CEC guard arrested for allegedly smuggling drugs into Liberty County jail

A 22 year old guard employed by private prison corporation Community Education Centers has been arrested and accused of smuggling drugs into the Liberty County Jail, according to the Cleveland Advocate ("Liberty County jailer arrested on drug charges," May 24):

"A Liberty County jailer has been arrested after she reportedly provided prohibited substances to inmates.

According to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, which has oversight over the management of the jail through Community Education Centers, the jailer, Latondra Natrell Brown, 22, was arrested Friday morning around 5:50 a.m. shortly after she appeared for work.

Brown, a resident of Ames, is facing three separate third-degree felony charges. She had been employed as a correction officer at the jail for about a year."

As we've reported, this is certainly not the first problem Liberty County has encountered after privatizing its jail operations. In fact, the Ballad of Liberty County was one of our Big Stories of 2012 after a plan to reduce jail costs by diverting some folks away from jail was thwarted because of the county's contract with CEC.   75th District Court Judge Mark Morefield, who supports the inmate reduction plan, stated at the time: “’One (private prison) bid said that if the inmate population goes below 200, the cost per inmate goes from $63 to $68 per day. If we work really hard to decrease the inmate population, the cost will go up to $70 per day, … [t]hey are taking all the incentive out of it.’” 

In October of last year, a study by Texas A&M researcher Lynn Greenwood for Liberty County found that de-privatization of the Liberty County Jail would help the county to manage its jail costs as it continues efforts to reduce the population in its jail.  Maybe it's time for Liberty County to act on Greenwood's recommendation.  

Joe Corley Detention Center jail sold to GEO Group

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.

CEC Staff Indicted on Federal Bribery Charges

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. 


Big Stories of 2012 - #1 - Momentum Builds To Close CCA's Dawson State Jail

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.

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