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Parker County Jail dumps CEC, goes with LaSalle

Parker County has dumped private jail operater Community Education Centers in favor of of the Louisiana-based private prison company LaSalle Southwest Corrections. According to a story in the Weatherford Democrat (Parker County Jail to get new management), the jail will change hands in October:

Ousting the current jail operator, Community Education Centers, Parker County commissioners voted to award the 5-year contract to the Louisiana-based company due to the difference in price. 

The county has the option to renew the contract twice for two-year periods, according to information presented to the commissioners.

As we reported way back in 2007, Parker County privatized its jail at the time citing cost savings.  At the time we quoted a Grits for Breakfast article questioning whether CEC could provide the same services at a discounted price and still make a profit.  

It's unclear if, this time around, the Parker County Commissioners addressed any other factors than price in determining the new operator of the jail.  We'd note that when Ellis County Commissioners rated bids for taking over that county's jail in 2013, LaSalle only received a 53 out of 100 rating while CEC got a 65.  In 2013, both Ellis County and nearby Kaufman County rejected jail privatization with opposition from conservative forces.

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Big Stories of 2013 - #4 - Two North Texas counties stand tall, reject jail privatization

As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year.  Our fourth biggest story of 2013 was the rejection of jail privatization from two North Texas counties this summer.  

Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown
Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown
This year, two conservative North Texas counties — Ellis County and Kaufman County — entertained and ultimately rejected jail privatization proposals after opposition from law enforcement professionals, public officials, and community members.  

We first heard that Ellis County was considering privatization of the Wayne McCollum Detention Center back in March when the county received responses to an RFP from LaSalle/Southwestern Correctional and Community Education Centers.   Neither bid scored well — CEC's receiving 65 points out of 100 to LaSalle's 53.  

Former Ellis County Republican Precinct Chairman Dave Vance penned an op-ed in the Waxahatchie Daily Light highlighting problems with jail privatization including reduced staff benefits and decreased performance.  Ellis County Commissioner Paul D. Perry posted one of Texas Prison Bid'ness' previous articles on his Facebook page saying "I don't like giving for profit entities the power of government, especially when they can interfere with civil rights."  In the end, it was opposition from County Sheriff Johnny Brown that killed the deal.  

The jail privatization debate quickly moved to neighboring Kaufman County where a similar story unfolded.  Commissioners there also entertained proposals by Community Education Centers and LaSalle Southwestern Correctional, and those proposals were ultimately rejected after Kaufman Sheriff David Brynes ended negotiations following an amendment to the RFP that would have allowed privatization without any employee guarantees.

Coupling these stories with last year's rejection of jail privatization in Harris County, one has to believe the tide may be turning against county jail privatization in Texas.  

Ellis County rejects jail privatization

Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown and a group of privatization opponents appear

Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown
Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown
 to have had the last word and jail privatization in the County is dead for now.  Here how the Waxahatchie Daily Light's covered the story ("Sheriff stands tall: Brown refuses jail privatization," August 9):

"Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown voiced his opposition of privatizing the Wayne McCollum Detention Center in front of a crowd of citizens that packed the gallery during Thursday’s special commissioners court meeting.

The county has been looking at the issue of private jail management for almost a year and received bids for this service from Community Education Centers and LaSalle Corrections.

.... Assistant County and District Attorney Lee Auvenshire recommended to the court that they take no action on this item as it requires the sheriff’s approval.

Auvenshire also recommended the court reject both bids at an upcoming meeting and go out for a request for proposal for using a jail management company for only ICE detainees.

The commissions court took no action to allow the county purchasing agent enter into negotiations with a private company for jail management for the Wayne McCollum Jail. No action was taken regarding a letter of intent to contact with ICE to house detainees in the detention center."

As we wrote, CEC's bid rating of 65 out of 100 wasn't particularly impressive and CEC's record around the state and country was something that was brought up multiple times in the County Commission hearings.  It looks for now that privatization is dead in Ellis County, but we'll keep you posted of any developments.

