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.
There has been another escape at GEO Group's Southeast Texas Transitional Center, according to the Houston Press Blog (Thomas Lee Elkins: GEO Group Lets Sixth Rapist Stroll Away From Halfway House in 24 Months, October 8, 2012):
"The rapist of a 16-year-old girl is the latest sexual predator to slip through the sieve that is the privately run Southeast Texas Transitional Center. Thomas Lee Elkins, convicted of aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault in 1991, absconded from the facility, 10950 Old Beaumont Highway, October 5, according to reports.
He's the sixth offender to float away from Southeast in 24 months. Formerly known as the Ben A. Reid Community Correctional Facility, Southeast is run by the Florida-based GEO Group, which, despite its appalling track record in Texas and elsewhere, keeps getting sweet state contracts."
The Associated Press (September 10) is reporting that six Laredo residents who plead guilty to buying automatic weapons were employees of the private prison corporation The GEO Group:
"Federal prosecutors say the six worked at the Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo. The center is privately managed by The Geo Group and holds federal detainees awaiting trial for the U.S. Marshals Service. The seventh was a close friend of one of them.
Prosecutors alleged that in 2011, the group acquired 16 guns, mostly semi-automatic rifles of the sort preferred by organized criminal groups in Mexico. In the purchases, they indicated they were buying the guns for their own use. However, they were being paid to buy them for someone else, a tactic known as straw purchases.
Prosecutors indicated that Geo Corrections cooperated in the federal investigation." ("6 federal detention center employees plead guilty to illegally buying guns in Texas," September 10, 2012.)
Here is some of our previous coverage of GEO's Rio Grande Detention Center:
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.