San Antonio Express News reports that a lawsuit is being filed against Corrections Corporation of America for permitting a hazing tradition at Bartlett State Jail that ultimately led to the sexual assault of an inmate.
Bartlett State Jail is a prison facility for low-level inmates serving short-term sentences. The tradition of hazing inmates who are near to their release date involves forcibly removing their pants, turning them upside down and slamming them against the glass of the guard station. It is impossible for guards to ignore the behavior, as they are literally faced with the exposed backside of the inmate who is being hazed. Bartlett’s Warden Eduardo Carmona and other CCA executives were previously aware of the tradition and yet had never attempted to prevent it from happening.
According to the court documents, the hazing incident that resulted in the sexual assault was a three hour ordeal in which every single inmate in a 55-person block was subjected to the hazing practice while the single officer on duty — who was not only in charge of the victim’s block but three other 55-person blocks — did nothing to intervene.
Typically, in correctional facilities that follow best practices, there should be two officers on duty at all times so that one can intervene while the other calls for backup. Understaffing as a cost-cutting measure is routine at CCA run facilities and, clearly, it results in inmate-on-inmate violence with no intervention by staff.
Texas Prison Bid'ness is happy to welcome new blogger Emma Randles to our line-up. Emma is the Young Adult Volunteer-Presbyterian Church (USA) at Grassroots Leadership, one of the sponsors of Texas Prison Bid'ness.
Emma is originally from Claremont, California and graduated from Gettysburg College in 2013 where she studied psychology and Spanish. She is very excited to have been placed at Grassroots Leadership for her assignment as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) for the Presbyterian Church (USA). The YAV program is an opportunity for young people to serve others both internationally and domestically while they focus on social justice issues, community connection, simple living, and vocational discernment.
“I first became aware of the massive injustice surrounding the national immigration policies as a senior in high school,” she says, “and after many years of wondering how to approach effecting change, working with Grassroots Leadership feels like a concrete step towards bringing about a shift towards a more just system.”
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.