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Liberty County officials still debating whether to take over jail operation from private prison company

The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The debate over the future of the Liberty County Jail continues and it looks like it will all come down to cost.

Liberty County has been mulling over a proposal for the county to take over operations of the jail from Community Education Centers (CEC), which currently runs the facility. At a special meeting of the Liberty County Commissioners Court on May 19, Commissioners heard from county officials and others including CEC Warden Raye Carnes, Liberty County Indigent Health Care Director Donna Burt and Liberty County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Rader.

Burt told commissioners that when the county last ran the jail, the biggest medical cost was providing malpractice insurance coverage for the jail doctor, costing $100,000 in the 1990s. Burt told commissioners that finding a doctor was the biggest challenge facing the county and that she didn’t think the county would save money by taking over operation of the jail.

Warden Carnes told commissioners that CEC provides medical care, but left out the company’s widely reported and troubled history. That history includes an incident that left a woman dead of pregnancy complications at an Indiana facility after CEC staff waited hours to seek emergency medical care.

Commissioners hired Austin-based consultant firm MGT of America, Inc. in August 2014 to advise the county on which route would save the county money. In March of this year, MGT told commissioners that the cost of running the jail would be the same whether it was run by the county sheriff or CEC “or 'Johnny’s Garage and Jail Service.'" MGT also told commissioners in the same meeting that their best bet to reduce the cost of running the jail would be to reduce the jail population.

For his part, Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, a Republican who ran and won on a platform of kicking CEC out of the jail, cited projections that the average population would actually grow to 275 inmates over the next five years.

Sheriff Rader summed up the county’s concerns: “If it’s going to cost more money for us to take it over [from CEC], then it’s not the right thing to do.”

A change in management very well may be the right thing to do for those locked up in the jail. In April, two prisoners died in a single week at the CEC-run Liberty County Jail.

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