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November 2008

GEO Val Verde Guard Sentenced in Prisoner Assault Case

A GEO Group guard has been sentenced for repeatedly punching a prisoner in 2006, according to reporting from Karen Gleason at the Del Rio News ("Jail term for former jailer" November 14). The GEO guard, Emmanuel Cassio, who was 18 at the time of the crime, will serve 16 months for the crime. According to the article,

Cassio was employed as a jailer at the Val Verde Cunty Detention Center, which is operated by The GEO Group, a private company, under a contract with Val Verde County, from late April 2006 until he was fired in late November 2006, Val Verde County Detention Center Warden John Campbell told the Del Rio News-Herald in a previous interview.

Cassio pleaded guilty to the two charges on April 30, 2008.

“Cassio admitted that on Oct. 31, 2006, while working as a corrections officer at the Val Verde County Detention Center, he used unreasonable force when he repeatedly punched an inmate without provocation,” the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office noted.

“Cassio agreed that his assault violated the inmate’s constitutional right to be free of unreasonable force by law enforcement officers. Additionally, Cassio admitted that he obstructed justice when he provided false information about the incident to investigators,” the press release read.

Val Verde County Sheriff’s Office investigators, who initiated an investigation of the allegations against Cassio at the request of Campbell and Val Verde County Sheriff A. D’Wayne Jernigan, said Cassio walked into a cell and “struck an inmate with his fist.”

“The inmate then made a remark and the jailer returned and hit him again. This incident was witnessed by another jailer who reported it to jail administration. Warden Campbell immediately notified Sheriff Jernigan and requested an investigation,” said VVSO Lt. Larry Pope, head of the sheriff’s office criminal investigations division and who attended Wednesday’s sentencing of Cassio in federal court here.

GEO's Val Verde Detention Center has certainly not been without operational problems. The facility has been under a county monitor since a lawsuit was brought by a civil rights organization on behalf of the family of LeTisha Tapia, a detainee who committed suicide after reporting that she had been sexually assaulted and denied medical care. GEO settled both suits. In a separate 2005 suit, an employee reported that his superior displayed a hangman’s noose in his office and took pictures in his prison uniform donning KKK garb.

In 2007, the facility was again rattled after four inmates came down with a mysterious illness. Three of the inmates later died, but a state investigation could find nothing at the prison linking the prison to the illnesses.

Financial Market Turmoil Delays Controversial McLennan Jail

The controversial new CEC jail in Waco has been delayed due to trouble issuing revenue bonds to finance the project. According to an article in the Waco Tribune ("Rough financial markets delaying construction of new McLennan jail," November 19),

McLennan County commissioners Tuesday postponed for the third straight week issuing project revenue bonds to finance the new jail because of high bond interest rates. Community Education Centers, the New Jersey-based company that is to oversee the new jail’s construction and operation, would be responsible for paying the interest on bonds the county sells to third-party financial houses.

County Judge Jim Lewis said officials had hoped to break ground for the new jail this month. However, the county is waiting to see whether the financial markets stabilize, allowing for reasonable bond interest rates. In the meantime, Lewis said, the project cannot go forward. He did not know how long the county would hold out on issuing the bonds.

“We could sell these bonds today if we wanted to, but we’d be selling them for 10 percent interest or more,” Lewis said, citing the stock market’s large fluctuations in the last week. “If we tell (CEC) that we’re selling for that high of interest, they’d say there is no way they can make this work. So it would be a prudent business decision to wait and see how the market does.”

The new jail would be privately run by CEC, which currently operates the downtown jail. The 816-bed jail would be built next to the present county-run jail on State Highway 6 and would help alleviate some jail overcrowding issues plaguing McLennan County. The new facility will cost about $37.4 million and will take 12 to 14 months to complete, according to Hale Mills Construction Ltd., the jail’s builder.

See our previous coverage of the McLennan County jail struggle:

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Recommendations for Senate Criminal Justice Committee

On November 13th, I testified to the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee at its interim charge hearing looking into how private prisons are complying with state law.  You can watch the entirity of the hearings online here

Like last year's committee hearings in the wake of the Coke County detention center fall-out, the most memorable moments were the testimony by Shirley Noble, mother to Idaho inmate Scot Noble Payne, who committed suicide at the GEO Group's Dickens County lock-up in Spur, Texas. 

