May 2013

CEC guard arrested for allegedly smuggling drugs into Liberty County jail

A 22 year old guard employed by private prison corporation Community Education Centers has been arrested and accused of smuggling drugs into the Liberty County Jail, according to the Cleveland Advocate ("Liberty County jailer arrested on drug charges," May 24):

"A Liberty County jailer has been arrested after she reportedly provided prohibited substances to inmates.

According to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, which has oversight over the management of the jail through Community Education Centers, the jailer, Latondra Natrell Brown, 22, was arrested Friday morning around 5:50 a.m. shortly after she appeared for work.

Brown, a resident of Ames, is facing three separate third-degree felony charges. She had been employed as a correction officer at the jail for about a year."

As we've reported, this is certainly not the first problem Liberty County has encountered after privatizing its jail operations. In fact, the Ballad of Liberty County was one of our Big Stories of 2012 after a plan to reduce jail costs by diverting some folks away from jail was thwarted because of the county's contract with CEC.   75th District Court Judge Mark Morefield, who supports the inmate reduction plan, stated at the time: “’One (private prison) bid said that if the inmate population goes below 200, the cost per inmate goes from $63 to $68 per day. If we work really hard to decrease the inmate population, the cost will go up to $70 per day, … [t]hey are taking all the incentive out of it.’” 

In October of last year, a study by Texas A&M researcher Lynn Greenwood for Liberty County found that de-privatization of the Liberty County Jail would help the county to manage its jail costs as it continues efforts to reduce the population in its jail.  Maybe it's time for Liberty County to act on Greenwood's recommendation.  

CEC Loses Another Contract

Community Education Centers, the for-profit prison corporation that recently lost its contract with McLennan County to run the Jack Harwell Detention Center, has also ended its agreement with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to house men at the Limestone County Detention Center.  We first learned of this story in March, when employees at the facility received letters informing them that their jobs would be on the line come the end of their contract on May 31.

Limestone County is currently seeking another operator for the prison and another source of "income" (incarcerated people).  Tomorrow, just one week before the CEC contract expires, county commissions begin looking at bids from other for-profit prison companies to run the facility.  The San Antonio divison of ICE has expressed interest in using at least 500 beds of the 1,025 in the facility, which county officials say is enough to keep it solvent.

Assuming the BOP had a reason to abandon their contract, ICE's quick decision to jump into another private prison raises some serious questions about their motivations.  After all, the agency's track record with for-profit detention centers in Texas is absymal: sexual abuse at the Hutto Detention Center and Willacy "Tent City" Correctional Center; medical neglect at the Houston Processing Center; and inhumane conditions at the Polk County Detention Center (the subect of an ongoing campaign).  

GEO Group Expanding Even More in Montgomery County

Just weeks after GEO Group purchased the Joe Corley Detention Facility from debt-ridden Montgomery County, the corporation announced plans to build a second federal jail nearby.  GEO paid $65 million for the facility, $10 million more than the county's asking price.  In return, the county commissioner court promised to support any proposal GEO made to the federal government to build a new facility.

Joe Corley Detention Facility has caused considerable trouble for Montgomery County since its construction in 2008.  The county took out $44.8 million in tax-exempt bonds to build it on the stipulation that 30% of the facility's beds were filled with people incarcerated by the county and lost that exemption when it failed to follow through.  Beyond the $7 million in back taxes and $38 million in outstanding debt, Joe Corley has also been the subject of an FBI investigation into financial fraud.

Opposition to GEO's second prison in the town of Conroe comes from both anti-privatization activists and Tea Party Republicans alike.  Jon Bauman of the Texas Patriots PAC called the situation "really outrageous and not very transparent" at a commissioners' court meeting, voicing his concern that the citizens of the town would not have supported the agreement.

We'll keep you updated as more details emerge.

Civil Rights groups file lawsuit against CCA for withholding information

Texas Civil Rights Project and Prison Legal News have filed suit against Corrections Corporation for withholding information around the tragic deaths of women at CCA-run Dawson State Jail.  At a press conference on May 1, TCRP attorney Brian McGiverin stated that:

"CCA hides the truth about its management because it knows the truth is horrific.  But they won’t get away with it. Texans know how to keep government accountable. Our laws entitle us to check its homework and keep it honest. At Dawson State Jail and beyond, we intend to show CCA it is not above the law."

The Dawson State Jail has come under fire in the last few months after a string of deaths, including that of a premature infant born in the facility without medical personnel present, which have been covered here.  TCRP has filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act which would require CCA to divulge information surrounding the deaths; so far, CCA has not complied, opening itself up to potential legal ramifications.  As a result of the disturbing conditions at Dawson, the jail is being targeted for closure during this legislative session.

The lawsuit has been covered in the Texas Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, KUT News, the Austin American-Statesman, and other news organizations. 

McLennan County Dumps CEC, Hires LaSalle Southwestern Correctional

Commissioners in McLennan County voted on Tuesday to end the county's contract with Community Education Centers to run the Jack Harwell Detention Center.  The commissioners voted unanimously to seek proposals from new vendors in March and have decided to team up with LaSalle Corrections.

The detention center has been a strain on McLennan County since before construction began in 2008.  The county was hoping to pay off  $49 million in bonds floated by its Public Facilities Corporation and generate revenue by holding federal prisoners but never saw the numbers they anticipated.  In 2012, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found the facility non-compliant and ICE dropped their contract at the time altogether, citing substandard care.  Currently, the facility is at less than half capacity and housing overflow from the county jail.

According to an article in the Waco Tribune, the commissioners selected LaSalle because of its "stability and its track record of persuading federal agencies to contract for its services."  They must have missed the troubles in Burnet County, where a LaSalle-run jail was deemed non-complaint by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in 2009 and in 2012; the company has been cited for failures in security, medical care, and recreation at the Burnet County Jail.  McLennan County might have gotten out of the frying pan and into the fire if the situation at Jack Harwell Detention Center turns out like Burnet County Jail.

Joe Corley Detention Center jail sold to GEO Group

Montgomery County commissioners voted unanimously yesterday to sell the Joe Corley Detention Facility to GEO Group for $65 million.  The facility, which in recent years has been the subject of federal investigation into financial misconduct, has been up for sale since January.

The jail was financed with $44.8 million in tax-exempt bonds under the assumption that 30% of its beds would be used by the county by 2013; the rest of the 1,288 beds are contracted out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Marshals.  However, Montgomery County's incarcerated population didn't grow as expected and, in 2012, the IRS revoked the bonds' original tax exemption.  The county now owes an additional $7 million in fines to the IRS.

The fate of the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility is still in the air.  When GEO Group placed a bid on Joe Corley, it also expressed interest in purchasing the 100-bed facility for $35 million; the county is waiting on an appraisal of the facility, originally built for $33 million, before making a decision.  MCMHTF is the only privately-run state mental health treatment facility in Texas.