The Liberty County Commissioners Court decided Tuesday, August 26 to hire a firm to consult on whether County Sheriff Bobby Rader should take over direct operation of the jail or leave it in the hands of a for-profit, private prison company.
The Liberty County Jail is currently operated by Community Education Centers. The consulting firm, MGT of America, Inc. is based in Austin and will be paid $64,000 to help the county decide what to do.
The issue is whether the contract with CEC is costing the county. In 2012, a study by Texas A&M researcher Lynn Greenwood for Liberty County found that de-privatization of the Liberty County Jail would help the county to manage its jail costs as it continues efforts to reduce the population in its jail.
County Auditor Harold Seay told Commissioner Mike McCarty that this year’s cost overrun for the jail’s operation will be about $800,000.
“We’ve got to do something,” Commissioner McCarty said.
For his part, Sheriff Rader explained his concern that while many claim the county can save at least $1 million by operating the jail directly, he might be blamed if that does not happen.
Still Sheriff Rader told the court, “We’re ready to take to take it. You give me the money to run it, and we’ll run it.”
One candidate in Liberty County has made ending the county's contract with CEC part of his platform. Leon Wilson listed "Stopping the waste of millions of dollars by bringing the jail back under County administration" as the first item on his platform when he announced his candidacy in the primaries in the Liberty Vindicator. Wilson won that primary and will be on the November ballot.
And like many for-profit, private prisons, the Liberty County Jail has seen it's share of scandal. For example, a CEC guard at the jail was arrested on March 15 for allegedly bringing contraband into the facility. Another CEC guard was arrested for smuggling drugs into the jail in 2013. A district court judge also accused CEC of thwarting its efforts to reduce the jail population with increased costs.
However, the commissioners may be still considering contracting with priviate prison companies. The court also voted on Tuesday to issue a request for proposals from companies that might want to run the Liberty County jail.
We've covered the plight of the abandoned Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield for many years. The facility — originally operated by private prison corporation GEO Group — jumped into the media in 2008 after an Idaho prisoner housed at the West Texas facility committed suicide after reportedly spending more than a year in solitary confinement and a subsequent investigation led Idaho to pull its prisoners from the facility.
GEO Group then abandoned the facility, leaving the city of Littlefield holding the hefty debt that it had floated the constructed the facility in the first place. The situation got so bad that the city attempted to auction off the facility — omplete with a fast-talking auctioneer — but the sale eventually fell through.
The city has subsequently tried several interim private operators and attempted to win contracts from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a county in New Mexico, and as recently as last week to detain refugee children apprehended on the border.
Now comes news that Littlefield may be shopping the facility to a private company from California to incarcerate people convicted of sex crimes in the facility. According to KCDB ("Littlefield considers bid to house sex offenders in vacant prison," August 4th):
"City Manager Mike Arismendez said that the city was contacted by a California company working to secure a bid to house sex offenders in Texas and the company wants to use the Littlefield prison.
Last month, Arismendez began speaking with authorities about possibly housing illegal immigrants at the vacant prison and Arismendez said that the new bid doesn't mean that talks to house immigrants are over.
But, he said only one group will be housed at the prison. 'I'm kind of pushing all these balls up the hill and whichever ball gets to the top is the one we're probably looking at,' Arismendez said."
It's unclear from the article whether the City is attempting to win a contract from the state of Texas or the state of California to incarcerate people convicted of sex offenses, but it would seem unlikely that Texas is seeking additional prison capacity given its move to close two private prisons last legislative session. California, however, ships nearly 9,000 prisoners to out-of-state private prisons — all of which are operated by Corrections Corporation of America. The practice has been widely denounced as bad for prisoner rehabilitation and reentry practices, including by Grassroots Leadership, my organization, in a report last year.
We'll keep you updated on developments from Littlefield.
About 40 women and children arrived the morning of August 1 at the Karnes County detention center near San Antonio. Another bus was expected that afternoon.
The Karnes detention center is operated by the GEO Group, a for-profit private prison company that was recently the target of hunger strikes by immigrant detainees in its custody three times in two facilities this year. The Karnes County detention center was was swiftly emptied of its current occupants to make way for women and children who have fled Central America.
The newly-converted family detention center can house up to 532 people at a cost of $140 a day, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Enrique Lucero, field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the Chronicle that while each case will vary, officials are planning an average stay of 23 days per family, underlining concerns raised by many attorneys that due process for those seeking asylum is being undermined. Lucero also admitted to USA Today that the family detention and deportation were being used to send a message. "After your immediate detention and due process, there's every likelihood you'll be returned to your country," Lucero said.
KSAT San Antonio reports that there were no protestors at Karnes as the first buses arrived. However, the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor did see protestors on Saturday, August 9. The protest commemorated the 5th anniversary of the end of family detention at the T. Don Hutto detention center. About 50 people lined the street across from the detention center to protest, play music and screen a film about the practice of family detention.
The protestors there vowed to go to Karnes next.
Two buses are expected to arrive at Karnes daily, with a total of about 75 more women and children expected every day for the coming weeks.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released a statement that 24 year old immigrant from El Salvador has passed away at a Laredo hospital after being held at the GEO Group's Rio Grande Detention Center in that city. According to the ICE release:
"Welmer Alberto Garcia-Huezo, 24, was declared deceased Aug. 3.
Garcia-Huezo was apprehended June 25 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol near Harlingen, Texas. Two days later, he was transferred to ICE custody and taken to Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo.
On July 6, Garcia-Huezo became ill and was immediately transferred from ICE custody to the Laredo Medical Center (LMC). LMC hospital staff initially diagnosed him with cardiac arrest. A medical examiner will review the case regarding the cause of death."
The RGDC recently underwent an expansion and added capacity for ICE detainees in addition the detainees from the United States Marshals, themselves often immigrants under criminal prosecution for an immigration violation. We will keep you posted on any developments from this story.