The Burnet County and those involved with the operation of the Burnet County Jail have entered into a verbal agreement with New Jersey’s Community Education Centers (CEC). CEC will begin operating the facility on April 1.
County officials, bondholders and the Public Facility Corporation, which provides funding for the jail, and CEC negotiated the contract on Wednesday at the Burnet County Courthouse. The official process of signing contracts could begin on Friday, provided that there is no dissent.
CEC has employees who are observing procedures at the jail. The facility has been run by Southwest Corrections since 2008. Southwest Corrections’ contract expires on March 31.
A young man’s death at the LCS-operated Coastal Bend Detention Center is causing quite a stir among law enforcement officials. 26-year old Trevor Nash, who allegedly committed suicide at the facility, had recently graduated from the Navy’s flight school at NAS -Corpus Christi.
Sheriff Jim Kaelin received a call on Saturday, March 1, from the warden at the LCS facility. The warden reported that an incarcerated man, Nash, attempted suicide by hanging himself with a bedsheet. Nash was then transported to Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital. Nash was due to transfer to helicopter training school when he was arrested and charged with piracy.The death, currently ruled a suicide, is being investigated by the Nueces County Sheriff’s office. Detectives working for the sheriff’s office were refused entry into the facility by the U.S. Marshals Service, who claimed that the Texas Rangers would investigate the young man’s death.Sheriff Jim Kaelin had this to say:"The private prison LCS is under our charge, and we're responsible for the things that go on out there," Kaelin said. "Meaning that the U.S. Marshals service mandate that we make sure that we comply with rules, regulations and law." The Sheriff contacted the U.S. Marhsals in Houston in an attempt to find out why The Texas Rangers will be leading the investigation and not the sheriff’s office. No response has been received as of yet.
A correctional officer at the Liberty County Jail, operated by Community Education Centers (CEC), was arrested on March 15 for allegedly bringing contraband into the facility, according to the Liberty County Vindicator ("Jailer Arrested for Allegedly Bringing Contraband into the Jail" 3/17).
Following a routine "shakedown," or search of prisoners' cells and correctional officers for contraband items, which only resulted in minor violations, officer Tyree Richards, 26, came into work late. Before being searched to allow him entrance into the jail, Richards visited the restroom, which had already been searched for contraband. CEC Seargant Luther Burks, upon entering that same restroom, discovered five packages of tobacco in the trash. A joint investigation by the Liberty County Sheriff's Department and the facility determined that Richards had indeed brought the tobacco into the jail, a delivery for which he would have been paid $100.
Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader weighed in on the situation as well:
Contraband is an issue for every jail facility. I commend Warden Carnes and her supervisors for staying on top of the issue. While the tobacco itself might not seem like a big concern to some, the fact that a jailer's integrity had been compromised and he could then be made to bring in other items, including safaty threats, is a major issue that needed to be dealt with immediately.
In Hidalgo County, once the public jail no longer has space for additional prisoners, the overflow is allocated to two private facilities operated by LCS Corrections. The county then pays LCS $45 per day per incarcerated person in their facilities. That costs the county a whopping $212,000 per month. That rate could increase by 20 percent next month, when LCS's contract with Hidalgo expires and the two parties begin renegotiations for a new contract.
The executive vice president of LCS corrections, Richard Harbison, proposed a new daily rate of $55 per incarcerated person, claiming that "the cost of housing inmates is going up dramatically."
Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino, however, would rather expand the public jail than continue to funnel money to LCS:
We need something that we can move on right now, because it’s costing the people of this county a bunch of money every year,” he said. “There’s a solution to it. The question is: Do we really want to bite the bullet and do what we want to do?
The public jail expansion -- the addition of 768 beds -- would cost the county at least $60 million upfront, not including hiring more prison staff to supervise prisoners and day-to-day costs. Trevino claims that this expansion would pay itself off in 20 years, and is cheaper than paying $3 million per year to LCS. Having the US Marshals Service use the 300 excess beds in the public jail could offset the cost in 12 years.
The county, namely County Judge Ramon Garcia, is not keen on Trevino's proposed expansion:
"I’m very reluctant to get involved in any project that’s going to increase our tax rates...We’re trying to do what we can with the resources we have to work with. Presently we’re better off paying $2 million a year."
Garcia is heading an effort to build a new county courthouse, which is supposedly the reason he is unwilling to move forward with the public jail expansion. Trevino, who also recognizes the need for a new courthouse, claims that jail cost and overcrowding must be prioritized.
Contrary to both Garcia and Trevino, Astrid Dominguez, an advocacy coordinator with the Texas ACLU, opposes both the public jail expansion and a new contract with LCS. Rather, she suggests investigating why the jail is so full: two thirds of county jail prisoners haven't been convicted of a crime, and usually remain incarcerated because they can't afford post bail prior to their trials.