As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered by our blog. Our number one story of the year is the state's closure of two notorious Corrections Corporation of America prisons - the Dawson State Jail and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.
The story mirrors our biggest story of 2012, the growing momentum to close the Dawson State Jail. State lawmakers had pushed for the closure of Dawson and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, another CCA-contract prison, arguing that the state had extra bed capacity thanks to a declining prison population.
In August, advocacy organizations celebrated the closure of these two privately operated prisons. Over the preceding year, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, prisoner families, correctional officers, and civil rights groups had call for the closure of Dawson. Dallas CBS 11 reporter Ginger Allen ran a series of damning reports interviewing former Dawson prisoners and former guards at the facility.
Dawson's history was fraught with human rights violations. As Piper Madison reported in May of this year, The Texas Civil Rights Project and and Prison Legal News filed a lawsuit against the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for witholding information regarding the deaths of several women in the facility and a premature infant whose mother's cries for help were ignored by facility staff. TCRP filed requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act to compel CCA to disclose information regarding the deaths.
Autumn Miller, whose baby girl died four days after her birth at Dawson, filed a lawsuit against the facility "alleging cruel and unusual punishment." Miller spoke with Ginger Allen of CBS 11 in Dallas and NPR of North Texas, saying that her requests for help were ignored througout her pregnancy and, ultimately, while she was giving birth. Her daughter was born on a toilet in a holding cell.
Ulitmately, Texas legislators reduced TDCJ's budget by the exact operating amount of Dawson and Mineral Wells, and TDCJ then closed the facilities in August. Dallas Morning News reporter Scott Goldstein toured the facility after it closed and found some haunting messages left on the walls:
“I WANT OUT OF HERE NOW!!”
“Surrender to death or to life.”
“Don’t be afraid. Soon you will pass out of darkness.”
The Liberty County Jail, operated by Community Education Centers, is under investigation by the Texas Rangers for alleged sexual misconduct involving a male guard and a female prisoner, according to Jessica Willey at KTRK in Houston:
"Right now the Texas Rangers are investigating a claim of inappropriate behavior inside the Liberty County Jail. Now we're talking to a woman who says what's happening in the jail has to stop.
The allegations are of a sexual nature. As Texas Rangers investigate, we know there is a personnel shakeup at the Liberty County Jail. One warden is out and there is a new one -- a female -- now on the job. We are not identifying the accuser because she says she's a victim of sexual assault.
"It's his integrity that's the issue," the woman said.
When this 32-year-old woman went to the Liberty County Jail this time last year for not paying child support. She was vulnerable, going through a divorce. The jail's chief of security, she says, zeroed in." ("Texas Rangers investigating a claim of inmate-jailer relationship inside Liberty County Jail," September 18)
This is not the first time that Liberty County Jail has run into controversy. Earlier this month, we reported that, in an effort to save money for the county, the Liberty County Commission was debating de-privatizing the jail. Perhaps this latest incident will aid the county's de-privitization efforts.
In May, we reported that the death of Pam Weatherby at Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail in 2010 was the seventh death at the facility since 2004. Weatherby was serving a one year sentence for drug possession when her health conditions - she was a brittle diabetic - rapidly deteriorated.
Now CBS 11 is reporting ("Another Family Blames Dawson State Jail For Inmate Death," June 14) that an additional family of a young incarcerated woman at the facility is blaming jail administrators for her death. According to the report, 30 year-old Ashleigh Shae Parks died with six months remaining on her 18 month drug possession sentence.
Her family says Ashleigh had pneumonia and they believe her death could have been prevented if she had simply gotten antibiotics sooner. Their suspicions are based, in part, on letters they received from inmates at Dawson.
“I thought all she needed was medication, and all my daughter needed was antibiotics,” said Reni Palmer, Parks’ mother.
Parks’ family blames the staff at Dawson State Jail for not recognizing Ashleigh’s illness sooner. They say they filed a lawsuit but later dropped it.
“The medical personnel in ICU told me there was basically nothing they could do for her. And these are the people at the hospital (who) told us that the prison killed my sister,” said Grady. His anger and grief was renewed in April when he saw a CBS 11 investigation which raised troubling questions about a lack of medical care at Dawson State Jail.
CBS 11 says they've spoken to 20 people formerly incarcerated at Dawson who wanted to talk about medical conditions at the facility. We'll keep you posted on developments in this ongoing story.
Corrections Corporation of America shareholder and prison reform activist Alex Friedmann has submitted a shareholder resolution that would require the private prison corporation to issue bi-annual reports on its efforts to reduce incidents of prisoner rape and sexual abuse at CCA-operated facilities.
The resolution seems like a fairly straight-forward attempt to show that the company is serious about reducing sexual assault in its facilities. After all, sexual assault is a serious problem highlighted by a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Texas after several asylum-seeking women were sexually assaulted at the company's T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.
However, CCA objected to the resolution to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC ruled against CCA, and the resolution will be heard at the company's next annual meeting on May 10, 2012. CCA's board of directors, including Thurgood Marshall, Jr., has recommended that stockholders vote AGAINST the resolution.
Alex has launched a petition to inform CCA executives that prison rape is a serious issue that it should address in a transparent way. We expect the issue to gain more media attention in Texas and beyond in coming weeks.