Ms. Noble was joined by the sister and son of Randall McCullough, an Idaho inmate Randall McCullough who committed suicide at GEO's Bill Clayton lock-up in Littlefield, Texas. McCullough had been held in solitary confinement for over a year as administrative punishment for a fight that was not criminally prosecuted.  Their testimonies certainly put a powerful human voice to the debate over private prisons.

I focused my testimony on concrete, common sense proposals that the legislature could make to improve oversight and accountability in Texas' vast system of private prisons, jails, and detention center.  The recommendations included:

1) Developing a system of annual reporting for all TDCJ and TYC-contracted facilities.  Ideally overseen by an independent monitoring or data collection agency, providing consistent annual or bi-annual reporting of data in private prison and comparable public facilities.  These reports should include staffing levels, staff retention and turnover rates, assaults, grievances, cost savings, medical care data, deaths, uses of force, sexual assaults, major incidents, lawsuits against the facility, guard to prisoner ratio, escapes and escape attempts, enrollment in drug treatment programs, enrollment and achievement levels in education programs, disciplinary cases, weapons possession, possession of drugs, possession of contraband, staff assaults, offender assaults, and recidivism rates out of private and public facilities.

It is especially important that this data is made public given allegations that some private prison corporations are providing records to state agencies that are inconsistent with internal records.  Another legislative solution is that private prisons corporations should be subject to open records requests.  

2. Barring the importation of out-of-state prisoners to Texas private prisons and in county-operated jails.  Texas has its own problems in jails and prisons; it does not need to be importing prisoners.  The true horror stories coming out of GEO’s prisons from Idaho prisoners – including the testimony which we will hear today of family members who have died in these facilities – speaks to the fact that these facilities have major operational problems, and limited state resources should not have to be expended overseeing such facilities.  It’s a state embarrassment to have national media decrying private prisons in Texas holding prisoners on behalf of other states.  

According to data from the Jail Standards Commission, after Idaho completes the transfer of its prisoners out of the Littlefield unit, a move predicated on reported operational under-performance and in the wake of the suicide of Randall McCullough, there will be only 88 out-of-state prisoners in Texas jails and private prisons –  40 New Mexico prisoners at the Dickens Unit, 39 at the Bailey County jail, and 8 at the Parmer County jail.

3.  Exploring the idea of a company-wide investigation and potential contract suspension period for companies routinely found to be out-of-compliance and with records of abuse and mismanagement.  When a company is routinely found to violate inmate’s civil rights, operates unsafe and unsanitary facilities, and not accurately report statistics, a systematic review of that company’s state contracts should be ordered.  If repeated problems occur, the state should explore suspending contracts with the company. 

We'll keep you posted on how these ideas are incorporated in the coming legislative session. 

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South Texas D.A. Indicts GEO Group, Cheney, Gonzalez, Etc.

Last month, a Willacy County grand jury indicted The GEO Group, a Florida private prison company, on a murder charge in the death of a prisoner days before his release. The three-count indictment alleged The GEO Group allowed other inmates to beat Gregorio de la Rosa Jr to death with padlocks. The murder took place at the Raymondville prison in 2001.

In 2006, a jury ordered GEO to pay de la Rosa's family a civil judgment of $47.5 million. Earlier this week, District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra also indicted Vice President Richard Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and state Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

The Associated Press reports:

Cheney is charged with engaging in an organized criminal activity related to the vice president's investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds financial interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and "at least misdemeanor assaults" on detainees because of his link to the prison companies. ...

The indictment accuses Gonzales of using his position while in office to stop an investigation in 2006 into abuses at one of the privately-run prisons. ...

Another indictment released Tuesday accuses Lucio of profiting from his public office by accepting honoraria from prison management companies. Guerra announced his intention to investigate Lucio's prison consulting early last year.

According to Alex Friedmann with the Prison Legal News and Private Corrections Institute, Guerra's actions are unique:

"Most District Attorneys wouldn't pursue these kinds of charges,'' Friedmann said today in a phone interview. The case is likely the ``first time a prison company has ever faced criminal charges as a result of a prisoner death in custody,'' he said. ``There might be another one out there, but if so, we're not familiar with it.''

