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LCS Corrections

The GEO Group acquires LCS Corrections, expanding their reach in Texas

The GEO Group is set to acquire a smaller corrections corporation, LCS Corrections. The merger could cost GEO up to $350 million dollars—borrowed from their $700 million revolving line of credit—and will add eight new facilities, and 6,500 new beds to GEO’s existing 79,000 bed capacity.

GEO is looking forward to an estimated $75-80 million extra in annual revenue. On LCS's end, the deal will bail them out of nearly $302 million in debt. The deal will reportedly be finalized by the end of this February. 

A Louisiana based company, LCS, while small in comparison, is no stranger to GEO-sized gaffes and scandals. LCS has a long history of not taking proper care of the people in their facilities, racking up a number of wrongful death and corruption suits. Most recently, a former LCS warden was indicted for attempting to bribe a Justice of the Peace in Texas.

The acquisition will expand GEO Group's reach in Texas, where LCS Corrections currently operates the Brooks County Detention Center, the East Hildago Detention Center, and the Coastal Bend Detention Center. 

Hidalgo Co. Sheriff: Expand Jail, not payment to LCS Corrections

In Hidalgo County, once the public jail no longer has space for additional prisoners, the overflow is allocated to two private facilities operated by LCS Corrections. The county then pays LCS $45 per day per incarcerated person in their facilities. That costs the county a whopping $212,000 per month. That rate could increase by 20 percent next month, when LCS's contract with Hidalgo expires and the two parties begin renegotiations for a new contract. 

Jail dollar
Jail dollar

The executive vice president of LCS corrections, Richard Harbison, proposed a new daily rate of $55 per incarcerated person, claiming that "the cost of housing inmates is going up dramatically."

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino, however, would rather expand the public jail than continue to funnel money to LCS:

We need something that we can move on right now, because it’s costing the people of this county a bunch of money every year,” he said. “There’s a solution to it. The question is: Do we really want to bite the bullet and do what we want to do?

The public jail expansion -- the addition of 768 beds -- would cost the county at least $60 million upfront, not including hiring more prison staff to supervise prisoners and day-to-day costs. Trevino claims that this expansion would pay itself off in 20 years, and is cheaper than paying $3 million per year to LCS. Having the US Marshals Service use the 300 excess beds in the public jail could offset the cost in 12 years. 

The county, namely County Judge Ramon Garcia, is not keen on Trevino's proposed expansion: 

"I’m very reluctant to get involved in any project that’s going to increase our tax rates...We’re trying to do what we can with the resources we have to work with. Presently we’re better off paying $2 million a year."

Garcia is heading an effort to build a new county courthouse, which is supposedly the reason he is unwilling to move forward with the public jail expansion. Trevino, who also recognizes the need for a new courthouse, claims that jail cost and overcrowding must be prioritized.

Contrary to both Garcia and Trevino, Astrid Dominguez, an advocacy coordinator with the Texas ACLU, opposes both the public jail expansion and a new contract with LCS. Rather, she suggests investigating why the jail is so full: two thirds of county jail prisoners haven't been convicted of a crime, and usually remain incarcerated because they can't afford post bail prior to their trials. 

 

LCS warden suspended while under federal investigation

This is how Jared Taylor's recent article in the McCallen Monitor ("Criminal inquiry into East Hidalgo warden prompts suspension," Feb. 27) begins: 

"The warden at Hidalgo County’s only privately owned detention center has been suspended with pay amid a federal investigation into criminal allegations.

Elberto E. Bravo, 52, was suspended with pay from his post at the East Hidalgo Detention Center late last week amid a federal inquiry into fraud, bribery and theft allegations, a law enforcement official familiar with the situation said.

The federal inquiry into Bravo came after the U.S. Marshals Service began investigating the privately owned detention center last month. Further details about the federal inquiry were unavailable late Monday evening."

Last October, a nurse was of smuggling marijuana into the facility.  However, there is no indication the two investigations are related and there is clearly much more information needed on this story.  We'll keep you updated as we find out more.  In the meantime, check out our 2007 article, "A Closer Look at LCS Corrections," about the company that operates East Hidalgo.

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Another Death at LCS Corrections' Coastal Bend Detention Center

Earlier this month, a 27-year old man who was detained at the Coastal Bend Detention Center died from a brain tumor after going to the doctor for high blood pressure (Melissa Schroeder, KrisTV, "LCS Detention Center Inmate Dies at 27," June 2nd, 2010):

A Taft man who was detained at the LCS Detention Center in Robstown died this past Saturday.  Warden Mike Striedel said 27-year-old Leo Guajardo died from a brain tumor.

