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January 2010

Grayson County Commissioners Discuss Hale-Mills Estimate

On Monday, the Grayson County Commissioners met for their usual Monday hearing in which they discussed their downtown Sherman jail. Last year the jail was the topic of a heated controversy revolving around whether or not the facility should be privatized.

The county eventually dropped the idea of privatization and doing anything to the facility until now. Hale-Mills, a Houston-based construction company that specializes in building jails, is no stranger to constructing facilities surrounded in controversy. Most notably, MTC's tent-based Willacy County Detention Center that has been surrounded in controversy, and Hardin, Montana's never-used Two Rivers Detention Center that left the city broke after Corplan Corrections advisers encouraged the construction of the facility based on the perceived success in Willacy County.

While Hale-Mills has nothing to do with how or if the facility is privatately managed, I find it interesting because Grayson County is in a similar position as Hardin was. From reading the minutes of yesterday's meeting, however, it seems as though Grayson County is not considering a private operator at this time, but rather remodeling the existing facility instead of constructing an entirely new private facility. Hale-Mills was present at the hearing, and presented three options to the commissioners to consider:

  1. Upgrade the existing facility and electronic control systems to bring the facility into compliance with the state Jail Commission for an estimated cost of $4.5 million dollars. 
  2. To include option one and reconfigure the sallyport, intake and processing areas by adding onto the back of the building at a cost of $9.2- $9.75 million dollars.
  3. To include options one and two and the expansion within the city block to add 337 additional beds to the existing 239 beds for a total of 576 beds at a cost of $18.5 to  $19.25 million dollars.

It appears that option three is the choice most likely to be presented in the form of a bond vote to Grayson County citizens, according to a report by local Sherman news. Let's hope that if this option does go to a vote it will be more comprehensive than their last attempt and that it will not leave room for a private operator. We will keep you informed of any official decisions made by Grayson County commissioners.

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Settlement reached in record-breaking lawsuit against GEO Group

A settlement was reached last month in a record-breaking lawsuit against the GEO Group in the beating death of Willacy County inmate Gregario de la Rosa in 2001, according to the Brownsville Herald ("Beating death lawsuit ends in settlement," 

A settlement agreement has been reached in the Willacy County civil case involving the prison firm Wackenhut Corrections Corp., known as the GEO Group, and Warden David Forrest in the beating death of Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. of Laredo.

The de la Rosa’s case involves one of the largest wrongful death judgments in the country. The judgment was in excess of $40 million.

The monetary settlement reached between the private prison group, former warden, insurers and de la Rosa’s family is being kept confidential, however.

"I am pleased to have brought justice to the de la Rosa family and am honored to have made a positive contribution to Texas law for the future protection of our people," said Laredo attorney Ron Rodriguez, who represented the de la Rosa family.

De la Rosa's death involved a brutal beating that was subsequently found to have been covered up by the GEO Group.  From the article,

The agreement follows a scathing opinion that the Thirteenth Court of Appeals issued in April. The appellate court rebuked the prison firm and warden, and affirmed the 2006 civil judgment that a Willacy County jury returned in excess of $40 million against the prison firm and Forrest for negligently causing de la Rosa Jr.’s death.

De la Rosa, according to the opinion, was beaten to death while prison officials first watched and later tried to cover up by losing and destroying evidence.

"We find that Wackenhut’s conduct was clearly reprehensible and, frankly, constituted a disgusting display of disrespect for the welfare of others and for this state’s civil justice system," the appellate court noted in its opinion. A few days before de la Rosa’s expected release from the Raymondville facility, two inmates beat the 33-year-old man to death on April 26, 2001.

The inmates used a lock tied to a sock while "Wackenhut’s officers stood by and watched and Wackenhut’s wardens smirked and laughed," the opinion observed.

It's nice to know that the family of de la Rosa has some closure in this clearly appalling case.

CCA running out of water in Bartlett

Corrections Corporation of America is running out of water at it's Bartlett State Jail, according to an articlein the Dallas Morning News ("Boil water notice for Bartlett, backup well in use," January 7). 

A boil water notice has been issued for Bartlett where a shortage has led to using an emergency well and portable toilets for a state jail.

The 1,049-bed Bartlett State Jail ordered portable restrooms and 5,000 bottles of water after briefly losing city service. Steve Owen with Corrections Corp. of America says employees Wednesday occasionally shut off water so an onsite tower could refill.

Water levels in the city's two elevated storage tanks have been declining. Officials suspect a pump malfunction.

A backup well, which failed an assessment less than two years ago, was brought online this week after passing a bacterial test.

While this story doesn't seem important on its own, it does show the dramatic resource usage that prisons can often take up in small communities. 

Methodists and other groups protest MTC's Raymondville detention center

Check out this excellent video of the January 9th vigil outside MTC's Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas.  The piece features a moving speech by Rev. Dr. Daisy Machado. The vigil was also covered by Nick Braune at the Texas Civil Rights Review ("Methodist Group and Others Protest at Raymondville," January 18). 

 

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