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.
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.
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.
Musicians and immigrant rights advocates will return to the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas on Sunday, December 1 for a protest concert. Hutto is the Corrections Corporation of America-operated immigrant detention center that gained notoriety as a family detention center in from 2006-2009. The facility now detains primarily asylum-seeking women.
Austin-area musicians Son Armado, Kiko Villamizar and Krudas Cubensi will perform for the women held at the immigrant prison starting at 11 a.m. Women held inside Hutto have reported to volunteer visitors that they can hear protesters from inside the facility. "They can hear us in there and our spirit will be felt also," said Kiko Villamizar, who will be performing starting at noon.
This is the second protest concert at Hutto in recent years.
The protest concert is organized by Texans United for Families (TUFF), who are also sponsoring a winter clothing drive to respond to reports from inside Hutto that the facility is not properly heated in the winter months.
Find more information on Facebook.