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.
The Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, a Corrections Corporation of America-run jail that will be closed by the end of next month, is the site of a new contraband scandal.
The Weatherford Democrat reports eighteen indictments for bringing in or possessing contraband items like cell phones and tobacco were handed down on July 25th by a Parker County grand jury. It's not the first time these kinds of charges have come from Mineral Wells, but it may well be the last.
Along with the Dawson State Jail, the Mineral Wells facility was targeted for closure during the most recent Texas legislative session. Dawson and Mineral Wells are two of five contracts that CCA lost nationally in June.