Eight former private prison guards at Community Education Center's Ector County Detention Center have been sentenced to prison after being accused of participating in a scheme to deliver contraband to incarcerated people in exchange for cash. According to Jon Vanderlaan's story in the Odessa American:
"Several more people were sentenced in connection with a federal lockup bribery scandal in which jail employees were accused of giving inmates banned goods in exchange for cash.
In total, eight of the accused jailers from the Community Education Center received federal prison time as well as three years supervised release after their federal sentences. One jailer received probation."
The facility has previously made TPB write-ups for cell-phone smuggling that lead to indictments in 2008 and the suicide of Luis Chavez-Chavez, an immigrant prisoner being held on illegal entry charges, that same year.
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.
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.
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.