stated at the time: “One (private prison) bid said that if the inmate population goes below 200, the cost per inmate goes from $63 to $68 per day. If we work really hard to decrease the inmate population, the cost will go up to $70 per day, … [t]hey are taking all the incentive out of it."

Ellis County should do some hard thinking to do before moving ahead with it's "top bidder" in Community Education Centers.  We'll keep you posted on developments from Ellis County.