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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.

Coastal Bend Detention Center Passes Round Two of Inspection

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.”

Texas Commission on Jail Standards director Adan Muñoz said the facility will be issued a compliance certificate once paperwork is complete, likely within two days.

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.

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LCS's Coastal Bend Detention Center Preparing for Round Two of Inspection

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.

“I know the warden has been working hard to correct the issues,” Muñoz said. “I think they can get back on par. Having said that, its my understanding that they now have fired or terminated individuals and they are taking the proper corrective actions.”

The prison, completed in September 2008, received its first inmates in March.

Bravo said when he started the job shortly after Labor Day, he found an array of problems including those cited by state inspectors. Many of the issues already were being addressed when the state inspectors arrived, [LCS Vice President] Harbison said. But for a facility to be in compliance, policies and procedures had to be in place for 30 days, Bravo said. Everything also had to be correctly documented.

“Everything is corrected,” Bravo said.

Bravo will ask inspectors to return the week of Oct. 19, the first week the facility is eligible for re-inspection, he said.

The compliance issues did not decrease the number of inmates. When the facility was inspected there were 475 inmates, mostly undocumented immigrants placed there through a contract with federal agencies. Friday morning there were 478 inmates, Bravo said." ("Private prison now ready to pass inspection, new warden says," Corpus-Christi Caller-Times, October 9, 2009).

While we can take the Warden at his word that all 17 compliance issues have been fixed, there are still some remaining, unmentioned hazards not listed in the Texas Commission on Jail Standards September inspection report. The city of Corpus Christi food service inspection from June of 2009, three months after the brand new facility began to house inmates, reports that the CBDC had failed three aspects of inspection. The inspection report states there were two major violations and one minor violation. The two major violations were that the bulk foods were not stored in their original containers (a handling violation) and the paper products were cross-contaminated by being stored on the floor. The minor violation was the discovery of mouse droppings evident in the dry storage area. The facility was given 90 days to fix these violations, but no evidence has been found as to if they have or have not been rectified. The report gave the facility a total of 11 demerits for their three failures, and anywhere from 11-20 is considered in the "good" category for the Nueces County Public Health District. 

However, LCS Corrections' executive Vice President, Richard Harbison stated, “We want to be in compliance with all agencies... We want to run the best prison we can run and comply with all the rules and regulations, both state and federal” ("Private prison now ready to pass inspection, new warden says," Corpus-Christi Caller-Times, October 9, 2009). This should be the goal of any private prison company contracting with state or federal clients. If they were planning on doing so, one would imagine they would have planned better before failing 17 counts of prison standards and 3 counts of health standards. 

We will stay on the lookout for reports regarding the second round of inspections (both jail and health) to keep you informed on the quality of the CBDC.

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Robstown's Coastal Bend Detention Center Fails Inspection

On Monday, an announcement surfaced regarding a recent failed inspection of the Coastal Bend Detention Center. Prison company LCS Corrections owns and operates the facility and contracts with the U.S. Marshals, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Border Patrol in order to maintain their largely immigrant inmate population.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) director Adan Muñoz explained,"I have to bring any remedial order before the [jail] commission, but this borders really close to complete incompetence" ("Robstown Prison Fails Inspection," Corpus Christi Caller-Times, September 21, 2009).

The inspection revealed a total of 17 compliance issues:

1. Inmate toilet and shower areas have insufficient privacy shields.

2. Jailers are not being trained properly for fire drills.

3. Jailers are not being trained properly in the use of air packs.

4. No documentation outlining generator testing or the transfer of the facility’s electric load at least once a month.

5. Inmates were not classified correctly.

6. Classification reviews were not conducted within 90 days of initial inmate custody assessments.

7. Classification workers didn’t receive the required four hours of training.

8. Internal classification audit logs were not kept.

9. No tuberculosis screening plan had been approved by the health department.

10. Twenty-four officers did not have a required jailer’s license or temporary jailer’s license.

11. Hourly face-to-face prisoner checks were not performed.

12. The facility did not meet the state mandated 1-to-48 jailer-to-inmate ratio.

13. Personnel did not conduct required contraband searches.

14. Disciplinary hearings for minor inmate infractions were conducted by a single person rather than a disciplinary board.

15. Jail did not respond to inmates with grievances within 15 days or resolve issues within 60 days as required.

16. Inmates did not receive one hour of supervised physical education three days per week as required.

17. A fire panel doesn’t show an inspection tag.

While each of these issues is important, some of them are outright travesties.  Not testing for tuberculosis or giving adequate exercise time are both grossly negligent to the health of the inmates, and jailers without licenses not making face-to-face checks or searches for contraband combine to form ideal conditions for a riot to erupt and a subsequent failed attempt at subduing it.

This marks the second failed private prison inspection in Texas this month. In both cases, the TCJS deemed the facilities non-compliant after inspection for mostly the same reasons of negligence in inmate supervision. Coastal Bend Detention Center's warden Elberto Bravo defends, "I know the report looks bad. They say it is the worst they have ever seen. But honestly, we are going to be OK. It’s just going to take me a little bit of time to do it" ("Robstown Prison Fails Inspection," September 21, 2009).

