Two private prisons contracted by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and the Dawson State Jail - will close this weekend after their funding was zeroed out during the last legislative session.
As we've reported, Mineral Wells was plagued for years with contraband while Dawson was the site of several deaths of women at its facility, persistent complaints of inadequate medical care, protests, and a campaign and report co-authored by Grassroots Leadership (my organization) calling for its closure.
State lawmakers pushed for the closures arguing that the state had extra bed capacity thanks to a declining prison population.
Dallas Morning News reporter Scott Goldstein toured the facility yesterday and found some haunting messages left on the walls ("Dawson State Jail winds down in final days," August 29):
"The last prisoners this week left the Jesse R. Dawson State Jail along the Trinity River in downtown Dallas.
But inside, the paint-chipped walls and doors that confined thousands over the years carry their messages of despair and hope.
“I WANT OUT OF HERE NOW!!”
“Surrender to death or to life.”
“Don’t be afraid. Soon you will pass out of darkness.”
Over the weekend, we'll be updating our map of private prisons to show that these facilities are now no longer active.
McLennan County is still struggling to fill its speculatively-built Jack Harwell Detention Center, according to an article in the Waco Tribune ("ICE detainees never delivered to county’s jail," August 27) this week:
"McLennan County officials said the 200 detainees U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement promised to the county’s private jail didn’t come.
Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cawthon said ICE told the county the detainees would be delivered to the Jack Harwell Detention Center on Highway 6 at the end of July, but none arrived.
Harwell warden James Duke said he has offered 300 of the center’s 833 beds to the federal agency, but he doesn’t know when to expect them to be filled.
“The thing with immigration is this facility is only an overflow facility. So basically, we can’t expect (detainees) unless (ICE) needs us for overflow beds, and there’s no way we can predict that,” he said. “Dealing with (ICE), it’s got to be on their time and on their need.”"
This is not the Jack Harwell lock-up's first foray into immigrant detention contracts. As we reported back in 2011, then-operator Community Education Centers had immigration detainees removed from its facility after complaints from legal service advisors and immigration rights advocates that conditions in the facility were inappropriate for immigrants in civil detention. The facility also was deemed non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
McLennan County has struggled to pay the debt the county's Public Facility Corporation floated to pay for the construction of hte facility. The facility has sat half-empty for years after county's financing agency spent $49 million to build it. The sitting McLennan County Sheriff was on the payroll of CEC at the time the county voted to finance the construction of the facility.
Last week, Ellis County rejected privatization of its jail after opposition from community members and County Sheriff Johnny Brown. Now, the debate appears to have shifted one county over to Kaufman County where officials are reportedly entertaining offers from the same two private companies - Community Education Centers and LaSalle/Southwestern Corrections - along with a third company, Emerald Corrections to take over that community's 530 bed jail.
According to the Kaufman Herald ("Privatization plan draws opposition," August 14th), the privatization plan is running into opposition from jail employees and community members:
"Kaufman County commissioners got an earful Monday morning as employees of the Kaufman County Law Enforcement Center took the opportunity to voice their opposition to possible privatization of the facility. Commissioners had approved a request for bids earlier this year, and now removed a requirement that potential operators retain the current staff, salaries and benefits for at least the first year of private operation.
“Our number one concern is the safety and security of taxpayers and other residents of kaufman county,” said David Smith, a detention officer. “By definition, a private company taking over the jail, their number one priority would be to maximize their profit margins.”
We'll keep you posted on developments from Kaufman County as this debate moves ahead.
Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown and a group of privatization opponents appear to have had the last word and jail privatization in the County is dead for now. Here how the Waxahatchie Daily Light's covered the story ("Sheriff stands tall: Brown refuses jail privatization," August 9):
"Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown voiced his opposition of privatizing the Wayne McCollum Detention Center in front of a crowd of citizens that packed the gallery during Thursday’s special commissioners court meeting.
The county has been looking at the issue of private jail management for almost a year and received bids for this service from Community Education Centers and LaSalle Corrections.
.... Assistant County and District Attorney Lee Auvenshire recommended to the court that they take no action on this item as it requires the sheriff’s approval.
Auvenshire also recommended the court reject both bids at an upcoming meeting and go out for a request for proposal for using a jail management company for only ICE detainees.
The commissions court took no action to allow the county purchasing agent enter into negotiations with a private company for jail management for the Wayne McCollum Jail. No action was taken regarding a letter of intent to contact with ICE to house detainees in the detention center."
As we wrote, CEC's bid rating of 65 out of 100 wasn't particularly impressive and CEC's record around the state and country was something that was brought up multiple times in the County Commission hearings. It looks for now that privatization is dead in Ellis County, but we'll keep you posted of any developments.