Several current and former Texas GEO faciltiies are subject to a class action lawsuit settlement challenging the company's strip search policy of low-level inmates. I first saw the story as part of a Philadelphia Inquirer story ("Settlement reached over Delco Prison strip-searches," May 20),
A company that formerly operated the Delaware County Prison has settled a federal class-action lawsuit involving strip-searches of incoming inmates charged with minor crimes.
The $2.9 million settlement awards up to $400 each to about 10,000 inmates at six GEO Group facilities.
Prisoners at the Delaware County facility, now operated by Community Education Centers of West Caldwell, N.J., who were strip-searched between Jan. 30, 2006, and Jan. 30, 2008, may be eligible for settlement awards. The lawsuit named five other GEO Group prisons, in Texas, New Mexico, and Illinois.
... Those eligible to apply for settlement include prisoners who were not accused of drug, weapons, or violent crimes; those involving probation or parole violations; and those who did not behave in a manner that would give guards cause to conduct strip searches.
According to Class Action Lawsuits in the News ("The GEO Group Jail, Correctional Facility & Detention Center Strip Search Class Action Lawsuit Settlement," May 24), those eligible for the settlement payment include folks who were strip-searched for minor infractions at the Frio County Detention Center in Pearsall, the Dickens County Detention Center (now operated by CEC) in Dickens, and the Newton County Correctional Center in Newton between January 30, 2006 to January 30, 2008. According to the site:
The GEO Group Jail Strip Search class action settlement, if finally approved by the Court, reportedly would entitle each settlement class member who submits a timely (by September 14, 2010) and valid claim form to a payment of up to $400.00 as their share of a $2.999 million Settlement Fund (after payment of administrative costs, an incentive award to the representative plaintiffs, and attorneys’ fees).
In addition, the GEO Group has agreed to revise its allegedly unlawful strip search policy going forward, and has agreed to an injunction to ensure that detainees being admitted to the Jails are only strip searched where there is reasonable suspicion to justify the search.
Settlement information is at www.multistatestripsearchsettlement.com.
The Brownsville Herald ("10 guards suing Management & Training Corp," May 21) reported last week that guards are suing the Management and Training Corporation for wrongful termination. According to the Herald story,
Ten former security guards at Willacy County Regional Detention Facility have filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Management & Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah, and two company officials claiming they were fired for refusing to make false statements.
Peter Zavaletta, the attorney for 10 of the 11 guards who were fired, said his clients lost their jobs for refusing to sign statements saying other guards were gambling while on duty.
"None of my clients were gambling and when they refused to sign statements accusing each other of gambling, they were terminated," he said.
Zavaletta said he doesn’t know who the 11th guard is or who his attorney is, but was told by MTC there is an 11th guard who was fired. None of the guards had ever been disciplined and several had been promoted to supervisory positions at the privately owned and operated prison, the lawsuit states.
The Willacy County Regional Detention Facility is one of two large MTC prisons in Raymondville. The other, the Willacy County Processing Center, labeled by the press "Tent City" after being built of a series of Kevlar pods, is the nation's largest and one of its most notorious immigrant detention centers. "Tent City" has come been protested many times by immigrant, faith, and human rights organizations.
We'll keep you posted on developments from this lawsuit.
The Coastal Bend Detention Center, LCS Corrections' so-called "flagship facility," will be under extreme scrutiny over the next 90 days following a failed inspection and the unauthorized release of an inmate because of mistaken identity, which went unknown for three weeks. LCS hired Alberto Bravo as a new warden shortly before the failed inspection in hopes of changing the facility for the better and improving their standards. Bravo's work temporarily paid off as they passed their second round of inspections. However, shortly after passing the second inspection, they mistakenly released an inmate and did not realize what had happened for three weeks prior to the "escape."
Because of this, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has defined the facility as being "at-risk," meaning over the next 90 days the TCJS will have full authority to conduct unannounced inspections at any day or time. If no citations are filed from the inspections over this time, then the facility will be taken off the list. If there are citations or failures found, then more actions will be taken, depending on the offenses. Warden Bravo in investigating the release, and has narrowed his focus to specific employees. He told the Caller-Times, “We are trying to narrow it down to where it happened,” Bravo said. “It was human error. The procedures we had in place, they failed to follow the procedures" ("Robstown prison faces unannounced inspections after inadvertant inmate release," The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 18 December, 2009).
We will remain aware about the status of this facility and relay any information we find through these unannounced inspections.
The LCS Corrections-operated Coastal Bend Detention Center in Robstown, TX has been in the public eye recently. After initially failing their first jail standards inspection, the facility, equipped with a brand new Warden, passed their second inspection with the commendation of Adan Muñoz, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards director. However, the CBDC is not out of the woods yet.
Jamie Powell at the Corpus Christi Caller Times first reported on the problem of an inmate who "escaped" from the facility ("Robstown prison discovers three weeks later that prisoner is missing," The Caller Times, December 11, 2009). The inmate escaped on November 19th, unknown to the facility until December 10th. To make matters worse, the inmate didn't dig a hole and crawl to freedom like in the movies, rather, the facility willingly released him because they confused his identity. The facility failed to return Ms. Powell's telephone calls, as well as my own personal attempts via telephone and email.
The escape of this prisoner is interesting because one of the reasons that CBDC failed their initial inspection was because they failed to perform the required face to face check-ins with each inmate. Additionally, the facility also failed to correctly classify the inmates. These two reasons combined are a recipe for incidents like this where an inmate walked out the door because of poor organization and classification, and why it took so long for the facility to realize what had happened.
Where once Muñoz was impressed with the facility's turnaround after failing the inspection, he now appears disappointed withthe facility:
It doesn’t appear that Estrada Martinez escaped on purpose, said Adan Muñoz, the jail commission’s executive director, after reviewing LCS’s preliminary escape report. He was released.
“What transpired between the wrongly released inmate and the releasing officer is something that LCS will have to investigate,” Muñoz said. “There is no overt action shown by the mistakenly released inmate to indicate he made any statements to the releasing officer that he was attempting to disguise who he was while being released.
“And why the receiving transport service did not verify the inmate’s identity is also something that needs to be ascertained and investigated,” Muñoz said.
LCS contacted the jail commission within 24 hours of the discovery, which is required by law. The company must submit a written report detailing why and how the escape happened, Muñoz said.
The release counts as an escape and could pose problems for the prison, Muñoz said. ("Robstown prison discovers three weeks later that prisoner is missing," The Caller Times, December 11, 2009)
Questions still remain: why would a facility, shortly after passing an inspection with Texas jail standards, let this seriously negligent event happen? Are the guards falling back into their old routines prior to their inspection? What is happening within LCS Corrections to prevent this sort of release/breakout from happening again?
LCS Corrections calls the Coastal Bend Detention Center their "flagship" facility. If CBDC is their flagship, and inmates are walking out without disguising their identity or breaking through a wall, I am surprised the rest of their "fleet" is even able to stay afloat.