The Karnes County family detention center, operated by the GEO Group, was at the center of a scandal over the denial of treatment for a seven year old girl with brain cancer detained inside with her mother.
Last week Grassroots Leadership highlighted ICE’s refusal to release a Nayely, a seven-year-old with a life threatening brain tumor, from Karnes County Family Detention Center even after her mom, Sara, passed a Credible Fear Interview, the threshold for qualifying for asylum.
ICE's refusal to allow a terminally ill child to bond out of detention to receive treatment is due to a new "no or high bond" policy for immigrants seeking asylum. The policy was enacted to act as a deterrant for people who may be considering seeking asylum here. According to the Houston Chronicle, Nina Pruñeda, an ICE spokeswoman, stated that bond is actually being granted on a case by case basis. Legally, two factors are used to determine bond eligibility: whether the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community. Some advocates might argue that mothers with children are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
In light of the new policy, we are very happy to report that Nayely and her mom Sara were released from Karnes last week after ICE was overwhelmed by intense media coverage and phone calls from people demanding their immediate release. Nayely's condition was evaluated at Dell Children's Hospital in Austin on Tuesday, September 9th.
The last prisoner who was still hospitalized after suffering an injury in a roof collapse at the Diboll Correctional Center was expected to be released on Wednsday, July 23.
The facility, south of Lufkin, is owned by the Management and Training Corporation.
The roof collaposed at the Diboll Correctional Center on Saturday, July 19 just as prisoners and others were preparing for visitation. The Houston Chronicle reports that a team of engineers and investigators with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice visited the prison on Monday, July 21.
Since the damaged housing unit is not livable, the prisoners normally housed there were transferred to another facility Saturday and will remain there until the damage has been repaired, according to a statement released to the Chronicle.
Warden David Driskell said he does not want to speculate on what caused the roof to collapse before the TDCJ completes the investigation.
"I'm not the expert in that. We do have a team TDCJ officials who actually owns this building and they're evaluating it and they're here today inspecting, and hopefully, we'll come up with a plan to get it repaired," Driskell told KTRE Channel 9.
Eighty-five prisoners are in another facility until repairs at Diboll can be completed.
A suspended ceiling collapsed Saturday at a for-profit private prison in East Texas, injuring several prisoners and trapping several others who needed to be rescued.
The collapse happened in the day room of the Diboll Correctional Center, which is southwest of Lufkin. The facility is operated by the Management and Training Corporation under contract by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. According to the MTC website, it has a capacity of 518 prisoners. The facility has 136 employees, 97 security guards and 20 non-security personnel. The facility was built in 1995.
The Lufkin Daily News reports that one incarcerated person suffered critical injuries and several others suffered non-life threatening injuries. Diboll Police Sgt. Brandan Lovell told the Lufkin Daily News that 87 inmates were in the room at the time of collapse. The collapse sent several prisoners to area hospitals:
Several were transported by ambulance to Memorial Medical Center-Lufkin and Woodland Heights Medical Center in Lufkin.
Memorial spokeswoman Yana Ogletree confirmed that six patients were transported there, with one listed as critical. That inmate was transported by helicopter to Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in Houston. Of the five remaining patients, two were admitted and three were in triage, being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Around 5:37 p.m., Ogletree gave a update that one inmate had been discharged from Memorial and that two more would likely be discharged, as well. Two patients were expected to be admitted to the hospital, with one likely to need surgery, Ogletree said. She said the range of injuries included scrapes and bruises as well as broken bones, contusions and lacerations.
Jennifer Stevens, spokeswoman for Woodland Heights Medical Center, said 13 patients from the collapse were taken to that hospital and that two were admitted. Both were in stable condition, she said.
The collapse happened as prisoners and their families were preparing for visitation. Katrina Salutan was with her daughter Aaliyah, 3, preparing to visit someone at the facility when the collapse occurred.
“There were all these police cars up here,” Salutan told the Lufkin Daily News. “One of the guards walked by. He told me that the ceiling fell down, and I asked him who was hurt and he said, ‘A few people.’ He doesn’t know.”
Visitation was suspended for the day.
For their part, local law enforcement were caught off guard and also had trouble getting answers from MTC. Lufkin Police Chief Gerald Williamson told the Lufkin Daily News that he had never handled anything like this at the prison and that, like Salutan, he wasn't getting information fast enough from MTC staff.
“We are in a little bit of an odd situation because this is not our jurisdiction,” Williamson told the Lufkin Daily News. “The information has been very slow coming from prison staff. We don’t have any established protocol because we have never handled anything like this.”
Diboll Police Sgt. Lovell said response time from every area law enforcement agency was almost immediate, but echoed Williamson's concerns about how difficult it was to get information from MTC officials.
“I think Lufkin Police arrived before I did; even the chief and assistant chief are here,” Lovell told the Lukfin Daily News. “As far as what is going on inside, I am having to pull information from there. Even the guards don’t know what’s happening. I do know there is no threat of an escape. I think, given the situation, this has been handled as well as could be without getting any info from the inside.”
The Lufkin Daily News also reported that Major Ken Montgomery, an MTC official, stepped outside the gates only after the emergency response vehicles had cleared and offered this brief statement: “We’re good.”
GEO Group's Karnes County Correctional Center was found out of compliance in an Jail Inspection Report issued today by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS). According to inspection (attached as a PDF):
"While conducting the walk-through of the facility, it was discovered that there were 46 inmates confined in a holding cell with a capacity of 24. The capacity was visibly marked above the door of the cell."
Other problems found included a shortage of jail staff on sight, a past due inspection of the facility's kitchen, eight months of missing documentation related to emergency power equipment, and a lack of proper procedures to notify magistrate judges in the case of a prisoner with mental illness.
According to TCJS's population report, the facility had 388 prisoners at the time of inspection out of a total capacity of 550. All 388 prisoners were contract prisoners, and 355 were federal prisoners. The fact that the facility has overcrowded cells, but is under capacity, speaks to probable severe understaffing at the facility, a problem also mentioned in the report:
"While reviewing staffing rosters, it was determined that the 1 jailer per 48 inmates required ratio was not being met at all times as required by minimum jail standards. On samples reviewed, during every month of 2013, several shifts were found to have a shortage of jailers for the number of inmates in the facility. Shortages were normally between one to two jailers, but in some cases, they were three jailers short of meeting the requirement."
Staffing shortages shouldn't come as a surprise at Karnes which is in the heart of the Texas fracking boom and where unemployment is relatively low. With KCCC experiencing staffing shortages and these operational problems, one has to wonder if the same problem isn't impacting the neighboring Karnes County Civil Detention Center, which is not subject to TCJS inspections because it only holds federal detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.