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December 2016

Ector County Year in Review: Private prisons weren't the only thing that stank

Ector County Courthouse
Ector County had to deal with more waste and smells than they were originally planning on during 2016, reports the Odessa American.

In March of 2016, it was reported that the Ector County Courthouse was dealing with sewage leaking into offices, putting both workers and official documents at risk. This is because on the floor above the courthouse is the Ector County Correctional Center, the jail operated by  private prison company Community Education Centers (CEC). Poorly maintained sewage pipes had been clogged by inmates, which led to bursting pipes.

The problem caused some dispute as some in Ector County wanted CEC to pay for some or all of the repairs needed. CEC offered to pay only a certain amount for damages caused. Some county commissioners approved of asking CEC pay for damages, while others thought it would make the county look like “adversaries” to the private prison company.

Another issue Ector County dealt with this year was a reported problem of bird excrement. Birds enjoy roosting in the honeycombs of the Ector County Courthouse and have created a mess. The county reportedly is going to install machines that will spray a grape mist to keep the birds away from the courthouse. It seems the birds know what a mess the jail inside is, and want the outside to match. One would hope that they are able to solve the problem, or else Community Education Centers may have to clean up more than just sewage.  

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Limestone County Detention Center is back in business

The Limestone County Detention Center in Groesbeck, Texas, is now officially back in business, as reported by KWTX.

As reported earlier, Limestone County signed a new contract with LaSalle Southwest Corrections, a private prison company. The contract saw LaSalle take over the prison and renovate it before moving 55 Harris County juvenile prisoners  into the newly opened prison. As stated when the contract was announced, the Limestone County Detention Center will be used to detain 17-year old Harris County inmates. While there are only 55 in the renovated center now, Limestone County Judge Daniel Burkeen believes that hundreds more will be moved to the facility after the first of the year. The warden, Charles Vondra, said that the population should grow to about 600 or 650 inmates.

In 2013, the Limestone County Detention Center was under contract with Community Education centers, another private prison company. The contract was ended by the Bureau of Prisons, though no reason was given as to why. Before the contract expired, Limestone County commissioners began looking at bids from other private companies to operate the facility. In May of that same year, Limestone County awarded a new contract to Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a Utah-based private prison company.  However, nothing came from the contract, with MTC saying that would be closing the center once all prisoners had been transferred. Eventually, there were no prisoners incarcerated at the facility, with MTC trying to find other contracts to fill their beds. When none were found, the facility was closed down until further need. Apparently that time has now come.

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Supervisor at private jail convicted of supplying contraband to prisoner

 

KFDM 6 of Southeast Texas reports that a federal jury has found a Beaumont, Texas man guilty of giving a prisoner a prohibited item.

Donald Roy Kelly was also found guilty by the same jury of bribery of a public official on December 14. According to the information presented, Kelly was a shift supervisory corrections officer at the downtown Jefferson County Jail, which is operated by private prison company LaSalle Corrections.

Kelly was the supervisor in late 2014 and early 2015, when a high ranking leader of the Gulf Cartel was brought into the jail pending his trial for federal drug trafficking offenses. Kelly then approached them cartel member and offered a cell phone to the prisoner in exchange for money. He then engaged other individuals in helping him with the plan. The cell phone was purchased by another individual who then gave it to Kelly, who in turn gave it to the Gulf Cartel leader. Kelly also worked to bring fast food into the jail for the cartel leader, who had individuals attempt to transfer money into Kelly's accounts for his actions. Kelly now faces up to 15 years in a federal prison, with sentencing happening after a review by the U.S. Probation Office.

LaSalle Corrections is a private prison company that operates multiple for-profit prisons in the state of Texas. LaSalle has a history of failed inspections, inmate escapes, and sexual assault in the prisons they operate.

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Private prison company interested in vacant juvenile facility

A private prison company is interested the vacant Al Price Juvenile Center is Beaumont, Texas, reports Grits for Breakfast.

Corrections Corporation of America (which has since rebranded itself as “CoreCivic”) is hoping to turn the facility into a "secure" facility for adults with substance abuse disorders. According to The News, CCA has already spoken to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), and would defer to TDCJ for the number of inmates they would have detained at the center. County Judge Jeff Branick said "I fully support treatment programs," and that it was about time that the criminal justice system dealt with the root causes of recidivism.

The proposal for a new private facility comes at a time when the state legislature is looking to reduce the budget of state agencies by 4 percent, leading to the closure of one prison already. It is unsure whether the budget will have any impact on the proposal put forth for the Al Price Juvenile Center.

A second organization, Gulf Coast Healthcare of Port Arthur, also spoke at the hearing about purchasing the Al Price center. Gulf Coast wants to use the facility to provide behavioral health needs to prisoners from the six surrounding detention centers. They have multiple facilities throughout Texas, including Port Arthur and Houston.

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Ector County decides to extend jail contract

Ector County commissioners decided on Monday to extend the jail contract with Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC) to operate the jail located in the Ector County courthouse, reports the Odessa American.

As we reported earlier, Ector County commissioners met to determine whether or not to extend the jail contract with CEC after a myriad of problems had plagued the jail. At the meeting on Monday, commissioners agreed to extend the contract with CEC until August of 2020.

They also approved of money from CEC to go to repairing the sewage system that has led to leaks in the county offices located below the jail. This has been an issue since March of 2016, with county commissioners at odds over how to handle the payment of repairs. That issue has been resolved, with the contract approved by the county including a one-time payment of $150,000 for pipe repairs. Precinct 1 commissioner Eddy Shelton said that CEC would also pay for materials that were damaged by the leaking sewage.

