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Burnet County

Women Incarcerated to Bring Burnet County Out of Debt

The Dallas Morning News reported on the growing trend of a rising women’s jail population in Burnet County following the facility’s turnover from state and private ownership to county ownership. When Burnet County decided to build a new jail in 2007, the private corporation LaSalle Southwest Corrections ran the facility by housing prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service and a drug treatment program with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.


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The contract cost the county $40 million in bonds and had been “pitched as a revenue generator that posed no risk to county taxpayers.” The burden of the cost, however, led both LaSalle and Texas Department of Criminal Justice to withdraw from the contract after five years. According to the article, LaSalle lost $4 million in revenue. The article revealed the aftermath of private corporations withdrawing from contracts, leaving local officials to scramble for solutions.

In 2014, Burnet County owed $14 million in debt of bonds to a finance agency. To recover this debt, the county opened space for female prisoners, and by doing so, “inadvertently managed to capitalize on a trend,” the Dallas Morning News reports.  Across Texas, county jails have sought space to house female prisoners as the population of women imprisoned has increased. As a result of the changes at Burnet County jail, the population of women has increased to 76 in a month.

The Dallas Morning News also reported on the increased women’s population in Texas jails, though arrests are down, reflecting national trends of women’s state prison growth. The article recounted a disturbing trend of women incarcerated with both mental health and social needs, often held in jail prior to trial. Women’s populations have most notably increased in rural counties: “Brooks, Burnet, Galveston and Harrison county jails had gained enough pretrial female inmates to make them stand out from other similar counties. Of this group, Burnet county jail had the most unusual increase over time.”

The facility’s detention of women at increasing rates seems to reflect the need for profitability in a county left with a large jail and millions in debt, bolstered by the criminal justice system’s failure to account for the needs and rights of women who have likely experienced trauma and criminalization.

Burnet County Jail has a history of rights violations of prisoners and negative press attention. Texas Prison Bid’ness reported on the facility’s troubled history: LaSalle Southwest Corrections failed a security review in 2012 following a prisoner escape and received rebuke for failure to provide adequate medical care in 2009.

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CEC Snatches Contract with Burnet County Jail

The Burnet County and those involved with the operation of the Burnet County Jail have entered into a verbal agreement with New Jersey’s Community Education Centers (CEC). CEC will begin operating the facility on April 1. 

County officials, bondholders and the Public Facility Corporation, which provides funding for the jail, and CEC negotiated the contract on Wednesday at the Burnet County Courthouse. The official process of signing contracts could begin on Friday, provided that there is no dissent.

CEC has employees who are observing procedures at the jail. The facility has been run  by Southwest Corrections since 2008. Southwest Corrections’ contract expires on March 31.

Failed Inspections & Escapes at LaSalle Southwestern Corrections' Burnet County Jail

It's been a bad couple of weeks for LaSalle Southwest CorrectionsBurnet County Jail.  The facility was the subject to headlines across the state after a Shawshank-like escape where a prisoner broke through bricks under his sink and crawled to freedom through a skylight while guards assumed pillows tucked under his bedding were the prisoner (he has since been apprehended). It appears that both shoddy construction and human error led to the escape.  

According to a story on KVUE ("Sheriff: Jail staff to blame for inmate's escape," March 1) LaSalle Southwest Corrections has admitted fault in the incident:

"It's on us," warden Bruce Zeller said. "Like the sheriff said, the responsibility is on Lasalle Corrections, our facility, and our employees." 

Burnet County Sheriff W.T. Smith is in a battle of words and wills with members of the Burnet Commissioners Court.  Commissioners have blamed Smith's oversight of the jail for the problems, but Smith - rightfully, I believe - complains in the Burnet Bulletin ("War of wards over jail heats up," March 5) that he has limited purview over the facility: 

"I would like to have it, yes. But I don’t believe it’s financially feasible,” Smith said. But that’s not my call.” Smith acknowledged that, "Constitutionally, the sheriff is over the jail,” but said he has little authority.

It now appears that structural issues with the jail, constructed by prison construction firm Hale Mills, may be at fault.  The facility has flunked its Texas Commission on Jail Standards review, according to the River Tribune ("State officials find Burnet County Jail flunks security review, March 5): 

"The Burnet County Jail has flunked a state inspection that found design flaws in the wake of an escape March 1 by an inmate who chiseled a hole in the wall.

The state report says the private-public jail, which opened with 587 beds in April 2009 at a cost of $23 million, is "non-compliant" with security standards. "It means something is wrong," County Judge Donna Klaeger said March 5.

The Burnet County Sheriff's Office supervises the jail, which is operated by the private firm LaSalle Southwest Corrections.

Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspectors recently found "deficiencies" in the network of concrete blocks and reinforcement bars that support walls near cells for handicapped inmates, Executive Director Adan Munoz said."

This is certainly not the first problem for the Burnet County Jail.  The prison had another high-profile escape in September of 2009.  In the fall-out from that escape, the jail received a sharp rebuke from the Jail Standards Commission for not providing medical care to a pregnant inmate, amongst other problem.  At the time, TCJS director Muñoz described the situation this way:  “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism."  It doesn't appear that much has changed for LaSalle Southwestern Corrections. 

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2009 Year in Review - Top Private Prison Stories, #4 Small Companies, Big Scandals

Over the next few days, we'll be posting 2009's top six stories related to private prisons.  This is the fourth biggest story of the year. 

#4 - Small Companies, Big Scandals

Some of the smaller private prison corporations had the biggest controversies in 2009.  From debates over CEC's payments to the McLennan County Sheriff to LCS's flagship failure and big problems at Southwestern Correctional, it's been a tough year for the small private prison companies. 

1. LCS Corrections' "Flagship" Facility FailuresThe Coastal Bend Detention Center, LCS Corrections' so-called "flagship facility" had an assortment of problems in 2009. In January, LCS had to lay off 35 employees, who they re-hired in March.  In September, the facility failed a Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection, leading the normally diplomatic commission chief Adan Muñoz to say of the facility, "I have to bring any remedial order before the [jail] commission, but this borders really close to complete incompetence."   In November, Coastal Bend accidentally released an inmate, a mistake that wasn't noticed for three weeks.  The facility remains on "At Risk" status, meaning the TCJS has full authority to conduct unannounced inspections.

2. Southwestern Correctional Problems in Burnet County.  Southwestern Correctional's Burnet County jail rivaled LCS's Coastal Bend facility as the most rebuked private jail for 2009.  In November, the company drew a fairly sharp rebuke from Texas Commission on Jail Standards head Adan Muñoz for not providing medical care to a pregnant inmate or providing medication to inmates with mental health problems.  In September, the Burnet facility was deemed non-compliant by TCJS after an escape lead to an inspection.  At that point, Muñoz said “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism."  The facility drew broad opposition in Burnet County even before it was built with residents siting the pitfalls of jail privatization and the potential dangers in floating debt for private jail expansion.

3. Community Education Centers, the private prison corporation formerly known as CiviGenics, had another dramatic year.  For years CEC has been paying McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch (and his precedessors) a "stipend" for the nominal oversight of additional prisoners in the company's downtown facility.  According to state law, Sheriffs must authorize a private detention company's presence in the county under its jurisdiction. In 2008, Waco Sheriff Larry Lynch continued to receive the kickback despite a contentious debate over whether to build a new CEC facility in McLennan County.  Former State Representative Kevin Bailey, then Chair of the Committee on Urban Affairs, requested an opinion of the Attorney General, and a bill was filed in 2009 (though ultimately wasn't successful) to outlaw the practice.  Debate flared once again this September, when Tommy Witherspoon at the Waco Tribune reported that long-standing payment practice of the Sheriff by CEC would not expand despite a new CEC lock-up opening in McLennan. Witherspoon's investigative reporting also uncovered that Limestone County Sheriff Dennis Wilson, whose county annual salary is $49,457, is paid a $24,000 stipend yearly by the county in its contract with CEC.

CEC also had problems in Kinney County, where a bribery lead to an escape and the facility's closure. On October 23rd, an inmate escaped from Community Education Centers' (CEC) Kinney County Detention Center in Brackettville, TX. Shortly after the escape, the warden of the facility, Mickey Hubert, resigned from his position on November 2nd. CEC closed down the facility temporarily with no word on if or when they plan to re-open, leaving all employees without work. The U.S. Marshals moved the remaining inmates who were left behind to other nearby facilities.

Stay tuned for the top three private prison stories of the year...

Southwestern Correctional draws Jail Standards rebuke on medical care, recreation in Burnet jail

Southwestern Correctional's Burnet County jail drew a fairly sharp rebuke from Texas Commission on Jail Standards' head Adan Muñoz for apparently not providing medical care to a pregnant inmate, amongst other problems.  According to a KXAN story ("Surprise jail visit uncovers new issues," October 20),

On a surprise visit last Thursday, jail inspectors found concerns inside after questioning two female inmates. One was pregnant and said she was not given proper medication. Another mental health patient said she was not given her medicaiton either, so inspectors checked her medical chart.

"There were certain medications that needed to be prescribed for her that had not been given to her, and that's obviously not in compliance with jail standards," said Adan Munoz, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards .

