Kathy Williams reports that Grayson County's jail bond election is canceled, and County Judge Drue Bynum's desire to build a new private jail may be squelched. From the Sherman Herald-Democrat ("Grayson County jail bond election canceled; entire process could begin anew", Sep. 10):
There will be no Grayson County Jail bond election Nov. 3. County Judge Drue Bynum said Thursday he also holds little hope of getting a privately built and operated jail approved. So Grayson County will begin anew the process of deciding what to do with an aging jail and future inmate populations.
The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) indicated on Wednesday it would file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the entire Grayson County Commissioners Court meeting that occurred on August 31 in state district court. Andrew wrote last week that Grayson County approved a November public jail bond election at that meeting, but Commisioners were hedging their bets on the bond proposal. On August 31, commissioners also approved several items that would have moved privatization of the County Jail forward, including a new public facilities corporation (PFC) that would have sidestepped voters by financing a private facility with revenue bonds, and the form of a contract with Southwest Correctional to build and operate the Grayson County Jail (for more on Public Facility Corporations, check out Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center? A Resource Packet for Community Members and Public Officials).
According to CLEAT, the County Commissioners Court violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by posting its August 31 agenda at least one minute short of the 72-hour advance notice required by law. If CLEAT won a declaratory judgment against Grayson, the County Commissioners Court would have to void all actions taken during the August 31 meeting. This would require the county to postpone any jail bond election until May of 2010.
County Judge Drue Bynum, who indicated to the Herald-Democrat on Wednesday that he was ready to confront the legal challenge from CLEAT, conceded Thursday that the Commissioners Court did, in fact, violate the Texas Open Meetings Act.
From the Herald Democrat:
As much as I hate to acknowledge it, we were late and we didn't meet the letter of the law. I think we certainly met the spirit," Bynum said in a telephone interview. "I am willing to void the entire 31 Aug. agenda. ... Obviously we won't need to ratify the entire bond election, because it's too late for that. Bynum said the Court will have to discuss Monday where to go from here on the jail issue.
We'll be following developments from Grayson County closely.
A special note-- Kathy Williams at the Sherman Herald Democrat deserves our high-praise for doing such a stellar job of reporting on the Grayson County Jail saga. Thanks, from all of us at Texas Prison Bid'ness!
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.
On Tuesday, Grassroots Leadership released the 2009 edition of Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center? A Resource Packet for Community Members and Public Officials.
The report is intended to serve as a resource for public officials, community members, journalists, and policy-makers in Texas who are faced with building, financing, or operating a private prison, jail, or detention center.
The release of the updated guide coincides with a heated debate over jail privatization in Grayson County, which Andrew and I have been writing about (see the links at bottom of this post for more background). We sent a press release to the Herald Democrat, and we hope public officials in Grayson will read the report before moving forward with a proposed private jail.
Grassroots Leadership first published Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center in 2005. Bob, Andrew and I worked together to compile the latest edition. From our press release (PDF):
Grassroots Leadership’s updated Resource Packet analyzes the economic impact of private prisons on Texas communities, offers alternatives to prison expansion, and compares the safety and conditions at private and government run prisons.
The guide includes a review of recent research on the economic impact of prison expansion by attorney and independent criminal justice policy analyst, Michele Deitch. Deitch states that, “The research concludes, quite stunningly, that prisons have no measurable positive impact on economic growth, and may even slow growth in some communities.”
Compared to public facilities, for-profit private prisons and jails have significantly higher rates of staff turnover, higher rates of escape, and higher rates of assault. For-profit prison companies train new hires inadequately and drive experienced jailers out of work by paying them wages as low as fast-food restaurants and grocery store chains. The report says that private prisons are associated with inadequate protection of prisoners’ human rights, degrading prison conditions, and poor employment standards.
We will occasionally refer back to Considering a Private Jail? in future posts, and we'll also be posting sections of the report. We hope you'll take a look!
Previous Posts on Grayson's Proposed Private Jail:
Last Monday, Grayson County commissioners came to the decision that they will put the hotly debated subject of whether to build a new jail or renovate the existing downtown jail to a vote by the people. The motion calling for a vote by the people passed with a four to one margin. Commissioner Short voted against the motion because he felt the "wording was too loose," and he "had little time to look over related documents" ("$34 Million Bond to Build or Renovate Grayson County Jail Will Go Before Voters;" KTEN).
|County Judge, Drue Bynum||Yay|
|Precinct 1 Commissioner, Johnny Waldrip||Yay|
|Precinct 2 Commissioner, David Whitlock||Yay|
|Precinct 3 Commissioner, Jackie Crisp||Yay|
|Precinct 4 Commissioner, C.E. "Gene" Short||Nay|
The vote will happen next November, and voters will see the following proposition on the ballot: "The issuance of $34,000,000 of Grayson County tax bonds for constructing, improving, renovating, equipping and acquiring land for county jail purposes and the levying of a tax payment thereof" ("Jail Bond Stirs More Controversy;" KTEN).
The original intention of the vote was to determine whether or not the county jail should be privately or publically operated. However, the "loose" wording in the proposition says nothing about these options, and merely declares that the county will have $34 million "for county jail purposes." What these purposes are, exactly, have not yet been laid out for the public. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the vote's passing will keep a private company from operating the facility in the future. All that has been guaranteed is that 750 beds will be added -- either to the downtown jail or to a new structure which will assumedly be privately run.
"Many residents, county and city leaders, including Sherman's Mayor Bill Magers, have questioned if the county needs a jail that large, and believe a smaller facility will do. [County Judge] Bynum has consistently said the 750 bed figure comes from approval by the Texas Jail Commission over the projected needs for the county in the next two decades" ("$34 Million Bond to Build or Renovate Grayson County Jail Will Go Before Voters;" KTEN).
"I think it speaks for itself," said Judge Drue Bynum. "We've bent over backwards. This is a tough, tough proposition and endeavor we're taking. Sometimes when people say one thing and have to put their money where their mouth is, obviously, you get a different reaction and we saw that today..." Grayson County resident Tony Beaverson has been an outspoken critic of the court and it's decision to precede with the private route. He told KTEN he was encouraged when he heard the court was taking the issue to the voters, but not when he learned the details. "The people will vote on a bond issue with no substance, no particulars behind it," said Tony Beaverson. "[The Court is saying] just give us a blank check and with that blank check they can still do what they originally planed to do." From now until November, the court is still going to precede with the private option. Monday morning they signed off a number of proposals with Southwest Correctional. Bynum says they are doing that, so in case the bond fails, they'll be ready to move forward with the private option because something has to be done quickly ("Jail Bond Stirs More Controversy;" KTEN).
The vote appears to be a move by the Commissioners to give the appearance of choice to the citizens of Grayson County, but the wording, as it stands now, does not protect the county jail from privatization either now or in the future. Additionally, there is no precise plan for what the money will be spent on. On the same day as the vote was declared, the County moved ahead in negotiations with Southwest Correctional, because no matter which way the vote goes, there is a potential for privatization. Whether the vote passes and the County spends the money on "county jail purposes," which could include renovations to the downtown jail or a new facility (without a guarantee that either the renovated downtown jail or the new facility will not be privatized), or the vote fails and Southwest Correctional constructs their own facility, the private option has already won before the vote is conducted. Until the Commissioners change the wording in the proposition, or scrap it all and start over with a clearer plan, it seems as though the citizens have no choice but the private choice, with the commissioners selling out the democratic process in a faustian pact for wealth.