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April 2011

TDCJ should study history, all aspects of state jail privatization, not just costs

State Representative Erwin Cain's proposed amendment to study and potentially privatize all Texas state jails may have lost some steam.  According to the latest copy of the amendment we've seen, the amendment would now mandate the study of the "most effecient and cost-effective" manner of running state jails, but the study would no longer automatically trigger TDCJ to privatize state jails if they were found to be cheaper.

That's certainly good news.  However, the state should study more than cost-savings.  Other impacts of privatization - including guard pay and benefits, turn over rates, recidivism rates of prisoners leaving the institutions, assault incidents, suicides and attempted suicides, lawsuits, guard misconduct, and drug and alcohol program completion, to name a few -  should be added to the list.

TDCJ has good reason to study these other issues in addition to cost.  The agency's record with state jail privatization has not always been rosy, and in at least one case was downright appalling. 
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Harris County Commissioner proposes privatizing jail system

Harris County Jail
Harris County Jail
Mike Morris at the Houston Chronicle reports ("Privatizing County Jail on commissioners' agenda: Radack says it could be a way to cut back on costs," April 18) that at least one Harris County Commissioner is proposing privatizing Harris County's massive jail system.  According ot the story,

"Harris County Commissioners Court will consider a proposal to study privatizing the Harris County Jail, the state's largest lockup, with nearly 10,000 inmates.

The suggestion comes from Commissioner Steve Radack, who said the item is a way for the county to examine all ways of cutting costs as budget cuts take hold and scores of county workers are laid off."

While there isn't a firm proposal on the table as of yet, this is clearly a troubling development. As this blog has chronicled, private jails have been plagued with mismanagement and operational problems.  Furthermore, turning over the Harris County jail system to a private corporation will further empower an industry that relies on ever increasing incarceration rates for growth. 

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett raises further concerns in the story,

CEC's Liberty County Jail fails TCJS inspection; Warden is not properly licensed

Via a tip from Diana Claitor at the Texas Jail Project, CEC's Liberty County Jail failed its Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) inspection (attached) on March 16 under some fairly interesting circumstances. TCJS is the state agency charged with ensuring that county jails maintain basic standards, and the agency keeps a list of non-compliant facilities.   

The jail had numerous violations dealing with plumbing (including leaking toilets, non-functioning toilets, showers not draining, and a lack of hot water in certain cells) and light fixtures, as well a non-functioning intercom system in the old jail facility and parts of the new facility. 

In addition, the report contains this piece of information:

During a random reviewof staff jailer licenses, it was revealed that the Jail Administrator, Warden Tim New does not have a TCLEOSE Jailer's License

From my understanding, a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education Jailer's License is the basic certification that one must have to work in a jail, so it's a bit troubling that the Warden of this facility hasn't attained one. 

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HB 2569 set for County Affairs hearing on Thursday

HB 2569, Rep. Armando Martinez's bill that would provide some accountability measures to private jails, will be heard as part of the County Affairs agenda this Thursday, March 31st, at 10:30am or adjurnment (most likely sometime in the afternoon).  I'll be attending and testifying at the meeting, and I expect that criminal justice reform groups will be joined by the Combined Law Enforcement Agencies of Texas and other jailer organizations in supporting the bill.

As we reported, HB 2569 is one of two bills on private jails filed by "Mando" Martinez, and is very similar to last session's HB 3903 that was effectively killed on the House floor.  HB 2569 would similarly subject private jails to the same open records law as public facilities, mandate that counties hold hearings before privatizing their county jails, and make it illegal for public officials such as sheriffs to be on the payrolls of private prison corporations. 

House Lawmakers Push to Privatize All State Jails

The Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom reported yesterday ("House Lawmakers Propose Privatizing All State Jails", March 31) that House Lawmakers are considering a plan to privatize all of Texas' state jail facilities. Rep. Erwin Cain, R-Como, filed a budget amendment Tuesday which would require TDCJ to begin a competitive bidding process on its non-contracted state jail facilities by January 1, 2012. According to that amendment (p 272), TDCJ would have to either shutter facilities which had estimated operating costs 10% higher than the bids, or eventually enter into a contract with a private operator for them. If Cain's legislation does pass, it's certain TDCJ would be required to privatize its fifteen remaining state jail facilities.

State jail facilities house prisoners convicted of low-level drug and property offenses for periods of up to two years. Five of Texas's twenty state jail facilities are currently privatized. They are managed by Corrections Corporation of America, and their capacity sums to 7,345 beds. The non-contracted facilities held around 12,500 inmates in 2009.

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