Ellis County to address jail privatization this Thursday

Ellis County Commi

ssioners will address the issue of jail privatization this Thursday, according to a Facebook post by Commissioner Paul D. Perry.  

As we've reported, Ellis County's jail management evaluation and feasibility committee has received bids from two-companies - Community Education Centers and LaSalle Southeast Corrections.  CEC's bid was rated 65 points out of 100 while LaSalle's received only 53 points out of 100.  

Last week, we posted some things Ellis County should know about top bidder Community Education Centers. The Ellis County Commissioners Court members can be reached online.   

What should Ellis County know about Community Education Centers?

Yesterday, Piper reported that Ellis County was considering turning over its county jail operations to a for-profit corporation.  The County's jail management evaluation and feasibility committee has received bids from two-companies - Community Education Centers and LaSalle Southest Corrections.

CEC's bid was rated 65 points out of 100 while LaSalle's received only 53 points out of 100.  We aren't sure what the evaluation criteria was, but 65 out of 100, a D grade for most schools, doesn't seem too impressive.

We thought that Ellis County should know a little more about its top bidder, New Jersey-based Community Education Centers.  CEC was the subject of a New York Times front page series last year exposing the company's operation of halfway houses in its home state.  The problems the Times uncovered including escapes, widespread violence, and rampant drug use.  The company's executives used connections with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to win halfway house contracts, the Times wrote, despite the fact that the company was in such bad financial shape in 2010 that it defaulted on its debt and contemplated bankruptcy.

The company has run into its fair share of problems in Texas as well.  Here are some highlights:

- CEC was dumped by McLennan County earlier this year after failing to win a federal contract to fill its detention center.  CEC also walked away from its contract with Bowie County in November 2012 leaving the county "high and dry" according to the Bowie County Citizen

- CEC's Polk County Detention Center has been the subject of protests (including by my organization, Grassroots Leadership) after being named amongst 10 of the worst immigrant detention centers in the country in a national report by the Detention Watch Network.

- In May of this year, a 22 year-old CEC guard was arrested and accused of smuggling drugs into the company's Liberty County Jail.  The same facility was under investigation in September 2012 by the Texas Rangers for alleged sexual misconduct involving a male guard and an incarcerated woman.  And, in June of this year, eight former CEC guards at the company's Ector County Detention Center were sentenced to federal prison after being accused of delivering contraband to incarcerated people in exchange for cash.  

-  The Liberty County lock-up was also one of our Big Stories of 2012 after a plan to reduce jail costs by diverting some prisoners away from jail was thwarted because of the county's contract with CEC.  75th District Court Judge Mark Morefield, who supports the inmate reduction plan, stated at the time: “One (private prison) bid said that if the inmate population goes below 200, the cost per inmate goes from $63 to $68 per day. If we work really hard to decrease the inmate population, the cost will go up to $70 per day, … [t]hey are taking all the incentive out of it."

Ellis County should do some hard thinking to do before moving ahead with it's "top bidder" in Community Education Centers.  We'll keep you posted on developments from Ellis County.  

Ellis County Commissioners studying proposals from CEC, LaSalle

We first heard wind that Ellis County was considering privatizing its county jail earlier this year, when the Waxahatchie Daily Light reported that county officials had been holding "exploratory meetings" with Community Education Centers and LaSalle Corrections.  The county issued a Request for Proposals and accepted bids until July 1st.

On Monday, Ellis County Commissioners heard from the "jail management evaluation and feasibility committee," the group tasked with appraising bids from the RFP.  Of the two proposals submitted -- from CEC and LaSalle Corrections -- CEC's held up better, scoring 65 points out of 100 to LaSalle's 53.  However, County Auditor Mike Navarro pointed out that the committee's function was to choose the better of the proposals, not to recommend privatization.