The indictments have garnered much public attention. In court the interaction between Guerra and judge became heated. According to reports, the prosecutor believes Cheney and Gonzalez are receiving special treatment.

The stories surrounding these indictments and the prosecutorial actions taken by Guerra are marked by the high drama of Texas justice. We will continue to follow this story and keep you posted on the implications for private prison management in Texas.

Mineral Wells Investigation, Pt. 3

This is the third post in a three-piece series from Texas Prison Bid'ness based on research pertaining to Corrections Corporation of America's Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility conducted by Grassroots Leadership. The Mineral Wells facility is a contract-facility under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. For more information, please contact Nick Hudson using our contact form. Read Part I and Part II.

I wrote on reports of sexual assaults and sexual contact at Mineral Wells two weeks ago, and I described the use of force reports from the facility between January of 2006 and July of 2008 last Tuesday. In this post, the final in our three-part series on Mineral Wells, I report on the riot that occurred at the facility in August of 2007 and follow it up with a bit of editorializing and conclusion.

The Disturbance at Mineral Wells in August, 2007

Kathleen originally reported that Mineral Wells was on lockdown after a major disturbance involving hundreds of prisoners at the facility in August of 2007. According to KVUE's initial reporting on the incident on August 14th:

The problem started when hundreds of inmates refused to leave the recreation yard at about 9:15 p.m. About two dozen of them protested a rule requiring them to wear shirts in the recreation yard on a steamy summer night.

Those inmates set small fires in trash cans, broke windows and threw rocks and trash at jailers.

A spokeswoman says two employees of the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility were treated on site for minor injuries during the disturbance.

There were no reports of injuries to inmates.

About 400 inmates refused to leave the recreation yard and return to their cells.

The spokesman said it took about three-and-a-half hours and the use of "approved, non-lethal chemical agents" to bring the situation under control.

Some two dozen inmates identified as playing a role in the uprising will be charged with inciting a riot.

They will be relocated to other corrections facilities.

About 30 officers from Mineral Wells and surrounding agencies set up a perimeter outside the prison's gates to secure the area.

There are some inconsistencies between first accounts of the incident by CCA spokespeople and details recorded in the official use of force report (linked at the bottom of this post).

For example, CCA officials told reporters that the disturbance lasted three-and-a-half hours and began at 9:15 pm, but it now seems that the incident may have lasted for six hours-- about twice as long as originally reported. According the use of force report, the disturbance ended at 3:15 am on August 14th, not 12:45 am.

I found the following portion of the use of force report most striking:

"There were 36 offenders involved in the mass disturbance and 20 staff members from the facility and surrounding CCA Units responding to the emergency."

We already knew that officers from the Mineral Wells prison and surrounding agencies responded to the disturbance from original reporting. We did not know that CCA borrowed officers from surrounding CCA prisons to bring the situation under control.

CCA prisons are already understaffed -- like the rest of prisons in Texas -- and the fact that CCA borrowed officers from surrounding facilities to quell the violence at Mineral Wells raises sobering public safety concerns. It seems that (a) by inadequately staffing its facilities in the first place, and (b) by shuffling guards from other understaffed CCA facilities to Mineral Wells the night of the riot, CCA put the officers at each staff-depleted unit at risk. To be sure, there are state-wide problems with staff shortages. But private prisons hire fewer guards, pay their guards less, and have higher turnover rates than public prisons.

Nicole testified last legislative session against a bill that would incrementally expand private prison capacity:

"..[There are] inexperienced officers working in private prisons who do not know how to manage prisoners; their lack of experience leads to violence. It also leads the private sector to promote personnel much more quickly than the public sector, so the largely inexperienced staff is supervised by insufficiently experienced managers. For example -- in a facility managed by CCA in Liberty County, Texas -- two correctional officers were fired for violating agency policies that facilitated the escape of three inmates that overpowered a prison guard."

The result of these policies can keep reappearing at Mineral Wells. Continued from the KVUE artice:

Capt. Mike McAllester of the Mineral Wells Police Department said this has happened before. "This is one of several in the last few years, but most recently we had one last summer."

In contrast to local police, TDCJ's spokesman, Michelle Lyons, seemed a bit perplexed by the occurrence of a riot at the minimum-security pre-parole transfer facility when she spoke with the Star-Telegram. "We don't often have these types of incidents at minimum-security facilities," she said, "These inmates are placed there because they have clean disciplinary records, and they are generally cooperative."