This is not the first time the LCS Corrections has had troubles with this facility, though. Earlier this year in January, the facility had to lay off 35 employees in order to cover for their lack of filled prison beds. Later in March, just a couple months later, the facility rehired 40 more employees in an attempt compensate for a large influx of prisoners after earlier having too few. Warden Bravo claims he will have his facility in compliance with the Texas standards by the end of October, and you know we will be watching.

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Is LCS's Robstown Prison Being Bailed Out by Operation Streamline Detainees?

An influx of federal prisoners from the United States Marshals Service will help bailout a troubled south Texas private prison, according to a story in the Corpus-Christi Caller-Times ("Prison Firm Rehires 40," March 6th),

As federal prisoners began arriving at the privately owned LCS detention facility in Robstown on Friday, a company official said employees who were laid off in January have been rehired.  In response to the influx of prisoners into the 1,100-bed facility, which has sat empty since it opened in September, the prison has called back some 40 employees who were laid off in January, bringing the current number of employees up to 75, said Dick Harbison, LCS vice president of operations.

“It’s full steam ahead right now,” he said. And beginning Monday, the company plans to hire another 80 employees with starting pay at $11 an hour.  The news comes a week after Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal and the U.S. Marshals agreed on a temporary price tag for prisoner housing.

LCS will get roughly $44 per prisoner per day under the terms of an addendum to the contract already in place for housing prisoners in Hidalgo County.  Harbison on Friday could not confirm how many bus loads of prisoners were being delivered to the facility.

While the story doesn't make it clear where these prisoners will be coming from, U.S. Marshals prisoners are mostly pre-trial federal detainees, meaning people awaiting trial for federal violations.  As several sources have noted, an enormous increase in the number of low-level non-violent border-crossers being criminally prosecuted under a Department of Justice program called Operation Streamline has pushed the detention system to the max.   

In fact, as Bloomberg News-Service noted a year ago ("Bush Crackdown on Illegal Aliens Stretches Marshals to Limit," March 12, 2008), these criminal prosecutions are already overwhelming the U.S. Marshal system.

The 600 marshals stationed on the border with Mexico are dealing with as many as 6,000 new defendants a month. That's taking them away from other tasks such as capturing escaped prisoners and rounding up sex offenders, according to Justice Department documents obtained by Bloomberg News. 

Data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse and reported in the New York Times ("Push on Immigration Crimes Is Said to Shift Focus," January 11) confirms that the mandatory prosecution of border-crossers is taking resources away from other, more serious criminal prosecutions,

Immigration prosecutions have steeply risen over the last five years, while white-collar prosecutions have fallen by 18 percent, weapons prosecutions have dropped by 19 percent, organized crime prosecutions are down by 20 percent and public corruption prosecutions have dropped by 14 percent, according to the Syracuse group’s statistics. Drug prosecutions — the enforcement priority of the Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations — have declined by 20 percent since 2003.

Of course, all these criminal prosecutions mean a drastic increase in detention bed capacity, and no one is making out richer on this policy in Texas than the private prison corporations.  According to the Department of Justice, U.S. Marshals detention bed capacity has increased from 18,282 to 56,290 between 1994 and 2007.

Companies like the GEO Group - with a new 1,500 bed detention center in Laredo, an expansion in Val Verde, and a new 500 bed detention center in Maverick County - and smaller companies like LCS - Robstown and Brooks County - are expanding capacity and making money off this trend. 

The question remains, however, will the Obama administration turn off the spiget and begin to reverse Operation Streamline and the ever-increasing demand for detention beds?  If it does, it could spell trouble for the private prison companies and communities like Robstown that have gambled their futures betting for prisoners.

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Contract Trouble for LCS Corrections Nueces County Detention Center

LCS Corrections will lay off some workers at its Robstown prison because of problems securing a federal contract for prisoners at the facility, according to an article in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (LCS facility to lose 35 officers, January 24),

To start the intake of federal prisoners from agencies such as the U.S. Marshals Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol, LCS needs Nueces County to sign an agreement with marshals that will outline how much the federal government will pay for housing their prisoners. Congress also must pass a 2009 budget, which should occur when a continuing resolution allowing the federal government to operate under its 2008 budget expires in early March.

The prison company intends to rehire the laid-off employees and hire additional staff once prisoners start arriving, Harbison said.

Nueces County spent millions to clean up its jail's substandard conditions that led to the June 2006 removal of federal prisoners. The federal inmates haven't returned. County officials have been negotiating since January 2008 for a higher fee to house them at the jail. The contract also will include fees for housing federal prisoners at two LCS facilities.

Because the federal government doesn't deal with private detention contractors, LCS is dependent on a "pass through" contract, where the county gets a share of fees charged per prisoner for passing through overflow federal prisoners to the company's private facilities in Hidalgo County and Robstown.

The article doesn't mention whether Nueces County floated bonds to pay for the construction of the prison and my cursory search can't find a record of bonds.  See also, Forrest Wilder's coverage in the Texas Observer of the LCS's record of failing federal inspections.

Also check out our previous coverage on LCS Corrections:

Inmate Dies at LCS Brooks County Detention Center

LCS Moves to Ease Community Concerns Over Nueces Prison

LCS Opening 1,100 Bed Prison in Nueces County

A Closer Look at LCS Corrections

New LCS Prison Will Increase Environmental Hazard

Private Prison Company Adds Water Quality Concerns

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