Scandals

Contraband smuggling in GEO's San Antonio lock-up leads to guilty pleas & indictments

GEO Group's Central Texas Detention Center was in the news last week, with smuggling charges bringing guilty pleas and indictments.  From the San Antonio Express-News ("Mexican Mafia members had cell phones, drugs in fed jail," Feb 9) story on events at the facility:

"Two members of the Texas Mexican Mafia pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that they got cell phones and drugs smuggled into a federal jail with help from a guard. ...

Hernandez's plea deal said he made a number of phone calls while awaiting trial on drug-related charges at the Central Texas Detention Facility, a federal jail in San Antonio run by Florida-based The GEO Group. ... Hernandez also asked his wife to contact another Texas Mexican Mafia member to let him know that Hernandez had identified three “snitches” who cooperated with police, the plea deal said. One of the three was later found murdered, the deal said. ...

Three people were charged in the smuggling and await trial, including former GEO employee Jack Shane McNeal, inmate Antonio Molina-Ortega and Marisol Reyna Mermella, records show."

Burnt Orange Report covers Littlefield private jail debacle

Former Texas Prison Bid'ness blogger Nick Hudson has a new post over at the Burnt Orange Report ("For-Profit Lock-Up Leaves Littlefield Taxpayers With Texas-sized Headache," February 8) on the Bill Clayton Detention Center.  Here's an excerpt from Nick's piece:

"For the past three years, the small West Texas town of Littlefield has had to come up with $65,000 a month to service a loan on an empty prison it never needed. To avoid defaulting on its prison loan, Littlefield has laid off workers, cut every department's budget, raised property taxes, increased fees, raided its municipal sewer and water fund, and even delayed its purchase of a new police car.

With just 6,507 residents during the 2000 census, Littlefield did not need a new prison. The city's elected officials decided to build one anyways. Littlefield issued $10 million in revenue bonds for construction of a 310-bed for-profit detention center as part of the city's economic development strategy in 1999. Revenue bonds are a special type of municipal bond that do not require voter approval, because they are backed by the expected revenue a project will generate. Littlefield's politicians built the prison believing it would pay for itself, pump money into the local economy, and expand job opportunity.

As a result of this experience, Littlefield's bond rating was downgraded to junk status, and Littlefield taxpayers were saddled with millions in debt after discovery of mismanagement by for-profit prison operator Geo Group led the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) to terminate its contract and remove its prisoners in 2009. When IDOC cancelled its contract, Geo Group bailed on Littlefield by terminating its contract and laying off 74 workers."

Here's hoping that Nick continues to blog on these topics at BOR.  Nick even rounds out the post with a Molly Ivins quote that inspired this blog's name:

"You get nightmare public policy consequences, as well. What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons. The result is even more idiocy, like the three-strikes law and long terms for small-time drug possession."

Was CCA letter sent to Governor's office attempt to lessen worries about cell phones at Mineral Wells?

For years, a steady stream of reports have plagued Corrections Corporation of America's Mineral Wells Pre-parole Transfer Center.  They have included prisoner injuries requiring hospitalization to reports of inappropriate sexual behavior between guards and prisoners, excessive use of force (including chemical spray) by guards, and at least one prisoner uprising.

By far the most common report coming out of the facility was the introduction of contraband - specifically cell phones - being thrown over the prison gates.  In fact, in 2008 alone, we reported four separate arrests of individuals throwing cell phones into the prison.  Mineral Wells was floated as a possible facility closure back in 2010, but avoided the ax and in fact was awarded a new contract in August of this year.

We've now received documents (attached) that show that CCA contacted the Governor's office in an attempt to assuage concerns about cell phone smuggling, and to push a piece of national legislation that would give states more power to block cell phone signals near prisons. 

According to CCA President and CEO Damon Hininger's cover letter (accompanied by pages of company propoganda):

"Cell phones are quickly surpassing tobacco and drugs as the number one contraband item in our nation's prison and jail system today.  We need to look no further than the several recent examples of how contraband cell phones have played roles in serious criminal activity.  These include threats to judicial and government officials, escape incidents and the furtherance of gang related crime, both inside and outside correctional facilities.  Unfortunately, even the best operational security protocols within correctional facilities have been unable to deter 100 percent of this cell phone contraband.

As a leading correctional provider, CCA fully supports national efforts to combat prison cell phone contraband.  In that regard, we wanted you to be aware that we are encouraging elected officials to support the Safe Prisons Communications Act of 2009 (S. 251), authored by U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.  This legislation would enable correctional agencies to utilize existing technology to block cell phone signals within prisons, jails, and detention centers."

The full documents are certainly worth a thumb through to see what kind of materials CCA is sending elected officials in Texas. 

CEC guard pleads guilty to smuggling drugs into Liberty County facility

A Community and Education Centers guard has plead guilty to smuggling drugs into the Liberty County Jail, according to a story in the Cleveland Advocate ("Liberty County jailer guilty of smuggling drugs," October 18th). 

"James Allen Roach pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield on Tuesday, Oct. 18, to attempting to provide a federal inmate with a prohibited object.

According to information presented in court, on Feb. 24, 2011, Roach, a correctional officer for the Liberty County Community Education Center (CEC), was arrested for arranging to deliver marijuana and tobacco into the Liberty County CEC to a federal inmate in exchange for money. Roach was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 2, 2011 and charged with federal violations."

This is not the first time that CEC's Liberty County Jail has had problems.  Earlier this year, the facility failed its Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection for multiple violations.  The Warden at the facility was not licensed as a jailer at the time.  See our previous coverage of the Liberty County Jail here:

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