We shouldn't have these types of incidents at minimum-security facilities. If our follow-up with Mineral Wells confirms a reader report of another riot at the facility this July, though, it will be the third mass disturbance at the facility since 2005.

Summary and Conclusion

We decided to do a report on Mineral Wells after receiving a steady stream of news reports and reader tips describing unsafe conditions at the facility.

These were among the more sensational news stories from te facility over the last few years (hat tip to PCI for a good archive of these stories):

  • Two 21-year-old prisoners escaped and were missing for six hours before being spotted by helicopter less than five miles from the prison. WFAA TV, May of 2007

  • "Search teams scanned the Mineral Wells area Friday after an inmate escaped from a privately run pre-parole transfer center near Lake Mineral Wells State Park" AP, August of 2006

  • In 17 prisoners were injured during a riot. The local sheriff’s department was called in when prison staff could not quell the disturbance AP, August of 2005

And these are a couple of the reader comments that prompted our inquiry:

"..[My nephew] now requires counseling weekly from the nightmare of 2 years at CCA Mineral Wells Prison...You have to basically pay for protection or get out of there by picking a fight." (Texas Prison Bid'ness Reader, 9/5/08)

"My husband is at [Mineral Wells]... Just prior to this transfer he was approved to go to school in Huntsville. The next thing he new he was transferred to this hell hole. The lockdown and riot was a nightmare! My husband said it was the worst experience of his life, he said, 'I felt like I was going to die.' They have nothing productive to do at this facility."

The documents we received from Mineral Wells cannot tell the whole story of CCA's Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, but it's clear from what I've documented that the prison has some serious problems.

As I wrote in the first post of this series:

The documents we received indicate that, between January 1, 2006 and July 23, 2008, the CCA-managed prison reported one sexual assault allegation, opened eight criminal cases involving sexual contact between guards or facility personnel and prisoners, recorded thirty-one major uses of force by officers at the facility, and detailed one large disturbance in August of 2007 involving 36 prisoners and 20 staff members that lasted almost four hours and ended only after CCA staff used chemical agents.

A deeper reading of the information we received pointed to a pervasive problem with contraband at Mineral Wells. Force was used eight times on prisoners in cases where contraband was explicitly mentioned.

I'm particularly troubled that in 2008, the Warden at the facility struck and injured a prisoner for spitting on him. I can't think of a professional setting where that type of behavior is tolerated.

Four uses of force were documented in 2006, but seventeen were recorded in 2007, and ten were recorded by between January 1st, 2008 and the filing of our request in July. The increased reporting reflects better record-keeping or worse conditions at the facility.

As Grits Reported, a recent series of phone call from a death-row inmate in possession of a contraband cell-phone to an elected official led to an emergency meeting of the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, and a system-wide lockdown of TDCJ.

The riots at Mineral Wells haven't drawn the level of scrutiny those recent phone calls to Texas legislators have. Perhaps distant riots don't hit as close to home as a phone call, or maybe big problems at Mineral Wells are perceived as normal rather than extraordinary. Whatever the case, I hope our friends at the Capital begin to wonder how CCA lost control of the same minimum-security facility three times in four years. I bet they'd find all kinds of answers.

CCA Overstates Profits as Economy Falters

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) held an investor conference call earlier this month. During the call, CCA officials celebrated that the company's income continues to increase while expanding private prison capacity across the country. Yet, digging deeper tells a different story.

According to Forbes.com, the private prison profiteer reduced its 2008 earnings outlook the second time in three months. According to Forbes, "The company now expects 2008 earnings of $1.18 per share to $1.20 per share, down from its earlier outlook of $1.21 to $1.24 a share."

Reports indicate that part of the company's failings deal with California and end of transfering state prisoners to a CCA managed facility. The company had increased staffing in anticipation of intaking California prisoners, and when that did not happen it impacted CCA's bottom line.

However, CCA Officials mentioned the following highlights compare that third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2007:

  • Net income increased 13.8% to $37.9 million from $33.3 million;
  • Adjusted Free Cash Flow increased 12.5% to %62.0 million from $55.1 million;
  • Total average daily compensated population increased 5.4% to 77,695 during the third quarter of 2008 from 73,740 during the third quarter of 2007; and
  • 1,680 new beds placed into service during the third quarter of 2008.

