Montgomery County commissioners voted unanimously yesterday to sell the Joe Corley Detention Facility to GEO Group for $65 million. The facility, which in recent years has been the subject of federal investigation into financial misconduct, has been up for sale since January.
The jail was financed with $44.8 million in tax-exempt bonds under the assumption that 30% of its beds would be used by the county by 2013; the rest of the 1,288 beds are contracted out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Marshals. However, Montgomery County's incarcerated population didn't grow as expected and, in 2012, the IRS revoked the bonds' original tax exemption. The county now owes an additional $7 million in fines to the IRS.
The fate of the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility is still in the air. When GEO Group placed a bid on Joe Corley, it also expressed interest in purchasing the 100-bed facility for $35 million; the county is waiting on an appraisal of the facility, originally built for $33 million, before making a decision. MCMHTF is the only privately-run state mental health treatment facility in Texas.
Recently, officials from the Department of Justice, charged 13 Ector County Correctional Center employees with bribery. The private jail employees are alleged to have supplied federal inmates with contraband items such as cell phones, marijuana and tobacco in return for cash. According to a report by the Odessa American ("Federal Jail Employees Indicted," January 4):
"All 13 suspects were arrested Wednesday on bribery counts related to banned items smuggled to inmates in the federal detention facility. Investigators say the contraband included cellphones, charges, tobacco and marijuana. The cases go back to 2011."
The Ector County Correctional Center is a federal lockup facility operated by the Community Education Centers (CEC) and is housed within the Ector County Courthouse. According to recent reports the indicted employees were fired. Yet the prison has been plagued with previous scandals that we have noted before.
The investigation in to bribery charges demonstrates larger systemic problems that plague private prisons. Research shows that the problems associated with adequately staffing private prisons compromise public safety.
We will keep y'all posted on the developments of this case.
As we usher in 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of 2012, based on stories covered by our blog. Our number one story of the year is the growing number of voices calling for the closure of Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail.
TPB Big Story #1 - Momentum Builds to Close CCA's Dawson State Jail
For several years, advocates, legislators, and community leaders have advocated for the closure of Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail. As Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast put it in 2010:
"This ill-placed facility is located in downtown Dallas on the banks of the Trinity River in prime real estate the city hopes to redevelop. So the fact that Dawson's contract ends on January 15, 2011 is a significant date for the city of Dallas: If the state renews the contract, the proposed riverfront redevelopment could be put on hold indefinitely. It's possible, then, we may see members of the Dallas delegation and related development interests pushing for non-renewal, though certainly CCA will have its own lobbyists on the other side."
Senator John Whitmire also publicly floated the idea that the prison could be closed. However, despite these calls and Dallas citizens' outcry to move the prison off the valued real estate, TDCJ renewed CCA's contract for the Dawson State Jail in 2010.
In 2011 and 2012, a series of tragic and heartbreaking deaths of women incarcerated at the facility have put Dawson back in the spotlight. The deaths and related scandals have been chronciled by Ginger Allen of Dallas’ CBS 11 and put together by my colleague Kymberlie Quong Charles at the Grassroots Leadership blog who had this to say about the facility:
At Dawson, however, far too many people have entered what are supposed to be six-month to two-year stints, and have died inside the prison of medically treatable conditions. The most heart-wrenching of these deaths is that of a four-day old premature baby girl who was born without any medical staff present. While there seems to have been a code of silence for years about prisoner neglect at the facility, one Dallas journalist recently began diligently exposing these stories in an effort to seek justice for those who have died, as well as those still incarcerated there, and for the families that are affected by the mistreatment of their loved ones while they are under state supervision.
Senator Whitmire has again called on the facility to be closed along with CCA's Mineral Wells pre-parole transfer facility, and AFSCME, the union that represents correctional officers in Texas, has joined the call for closure. We will undoubtedly be covering this story well into the 2013 legislative session and beyond, so stay tuned to Texas Prison Bid'ness for updates.
Amongst the major problems with private prisons are misguided attempts to control costs. The problem with containing expenses is that cutting corners has serious consequences that can compromise public safety and well being. This recent news report about the Dawson State Jail, (CBS 11, Guards Come Forward in Dawson Jail Investigation, October 8, 2012) makes that clear. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) runs the prison.
The Dallas News station has covered several deaths that occurred at the prison, including that of Pam Weatherby. The recent news report cites two guards who believe the deaths could have been prevented.
For-profit prison companies are known to face the challenge of maintaining public safety while cutting costs in the provision of services including health care. CCA has a pretty bad track record when it comes to in-prison health care that includes:
An audit of health services at the Dawson State Jail highlights that there are systemic problems in the provision of health services at the prison. The document assesses compliance with several health metrics including:
In CBS 11’s report, a CCA spokesperson is quick to point out that CCA does not provide medical services, but rather the prison’s healthcare is provided by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) under contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). This goes to show that contracting out prison services is a slippery slope that can lead to shifting responsibility and an inability to accept responsibility for poor management practices.
One thing is clear, in spite of any contract, TDCJ is responsible for health services at Dawson State Jail and all of its facilities -- private or not. The loved ones of those prisoners who have died under circumstances related to their ability to receive adequate healthcare are entitled to answers. We hope that continued news reports will uncover them.
We will keep y’all posted as this story unfolds. Stay tuned.