Scandals

Failed Inspections & Escapes at LaSalle Southwestern Corrections' Burnet County Jail

It's been a bad couple of weeks for LaSalle Southwest CorrectionsBurnet 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. 

More problems - this time TB screening - at LCS's East Hidalgo Detention Center

Jared Taylor at the McAllen Monitor continues his paper's excellent coverage of ongoing problems at the LCS Corrections-operated East Hidalgo Detention Center, this time with a story on an investigation into the adequateness of inmate tuberculosis testing at the facility.  Early in the week, the Monitor reported that the LCS warden at the facility, Elberto E. Bravo, had been suspended as he faced a federal criminal investigation into fraud, bribery and theft allegations.

In Saturday's Monitor ("Tuberculosis concerns at La Villa prison irk officials," March 3) story details a multi-agency meeting about problems in screening of TB patients at the prison located in La Villa.  According to the story:

"The Monitor learned of a meeting between several federal, state and local agencies and LCS Corrections, which owns and operates the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa. Questions about the facility came after the prison’s warden was suspended late last month.

Health officials questioned the prison doctor’s assertion that it was safe for possible carriers of tuberculosis — including inmates who had tested positive in the past — to be kept with the rest of the prison’s population, said Adan Muñoz, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

...  The meeting came after Hidalgo County Health Department officials learned a federal inmate at the facility recently who tested positive for tuberculosis, was released to Border Patrol agents and deported to Mexico without treatment, Sheriff Lupe Treviño said.  “He was deported without any precautions or advisories put out,” the sheriff said.

In another instance, county health officials learned of four inmates at the prison who had tested positive for tuberculosis or were possible carriers of the infection and were among other inmates, said Shannon Herklotz, assistant director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, who attended the meeting last month.

County officials raised their concerns with LCS, but received little response from the prison’s management."

Accountability and transparency appear to be problems at the facility.  We'll keep you posted on updates.

LCS warden suspended while under federal investigation

This is how Jared Taylor's recent article in the McCallen Monitor ("Criminal inquiry into East Hidalgo warden prompts suspension," Feb. 27) begins: 

"The warden at Hidalgo County’s only privately owned detention center has been suspended with pay amid a federal investigation into criminal allegations.

Elberto E. Bravo, 52, was suspended with pay from his post at the East Hidalgo Detention Center late last week amid a federal inquiry into fraud, bribery and theft allegations, a law enforcement official familiar with the situation said.

The federal inquiry into Bravo came after the U.S. Marshals Service began investigating the privately owned detention center last month. Further details about the federal inquiry were unavailable late Monday evening."

Last October, a nurse was of smuggling marijuana into the facility.  However, there is no indication the two investigations are related and there is clearly much more information needed on this story.  We'll keep you updated as we find out more.  In the meantime, check out our 2007 article, "A Closer Look at LCS Corrections," about the company that operates East Hidalgo.

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."

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