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New McLennan County private jail has structural problems

The controversial new CEC jail in McLennan County isn't getting off to a very smooth start.  According to a Waco Tribune ("McLennan County to take possession of new jail pending final requirements," Feb. 24) article last week, the job done by prison construction crew Hale Mills appears to be cracking, literally:

The Jack Harwell Detention Center on State Highway 6 officially will be turned over to McLennan County this week after the jail’s builder satisfies a few final conditions. The 816-bed jail originally was to be turned over to the county the first week of January. The builder, Hale-Mills Construction Ltd., completed construction on the facility nearly two months ahead of schedule.

But the company encountered some last-minute problems as it put some final details on the facility. Last month, for example, hairline cracks began appearing in the concrete cinder blocks making up the jail’s interior walls.

The Jack Harwell facility in McLennan County has long generated controversy, and these latest problems are probably not endearing the company to local residents. Readers of Texas Prison Bid'ness will recognize the name Hale Mills as well.  The prison construction firm, involved in numerous prison development schemes including a controversial jail in Burnet County, was one of three companies allegedly involved in the Willacy County bribery scandal back in 2005. Three south Texas county commissioners plead guilty to receiving bribes, but no company officials were ever charged with a crime. 

We'll keep you updated on developments from McLennan County.

Breakout at CEC's Kinney County Detention Center

On October 23rd, an inmate escaped from Community Education Centers' (CEC) Kinney County Detention Center in Brackettville, TX. The inmate, Manuel Guardiola, is an alleged member of the Mexican Mafia who bribed the facility's guards in order to escape. With Brackettville's location about 30 miles from the Mexican border, it is assumed that the inmate, still at large, has returned back to Mexico ("Mexican Mafia soldier escapes from Texas jail," October 26, 2009, Examiner). Shortly after the escape, the warden of the facility, Mickey Hubert, resigned from his position on November 2nd. Additionally, CEC closed down the facility temporarily with no word on if or when they plan to re-open, leaving all employees (even the ones not involved with the bribery) without work. The U.S. Marshals moved the remaining inmates who were left behind to other nearby facilities. 

This incident was the second major problem for the Kinney County Detention Center under the watch of Hubert. In late December of last year, inmates refused to return to their cell and set fire to mattresses, causing a riot and requiring multiple state resources to quell the outbreak. Adan Muñoz, Director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, told me that the guards who work at the facility are not gang members of the syndicate. This fact rules out the possibility of the guards colluding with the inmates in either the riot or the escape and points more to the incompetence of those particular CEC employees at Kinney County Detention Center involved with the bribery. This is not surprising, considering the general lack of labor benefits received as a private prison employee, that one would be quick to accept a bribe in times of economic hardship. However, the actions taken by the guards involved with this breakout are reprehensible.

Read more about the Kinney County Detention Center and CEC here:

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CEC/CiviGenics Texarkana guard indicted on drug charges

A guard at the CEC/Civigenics in Texarkana has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of attempting to take drugs into a prison owned by the facility, according to a story in the Texarkana Gazette ("Former jail guard indicted: Former Bowie County employee faces drug charges," May 15),

A former Bowie County jail guard was indicted last week by a grand jury.  Amber Hinds, 20, “turned around and went back to her car when she realized her supervisor intended to search employees that day as they came to work,” according to a probable cause affidavit.

Officials with the jail, which is run by Civigenics, contacted the Bowie County Sheriff’s Office about Hinds’ conduct, the affidavit said.

McLennan CEC/CiviGenics Jail Put on Remedial Order by TCJS

The McLennan County CEC/CiviGenics facility has been put on remedial order by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards at that agency's February 5th meeting, according to an article in the Waco Tribune ("McLennan County Detention Center warden says jail will be back in compliance soon," February 7), 

The warden of a privately operated jail in Waco says his staff had corrected all but one deficiency noted in a December inspection before he met this week with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Despite the improvements, the commission still placed the downtown McLennan County Detention Center under a remedial order until officials from Community Education Centers, which leases the jail from McLennan County, take further corrective measures and another inspection is conducted.

Of course, McLennan County has been home to a fierce battle over the creation of a new private jail.  CEC/CiviGenics was the lone bidder for an RFP to take over the county jail in McLennan, an effort that was beat back primarily by opposition from the McLennan County Sheriff Officer's Association.  Within months, a new proposal for a new contract jail, to be operated by CEC/CiviGenics was passed by a divided court. 

Opponents may have had good reason to object.  According to the Waco Tribune article, there were several reasons why the existing CEC/CiviGenics jail was placed on remedial order,

The most serious issue cited in the remedial order was that CEC officials failed to properly maintain a 1-to-48 staff-to-inmate ratio. The order limited the number of inmates the facility could house before it hired more guards, thus cutting profits from CEC’s contracts with federal agencies to house prisoners.

Wilson said the order stemmed from several weekends on the night shift in October and November when the jail was short-staffed. Additional officers were hired immediately to fill the void, putting the jail back into compliance, the warden said.

Last month, an 18-year-old former CEC guard was indicted for providing contraband to inmates for reportedly allowing two of his former high school buddies who landed in jail to use his cell phone.

Other citations that have been corrected, Wilson said, was a determination that inmates were placed in cells before they were properly classified to assess their threat levels and that water pressure and water temperature were insufficient in certain areas of the jail. 

See our previous coverage of the CEC/CiviGenics fight in McLennan County:


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