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.
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.”
Two guards at the Jack Hartwell Detention Center have been arrested following accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct with prisoners.
According to the article ("Private Jail Guards Arrested for Having Sex with Inmates," 9/18/13) published by KWTX,
"Regina Edwards, 44, posted a $5,000 bond Tuesday and was released after she was charged with participating in an improper sexual act with a person in custody. Dorothy Pennington, 22, turned herself into deputies at the sheriff's office Wednesday morning and was being booked into the county jail."
Investigators have interviewed one prisoner who claims that he and a female guard have had sexual contact four times. The complaint identifying Edwards claims that investigators were able to trace phone conversations during which sexual matters were discussed. On Wednesday morning, no official complaint was available for Pennington. The incidents in question took place between 2011 and 2013.