The debate over the future of the Liberty County Jail continues and it looks like it will all come down to cost.
Liberty County has been mulling over a proposal for the county to take over operations of the jail from Community Education Centers (CEC), which currently runs the facility. At a special meeting of the Liberty County Commissioners Court on May 19, Commissioners heard from county officials and others including CEC Warden Raye Carnes, Liberty County Indigent Health Care Director Donna Burt and Liberty County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Rader.
Burt told commissioners that when the county last ran the jail, the biggest medical cost was providing malpractice insurance coverage for the jail doctor, costing $100,000 in the 1990s. Burt told commissioners that finding a doctor was the biggest challenge facing the county and that she didn’t think the county would save money by taking over operation of the jail.
Warden Carnes told commissioners that CEC provides medical care, but left out the company’s widely reported and troubled history. That history includes an incident that left a woman dead of pregnancy complications at an Indiana facility after CEC staff waited hours to seek emergency medical care.
Commissioners hired Austin-based consultant firm MGT of America, Inc. in August 2014 to advise the county on which route would save the county money. In March of this year, MGT told commissioners that the cost of running the jail would be the same whether it was run by the county sheriff or CEC “or 'Johnny’s Garage and Jail Service.'" MGT also told commissioners in the same meeting that their best bet to reduce the cost of running the jail would be to reduce the jail population.
For his part, Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, a Republican who ran and won on a platform of kicking CEC out of the jail, cited projections that the average population would actually grow to 275 inmates over the next five years.
Sheriff Rader summed up the county’s concerns: “If it’s going to cost more money for us to take it over [from CEC], then it’s not the right thing to do.”
A change in management very well may be the right thing to do for those locked up in the jail. In April, two prisoners died in a single week at the CEC-run Liberty County Jail.
Over 600 protesters called for the end of the incarceration of immigrant women and children in Dilley, Texas on May 2, shutting down a highway along the way.
Organized by Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families, the protest brought people from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Dallas, Falfurrias, San Marcos, and Elgin, Texas; as well as from Silver City and Santa Fe NM, Des Moines IA, Washington D.C., New York City, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Orange County, California. Protesters began in a park in central Dilley and marched almost 2 miles to the family detention camp.
During the march, they forced the closure of Texas Highway 85. Once outside the gates of the camp, the protesters heard from people who had been detained, including a woman who was held in a Japanese incarceration camp during WWII.
The South Texas Family Residential Center opened in December 2014 as the administration’s response to the arrival of Central American women and children seeking asylum from domestic violence, organized crime and gang violence.
"Many of them are escaping from violence and torture, from abuse at the hands of gangs," Sofia Casini told the Texas Tribune. "To be put inside of centers with armed guards, where the kids are yelled at, it's all a re-traumatization process."
Operated by The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the South Texas Family Residential Center is one of two family detention centers in Texas, along with the Karnes County Residential Center, which is operated by the GEO Group and can currently can hold 600 women and children. Karnes is set to expand to a capacity of 1,200. The Dilley facility detains 480 women and children, and is set to become the largest immigrant detention center in the United States with a capacity of 2,400.
In a statement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said that facilities like the one in Dilley are "an effective and humane alternative for maintaining family units."
Two prisoners have been reported dead in a single week at the privately operated Liberty County Jail.
According to reports, the body of 57-year-old Beverly Mooring was found “in medical distress and non-responsive in a detox cell” on April 15. She was later pronounced dead at the Liberty-Dayton Regional Medical Center.
Three days later the sheriff’s office received notification that 32-year-old Jeremy Keith Shomo was found dead in his cell after he allegedly hanged himself with a shoelace attached to a shower hook. Shomo’s case is currently under investigation by Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Ungles and the Texas Rangers.
The fate of Liberty County Jail, managed by private company Community Education Centers (CEC), is currently under debate. The county hired a firm to consult on whether it should continue its partnership with CEC to run the jail. The firm, MGT of America, Inc., told Commissioners back in February that the way to save money was to reduce the jail's population to allow for staffing cuts.
Time to decide is running out. The county’s contract with CEC expires at the end of the month.
Three people were sentenced this week in connection to what KFYO News Talk Radio in Lubbock is calling "prison smuggling ring" at the Big Spring Correctional Center (BSCC). The three include a former GEO Group employee.
Eva Bermea, who was working for GEO as a recreational specialist at Big Spring, was found guilty of smuggling tobacco and creatine to inmate Jonas Cruz, 34, who was selling the products to other inmates. Bermea, 42, was sentenced to three years probation, eight months of which she will serve under house arrest. Cruz had two years added to his 17-year sentence for methamphetamine distribution, to be served concurrently.
Cruz and Bermea also pleaded guilty to bribery of public officials and aiding and abetting.
The third party, Kami Nicole Bennet, 32, who recieved money from Cruz’s brother and packaged the contraband, was sentenced to one year probation after pleading guilty to misprision of a felony and superseding information.
Big Spring Correctional Center is a "Criminal Alien Requirement" prison for immigrants contracted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to for-profit, private prison corporation the GEO Group. Big Spring was recently in the news and was covered here by Texas Prison Bidn'ess blogger Marlon Saucedo over complaints from prisoners and their families about a lack of medical care in the prison.
KFYO reports that neither the BOP nor GEO Group have returned their reporter's calls.
BOP operates 12 CAR prisons, all of which are contracted out to private prison companies. As of earlier this year, there were 13 CAR prisons, but an inmate uprising at the Willacy County Correctional Center left the facility uninhabitable and BOP canceled that contract with Management and Training Corporation (MTC) and moved the prisoners to other facilities around the country.