The Waxahatchie Daily Light notes that many community members who attended the meeting expressed opposition to privatizing the county jail, including detention officers citing good work relationships and bad reports from other privatized facilities.  Ultimately, the meeting was inconclusive: the commissioners court decided not to move without first hearing from the sheriff, who was unable to attend.

If Sheriff Brown is concerned for the employees and incarcerated people he's responsible for, he'll think twice before getting behind privatization.  For-profit prison companies like CEC cut costs by cutting corners on things like salaries and medical care, leading to unsafe conditions.  At least one county commissioner would be on his side: Paul D. Perry of Precinct 6 posted one of our presvious articles on his Facebook page saying "I don't like giving for profit entities the power of government, especially when they can interfere with civil rights."

Ellis County issues RFP to privatize its county jail

It's safe to say that this hasn't been a particularly good 12 months for private prison corporations in Texas.  

Harris County rejected a proposal privatizing its jail system last year.  The Texas legislature has ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to close two private prisons in its recently concluded legislative session.  And counties are reconsidering their relationships with private prison corporations - Liberty County is debating de-privatizing in an effort to save money, McLennan County and Limestone County are both looking for new operators after private prison corporation Community Education Centers failed to bring in or maintain federal contracts.  

Apparently Ellis County is bucking that trend.  With its county seat in Waxahatchie, just south of Dallas, Ellis has issued an RFP for bids to take over its county jail.  The proposal is not without opposition.  Back in March, when the proposal was first floated by County Commisioners, Former Republican Precinct Chairman Dave Vance penned an op-ed in the Waxahatchie Daily Light arguing:

"As has been identified in numerous studies, reducing the salaries and benefits of detention officers results in increased turnover, a decrease in qualified applicants and substandard performance. Quality of service is significantly reduced. Reducing staffing levels results in the same problems."

RFP bids are due July 1st.  We will keep you posted on developments from Ellis County.

Will Ellis County privatize its jail?

A debate that we've largely missed has been brewing in Ellis County, just south of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  The County Commission has been discussing the possibility of privatizing its local jail since at least January, according to a story by Andrew Branca in the Waxahatchie Daily Light ("County debates privatizing jail," March 12, 2013): 

"The Ellis County Commissioners Court continued its discussion of using a jail management company for the Wayne McCollum Detention Center at a workshop meeting Monday morning.

Proponents of privatizing the county jail told commissioners that using a jail management company could provide a significant savings to the county and to taxpayers.

The operation of the detention center is currently run by the detention bureau, which is a division of the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office. The detention center operates under the direct supervision philosophy, which means a detention officer is present inside the housing unit at all times to directly supervise and interact with the inmates.

The county has had exploratory meetings with LaSalle Correction and Community Education Centers to learn more about their jail management services."

Regular readers of Texas Prison Bid'ness will be familiar with the records of both LaSalle Southwestern Correctional and Community Education Centers.  Not all in Ellis County are mesmerized by privatization.  Former Republican Precinct Chairman Dave Vance penned an op-ed ("Privatizing county jail a bad idea," March 19, 2013) in the paper highlighting some of the problems with privatization: 

"As has been identified in numerous studies, reducing the salaries and benefits of detention officers results in increased turnover, a decrease in qualified applicants and substandard performance. Quality of service is significantly reduced. Reducing staffing levels results in the same problems.

I urge the Ellis County Commissioners to research LaSalle’s past problems and problems other for-profit correctional companies have created. The reputations are far from stellar.

I believe LaSalle cannot provide taxpayers the same level of services while also making a profit. Additionally, we would be turning over control of the jail to a company that profits from increased incarceration when the goal should be to reduce crime and reduce jail occupancy. Instead, we are creating an incentive to incarcerate individuals."

Of course, Vance is right on both accounts - privatization has been shown to result in dramatically higher turn-over rates amongst correctional officers and there are some pretty clear-cut examples of how privatization has incentivized keeping higher incarceration rates.  Sources from Ellis County tell us that a vote could be coming soon from the County Commissioners on privatization, and an RFP has been issued.  We'll keep you posted on developments.  

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