“What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.” -- Molly Ivins, 2003

Big Stories of 2013 - #4 - Two North Texas counties stand tall, reject jail privatization

As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year.  Our fourth biggest story of 2013 was the rejection of jail privatization from two North Texas counties this summer.  

Ellis County Sheriff Johnny BrownEllis County Sheriff Johnny BrownThis year, two conservative North Texas counties — Ellis County and Kaufman County — entertained and ultimately rejected jail privatization proposals after opposition from law enforcement professionals, public officials, and community members.  

We first heard that Ellis County was considering privatization of the Wayne McCollum Detention Center back in March when the county received responses to an RFP from LaSalle/Southwestern Correctional and Community Education Centers.   Neither bid scored well — CEC's receiving 65 points out of 100 to LaSalle's 53.  

Former Ellis County Republican Precinct Chairman Dave Vance penned an op-ed in the Waxahatchie Daily Light highlighting problems with jail privatization including reduced staff benefits and decreased performance.  Ellis County Commissioner Paul D. Perry posted one of Texas Prison Bid'ness' previous articles on his Facebook page saying "I don't like giving for profit entities the power of government, especially when they can interfere with civil rights."  In the end, it was opposition from County Sheriff Johnny Brown that killed the deal.  

The jail privatization debate quickly moved to neighboring Kaufman County where a similar story unfolded.  Commissioners there also entertained proposals by Community Education Centers and LaSalle Southwestern Correctional, and those proposals were ultimately rejected after Kaufman Sheriff David Brynes ended negotiations following an amendment to the RFP that would have allowed privatization without any employee guarantees.

Coupling these stories with last year's rejection of jail privatization in Harris County, one has to believe the tide may be turning against county jail privatization in Texas.  

Big Stories of 2013 - #5 - Troubles persist at McLennan County's speculatively built private jail

As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered on our blog.  Our number five story of the year is continued problems at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, McLennan County's speculatively built private jail. 

Back in May, we reported that McLennan County Commissioners had voted to end the county's contract with private prison corporation Community Education Centers to run the Jack Harwell Detention Center, deciding instead to team up with LaSalle Corrections.

The detention center had 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.  

However, by 2012, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found the facility non-compliant and ICE dropped their contract at the time altogether, citing substandard care.  At the time of the operations transfer the facility is at less than half capacity and housing overflow from the county jail.

This August, plans to bring immigration detainees back to Jack Harwell continued fell through, leaving the facility still dramatically undercapacity.  

As Lauren reported in October, McLennan County officials approved a new budget in August that included a five cent increase in the tax rate and $4.5 million in budget cuts.

Seeking to streamline jail costs, the McLennan County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee proposed reducing the jail population by ten percent.  Unfortunately, any savings from that reduction in population would be countered by a deal that McLennan County made with LaSalle Corrections that would house 325 prisoners at Jack Harwell, whether or not the cells are actually in use.

McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said at the time the deal allowed taxpayers to avoid paying the entire bill, including bond payment that LaSalle makes on the facility.  "Having LaSalle as operator and us having to guarantee a threshold is better than not having anyone at all." 

McLennan County continues to pay for its decision to float debt for a speculative private jail it didn't need.  Hopefully, other communities are taking note.  

Did corruption follow private prisons to Montgomery County?

Hat tip to Grits for Breakfast who reported on Monday that the Montogmery County Commission would be disccusing whether a former County Commissioner improperly received a loan from a firm that the county had contracted with to develop two GEO Group operated facilities - the Joe Corley Detention Center and the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility.   

Catherine Dominguez at the Conroe Courier reported on Monday ("County demands repayment for construction of facilities" December 14):

"In three separate letters, Montgomery County Attorney J D Lambright has demanded the repayment of almost $13 million he says are the financial damages to the county due to a “breach of fiduciary duty” relating to the construction of two county facilities.

The letters, sent Dec. 6, allege former Precinct 3 Commissioner Ed Chance, former county employee/consultant Linda Breazeale and Jim Galloway, with Conroe-based developer Alliance Development LLC, all benefited from the overcharges related to the Joe Corley Detention Center and the Montgomery County Mental Health Facility. They further state that Chance and Breazeale, along with Alliance’s “schemes, fraud and misrepresentations” knowingly caused the financial damages.

The letters demand Chance pay the county $500,000, Breazeale pay $242,275 and Galloway pay $12.2 million. Each was given 30 days to pay the debt or risk a civil suit. As of Friday afternoon, Lambright said he had not heard from any of the parties regarding the letters."

On Monday, the court rejected an effort by Commissioner Mike Meador to rescind the letters, moving the county forward in its attempts to recoup its costs.  According the Courier's Dominguez,

"Silence fell across the room during Monday’s Commissioners Court meeting after Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador made a motion to rescind demand letters to former Precinct 3 Commissioner Ed Chance and former county auditor/consultant Linda Breazeale because Meador believes there isn’t enough proof the two caused financial damages to the county.

The motion, which came after a lengthy executive session Monday during the commissioners’ regular meeting, died due to a lack of second by a fellow court member."

We'll keep you posted on the latest developments from Montgomery County.   

Polk Top 10 Reasons for Closure Released

On December 4, Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families released a report lsiting the reasons why the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, Texas still needs to be closed. The report was released at the Federal Building in downtown Austin. 

During our organizations' tour of Polk in September, we were able to interview 24 men who are detained at Polk by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Based on the men's responses, we were able to compose a list of the top ten reasons why Polk should be closed, including lack of access to basic medical care, legal services and recreation. A copy of our report can be viewed here

More updates will follow in the near future about our campaign to close Polk. Please stay tuned for how you can support us as we stand in solidarity with our incarcerated community members.

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