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Big Stories of 2013 - #1 - Closure of Dawson State Jail & Mineral Wells Pre-parole Transfer Facility

As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered by our blog.  Our number one story of the year is the state's closure of two notorious Corrections Corporation of America prisons - the Dawson State Jail and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.   

The story mirrors our biggest story of 2012, the growing momentum to close the Dawson State Jail.  State lawmakers had pushed for the closure of Dawson and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, another CCA-contract prison, arguing that the state had extra bed capacity thanks to a declining prison population.  

In August, advocacy organizations celebrated the closure of these two privately operated prisons.  Over the preceding year, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, prisoner families, correctional officers, and civil rights groups had call for the closure of Dawson.  Dallas CBS 11 reporter Ginger Allen ran a series of damning reports interviewing former Dawson prisoners and former guards at the facility.     

Dawson's history was fraught with human rights violations. As Piper Madison reported in May of this year, The Texas Civil Rights Project and and Prison Legal News filed a lawsuit against the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for witholding information regarding the deaths of several women in the facility and a premature infant whose mother's cries for help were ignored by facility staff. TCRP filed requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act to compel CCA to disclose information regarding the deaths. 

Autumn Miller, whose baby girl died four days after her birth at Dawson, filed a lawsuit against the facility "alleging cruel and unusual punishment." Miller spoke with Ginger Allen of CBS 11 in Dallas and NPR of North Texas, saying that her requests for help were ignored througout her pregnancy and, ultimately, while she was giving birth. Her daughter was born on a toilet in a holding cell. 

Ulitmately, Texas legislators reduced TDCJ's budget by the exact operating amount of Dawson and Mineral Wells, and TDCJ then closed the facilities in August.  Dallas Morning News reporter Scott Goldstein toured the facility after it closed and found some haunting messages left on the walls:

“I WANT OUT OF HERE NOW!!”

 

“Surrender to death or to life.”

 

“Don’t be afraid. Soon you will pass out of darkness.”

 

 

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