Sunday's Austin American Statesman featured a front page story by Andrea Ball on fines being leveled against GEO Group's Montgomery County psych facility and plans to privatize a state mental hospital moving through an RFP process. Here's the lead:
"Sixteen months after the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility opened in Conroe, the state's first publicly funded, privately run psychiatric hospital is facing at least $53,000 in state fines for serious shortcomings in patient care.
The private operator, Geo Care, is a subsidiary of Geo Group, a private prison company that has drawn attention in recent years because of deaths, riots and sexual abuse at some units in Texas and other states." ("As East Texas public-private psych facility struggles, state plans more privatization," July 21)
More disturbingly, the state is not considering pulling out of the contract with GEO, but actually privatizing a state mental health hospital. According to Ball's article:
The problems come to light as the Department of State Health Services prepares to privatize one of the 10 public psychiatric hospitals it oversees. If Geo Care bids on the ongoing privatization effort — and it has expressed interest to public officials in doing so — its work in Montgomery County could be a harbinger of what taxpayers can expect if a for-profit company wins control of a public state hospital.
This week, the agency will accept bids from contractors seeking to run one of those facilities for at least 10 percent less than the current cost, a move that could save the state millions of dollars each year. If an offer is accepted, a private company could be running a state hospital by the end of the year.
We'll keep you posted on developments on the fight over privatizing a mental hospital in Texas.
A 21 year-old former LCS Corrections guard at that company's East Hidalgo Detention Center faces up to 15 years in prison on charges that he accepted bribes in return for smuggling a cell phone into the facility, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney's office ("Former La Villa Corrections Officer Indicted for Smuggling Cell Phone to Federal Inmate," May 17):
"Jorge Luis Sandoval, 21, of Pharr, Texas, has been arrested on a bribery charge for smuggling a cellular phone into the East Hildago Detention Center located in La Villa, Texas, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today.
... Sandoval is charged with one count of accepting a bribe while acting under the authority of the U.S Marshals Service as a correctional officer.
Sandoval worked as a corrections officer at the East Hildago Detention Center in La Villa, Texas. According to the indictment, Sandoval used his official position to enrich himself by accepting a cash payment from an individual acting on a federal inmate in exchange for smuggling a cellular telephone into the prison.
Bribery carries a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service. Assistant United States Attorney Casey N. MacDonald is prosecuting the case."
The East Hidalgo Detention Center has already been in the news twice this year. In February, the warden of the facility was suspended while under federal investigation into fraud, bribery and theft allegations. In March, the facility was back in the news after the McAllen Monitor investigated potentially inadequate tuberculosis testing and treatment at the facility. And, last October, a nurse plead guilty to smuggling marijuana into the facility. We'll keep you posted on developments from East Hidalgo.
The death of Pam Weatherby at Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail in 2010 may be symptomatic of much bigger problems at the facility. An expose by CBS 11 ("Mysterious Jail Death Raises Questions," April 26th) in Dallas shows that the facility has experienced seven deaths since 2004.
Weatherby was serving a one year sentence for drug possession when her health conditions - she was a brittle diabetic requiring constant care - rapidly deteriorated. According to the story:
“She was to the point where you couldn’t hold a conversation with her,” said Anne Roderick. Roderick lived in the same dorm cell as Weatherby. “She was sick, very, very sick. We would go to the guards. They would give us gloves. We were washing her sheets in a bucket in the shower.”
Roderick says she and other inmates took care of Weatherby’s medical needs because no one else would. “She was defecating and vomiting. “ She says taking care of Weatherby became a full-time job.
Weatherby's parents reported making 28 phone calls to the jail in an effort to get their daughter help. However, on the night of her death, CCA did not make a call to a nurse, despite facility policy. We reported that more damning is that initial reports about her death describing CCA staffing as inadequate were changed. According to the new report:
"CBS 11 has obtained internal CCA documents that show the chief of security, at the time of Pam Weatherby’s death, reported that the supervisors “did not follow proper procedures, in that they did not call a medical professional and advise them of the offender vomiting, prior to the medical staff arriving on the faculty at 0500 hours.” The supervisor recommends “termination” for the shift supervisor on July 15, 2010.
But, eight days later, on July 23, 2010, Senior Warden Raymond Byrd signs document for the state which state, “The actions by employee were consistent with TDCJ policy and procedure. No training needs have been identified at this time.”
CBS interviewed more than a dozen women at the state jail, contracted by TDCJ, that described dangerous and neglectful conditions at the facility:
"Abby is one of 14-women who have talked to CBS 11 news about what they experienced or witnessed while serving time at Dawson State Jail.
“Finally they stick me in a cell thinking I had a stomach virus,” explains Danna Parker. Parker, facing time for a DWI, said she stayed in segregation for 10 days without any medical treatment and without a doctor ever coming to check on her.
“I’m [sic] laying on a concrete steel frame, unable to move. I don’t have any liquids, “explains Parker.
Lorraine Brown wrote a bad check and was sentenced to time at Dawson. “They go wherever they go to pay for their crimes. They didn’t need to pay with their lives.”
As we've reported, the Dawson State Jail was one of the TDCJ-contracted facilities originally slated for possible closure during the last legislative session. Instead, TDCJ quietly renewed CCA's contract for the facility. Perhaps this latest report will reignite efforts to close the facility.
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.