According to CCA's records, the company's prison population increased by 6,534 beds placed in service since the end of the second quarter of 2007. CCA added capacity in Texas at the Eden Detention Center, where 129 new beds were added for a total of 1,558 beds.

An interesting development is that CCA has lost two Texas contracts this year. Due to a re-bid of management contracts for the state-owned B.M. Moore prison in Overton and the Diboll prison in Diboll, CCA no longer manages those prisons. Private prison company MTC has taken over their management.

So the economic downturn has impacted CCA's bottom line. What about othe private prison companies? It will be interesting to track these trends in Texas and across companies over the next year. Stay tuned!

 

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Private Prison Hearings Tomorrow, 10:00am

As we posted last week, the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee will be holding interim hearings on private prisons tomorrow, Thursday, November 13th, starting at 10am. Here are the details:

COMMITTEE: Criminal Justice
TIME & DATE: 10:00 AM, Thursday, November 13, 2008
PLACE: E1.016 (Hearing Room)
CHAIR: Senator John Whitmire

Interim Charge 1: Determine how private prisons are complying with state laws and how cost, safety, living conditions and rehabilitative services at private prisons compare with state-run facilities. Include an assessment of the staff turnover rates and compensation of private contractors when compared with state-operated facilities, and of the contract bidding processes used by the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Word from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee is that invited testimony will come from TDCJ Director Brad Livingston and new TYC Director Cherie Townsend. Anyone is welcome to testify during the public testimony portion of the meetings. I'll be testifying and have been told that family members of individuals who have died in private prisons will also be testifying.

We also received an interesting comment on our previous post from Austin Chronicle reporter Patricia Ruland about the SAF-P contract treatment centers. In part, it reads:

Anyone who'd like to comment on the state's Sub­stance Abuse Felony Punishment Facil­i­ties may testify Thursday, Nov. 13, 10am, before the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice during interim charge hearings concerning "new and expanded [rehabilitation] programs." SAFPFs, operated by the private Gateway Corp., along with the Texas Department of Criminal Jus­tice, ideally rehabilitate offenders in lieu of their doing "hard time."

However, in scores of narratives provided to Austin attorney Derek How­ard since January, inmates charge that SAFPFs are, in reality, state-funded torture. Specifically, they decry the harsh, global punishment of "tighthouse," when inmates must silently sit still, up to 16 hours a day, sometimes for months. The Chronicle reported on the issue this past spring ("Rehabilitation or Torture?" May 23), and Larance Coleman, of Sen. John Whitmire's office, responded by saying the Criminal Justice Commit­tee would "focus on Safe-P programming" during the hearings. But as it turns out, alleged SAFPF abuses will come up only if the public brings them up.

"We won't be looking at that specifically, but feel free and come and talk about it," said committee legislative aide Tara James on Tues­day. Meanwhile, Coleman declined further comment until the conclusion of an investigation by the Office of Inspector General.

Two other interim charges will be discussed tomorrow. They are:

Interim Charge 4: Monitor the implementation of the new and expanded programs provided to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) within the Fiscal Year 2008 and 2009 budget, and identify their impact on the criminal justice populations. Study security issues within TDCJ, including staffing issues, use of lock down procedures, the control and containment of infectious diseases and the introduction and control of contraband within the institutions. Review the use of career ladders for employees of TDCJ and issues surrounding the retention of professional corrections staff. Study the issues of independent oversight of TDCJ, including the use and effectiveness of the TDCJ ombudsman system. Provide recommendations for the reduction or elimination of barriers to an effective corrections system.

Interim Charge 9: Review the processes for re-entry of criminal offenders into communities. Identify barriers to the successful return to law-abiding behavior, including the absence of employment opportunities created by restriction on obtaining certain state occupational licenses.Provide recommendations for improvements to our current statutes governing this matter.
We'll provide a re-cap of the day's events. You can also view the hearings online tomorrow here.

Idaho Cancels Contract with GEO's Bill Clayton Prison

The Associated Press is reporting ("Idaho Ends Contract with GEO-run Texas Prison," Houston Chronicle, November 13), that the Idaho Department of Corrections has canceled its contract with the GEO-run Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas.  According to the article,

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Correction has terminated its contract with private prison company The GEO Group and will move the roughly 305 Idaho inmates currently housed at a GEO-run facility in Texas to a private prison in Oklahoma.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke notified GEO officials Thursday in a letter.

