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Liberty County

Cleveland, TX mayor and residents successfully oppose new detention facility

On August 18, Cleveland, TX Mayor Niki Coats announced at a city council meeting that a private prison operator had withdrawn plans to build a new immigrant detention facility. 

Cleveland Mayor Niki Coats
Cleveland Mayor Niki Coats

The news drew cheers from more than two dozen residents who showed up to protest. 

One week earlier, private prison contractor, Emerald Companies, had asked the city for a letter of intent. Coats refused to sign, saying, "It's not the kind of growth in the community we need."

Coats later explained that Emerald withdrew the plan claiming they had another location in mind. 

When the Cleveland Advocate asked other Texas county judges about the impact on counties of building immigrant detention facilities, Polk County Judge Sidney Murphy had this to say:

"According to Murphy, in Polk County, the IAH Detention Facility operated by MTC of Utah and built a little more than 10 years ago is required to pay the county a per diem fee per inmate. However, the population of the 1,000-bed facility is so low, with only 300 beds being used, it is no longer generating any income for the county.

“'Why build a 1,000-bed facility when there is one less than 30 miles down the road that has only 300 beds being used?' Murphy asked."

Burnet County Judge James Oakley said after his county entered a 20-year revenue bond deal with a private prison company, the deal eventually went belly up, leaving the county with lost revenue and a facility that was much bigger than necessary. 

It seems the Cleveland mayor and residents may have helped save Liberty County from similar fates.

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Liberty County officials still debating whether to take over jail operation from private prison company

The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The debate over the future of the Liberty County Jail continues and it looks like it will all come down to cost.

Liberty County has been mulling over a proposal for the county to take over operations of the jail from Community Education Centers (CEC), which currently runs the facility. At a special meeting of the Liberty County Commissioners Court on May 19, Commissioners heard from county officials and others including CEC Warden Raye Carnes, Liberty County Indigent Health Care Director Donna Burt and Liberty County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Rader.

Burt told commissioners that when the county last ran the jail, the biggest medical cost was providing malpractice insurance coverage for the jail doctor, costing $100,000 in the 1990s. Burt told commissioners that finding a doctor was the biggest challenge facing the county and that she didn’t think the county would save money by taking over operation of the jail.

Warden Carnes told commissioners that CEC provides medical care, but left out the company’s widely reported and troubled history. That history includes an incident that left a woman dead of pregnancy complications at an Indiana facility after CEC staff waited hours to seek emergency medical care.

Commissioners hired Austin-based consultant firm MGT of America, Inc. in August 2014 to advise the county on which route would save the county money. In March of this year, MGT told commissioners that the cost of running the jail would be the same whether it was run by the county sheriff or CEC “or 'Johnny’s Garage and Jail Service.'" MGT also told commissioners in the same meeting that their best bet to reduce the cost of running the jail would be to reduce the jail population.

For his part, Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, a Republican who ran and won on a platform of kicking CEC out of the jail, cited projections that the average population would actually grow to 275 inmates over the next five years.

Sheriff Rader summed up the county’s concerns: “If it’s going to cost more money for us to take it over [from CEC], then it’s not the right thing to do.”

A change in management very well may be the right thing to do for those locked up in the jail. In April, two prisoners died in a single week at the CEC-run Liberty County Jail.

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Liberty County hires consultants to look into who should run the jail

The Liberty County Commissioners Court decided Tuesday, August 26 to hire a firm to consult on whether County Sheriff Bobby Rader should take over direct operation of the jail or leave it in the hands of a for-profit, private prison company.

The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The Liberty County Jail is currently operated by Community Education Centers. The consulting firm, MGT of America, Inc. is based in Austin and will be paid $64,000 to help the county decide what to do.

The issue is whether the contract with CEC is costing the county. In 2012, a study by Texas A&M researcher Lynn Greenwood for Liberty County found that de-privatization of the Liberty County Jail would help the county to manage its jail costs as it continues efforts to reduce the population in its jail. 

County Auditor Harold Seay told Commissioner Mike McCarty that this year’s cost overrun for the jail’s operation will be about $800,000.

“We’ve got to do something,” Commissioner McCarty said.

For his part, Sheriff Rader explained his concern that while many claim the county can save at least $1 million by operating the jail directly, he might be blamed if that does not happen.

Still Sheriff Rader told the court, “We’re ready to take to take it. You give me the money to run it, and we’ll run it.”

One candidate in Liberty County has made ending the county's contract with CEC part of his platform. Leon Wilson listed "Stopping the waste of millions of dollars by bringing the jail back under County administration" as the first item on his platform when he announced his candidacy in the primaries in the Liberty Vindicator.  Wilson won that primary and will be on the November ballot. 