Striedel said Guajardo had been at the detention center since January for taking the weapon of a U.S. Marshal. Striedel says Guajardo saw a doctor Friday afternoon for high blood pressure, he was immediately put on medication, but a couple hours later he claimed to feel dizzy.

The Warden says he was taken to the hospital and doctors found a massive brain tumor. His condition worsened and eventually he was put on life support.

Striedel says the family decided to take him off life support Saturday night and he was pronounced dead.

The Texas Rangers will investigate the incident to make sure everyone at the detention center did what they could to help Guajardo.  The man's family is not ready to make a statement yet, as they are preparing for Guajardo's funeral. 

Earlier this year, the Coastal Bend Detention Center was found to have not known that the facility was supposed to report deaths of inmates while in custody. If the family or LCS have any more comments we will share them here.

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Problems continue to plague the Coastal Bend Detention Center

LCS Corrections
LCS Corrections
About two months ago, the LCS Corrections-owned facility, Coastal Bend Detention Center (CBDC) had just finished its "at-risk" status probationary period due to a failed inspection and an inmate walking out of the facility. Despite their new warden and good behavior during the "at-risk" status period, it appears that the problems are not over for this struggling facility. Earlier this month, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) ruled that the facility does not meet state-defined standards, skipping the "at-risk" status altogether after the facility failed to report the deaths of two inmates, while the warden and deputy warden still lack jailers' licenses (along with 72% of the guards). The Caller-Times reports:

Discussions with the deputy warden and the chief of security of the facility revealed that neither official knew of the requirement to notify the state agency of the deaths in custody, Muñoz said.

Jail commission assistant Director Shannon Herklotz told prison officials their lack of reporting was a noncompliance issue.

LCS’ vice president of operations Dick Harbison said the warden and assistant warden were recent hires from out of state who did not know they were required to report the deaths.

Herklotz discovered neither of the top two prison managers had proper state licenses, also a violation of state standards.

“Both the lack of the jailer licenses by the warden and deputy warden, the lack of properly or entirely filling out the inmate screening form and failing to report the April 18, 2010, death in custody within 24 hours as required will immediately result in a notice of noncompliance with minimum jail standards for the Coastal Bend Detention Center,” Muñoz said.

Harbison said after 10 years in the Texas private prison business, he had never been told that his wardens needed jailers' licenses. (Jaime Powell, "Robstown private prison fails state standards again," Caller-Times, 3 May 2010)

With CBDC's rocky history of not faring well with the TCJS, I wanted to find out what this finding meant for the facility and what could happen in the future if CBDC continued to fail their inspections. The TCJS Assistant Director Shannon Herklotz told me that "officials at the Coastal Bend Detention Center have submitted a plan of action and are working towards achieving compliance." However, given that CBDC has a rocky history and continues to promise positive change for the future, I take these promises from CBDC with extreme skepticism. 

He also told me that:

The Coastal Bend Detention Center, along with any other facility found to be in non-compliance, will be give a reasonable amount of time to correct their deficiencies.  If they fail to initiate corrective action, then the Commission has other options that we can pursue.

The Commission meets once a quarter to determine if the actions taken by facilities such as CBDC were sufficient enough to make up for the failed aspects of their inspection. If the responsible party fails to initiate corrective action (in this case, if CBDC fails to get their warden and deputy warden licenses) to the notice of non-compliance, the Commission may issue a remedial order. This order mandates that all or any of the inmates confined in a jail be transferred to and maintained in a compliant facility at the cost of the non-complying entity (the county or the company). According to Herklotz, there is no policy of TCJS stating a limit to the number of times a facility can fail before getting shut down.

CBDC will remain under the eye of scrutiny as the facility systemically fails inspections. Whether or not it will come to a remedial order has yet to be seen. We will continue to bring you the latest news on CBDC to see if LCS Corrections lives up to their promised improvements.

72% of an LCS Facility's Guards are Untrained or Tested

LCS Corrections' facility, the Coastal Bend Detention Center (CBDC) in Robstown, Texas recently underwent and passed two surprise visits in accordance with their "at-risk" status. The facility recently released an inmate because they mistook the identity of the man, who is still at large.

The Caller-Times ("Robstown private prison passes two surprise inspections," Feb. 1) covered the story of the surprise inspection and fire drill and had this to say:

"The inspection did not reveal any non-compliance issues. But [state inspector] Johnson noted that of 118 officers, 85 were working with temporary state jailer licenses. All must complete training and pass a state-mandated jailer certification course within their first year of employment.