The deal extends the contract until August of 2020 with the county receiving between $600,000 and $650,000 each year from the jail. CEC also agreed to increase the fee paid to commissioners if the company receives an increased per diem amount from the U.S. Marshals, which contracts with CEC at the facility.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons hopes that the company will get $4 or $5 more per day for each prisoner, which could create an increase of between $160,000 and $200,000 a year. Community Education Centers, Inc. has yet to sign the contract extension.

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Downtown Houston lockup to be closed this month

The South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility in downtown Houston is set to be closed this month, reports the Houston Business Journal.

The facility was first proposed to be closed in August of this year as part of a 4 percent budget cut that Texas state agencies had to make for the 2018-2019 biennium.  The South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility is operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a Utah-based for-profit prison company. MTC employed about 115 people at the facility. The company is now looking to "place the affected employees at other facilities and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is also recruiting them for possible employment."

The prisoners currently detained at the intermediate sanction facility in downtown Houston, who number about 400, will be moved to the Kegans State Jail, also in Houston. Approximately 400 low-level prisoners will then be moved from the Kegans State Jail to Lychner State Jail in Humble, which has enough beds to house the prisoners coming in.

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Willacy County claims negligence caused 2015 riot

Willacy County Regional Detention Facility
In the lawsuit that Willacy County is bringing against Management and Training Corp., they state that the 2015 riot at the Willacy County Correctional Center was caused by "deplorable conditions" at the prison, CBS 4 News reports

As we reported earlier, Willacy County filed a lawsuit against Management and Training Corp. (MTC), a private prison company based out of Utah. The lawsuit states that the for-profit prison company failed to properly oversee, manage, and repair the facility, leading to poor conditions at the facility. Flooding toilets, rodents, and a lack of access to basic medical care in the facility sparked a riot that led to the destruction of the correctional center and cost the county millions of dollars.

According to the San Antonio Current, inmates had to deal with the issues, with tensions running higher as the problems persisted. Some new inmates were forced into solitary confinement due to overcrowding at the prison, with the lawsuit stating that "MTC failed to address the issue of prison overcrowding, presumably because MTC was paid an additional per diem for inmates beyond the 90 percent capacity threshold."

The prison was then shut down by the federal Bureau of Prisons, and around 400 employees lost their jobs.

Willacy County wants MTC to pay for damages, punitive damages, and legal fees.

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Commissioners to consider jail extention

Ector County Courthouse
According to the Odessa American, Ector County commissioners are considering an extension with Community Education Centers, Inc. to keep a federal jail in the Ector County courthouse.

Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC) is a for-profit prison company that has been operating the jail inside the Ector County courthouse. In March of 2016, water and sewage began to leak from the jail into county offices, putting many official documents at risk and creating an unpleasant and potentially risky work environment for the employees. The water and sewage resulted from faulty pipes that had been blocked by federal inmates in the jail.

Ector County commissioners then instructed the maintenance team from the courthouse to seek help from CEC on repairs to the sewage pipes. CEC said that they would spend up to $15,000 on the repairs, even though the project was estimated to cost between $3 and $4 million. The county was working on an agreement with the company to pay for the damages, with the county judge proposing to send a demand letter to CEC for the cost of the damages. However, Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons said that the demand letter may send the wrong message to the private prison company. At the October 24th meeting, Simmons said, "I just don’t want it looking like we’re adversaries, ... It’s like somebody bumping into your car and agreeing to pay for it, then you hire a lawyer."

The agreement that Ector County hopes to renew for the federal jail was previously signed in July of 2015. As of now, there is no report on how long the extension will be.   

 

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Willacy County files lawsuit against private prison company

According Fox Rio 2, a lawsuit is being filed against Management and Training Corporation (MTC) by the Willacy County Local Government Corporation alleging that the Willacy County Prison was forced to close because of its failure to meet its basic contractual obligations.

The lawsuit claims that MTC, a private prison company, failed to oversee and repair problems which eventually led to the closure of the prison. The Local Government Corporation alleges that MTC did not follow contract procedures, including providing necessary services for inmates and repairing any problems at the facility. These problems included flooded toilets, rodents, and a lack of basic inmate services. The flooded toilets and lack of basic inmate services led to a protest in the Willacy County Correctional Facility by inmates in February of 2015.

The Willacy County Prison was shut down by the Bureau of Prisons, which stated that the facility was uninhabitable. The Local Government Corporation states that if MTC had down their job correctly, the prison would still in operation.

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County Judge says family detention center is still an option

The application for a family detention center in San Diego is still pending, despite a court ruling against the state licensing family detention centers as child care facilities, reported Caller-Times of Corpus Christi.

Duval County Commissioners voted in July to begin contract negotiations with Serco, a UK-based private prison company, to turn an old nursing home facility into a family detention center. This decision came about after Jim Wells County decided against entering into a contract with Serco over the nursing facility, which sits in both Jim Wells and Duval counties.

The contract from Duval County is still pending following the court decision by District Judge Karin Crump that invalidates the rule that Texas Department of Family and Protective Services used to license family detention facilities as child care facilities. This decision impacts the  South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and the Karnes County family detention. These facilities are operated by the private prison companies CoreCivic (formerly CCA), and GEO Group, respectively.

Following the decision last week, both facilities released hundreds of immigrant women and children over the weekend, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials denied that the court ruling was the reason. County officials said that the recent release of families from other family detention centers in Texas, located in Dilley and Karnes, will not affect Duval County’s application to open a family detention center in San Diego.

"The only news we have is that our application is still being considered," said Duval County Judge Ricardo Carrillo. "No timetable was given to us this time."

 

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