"They get excellent care here," said Tammy Manning, the Burnet County Jail medical supervisor. Manning was out of town during the inspection but normally sees the inmate who she said had been refusing to show up to appointments after they were scheduled. The situation had not been documented on her medical chart that state inspectors reviewed. "We do have room for improvement in our documentation," said Manning. "And our actional plan we put into place Friday was to improve our documentation so this will not happen again."

One of the female inmates also said they were not getting recreation time everyday. "We went on to check the recreation log to see if their concerns were valid," said Munoz. "We couldn't even find a recreation log."
 Burnet County Jail Warden Bruce Armstrong admits there was a breakdown there, too.

"We run rec everyday," said Armstrong. "And the officer calls in the count to the central control officer whose suppose to be logging the count down on how many offenders went to rec, and they were neglecting to document the count."

Armstrong said it has been taken care of, but the state said there is one more requirement the county has yet to comply with.

The state does not have the jail's operational plan, which covers everything from what to do in case of a fire to how to administer health care. "The fact that it's been open since April and still not within our agency certainly gives us great concern," said Munoz.  The county told the state they were working on it. Munoz sent written notification of the deficiencies to the county and Southwest Corrections, the company who manages the jail. They have 30 days to comply.

Southwestern's Burnet lock-up was deemed non-compliant by TCJS in September after an escape lead to an inspection.  At that point, Muñoz said “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism."  The facility drew broad opposition in Burnet County even before it was built with residents siting the now proven downfalls of private jail companies and potential dangers in floating debt for private jail expansion.  We'll keep you posted on Burnet's continuing problems with Southwestern Correctional. 

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Southwestern Correctional has major problems in Burnet; Are Grayson Commissioners watching?

At the same time as Grayson County has opened privatization talks with prison company Southwestern Correctional, the company is being hammered after a recent escape ("Officer resigns from Burnet jail after inmate escape," Austin American-Statesman, September 4) at its new Burnet County jail. The Burnet Bulletin ("County jail cited for not meeting state standards," September 3) is reporting that the facility has been deemed non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards

Only four months after opening its doors to the public with tours, speeches and a ribbon cutting, the Burnet County Jail has been cited by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for a different kind of open house: Improper supervision of inmates after a prisoner escaped Sunday night and fled past nearby residential neighborhoods and to freedom.

The controversial privately run jail – a facility that many nearby residents unsuccessfully fought during its development – now is officially deemed noncompliant with Texas jail standards, confirmed Adan Munoz, a former sheriff who serves as executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  ...

The Burnet County Jail’s issues fall under the heading of “supervision of inmates,” a key section of the 600 standards regulated by the commission. Munoz said.  “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism,” Munoz said

Burnet County officials ignored broad opposition when negotiating their deal with Southwestern Correctional. Here's hoping Grayson officials will take some time to re-evaluate their decision to move ahead with a decision to contract with Southwestern Correctional.

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Burnet County Opening New Private Jail

Via our friend Scott at Grits for Breakfast, Burnet County has moved forward with the construction of a new private jail that is an outrageous five times the size of it's current jail, according to an article in the Central Texas Business Journal ("Private jail to relieve Burnet County," January 23rd),

Relief is coming to the overcrowded Burnet County Jail in the form of a new $27 million privately operated correctional facility.

Work should wrap up in April on the new 90,000-square-foot jail on Ellen Halbert Drive, which will hold 587 beds — more than five times as many as the county’s current jail.

Due to overcrowding, the county has had to transport overflow inmates to a jail in the nearby community of Crystal City and pay to keep them there. With the opening of the new jail, inmate movement will be reversed and Burnet County will begin taking in overflow from other corrections facilities. The county will start by leasing out about 100 beds in the jail.

Southwestern Correctional LLC, based in Rayville, La., is managing the private jail. But the Burnet County sheriff remains responsible for the inmates and will have a liaison on site daily to monitor operations. Southwestern Correctional operates one other Texas correctional facility and eight in Louisiana.

I reported in November 2007 that local opposition to the jail project was large and informed, but it looks like the public officals ignored that opposition and went with the prison developers plan. Burnet County will be on the financial hook for the facility - they've issued revenue bonds, which taxpayers were not allowed to vote on, for the facility meaning the prison must remain full for the county to meet its debt obligations. How will they do that? According to the story, by bringing in federal inmates.

Revenue bonds from the Public Facilities Commission paid for the new jail and those bonds will be paid off through the fees the county collects by housing inmates from other counties and correctional departments that may contract for space, such as the U.S. Marshals or the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

It's not clear whether a contract with ICE or the Marshals has been secured. We'll keep you posted.

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