The death of a prisoner reported on May 30 at the Jack Harwell Detention Center in McLennan County is under investigation by federal, state, and local officials. The private jail is operated by private, for-profit prison company LaSalle Corrections.
Litte information is known about the incident, however, a news report stated:
"McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara did not return phone messages Tuesday. Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ricky Armstrong declined comment, saying the inmate was a U.S. Marshals Service prisoner and referring questions to the marshals service.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe Bays also declined comment, saying the matter is under investigation. Bays declined to provide details of the inmate’s death, his or her identity or suspected manner and means of death."
This is not the first prisoner death at this private jail. In February, three former LaSalle Corrections employees were indicted after surveillance video showed that they lied about conducting head counts after a prisoner committed suicide last November.
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.
In July, we reported protests about sub-standard conditions in the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco, Texas. The facility is privately run by LaSalle Southwest Corrections and was not originally meant for immigrant detention.
Protestors argued that officials denied the detainees basic rights like use of the telephone, reasonable access to visitation, or an adequate legal library.
The protests by advocates and criticism from attorneys apparently worked.
Norma Lacey, from ICE’s San Antonio Field Office confirmed. "We are currently not utilizing the Jack Harwell facility," Lacy wrote in an email to advocates asking to visit immigrants at Jack Harwell earlier this week. "We can notify you should we need to utilize it again."
The Jack Harwell Detention Center had about 250 beds for ICE detainees. The average age of the detainees’ was about 19 years old.
The Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco was the site of a protest on July 12. The detention center is operated by private prison company LaSalle Southwest Corrections.
Protestors came from Waco, Austin, Dallas, and Taylor to deliver know-your-rights materials to the facility after attorneys in Central Texas sounded the alarm overconditions in the center.
MyFox Austin reports:
"Protestors said the detention center should not be used to hold ICE detainees.
"I would love to see our local jail, our local law-enforcement abide by the law and then just not even enforce those, because they don't have to," said Waco immigration lawyer Kent McKeever.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, (D) TX-35, agrees that detention centers aren't the answer.
"I think we should look for alternatives to detention centers. There's so many religious organizations and community service organizations that will be willing to host some of these families. That's the better approach," said Doggett.
Protestors said the center lacks adequate medical care, doesn't provide access to a legal library, limits visitation and treats detainees like criminals.
"The families are being broken up for unfair, unjust and irrational reasons," McKeever said.
The Jack Harwell Detention Center said they are required to follow National Detention Standards. They said they meet those standards and strive to provide the best care they can for detainees."