Scandals

Death at CCA's Dawson State Jail raises broad concerns in CBS expose

The death of Pam Weatherby at Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail in 2010 may be symptomatic of much bigger problems at the facility.  An expose by CBS 11 ("Mysterious Jail Death Raises Questions," April 26th) in Dallas shows that the facility has experienced seven deaths since 2004.   

Weatherby was serving a one year sentence for drug possession when her health conditions - she was a brittle diabetic requiring constant care - rapidly deteriorated.  According to the story:

“She was to the point where you couldn’t hold a conversation with her,” said Anne Roderick. Roderick lived in the same dorm cell as Weatherby.  “She was sick, very, very sick. We would go to the guards. They would give us gloves. We were washing her sheets in a bucket in the shower.”

Roderick says she and other inmates took care of Weatherby’s medical needs because no one else would.  “She was defecating and vomiting. “ She says taking care of Weatherby became a full-time job.

Weatherby's parents reported making 28 phone calls to the jail in an effort to get their daughter help.  However, on the night of her death, CCA did not make a call to a nurse, despite facility policy. We reported that more damning is that initial reports about her death describing CCA staffing as inadequate were changed. According to the new report:

"CBS 11 has obtained internal CCA documents that show the chief of security, at the time of Pam Weatherby’s death, reported that the supervisors “did not follow proper procedures, in that they did not call a medical professional and advise them of the offender vomiting, prior to the medical staff arriving on the faculty at 0500 hours.”  The supervisor recommends “termination” for the shift supervisor on July 15, 2010.

But, eight days later, on July 23, 2010, Senior Warden Raymond Byrd signs document for the state which state, “The actions by employee were consistent with TDCJ policy and procedure. No training needs have been identified at this time.”

CBS interviewed more than a dozen women at the state jail, contracted by TDCJ, that described dangerous and neglectful conditions at the facility: 

"Abby is one of 14-women who have talked to CBS 11 news about what they experienced or witnessed while serving time at Dawson State Jail.

“Finally they stick me in a cell thinking I had a stomach virus,” explains Danna Parker. Parker, facing time for a DWI, said she stayed in segregation for 10 days without any medical treatment and without a doctor ever coming to check on her.

“I’m [sic] laying on a concrete steel frame, unable to move. I don’t have any liquids, “explains Parker.

Lorraine Brown wrote a bad check and was sentenced to time at Dawson.  “They go wherever they go to pay for their crimes. They didn’t need to pay with their lives.”

 

As we've reported, the Dawson State Jail was one of the TDCJ-contracted facilities originally slated for possible closure during the last legislative session.  Instead, TDCJ quietly renewed CCA's contract for the facility.  Perhaps this latest report will reignite efforts to close the facility.

 

The Ballad of Liberty County

This post is a guest entry by Jane Atkinson, an MSSW intern working with Grassroots Leadership.  

After twice temporarily extending its jail contract with Community Education Centers, the Liberty County Commissioners Court voted last Monday to renew the contract for two years (Cleveland Advocate, "County approves jail contract for approximately $4 million annually," April 16), with an option to break the contract in six months. Though the decision to renew is disappointing, there is hope that the county will push for de-privatization of the jail over the next six months. 

Liberty County has had a rough relationship with CEC. After Liberty County implemented some smart-on-crime tactics and lowered its jail population, CEC raised the per diem rate of each person in the jail, keeping Liberty County from saving money (Cleveland Advocate, "County’s jail inmate population down, but companies now asking for more money per inmate," January 21).

In addition to bad financial deals, CEC has also raised concerns over its ability to properly manage its facilities, from failed inspections as recently as 2011, to the recent indictment of a CEC guard for smuggling drugs to inmates. An op-ed I wrote two weeks ago further details the tenuous relationship between Liberty County and CEC. These troubles led to the county considering a new private manager (LaSalle/Southwest Corrections) or taking over jail operations themselves.   

Furthermore, a feature by Sarah Beth Bolin of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition in the Vindicator makes common-sense recommendations on how the county can decrease the jailed population and save money by not contracting with a private company. 

The new contract with CEC comes with a hefty price tag. Last year the county spent $3.2 million on the jail. The new contract is for $4 million annually. That’s an increase of $800,000 when the jail population is actually lower than it was last year. With this contract the per diem rate is on a sliding scale, so if there are fewer inmates the rate increases, which takes away the financial incentive for the county to reduce the inmate population. It was this poor dealing that had the county looking for other options in the first place. 

Liberty County Sheriff Patterson said, “I think it will be a win-win situation for employees and the contractors.” But how does the county or taxpayers win in this equation? 

On the bright side, a Liberty County official with whom I have been in contact let me know that, according to one Commissioner, Liberty County will pursue a study to determine if the County should run its own jail. With six months to consider a county take-over of the jail, it’s possible the commissioners and the sheriff may yet make a better decision for the county. It is an election year, after all, so there may be some pressure on the commissioners.

 

GEO guard indicted for contraband at Val Verde Correctional Center

A GEO Group guard has been indicted for smuggling contraband into the Val Verde Correctional Center in Del Rio, according to an article in the San Antonio Express-News: 

"Isau Juarez, 20, was arrested Thursday in San Antonio. The indictment by a grand jury in Del Rio said Juarez provided the items to an inmate identified only as B.H. at the Val Verde Correctional Facility, which is run by Florida-based The GEO Group.

The indictment said Juarez smuggled the cell phone on Dec. 19, 2011, and the drugs on Aug. 11, 2011 and Feb. 13, 2012. If convicted, Juarez faces up to five years in prison." (Guillermo Contreras, "Ex-jailer charged with smuggling cell phone and pot to inmate," April 19)

This is certainly not the first problem the Val Verde facility has had.  Back in 2007, we published a piece called "Problems haunt GEO's Val Verde Correctional Center" after a 19-year old guard was indicted on a felony count of deprivation of rights under the color of law after twice punching a prisoner.  Here is some of our previous coverage of the Val Verde Correctional Center:

Fifth escape from GEO's Southeast Texas Transitional Center in 18 months

A prisoner escape last week at GEO Group's Southeast Texas Transitional Center is the fifth escape from that facility in 18 months, according to a devastating write-up on the facility in the Houston Press  ("Michael Elbert Young: Fifth Escapee in 18 Months from GEO Group Facility," April 6):

"A high-risk child rapist who hopped over his halfway house's barbed wire fence Thursday night is the fifth sex offender to abscond from the privately run Southeast Texas Transitional Center in 18 months.

According to the Houston Chronicle story linked above, authorities say Michael Elbert Young, who might be "mentally unstable if not taking medication," removed his electronic tracking monitor. He was "released from prison after serving eight years for two aggravated assault convictions. Both were sex related. He also served a 20-year term for sexual assault of a child and attempted aggravated sexual assault." Oh, and he has a history of using knives.

Owned and operated by Florida-based GEO Group, the facility at 10950 Old Beaumont Highway was formerly known as the Ben A. Reid Community Correctional Facility. Apparently, since GEO can't keep track of its convicted sexual predators, it just figured changing the name would solve the problem. After all, it's much cheaper than hiring a competent staff and improving security."

 

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