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July 2013

Contraband indictments at Mineral Wells

The Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, a Corrections Corporation of America-run jail that will be closed by the end of next month, is the site of a new contraband scandal.  

The Weatherford Democrat reports eighteen indictments for bringing in or possessing contraband items like cell phones and tobacco were handed down on July 25th by a Parker County grand jury.  It's not the first time these kinds of charges have come from Mineral Wells, but it may well be the last.

Along with the Dawson State Jail, the Mineral Wells facility was targeted for closure during the most recent Texas legislative session.  Dawson and Mineral Wells are two of five contracts that CCA lost nationally in June.

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What should Ellis County know about Community Education Centers?

Yesterday, Piper reported that Ellis County was considering turning over its county jail operations to a for-profit corporation.  The County's jail management evaluation and feasibility committee has received bids from two-companies - Community Education Centers and LaSalle Southest Corrections.

CEC's bid was rated 65 points out of 100 while LaSalle's received only 53 points out of 100.  We aren't sure what the evaluation criteria was, but 65 out of 100, a D grade for most schools, doesn't seem too impressive.

Ellis County Commissioners studying proposals from CEC, LaSalle

We first heard wind that Ellis County was considering privatizing its county jail earlier this year, when the Waxahatchie Daily Light reported that county officials had been holding "exploratory meetings" with Community Education Centers and LaSalle Corrections.  The county issued a Request for Proposals and accepted bids until July 1st.

On Monday, Ellis County Commissioners heard from the "jail management evaluation and feasibility committee," the group tasked with appraising bids from the RFP.  Of the two proposals submitted -- from CEC and LaSalle Corrections -- CEC's held up better, scoring 65 points out of 100 to LaSalle's 53.  However, County Auditor Mike Navarro pointed out that the committee's function was to choose the better of the proposals, not to recommend privatization.

The Waxahatchie Daily Light notes that many community members who attended the meeting expressed opposition to privatizing the county jail, including detention officers citing good work relationships and bad reports from other privatized facilities.  Ultimately, the meeting was inconclusive: the commissioners court decided not to move without first hearing from the sheriff, who was unable to attend.

MTC sending mixed signals about pulling out of Limestone County Detention Center contract

The Limestone County Detention Center has had a rocky year.  In March, the Bureau of Prisons ended its contract with Community Education Centers to incarcerate immigrants in the 1,035-bed facility, leaving it empty.  In response, CEC left operations in Limestone County altogether.  County commissioners elected to replace CEC with Management and Training Corporation in May in return for "short-term guarantees" -- MTC will pay the county $62,500 a month to rent the buliding while it looks for contracts to fill it.

ICE Bails out Private Prison in McLennan County

The Jack Harwell Detention Center, built in 2010 on $49 million in revenue bonds, is once again housing immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  McLennan County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cawthon told the Waco Tribune that the facility would begin leasing two hundred beds to ICE for people awaiting immigration hearings.

LaSalle Corrections took control of the facility just last month when the county decided to change operators from Community Education Centers, which had run the detention center since its construction.  The county had always had trouble filling the beds, but after an audit by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and an ICE investigation uncovered poor conditions, McLennan County lost its contract with ICE in December 2011.

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Private Food Provider Serves up Little Meals at a Big Cost

Aramark, a company that operates a variety of food services in prisons, has come under fire again for its business practices after a new expose by the Associated Press.  The findings are not good for the company.  They include:   

"- In Ohio, a 2001 audit found that Aramark had charged the state for 1.7 million meals it never served in just two years -- adding up to $2.1 million in extra costs.

- In Florida, the company made off with $4.9 million a year by charging the state per head instead of per meal.  The state dropped its contract in 2009.

- After a 2009 prison riot over poor food service in Kentucky, an investigation found that Aramark had not only been substituting lower quality meats and skimping on portions, but also padding its numbers by charging for 3,300 people it wasn't serving.  Once again, the state was over-billed for $130,000 a year."

It appears that the company hasn't behaved much better in the Lone Star State.  From grossly overcharging for commissary items in Bexar County to spoiled food in Tarrant County, Aramark hasn't left a good mark on Texas.  Without a list of which prisons have a contract with the company, however, it's impossible to say just how many incarcerated people are being served bad food at a bad cost.

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City of McAllen Considering a Private Prison

The Grassroots Leadership blog reports: 

This week, we learned that McAllen, TX has been keeping a dirty secret.  Located at the southern tip of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, the city plans to publish a formal request for qualifications this week from private prison operators willing to build a new 1,000-bed lock-up.  The new prison would house federal prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) under an existing agreement with the city. 

As it turns out, the McAllen Monitor learned a year ago that city officials had been talking to GEO Group behind closed doors, but agreed not to report it to avoid "tipping off potential competitors and skunking the deal."

Other Texas towns and counties that have teamed up with for-profit prison companies have landed themselves in deep financial distress.  Montgomery County recented sold the Joe Corley Detention Center to GEO Group to cover $38 million in debt.  The Bill Clayton Detention Center has been a headache for Littlefield since disturbing conditions led Idaho to terminate its contract, leaving the town to foot the bill for an empty facility.