A jail commission inspector was back at the facility Friday to conduct a surprise fire drill and to check on the status of training for jailers." (Caller-Times, February 1, 2010, "Robstown private prison passes two surprise inspections.")

According to the Texas Administrative Code 37.7.255 §255.1, a temporary jailer's license can be issued to someone who applies and pays the fee. The difference between a jailer's license and a temporary jailer's license is that the temporary license "meets all the minimum standards for licensure except for training and testing." Essentially, a temporary jailer's license allows one to act as a jailer for up to a year by applying and paying the fees and without taking any testing or training.

This insight about the amount of unlicensed guards at CBDC does not seem too surprising for this facility which was plagued with staffing issues in the past. In 2009 the facility had two rounds of layoffs. The first round released 35 facility employees from their jobs in order to compensate for their high rate of vacancy (and thus lower income). Then the facility hired more employees in order to compensate for a large influx of inmates that were supposed to help fill the facility, which resulted in an over-staffing problem and subsequently a second round of layoffs to the tune of 26 employees shortly after the prison failed their inspection and had a new Warden appointed. This facility's history of rapid employee turnover paired with every private prison's drive to profit makes the fact that the facility has 72% of guards still uncertified less shocking. What is shocking, however, is how a facility can even function with such a large percentage of untrained, untested guards.

Uncertified, greenhorn jailers are going to be cheaper to hire because they lack the necessary experience that would warrant higher pay, as opposed to a more seasoned veteran guard. Paying guards less in salaries means higher profits. With so many inexperienced guards in one facility it is no surprise that an inmate could walk out of a facility without falsifying their identity. However, this situation is still an improvement upon when the facility failed its inspection on 17 counts of misconduct. One of those violations entailed 24 guards not having a jailer's license at all -- temporary or permanent -- simply hired hands without any training or authority.

This situation is also dangerous because it holds the County liable for the actions of the jailers who are acting under the color of the law. The Dallas Morning News states, "If an inmate is injured in an encounter with a rookie guard, for example, the county could be held liable for failing to properly train the guard." The longer the facility goes without training these guards, the longer Nueces County is liable for the actions of ill-prepared prison guards. These types of hidden costs of private prisons are often overlooked when governmental agents construct new private prisons and expect them to be "no cost solutions" to their prison system woes.

The CBDC was deemed "at-risk" and will remain so for 90 days after its designation in late December of last year. I would expect more inspections to come and we will relay the information here as it develops.

2009 Year in Review - Top Private Prison Stories, #4 Small Companies, Big Scandals

Over the next few days, we'll be posting 2009's top six stories related to private prisons.  This is the fourth biggest story of the year. 

#4 - Small Companies, Big Scandals

Some of the smaller private prison corporations had the biggest controversies in 2009.  From debates over CEC's payments to the McLennan County Sheriff to LCS's flagship failure and big problems at Southwestern Correctional, it's been a tough year for the small private prison companies. 

1. LCS Corrections' "Flagship" Facility FailuresThe Coastal Bend Detention Center, LCS Corrections' so-called "flagship facility" had an assortment of problems in 2009. In January, LCS had to lay off 35 employees, who they re-hired in March.  In September, the facility failed a Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection, leading the normally diplomatic commission chief Adan Muñoz to say of the facility, "I have to bring any remedial order before the [jail] commission, but this borders really close to complete incompetence."   In November, Coastal Bend accidentally released an inmate, a mistake that wasn't noticed for three weeks.  The facility remains on "At Risk" status, meaning the TCJS has full authority to conduct unannounced inspections.

2. Southwestern Correctional Problems in Burnet County.  Southwestern Correctional's Burnet County jail rivaled LCS's Coastal Bend facility as the most rebuked private jail for 2009.  In November, the company drew a fairly sharp rebuke from Texas Commission on Jail Standards head Adan Muñoz for not providing medical care to a pregnant inmate or providing medication to inmates with mental health problems.  In September, the Burnet facility was deemed non-compliant by TCJS after an escape lead to an inspection.  At that point, Muñoz said “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism."  The facility drew broad opposition in Burnet County even before it was built with residents siting the pitfalls of jail privatization and the potential dangers in floating debt for private jail expansion.

