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.
Last Monday the Coastal Bend Detention Center had its second round of inspection after failing the first on 17 counts of noncompliance. Within thirty days of failing the first inspection and facing the threat of closure, LCS Corrections got their act together ("Private Robstown prison passes state inspection," October 19, 2009):
“They reviewed all the deficiencies and all were corrected 100 percent,” Harbison said. “We are 100 percent approved. The crew, the new warden and his staff are just doing an outstanding job.”Warden Elberto “Bert” Bravo took over as head of the facility about 10 days before state inspectors arrived and a state inspector told him to address problems or face possible closure. Bravo replaced the previous warden who resigned over management issues.
Bravo immediately hired two deputy wardens with more than 60 years of combined experience to help him shape up the facility...
Muñoz said he was surprised that the LCS staff was able to bring the facility into compliance so quickly.
“I could tell they wanted to get back in compliance, but there were quite a bit of things that needed to get done,” Muñoz said. “I have to got commend them for it.”
It is unclear as to whether or not the health hazards of the food preparation were fixed alongside the administrative failures. For more information regarding the Coastal Bend Detention Center's previous citations feel free to review our past coverage.
Last month we covered the failed inspection of an LCS Corrections facility, the Coastal Bend Detention Center (CBDC). The CBDC failed on 17 different compliance issues, with the director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards stating the inspection results were "really close to complete incompetence" ("Robstown Prison Fails Inspection," Corpus Christi Caller-Times, September 21, 2009). Also in that article, jail Warden Elberto Bravo was quoted with projecting that he would have his facility in compliance with Texas jail standards by the end of October.
Recently, Bravo has asked inspectors to return in mid-October for a second round of inspections:
"Texas Commission on Jail Standards director Adan Muñoz said his office has been in regular contact with the Robstown facility and Bravo sent a progress update earlier this week.
On January 14th, a 41 year old man named Mario A. Garcia was found dead in his cell in LCS Corrections' Brooks County jail, leaving behind a widow and 10 year old son. Garcia had only been in jail a couple weeks after pleading guilty to charges of bid-rigging on December 31st, 2008 while working with the Corpus Christi Army Depot. Despite his detention, Garcia was never formally sentenced prior to his death.
Before his processing into the jail, Garcia had a documented health condition that required he take antidepressants and seizure medication. Because of this medical condition, Garcia was not allowed to live freely outside of prison before his sentencing (as most inmates serving time for similar crimes are allowed to do) for fear that he might kill himself. However, once imprisoned, Garcia was not given access to his medication, and a seizure is the major side effect of the medications if withheld.
On July 23rd, Garcia's family filed a lawsuit against LCS Corrections, according to an article in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times ("Family sues private prison for inmate's death in Brooks County," July 23rd):
"The lawsuit claims [Garcia] was denied access to medication, despite warnings from family members about his condition. An autopsy by the Nueces County medical examiner found that Garcia died of the seizure disorder. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. It names prison owner LCS Correction Services, the prison’s former warden and former doctor as defendants."
Not only does LCS have this looming lawsuit on their hands, they also just went through a period of laying off prison employees shortly after the time of Garcia's death in their Coastal Bend Detention Center in Robstown, TX. The CBDC had just opened in November of 2008, but by January 2009 LCS had to lay off 40 prison guards due to financial troubles. The facility would not be fully staffed again until March of 2009. It is not clear whether or not Garcia's death contributed to the cause of the LCS layoffs in Robstown, TX but the correlations show it could be a possibility.
We will do our best to follow this lawsuit and its consequences for LCS Corrections. Meanwhile, feel free to take a closer look at LCS Corrections.