Scandals

Update on Hutto Guard Convicted Charges Related to Sexual Oppression

We have covered previously that Donald Dunn, a former CCA guard at the T. Don Hutto Facility, was convicted of charges related to sexual oppression of immigrant detainees.  Last September, Dunn was sentenced to a year in jail--the maximum sentence for a Class A Misdemeanor in Texas--and two years of probation following his release.

Last week Federal charges were filed against Dunn who is still serving his state sentence in a Williamson County facility.  According to recent reports:

A former T. Don Hutto Correction Center employee is accused of fondling female undocumented immigrants in his custody.  Former residential supervisor Donald Dunn of Austin has been charged with federal deprivation of rights.  He allegedly touched the victims in a sexual manner for self gratification while conducting illegal searchers from December 2009 to May 2010.  He faces prison time if convicted.

We will keep y'all updated as this plays out in federal court.

ACLU intervenes in suit for documents related to GEO's Reeves County detention center

The ACLU of Texas intervened in a suit to attain access documents related to the GEO Group's troubled Reeves County Detention Center in west Texas.  According to the ACLU's press release Monday,

"The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas has intervened in litigation concerning Reeves County’s refusal to disclose documents related to medical care, staffing, and the deaths of several prisoners at the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC), a privately-managed prison owned by the county.

The Attorney General recently ruled that Reeves County must disclose this information pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act. In response, Reeves County filed suit to challenge the Attorney General’s determination, arguing that the County is entitled to withhold the documents.  RCDC’s private prison contractors claim that the documents are their “trade secrets.” The ACLU of Texas is intervening in this suit to seek a court order releasing the requested documents.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons pays as much as $68 million annually to house approximately 3,000 prisoners at RCDC.  The ACLU of Texas submitted open records requests to Reeves County after prisoners at RCDC rioted twice – in December 2008 and January 2009 – to protest poor conditions and medical care."

Access to open records is a consistent problem for advocates and members of the media attempting to attain information about privately-operated prisons in Texas and elsewhere.  The ACLU's full cross-claim (attached to this post as a document) sites the influence of private prison corporation GEO Group and private health provider Physicians Network Association (PNA) in the process.  Both companies filed comments with the attorney general opposing release of the disputed documents. 

As Adrienna Wong at the ACLU of Texas puts it,

“The private prison industry resists transparency and accountability because huge profits are at stake.  The county and its contractors are not protecting ‘trade secrets,’ they are hiding harmful secrets that should come to light."

In the world of incarceration, trade secrets should not trump information that could lead to better public policy. This is particularly true in the case of Reeves, where deaths and prisoner uprisings have brought national attention to the facility.  See some of previous coverage of Reeves:

TDCJ should study history, all aspects of state jail privatization, not just costs

State Representative Erwin Cain's proposed amendment to study and potentially privatize all Texas state jails may have lost some steam.  According to the latest copy of the amendment we've seen, the amendment would now mandate the study of the "most effecient and cost-effective" manner of running state jails, but the study would no longer automatically trigger TDCJ to privatize state jails if they were found to be cheaper.

That's certainly good news.  However, the state should study more than cost-savings.  Other impacts of privatization - including guard pay and benefits, turn over rates, recidivism rates of prisoners leaving the institutions, assault incidents, suicides and attempted suicides, lawsuits, guard misconduct, and drug and alcohol program completion, to name a few -  should be added to the list.

TDCJ has good reason to study these other issues in addition to cost.  The agency's record with state jail privatization has not always been rosy, and in at least one case was downright appalling. 

Here in Austin, TDCJ partnered with Travis County and Wackenhut Corrections (now called GEO Group) in 1997 to open the Travis County Community Justice Center under the auspices of the state jail system.  At the time, Wackenhut CEO George Zoley hailed the community corrections facility “as the first project of its kind in the country.”  However, by September 2009, the state had seized control of the facility citing an investigation into multiple guards having sex with prisoners and Wackenhut Correction’s chronic problems staffing the facility. 

Guards were reportedly paid a starting wage of $6.50 an hour, hardly enough to attract and maintain talented staff in Austin's dot-com economy. In two short years, the company had racked up a record $625,000 in state fines related to staffing levels.  State investigators claimed that the company was using money intended for rehabilitation to expand another Wackenhut Texas prison. 

A criminal investigation into the sexual assaults produced at least 12 sexual assault and harassment indictments against former Wackenhut Corrections employees.  Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier said the facility was "poorly run and poorly managed. Frankly, this is the result of being understaffed and underpaid."  Stories like this one have been under-played in the current privatization debate, but should be taken seriously by policy-makers studying the issuing.

CEC's Liberty County Jail fails TCJS inspection; Warden is not properly licensed

Via a tip from Diana Claitor at the Texas Jail Project, CEC's Liberty County Jail failed its Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) inspection (attached) on March 16 under some fairly interesting circumstances. TCJS is the state agency charged with ensuring that county jails maintain basic standards, and the agency keeps a list of non-compliant facilities.   

The jail had numerous violations dealing with plumbing (including leaking toilets, non-functioning toilets, showers not draining, and a lack of hot water in certain cells) and light fixtures, as well a non-functioning intercom system in the old jail facility and parts of the new facility. 

In addition, the report contains this piece of information:

During a random reviewof staff jailer licenses, it was revealed that the Jail Administrator, Warden Tim New does not have a TCLEOSE Jailer's License

From my understanding, a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education Jailer's License is the basic certification that one must have to work in a jail, so it's a bit troubling that the Warden of this facility hasn't attained one. 

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