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."
Here's a story we've been following for a while, but haven't yet posted on. Johnson County appears to be near to floating an additional $20 million to expand a jail operated by private prison operator LaSalle Southwest. The reason is not, apparently, that the county needs the jail, but that the company is able to turn a profit off the facility's expanded use for immigration detention. Grits for Breakfast, as usual, has a good breakdown:
"The Sheriff in Johnson County is insisting that the commissioners court must pay to expand the county jail, according to this report out of Cleburne, though "County Judge Roger Harmon appeared to offer every possible scenario Monday that might prevent a big-ticket expense – building, or at least major renovation and expansion, of a county jail."
Sheriff Bob Alford, though, insisted building additional capacity is the only option. Commissioner Don Beeson opined, "Its not popular, but we have a responsibility. We just simply have outgrown this facility."
But have they? According to the latest report by the Commission on Jail Standards (1/1/14), the Johnson County Jail has a capacity of 870 but only 454 local prisoners, meaning local demand presently only takes up 52% of available jail beds. When one takes into account more than 250 contract prisoners, though, the jail is 81% full. So the push to expand the jail isn't due to rising local needs but stems from past decisions by the commissioners court to speculatively build excess capacity to house inmates from elsewhere.
The ill-fated decision to overbuild the jail has haunted the county for years. In 2010, their previous contractor dumped the county because they couldn't find inmates to fill the empty beds. The new contractor, LaSalle Corrections out of Lousiana, has been more successful at filling the beds and now wants the county to build them extra capacity."
So, the facility would not be expanded to facilitate an expansion of federal detainees, presumably on contract from Immigration and Customs and Enforcement or the US Marshals. The facility is already an ICE-contract facility, and presumably is benefiting from that agency's controversial bed quota that mandates that ICE fill 34,000 detention beds every single day, at a more than $2 billion price tag to U.S. taxpayers.
Johnson County residents may want to look down the I-35 at the Jack Harwell Detention Center for a cautionary tale about how federal contracts don't always bring the economic miracles they are expected to. As we reported back in 2011, Jack Harwell's then-operator Community Education Centers had immigration detainees removed from its facility after complaints from legal service advisors and immigration rights advocates that conditions in the facility were inappropriate for immigrants in civil detention. The facility also was deemed non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. That is apparently a threat in Johnson County as well, according to a recent article in the Joshua Star ("Report: LaSalle reinvesting in jail," February 14):
"... the Texas Commission on Jail Standards also told Johnson County it may not pass another review, Commissioner Don Beeson has repeatedly said, leading to the initial discussion concerning the construction of a new jail or major renovation to this facility."
McLennan County has also struggled to pay the debt the county's Public Facility Corporation floated to pay for the construction of the facility. The facility has sat half-empty for years after the county's financing agency spent $49 million to build it.
Johnson County should take note that federal contracts can go as quickly as they come.