Reinke said the company's chronic understaffing at the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas, put Idaho offenders' safety at risk.

An Idaho Department of Correction audit at the facility found that guards routinely falsified reports to show they were checking on offenders regularly — even though they were sometimes away from their posts for hours at a time.

The Bill Clayton facility was also the facility where Idaho prisoner Randall McCullough committed suicide after being held in solitary confinement for more than a year on an administrative penalty after being involved in a fight. 

Mineral Wells Profile, Pt. 2

This is the second portion of a three-piece report from Texas Prison Bid'ness based on research Corrections Corporation of America's Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility conducted by Grassroots Leadership. The Mineral Wells facility is a contract-facility under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. For more information, please contact Nick Hudson using our contact form.

Use of Force- A controlling measure taken during a confrontational situation in an effort to cause an offender to do anything involuntarily. Uses of force are categorized as either Minor, Major or Deadly.
- TDCJ Use of Force Plan

In response to our requests, TDCJ released 32 basic portions of major use of force reports filed at Mineral Wells between January 1, 2006 and July 23 of 2008. Just 31 are included in this piece, because I'll be writing about the major disturbance that occurred at Mineral Wells in August of 2007 next Monday.

Major uses of force include incidents where a prisoner physically resists the application of restraints, chemical agents are discharged, batons or other instruments make contact with the prisoner in an effort to restore or preserve order, offensive or defensive physical contact is made, or anytime a prisoner is injured during a use of force.

By examining the reports provided in response to our request, we were able to get a rough picture of why and how prisoners were subjected to use of force at Mineral Wells during the time period of our request. In nine reports-- nearly one-third of the reports we received for the time period of our request-- force was reportedly used by staff in response to an assault by a prisoner. The most common use of force came in the form of a chemical agent. In many instances, "unnecessary force" was used. And the official phrase "unnecessary force" seemed in several instances like a charitable way of recording assaults of prisoners by guards.

I paid specific attention to use of force reports where contraband was mentioned. These reports are pertinent to a current discussion occurring in the halls of the Texas Capitol. An emergency meeting of the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice was called on October 21, 2008 to focus on the problem of contraband inside of Texas prisons. This meeting was convened after the chairman of the committee received a phone call from a death row inmate using a contraband cell phone. The reports provided in response to our request showed that problems with contraband-- and contraband cell phones-- are pervasive in the CCA-managed Mineral Wells facility as they are in public facilities.

2006 Major Use of Force Reports

For 2006, we received four use of force reports from Mineral Wells. Force was used to stop two fights involving different prisoners, one in May and the other in November. The form of the major use of force in the November fight was a chemical agent; the form of the use of force in May is unclear, but both a prisoner and an officer suffered minor injuries according to the use of force report. In September, two officers were disciplined for violation of TDCJ's use of force plan with a prisoner that refused to go into Administrative Segregation, "after a verbal outburst which disrupted a disciplinary hearing." It is unclear what type of force was used on the prisoner that refused to go into administrative segregation. Additionally, a prisoner-on-guard assault in December that resulted in use of a chemical agent on the prisoner.

2007 Major Use of Force Reports

We received the bulk of use of force reports-- seventeen total-- from 2007. In 2007, five prisoner-on-staff assaults resulting in a major use of force were recorded. Use of a chemical agent on the prisoner was the major use of force in four out of five of the reports. Two officers sustained minor injuries after a prisoner reportedly, "pulled away from the officers escorting him striking an officer which resulted in the officer sustaining a minor injury" in one of the cases. In one other use of force report involving a prisoner-on-staff assault, an officer sustained minor injuries.

The final five use of force reports in 2007 involving assault of staff by a prisoner, an officer used force, "by grabbing the offender on the shoulder..." after he refused to submit to restraints. This was a violation of TDCJ's use of force plan, and two officers were reportedly disciplined.

One of the prisoner-on staff assaults that resulted in use of a chemical agent occurred when a prisoner pushed an officer out of the way while he "was attempting to dispose of a cell phone by throwing the phone over the security fence." In addition to this use of force report mentioning contraband, four other use of force reports from 2007 mention contraband.

