The sister and daughters of a man who died in Texarkana's Bowie County Jail are suing Community Education Centers (CEC), the private prison company that operates the facility.
According to The Eagle, the family of James Hankins has filed a lawsuit. Hankins was allegedly found dead in his cell in August 2012. His cause of death is reported to be a ruptured stomach ulcer.
According to the lawsuit, Hankins had complained of stomach ulcers just days before his death, and showed signs of physical distress during a vist. Regardless of these symptoms, the facility's personnel ignored Hankins' complaints.
CEC representatives could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Hankins is not the first prisoner to die of negligence while in CEC's custody. In 2010, a woman sued CEC after her son was allegedly denied medical care and died of cancer as a result.
The GEO Group, which operates 42 prisons and detention facilities in the United States, has entered into a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor. The settlement requires GEO to instate measures that better protect employees from routine workplace violence in each of its facilities ("Florida-Based Employer Must Safeguard Workers," 3/26/14).
In June 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited GEO for workplace hazards at a facility in Meridian, Miss. These violations include the company's failure to fix faulty cell door locks; to provide training and equipment to protect employees in violent situations; and failure to provide adequate staffing.
The three-year agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor, the citation has been upgraded to a serious violation, which will require GEO to pay a $13,600 fine. GEO will also be required to hire a third-party consultant who will manage a violence prevention program and conduct safety audits at each of the company's 42 facilities. GEO is also required to employ a corporate-level violence coordinator at each facility.
Teresa Harrison, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Atlanta, thinks this new measure will be effective:
“This corporate-wide settlement agreement will have a far-reaching effect and impact on correctional officers and other staff nationwide...This agreement is the first of its kind in the corrections industry that addresses the hazards associated with workplace violence.”
A GEO Group employee pleaded not guilty to charges that he initiated sexual contact with a man detained at an immigration detention center ("Jail Employee charged with Detainee Sex," 3/27/14) south of San Antonio operated by GEO Group. GEO is the same private prison corporation subject to a hunger strike at two detention facilities in Texas and Washington State.
Juan Aguilar, formerly employed at the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, near San Antonio, worked in the kitchen. The incident allegedly occured on February 17, when Aguilar is said to have lowered the detained man's pants and began performing oral sex on him in the facility's kitchen. Unfortunately, this incident is not the first alleged sexual assault to take place at Pearsall.
Aguilar was indicted on March 19 and was charged with the sexual abuse of a ward. The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General is overseeing the investigation. Aguilar is no longer employed at the facility.
On March 19, a Travis County, Texas court has declared the the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) a governmental body, according to Prison Legal News ("Texas Court holds CCA is a governmental body in PLN public records suit 2014"). According to the Texas Public Information Act, CCA, as a governmental body, is required to disclose information to the public.
This ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication housed within the Human Rights Defense Center that focuses on criminal justice issues. PLN filed a lawsuit against CCA in May 2013 after the for-profit prison corporation refused to disclose information, such as audits and other investigations regarding the troubled Dawson State Jail, which Grassroots Leadership helped close that same year. The records in question would have been public had Dawson not been operated by a private company. CCA operated nine facilities in Texas, four of which are used to incarcerate state prisoners.
PLN managing director Alex Friedmann commented on CCA's secrecy:
This is one of the many failings of private prisons... By contracting with private companies, corrections officials interfere with the public’s right to know what is happening in prisons and jails, even though the contracts are funded with taxpayer money. This lack of transparency contributes to abuses and misconduct by for-profit companies like CCA, which prefer secrecy over public accountability.
PLN argued that CCA can be defined as a "governmental body" because the company performs duties that are also performed by the government. CCA rebutted, claiming that not all funds from Texas are allocated for Texas facilities, but are instead used to "to support CCA’s corporate allocations throughout the United States." PLN's has won a lawsuit against CCA in Tennessee and another is pending in Vermont.
Brian McGiverin of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who represented PLN along with Cindy Saiter Connolly, calls the ruling against CCA a "victory":
The conditions of Texas prisons have been the focus of intense public scrutiny for nearly 40 years... Today’s ruling is a victory for transparency and responsible government. Texans have a right to know what their government is doing, even when a private company is hired to do it.