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:
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 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)
It's been a bad couple of weeks for LaSalle Southwest Corrections' Burnet County Jail. The facility was the subject to headlines across the state after a Shawshank-like escape where a prisoner broke through bricks under his sink and crawled to freedom through a skylight while guards assumed pillows tucked under his bedding were the prisoner (he has since been apprehended). It appears that both shoddy construction and human error led to the escape.
According to a story on KVUE ("Sheriff: Jail staff to blame for inmate's escape," March 1) LaSalle Southwest Corrections has admitted fault in the incident:
"It's on us," warden Bruce Zeller said. "Like the sheriff said, the responsibility is on Lasalle Corrections, our facility, and our employees."
Burnet County Sheriff W.T. Smith is in a battle of words and wills with members of the Burnet Commissioners Court. Commissioners have blamed Smith's oversight of the jail for the problems, but Smith - rightfully, I believe - complains in the Burnet Bulletin ("War of wards over jail heats up," March 5) that he has limited purview over the facility:
"I would like to have it, yes. But I don’t believe it’s financially feasible,” Smith said. But that’s not my call.” Smith acknowledged that, "Constitutionally, the sheriff is over the jail,” but said he has little authority.
It now appears that structural issues with the jail, constructed by prison construction firm Hale Mills, may be at fault. The facility has flunked its Texas Commission on Jail Standards review, according to the River Tribune ("State officials find Burnet County Jail flunks security review, March 5):
"The Burnet County Jail has flunked a state inspection that found design flaws in the wake of an escape March 1 by an inmate who chiseled a hole in the wall.
The state report says the private-public jail, which opened with 587 beds in April 2009 at a cost of $23 million, is "non-compliant" with security standards. "It means something is wrong," County Judge Donna Klaeger said March 5.
The Burnet County Sheriff's Office supervises the jail, which is operated by the private firm LaSalle Southwest Corrections.
Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspectors recently found "deficiencies" in the network of concrete blocks and reinforcement bars that support walls near cells for handicapped inmates, Executive Director Adan Munoz said."
This is certainly not the first problem for the Burnet County Jail. The prison had another high-profile escape in September of 2009. In the fall-out from that escape, the jail received a sharp rebuke from the Jail Standards Commission for not providing medical care to a pregnant inmate, amongst other problem. At the time, TCJS director Muñoz described the situation this way: “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism." It doesn't appear that much has changed for LaSalle Southwestern Corrections.