Amongst the major problems with private prisons are misguided attempts to control costs. The problem with containing expenses is that cutting corners has serious consequences that can compromise public safety and well being. This recent news report about the Dawson State Jail, (CBS 11, Guards Come Forward in Dawson Jail Investigation, October 8, 2012) makes that clear. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) runs the prison.
The Dallas News station has covered several deaths that occurred at the prison, including that of Pam Weatherby. The recent news report cites two guards who believe the deaths could have been prevented.
For-profit prison companies are known to face the challenge of maintaining public safety while cutting costs in the provision of services including health care. CCA has a pretty bad track record when it comes to in-prison health care that includes:
An audit of health services at the Dawson State Jail highlights that there are systemic problems in the provision of health services at the prison. The document assesses compliance with several health metrics including:
In CBS 11’s report, a CCA spokesperson is quick to point out that CCA does not provide medical services, but rather the prison’s healthcare is provided by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) under contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). This goes to show that contracting out prison services is a slippery slope that can lead to shifting responsibility and an inability to accept responsibility for poor management practices.
One thing is clear, in spite of any contract, TDCJ is responsible for health services at Dawson State Jail and all of its facilities -- private or not. The loved ones of those prisoners who have died under circumstances related to their ability to receive adequate healthcare are entitled to answers. We hope that continued news reports will uncover them.
We will keep y’all posted as this story unfolds. Stay tuned.
There has been another escape at GEO Group's Southeast Texas Transitional Center, according to the Houston Press Blog (Thomas Lee Elkins: GEO Group Lets Sixth Rapist Stroll Away From Halfway House in 24 Months, October 8, 2012):
"The rapist of a 16-year-old girl is the latest sexual predator to slip through the sieve that is the privately run Southeast Texas Transitional Center. Thomas Lee Elkins, convicted of aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault in 1991, absconded from the facility, 10950 Old Beaumont Highway, October 5, according to reports.
He's the sixth offender to float away from Southeast in 24 months. Formerly known as the Ben A. Reid Community Correctional Facility, Southeast is run by the Florida-based GEO Group, which, despite its appalling track record in Texas and elsewhere, keeps getting sweet state contracts."
Congrats for our friend Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast on eight years of insightful blogging on the Texas criminal justice system. Scott is hands down the most prolific, and often the most astute, Texas writer on a incredibly wide array of criminal justice issues.
He also has been a consistent critic of the private prison system, including some of these gems of posts:
The Liberty County Jail, operated by Community Education Centers, is under investigation by the Texas Rangers for alleged sexual misconduct involving a male guard and a female prisoner, according to Jessica Willey at KTRK in Houston:
"Right now the Texas Rangers are investigating a claim of inappropriate behavior inside the Liberty County Jail. Now we're talking to a woman who says what's happening in the jail has to stop.
The allegations are of a sexual nature. As Texas Rangers investigate, we know there is a personnel shakeup at the Liberty County Jail. One warden is out and there is a new one -- a female -- now on the job. We are not identifying the accuser because she says she's a victim of sexual assault.
"It's his integrity that's the issue," the woman said.
When this 32-year-old woman went to the Liberty County Jail this time last year for not paying child support. She was vulnerable, going through a divorce. The jail's chief of security, she says, zeroed in." ("Texas Rangers investigating a claim of inmate-jailer relationship inside Liberty County Jail," September 18)
This is not the first time that Liberty County Jail has run into controversy. Earlier this month, we reported that, in an effort to save money for the county, the Liberty County Commission was debating de-privatizing the jail. Perhaps this latest incident will aid the county's de-privitization efforts.