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Sixth escape at Houston halfway house operated by GEO Group

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."

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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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Coastal Bend Detention Center Inmate "Escapes", Unknown for 3 Weeks

The LCS Corrections-operated Coastal Bend Detention Center in Robstown, TX has been in the public eye recently. After initially failing their first jail standards inspection, the facility, equipped with a brand new Warden, passed their second inspection with the commendation of Adan Muñozthe Texas Commission on Jail Standards director. However, the CBDC is not out of the woods yet.

Jamie Powell at the Corpus Christi Caller Times first reported on the problem of an inmate who "escaped" from the facility ("Robstown prison discovers three weeks later that prisoner is missing," The Caller Times, December 11, 2009). The inmate escaped on November 19th, unknown to the facility until December 10th. To make matters worse, the inmate didn't dig a hole and crawl to freedom like in the movies, rather, the facility willingly released him because they confused his identity. The facility failed to return Ms. Powell's telephone calls, as well as my own personal attempts via telephone and email.

The escape of this prisoner is interesting because one of the reasons that CBDC failed their initial inspection was because they failed to perform the required face to face check-ins with each inmate. Additionally, the facility also failed to correctly classify the inmates. These two reasons combined are a recipe for incidents like this where an inmate walked out the door because of poor organization and classification, and why it took so long for the facility to realize what had happened.

Where once Muñoz was impressed with the facility's turnaround after failing the inspection, he now appears disappointed withthe facility:

It doesn’t appear that Estrada Martinez escaped on purpose, said Adan Muñoz, the jail commission’s executive director, after reviewing LCS’s preliminary escape report. He was released.

“What transpired between the wrongly released inmate and the releasing officer is something that LCS will have to investigate,” Muñoz said. “There is no overt action shown by the mistakenly released inmate to indicate he made any statements to the releasing officer that he was attempting to disguise who he was while being released.

“And why the receiving transport service did not verify the inmate’s identity is also something that needs to be ascertained and investigated,” Muñoz said.

LCS contacted the jail commission within 24 hours of the discovery, which is required by law. The company must submit a written report detailing why and how the escape happened, Muñoz said.

The release counts as an escape and could pose problems for the prison, Muñoz said. ("Robstown prison discovers three weeks later that prisoner is missing," The Caller Times, December 11, 2009)

Questions still remain: why would a facility, shortly after passing an inspection with Texas jail standards, let this seriously negligent event happen? Are the guards falling back into their old routines prior to their inspection? What is happening within LCS Corrections to prevent this sort of release/breakout from happening again?

LCS Corrections calls the Coastal Bend Detention Center their "flagship" facility. If CBDC is their flagship, and inmates are walking out without disguising their identity or breaking through a wall, I am surprised the rest of their "fleet" is even able to stay afloat.

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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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