In three use of force reports mentioning contraband in 2007, the use of force took the form of application of a chemical agent, and no one reportedly suffered any injuries. Two prisoners possessed unspecified contraband, and one of the two had, "received [the contraband] during a contact visitation session." The third prisoner in possession of contraband who suffered application of a chemical agent in 2007 was intoxicated and in possession of an alcoholic beverage. In the last major use of force report mentioning contraband in 2007, an officer restrained an offender who was smoking marijuana in his dormitory and attempted to run when discovered.

Eleven prisoners assaulted another inmate in April of 2007, resulting in application of pepper spray by an officer that witnessed the event to eliminate the threat to the victim. All eleven offenders were disciplined for assault. According to the report, "The eleven did pursue the offender and were armed with various items inside socks in order to strike the victim."

A staff member was fired in May of 2007 for failing to report an illegitimate use of force against a prisoner for eleven days. The kitchen staff member "struck the offender in the chest with a closed fist" after being "seized" by the prisoner. The prisoner was disciplined, "for discourteous conduct of a sexual nature," and no one was reportedly injured.

In August of 2007, officers used pepper gas on a purportedly suicidal prisoner after he, "picked up an object and motioned as if to be cutting his wrists." The offender was disciplined for disobeying a direct order to relinquish the object, and no one was reportedly injured.

Two use of force reports in which an offender was disciplined for, "creating a disturbance," resulted in violation by officers of TDCJ's use of force plan. In one case, an offender who beat on his administrative segregation cell door was subjected to a chemical agent. In the other, "There was physical contact which resulted in minor scratches," after a confrontation between an officer and a prisoner. The prisoner reportedly suffered minor injuries as a result of the officer's unnecessary use of force.

Chemical agents were used in two other use of force reports. In one report, the chemical agent was applied when an inmate refused to be restrained and obey a direct order. In the other, a prisoner threatened to inflict harm on an officer. No one was reportedly hurt in either incident.

2008 Major Use of Force Reports

We received ten use of force reports for the period of time between January 1st and July 23rd of this year.

In three of the reports provided for 2008, force was used after a prisoner allegedly assaulted an officer. The first of the cases occurred in February. An offender was, "disciplined for assaulting an officer and possession of a controlled substance," but in the summary of the report there is not mention of the prisoner making contact with the officer, or possessing a controlled substance.

A second use of force allegedly in response to an assault of a guard occurred in March. A struggle ensued after a prisoner refused to relinquish his contraband cell phone; it resulted in minor injuries to the officer, the offending prisoner, and a second by standing prisoner who was, "not a direct participant in the Use of Force."

The Warden and Assistant Warden at Mineral Wells were involved in the third use of force in response to what was described as an assault by a prisoner in 2008. After being spat on by a prisoner, Warden Phillips, "struck the offender in the side of the head with an open hand then grabbed the offender, [and] turned him around to prevent the additional possibility of assault with a bodily fluid." According to the report, filed in May, the Assistant Warden then, "grabbed the offender to prevent the offender from biting and spitting." The prisoner was treated for minor injuries, and the Warden is oddly not reported to have violated TDCJ's use of force plan.

Three of the ten use of force reports from 2008 we received mention contraband. In February, an offender was disciplined, "for assaulting an officer and possession of a controlled substance." In March, as mentioned above, an officer used force against and struggled with a prisoner who refused to surrender his contraband cell phone. And in April, a chemical agent was used on a prisoner, "who was in the process of climbing in a second story window after he and two offenders were involved in a tobacco contraband incident."

The 2008 reports reflect three instances where officers inappropriately used force against prisoners at Mineral Wells. The first, involving a cell phone, is mentioned above (twice). In April, an officer escorting a prisoner shoved him against a wall, "placed" him in a shower, and ripped off the offender's shirt, because the officer reportedly suspected, "concealed contraband"; No contraband was found, and the prisoner had to be treated for injuries. In March, during a struggle between an officer and a prisoner over a contraband cell phone, a bystanding prisoner was hit with a chemical agent. And in June, an officer reportedly shoved a prisoner twice after the offender balled up his fists and moved toward the officer, "in an apparent attempt to assault him." No one was reportedly hurt during the incident.