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March 2012

Problems, failed inspections, canceled contracts mount at McLennan County CEC lock-ups

Problems appear to be mounting for Community Education Centers (CEC) in central Texas and beyond.  

CEC's McLennan County (Waco) facilities have come under increased scrutiny from the McLennan County Commissioners Court and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  CEC operates two facilities in Waco, the 326-bed downtown jail and the 816-bed speculative Jack Harwell Detention Center.

Last week, according to KXXV ("County Commissioners concerned with jail budget," March 19), the McLennan County Commissioners started asking hard questions after the Sheriff's office asked for $400,000 in additional funds for overflow detainees at CEC's Jack Harwell Detention Center.  According to KXXV, the Commissioners may be considering taking the downtown jail back under public control:

"This request comes after the McLennan Co. Sheriff's Office already spent this year's $1 million budget and some commissioners believe even the new money will not get them through the rest of the fiscal year.  The sheriff's office will be requesting $385,000 from the commissioners court to help pay for the feeding and care of overflowed inmates.

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Dean of Texas Senate rejects CCA prison purchase proposal

Yesterday, Frank wrote that the ACLU, Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network, and a broad coalition of civil rights and faith leaders were opposing CCA's recent offer to buy state prisons in return for states maintaining 90% occupancy at these facilities.  

Now, these groups are being joined by Texas State Senator John Whitmire, the Dean of the Senate and long-time chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.  Whitmire, speaking to USA Today ("Private purchasing of prisons locks in occupancy rates," March 8th), had this to say:

"You don't want a prison system operating with the goal of maximizing profits," says Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and advocate for reducing prison populations through less costly diversion programs. "The only thing worse is that this seeks to take advantage of some states' troubled financial position."

Former Kansas Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz also warned against the temptation of a "quick infusion of cash" saying,

"[m]y concern would be that our state would be obligated to maintain these (occupancy) rates and subtle pressure would be applied to make sentencing laws more severe with a clear intent to drive up the population."

Failed Inspections & Escapes at LaSalle Southwestern Corrections' Burnet County Jail

It's been a bad couple of weeks for LaSalle Southwest CorrectionsBurnet County Jail.  The facility was the subject to headlines across the state after a Shawshank-like escape where a prisoner broke through bricks under his sink and crawled to freedom through a skylight while guards assumed pillows tucked under his bedding were the prisoner (he has since been apprehended). It appears that both shoddy construction and human error led to the escape.  

According to a story on KVUE ("Sheriff: Jail staff to blame for inmate's escape," March 1) LaSalle Southwest Corrections has admitted fault in the incident:

"It's on us," warden Bruce Zeller said. "Like the sheriff said, the responsibility is on Lasalle Corrections, our facility, and our employees." 

Burnet County Sheriff W.T. Smith is in a battle of words and wills with members of the Burnet Commissioners Court.  Commissioners have blamed Smith's oversight of the jail for the problems, but Smith - rightfully, I believe - complains in the Burnet Bulletin ("War of wards over jail heats up," March 5) that he has limited purview over the facility: 

"I would like to have it, yes. But I don’t believe it’s financially feasible,” Smith said. But that’s not my call.” Smith acknowledged that, "Constitutionally, the sheriff is over the jail,” but said he has little authority.

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More problems - this time TB screening - at LCS's East Hidalgo Detention Center

Jared Taylor at the McAllen Monitor continues his paper's excellent coverage of ongoing problems at the LCS Corrections-operated East Hidalgo Detention Center, this time with a story on an investigation into the adequateness of inmate tuberculosis testing at the facility.  Early in the week, the Monitor reported that the LCS warden at the facility, Elberto E. Bravo, had been suspended as he faced a federal criminal investigation into fraud, bribery and theft allegations.

In Saturday's Monitor ("Tuberculosis concerns at La Villa prison irk officials," March 3) story details a multi-agency meeting about problems in screening of TB patients at the prison located in La Villa.  According to the story:

"The Monitor learned of a meeting between several federal, state and local agencies and LCS Corrections, which owns and operates the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa. Questions about the facility came after the prison’s warden was suspended late last month.

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