Scandals

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."

 

Problems, failed inspections, canceled contracts mount at McLennan County CEC lock-ups

Problems appear to be mounting for Community Education Centers (CEC) in central Texas and beyond.  

CEC's McLennan County (Waco) facilities have come under increased scrutiny from the McLennan County Commissioners Court and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  CEC operates two facilities in Waco, the 326-bed downtown jail and the 816-bed speculative Jack Harwell Detention Center.

Last week, according to KXXV ("County Commissioners concerned with jail budget," March 19), the McLennan County Commissioners started asking hard questions after the Sheriff's office asked for $400,000 in additional funds for overflow detainees at CEC's Jack Harwell Detention Center.  According to KXXV, the Commissioners may be considering taking the downtown jail back under public control:

"This request comes after the McLennan Co. Sheriff's Office already spent this year's $1 million budget and some commissioners believe even the new money will not get them through the rest of the fiscal year.  The sheriff's office will be requesting $385,000 from the commissioners court to help pay for the feeding and care of overflowed inmates.

Some county commissioners see this as a problem however, because the sheriff's office is already paying over $200,000 a month to house between 150-165 inmates at the CEC (Community Education Centers) run Jack Harwell facility.

The request for more money comes as the commissioners wait for those inmates to move back into the downtown facility that they believe the CEC should have already repaired. 

"I'd just like to get some input and that's the one thing I was going to ask from the Sheriff's Department [Tuesday]," said Commissioner Kelly Snell. "Is the sheriff's department in constant contact with CEC? And is our attorney as well with CEC?"

The main problem the commissioners have is that the downtown jail could bring them more money because the county has the option to operate it. As of now the commissioners have no idea when CEC will finish upgrading that jail however."

If McLennan is thinking of taking the facility back under public control, they would be the second county, after Liberty County, thinking of taking jail operations back from CEC.  

CEC's problems don't end there.  The Jack Harwell Detention Center is currently listed as non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for numerous reasons (see attached document if link doesn't work).  

In December, Jack Harwell also lost its Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract to detain immigrant women after, according to the Waco Tribune: 

"the agency investigated complaints from its inmates about housing conditions at the Harwell jail and determined that New Jersey-based Community Education Centers, which manages the jail for the county, was "unable to provide appropriate medical treatment in accordance to our detention standards."

Critiques of CEC's handling of immigration detainees continued this week as New York University and New Jersey immigrant rights groups issued a report claiming the company's Delaney Hall facility does not "fully comply with ICE standards, the report documents problems with everything from access to legal assistance and worship services to adequate health care, food and other basic services for detainees."  (Washington Post, March 23)

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