3. Community Education Centers, the private prison corporation formerly known as CiviGenics, had another dramatic year.  For years CEC has been paying McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch (and his precedessors) a "stipend" for the nominal oversight of additional prisoners in the company's downtown facility.  According to state law, Sheriffs must authorize a private detention company's presence in the county under its jurisdiction. In 2008, Waco Sheriff Larry Lynch continued to receive the kickback despite a contentious debate over whether to build a new CEC facility in McLennan County.  Former State Representative Kevin Bailey, then Chair of the Committee on Urban Affairs, requested an opinion of the Attorney General, and a bill was filed in 2009 (though ultimately wasn't successful) to outlaw the practice.  Debate flared once again this September, when Tommy Witherspoon at the Waco Tribune reported that long-standing payment practice of the Sheriff by CEC would not expand despite a new CEC lock-up opening in McLennan. Witherspoon's investigative reporting also uncovered that Limestone County Sheriff Dennis Wilson, whose county annual salary is $49,457, is paid a $24,000 stipend yearly by the county in its contract with CEC.

CEC also had problems in Kinney County, where a bribery lead to an escape and the facility's closure. On October 23rd, an inmate escaped from Community Education Centers' (CEC) Kinney County Detention Center in Brackettville, TX. Shortly after the escape, the warden of the facility, Mickey Hubert, resigned from his position on November 2nd. CEC closed down the facility temporarily with no word on if or when they plan to re-open, leaving all employees without work. The U.S. Marshals moved the remaining inmates who were left behind to other nearby facilities.

Stay tuned for the top three private prison stories of the year...

LCS's Coastal Bend Detention Center Moved to "At-Risk" Status

The Coastal Bend Detention Center, LCS Corrections' so-called "flagship facility," will be under extreme scrutiny over the next 90 days following a failed inspection and the unauthorized release of an inmate because of mistaken identity, which went unknown for three weeks. LCS hired Alberto Bravo as a new warden shortly before the failed inspection in hopes of changing the facility for the better and improving their standards. Bravo's work temporarily paid off as they passed their second round of inspections. However, shortly after passing the second inspection, they mistakenly released an inmate and did not realize what had happened for three weeks prior to the "escape."

Because of this, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has defined the facility as being "at-risk," meaning over the next 90 days the TCJS will have full authority to conduct unannounced inspections at any day or time. If no citations are filed from the inspections over this time, then the facility will be taken off the list. If there are citations or failures found, then more actions will be taken, depending on the offenses. Warden Bravo in investigating the release, and has narrowed his focus to specific employees. He told the Caller-Times, “We are trying to narrow it down to where it happened,” Bravo said. “It was human error. The procedures we had in place, they failed to follow the procedures" ("Robstown prison faces unannounced inspections after inadvertant inmate release," The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 18 December, 2009).

We will remain aware about the status of this facility and relay any information we find through these unannounced inspections.

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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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Cameron County ships prisoners out-of-county to accomodate feds

In a prime example of how entrepreneurial corrections can skew decisions about jail policy, Cameron County has decided to move 100 of its local inmates over 3 hours away to a private jail outside Corpus Christi.  The reason?  County officials want to ensure they have enough space to house federal detainees - a population that brings in money for the south Texas county.  Here's the story from the Brownsville Herald ("Nearly 100 Cameron County inmates going to Robstown," November 20)

The Cameron County Commissioners’ Court on Friday approved a contract with LCS Correctional Services Inc. that will allow the county to transfer nearly 100 inmates to the company’s privately run detention center in Nueces County. The inmates will be transferred to LCS’ Coastal Bend Detention Center in Robstown, said Gus Reyna Jr., chief deputy for the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department. ...

The inmate transfer is necessary for Cameron County to meet its commitment to the U.S. Marshals Service to provide space for 300 federal inmates in the county’s jail system, County Judge Carlos H. Cascos said.

While it may seem backwards to ship local jail inmates (some of whom are potentially folks not yet convicted of a crime) hours away from family, friends, and their attorneys in order to make room for federal detainees, it's a practice that we're likely to see more of with counties running their jails as profit-making entities much like private prisons.  (In a related story, Cameron County's jails were recently skewered by Texas Jail Project's Diana Claitor in the pages of the Texas Observer ("Heaven and Hell in Cameron County," November 13).)

As we've previously reported, LCS's Coastal Bend lock-up has had difficulty both passing basic inspections and finding prisoners to fill its 1,056 beds.  According to the November Texas Commission on Jail Standards numbers, the facility is currently only 56% full with federal detainees.  We'll keep you posted on the situation at Coastal Bend.

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