And like many for-profit, private prisons, the Liberty County Jail has seen it's share of scandal. For example, a CEC guard at the jail was arrested on March 15 for allegedly bringing contraband into the facility. Another CEC guard was arrested for smuggling drugs into the jail in 2013. A district court judge also accused CEC of thwarting its efforts to reduce the jail population with increased costs. 

However, the commissioners may be still considering contracting with priviate prison companies. The court also voted on Tuesday to issue a request for proposals from companies that might want to run the Liberty County jail.

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Big Stories of 2012 - #6 - The Ballad of Liberty County

To round out 2012, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year, based on stories covered on our blog.  Our number six story of the year is the Ballad of Liberty County.

 TPB Big Story #6 - Liberty County Debates Ending Private Prison Contract 

Earlier this year, we brought you the Ballad of Liberty County. With the goal of lowering the operating

costs of the Liberty County Jail, 253rd District Court Judge Chap B. Cain initiated a plan to reduce the number of non-violent individuals housed in the jail.  The plan was successful, reducing the number of non-violent offenders in the jail dramatically.  

As we wrote back in March - 75th District Court Judge Mark Morefield, who supports the inmate reduction plan, stated: “’One (private prison) bid said that if the inmate population goes below 200, the cost per inmate goes from $63 to $68 per day. If we work really hard to decrease the inmate population, the cost will go up to $70 per day, … [t]hey are taking all the incentive out of it.’” 

Unfortunately, in April, the county renewed its contract with CEC for two years, though it is continuing to study the issue of de-privatization.  In October, a study by Texas A&M researcher Lynn Greenwood for Liberty County found that de-privatization of the Liberty County Jail would help the county to manage its jail costs as it continues efforts to reduce the population in its jail. According to a story in the Liberty County Vindicator

"The county instituted a bond supervision program and successfully reduced the jail population, “undermined by the increased cost of housing inmates”, says Greenwood. The current management company, Correctional Education Centers (CEC) increased their per person per day (PPPD) with lower jail population. In Tuesday’s court meeting, commissioners approved a payment for September 2012 to CEC for $333,972, a cost of $72 PPPD. The study determined the appropriate PPPD cost for Liberty County should be $43.70."

We will keep you posted on developments to this story in 2013.

 

Private prison contract draining Liberty County coffers even as jail population declines

Liberty County is paying more to detain fewer people in its jail, thanks to a contract with private prison corporation Community Education Centers that increases the per diem the county pays as the number of people in its jail falls.  According to an article in last Wednesday's Liberty County Vindicator: 

"Liberty County commissioners approved a $341,168.43 payment to jail management company Community Education Centers (CEC) in the Tues., Aug. 28 commissioners court meeting.

The census at the Liberty County Jail dropped below 150 (at 148), which triggered the ‘cost plus 15%’ arrangement in the CEC contract. County Auditor Harold Seay asked for discussion since the court had discussed the topic in executive session without him.

Seay said the average rate per inmate under the ‘cost plus’ payment comes to $75.48 per prisoner per day, up from the contracted rate of $71.12 per day if the census at the 150 level.  

Seay added, “Even with fewer prisoners, it is costing us $18,213 more.” (County’s controversial inmate ‘cost plus’ rates kick in at $341,168, August 28.  Emphasis added by Texas Prison Bid'ness.)

Liberty County has had a falling jail population due in part to smart-on-crime reforms implemented several years ago.  A previous Texas Prison Bid'ness guest post by Grassroots Leadership MSSW intern Jane Atkinson describes the situation:

"Liberty County has had a rough relationship with CEC. After Liberty County implemented some smart-on-crime tactics and lowered its jail population, CEC raised the per diem rate of each person in the jail, keeping Liberty County from saving money (Cleveland Advocate, "County’s jail inmate population down, but companies now asking for more money per inmate," January 21).

In addition to bad financial deals, CEC has also raised concerns over its ability to properly manage its facilities, from failed inspections as recently as 2011, to the recent indictment of a CEC guard for smuggling drugs to inmates. An op-ed I wrote two weeks ago further details the tenuous relationship between Liberty County and CEC. These troubles led to the county considering a new private manager (LaSalle/Southwest Corrections) or taking over jail operations themselves.   

Furthermore, a feature by Sarah Beth Bolin of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition in the Vindicator makes common-sense recommendations on how the county can decrease the jailed population and save money by not contracting with a private company."

Last week's Vindicator article indicated that the County was still interested in seeking advice from an outside consultant, Texas State University professor Lynn Greenwood, who is performing a study on the impact of de-privatization of the jail.     

See our previous coverage of the Liberty County Jail:

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