Commissioners in McLennan County voted on Tuesday to end the county's contract with Community Education Centers to run the Jack Harwell Detention Center. The commissioners voted unanimously to seek proposals from new vendors in March and have decided to team up with LaSalle Corrections.
The detention center has been a strain on McLennan County since before construction began in 2008. The county was hoping to pay off $49 million in bonds floated by its Public Facilities Corporation and generate revenue by holding federal prisoners but never saw the numbers they anticipated. In 2012, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found the facility non-compliant and ICE dropped their contract at the time altogether, citing substandard care. Currently, the facility is at less than half capacity and housing overflow from the county jail.
According to an article in the Waco Tribune, the commissioners selected LaSalle because of its "stability and its track record of persuading federal agencies to contract for its services." They must have missed the troubles in Burnet County, where a LaSalle-run jail was deemed non-complaint by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in 2009 and in 2012; the company has been cited for failures in security, medical care, and recreation at the Burnet County Jail. McLennan County might have gotten out of the frying pan and into the fire if the situation at Jack Harwell Detention Center turns out like Burnet County Jail.
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.
As we reported earlier this month, Montgomery County has been trying to sell off the Joe Corley Detention Center. So far GEO Group is the only bidder, with an offer of $65 million. Now, GEO Group has extended a $35 million offer to buy the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Center. The county is looking to the sale of these facilities to pay off massive debt; it already uses the $15 million it receives annually from the state to operate MCMHTC to pay interests on its bonds.
MCMHTC is operated by GEO Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group, and is the state's first and only privately-run psychiatric hospital. It has been plagued with problems since it opened. As the Austin-American Statesman reported in 2012,
Since March 2011, the Montgomery County hospital has been comprehensively reviewed three times by State Health Services. All three visits have found problems, including unauthorized restraint and seclusion of patients, incomplete medical records, failure to show patient consent for medications and failure to report serious injuries to the state.
Mental health care in other GEO Care facilities is no better, as evidenced by reports of horrific deaths in South Florida State Hospital. Statements from Montgomery County officials speculate on how the county's finances will be affected if this deal goes through, but we have to wonder what would happen to those inside the facility.
Officials in Mineral Wells are rallying to keep their town's troubled Corrections Corporation of America prison open, according to a story today in the Mineral Wells Index ("Time for last-minute push to save CCA," April 24),
"With time running out before state legislators make a decision on its future, local leaders say now is the time to make the case for Corrections Corporation of America's Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.
Mayor Mike Allen said there are still opportunities for city leaders and residents to speak out in favor of the facility, which provides more than 300 local jobs at full staff."
The article quotes an array of local officials clamoring to keep the facility open. As we've reported, the Senate budget, which passed earlier this month, zeroes out funding for Mineral Wells and CCA's Dawson State Jail. The House budget would not only keep them open but would also allot $19.5 million for the purchase of the now-empty prison Jones County. The fate of the prisons will now be determined by a conference committee, whose members were announced over the past few days.
Powerful State Senator John Whitmire, a member of the Conference Committee, has argued that Mineral Wells should be closed, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "We just simply don't need those beds. We have 12,000 empty prison beds across the state that are owned by the state of Texas."
Another reason the facility has come under scrutiny is routine security and operational problems. We've reported on many here at Texas Prison Bid'ness. Here's a selection:
We'll keep you posted on developments related to the closure of Mineral Wells and Dawson.