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Lack of institutional control cited in sexual assault lawsuit against LaSalle Correctional's Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco

A formerly incarcerated person at LaSalle Corrections' Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco has filed a lawsuit against the facility over a sexual assault incident, according to the Waco Tribune ("Former inmate alleges sexual assault at Waco Jail," December 11):

"A former jail inmate alleges she repeatedly was sexually assaulted at the private Jack Harwell Detention Center, where she claims a long-standing lack of institutional control has led to an environment of smuggling, extortion, drug abuse and sexual misconduct."

Based on our coverage of the facility, there certainly seems to be plenty of evidence that of persistent operational problems leading to major incidents, including sexual assaults and deaths.   Following a suicide on November 1st, three private prison guards were arrested and charged with tampering with records that tracked how often they checked on the prisoner.  The facility was also found non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) following a review of the facility.  The TCJS review (attached) found that private jailers violated the standard mandating that potentially suicidal or mentally ill prisoners be checked on every 30 minutes. 

Last year, the facility's troubles — including being found in non-compliance and allegations of sexualt assault, made it one of the top private prison stories of the year.  Unfortunately, it looks like facility's problems have not abated, despite a change in operations from Community Education Centers to LaSalle Southwestern Corrections.  

We'll keep you posted on developments from this lawsuit and other stories related to the Jack Harwell facility.  

 

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Problems, failed inspections, canceled contracts mount at McLennan County CEC lock-ups

Problems appear to be mounting for Community Education Centers (CEC) in central Texas and beyond.  

CEC's McLennan County (Waco) facilities have come under increased scrutiny from the McLennan County Commissioners Court and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  CEC operates two facilities in Waco, the 326-bed downtown jail and the 816-bed speculative Jack Harwell Detention Center.

Last week, according to KXXV ("County Commissioners concerned with jail budget," March 19), the McLennan County Commissioners started asking hard questions after the Sheriff's office asked for $400,000 in additional funds for overflow detainees at CEC's Jack Harwell Detention Center.  According to KXXV, the Commissioners may be considering taking the downtown jail back under public control:

"This request comes after the McLennan Co. Sheriff's Office already spent this year's $1 million budget and some commissioners believe even the new money will not get them through the rest of the fiscal year.  The sheriff's office will be requesting $385,000 from the commissioners court to help pay for the feeding and care of overflowed inmates.

Some county commissioners see this as a problem however, because the sheriff's office is already paying over $200,000 a month to house between 150-165 inmates at the CEC (Community Education Centers) run Jack Harwell facility.

The request for more money comes as the commissioners wait for those inmates to move back into the downtown facility that they believe the CEC should have already repaired. 

"I'd just like to get some input and that's the one thing I was going to ask from the Sheriff's Department [Tuesday]," said Commissioner Kelly Snell. "Is the sheriff's department in constant contact with CEC? And is our attorney as well with CEC?"

The main problem the commissioners have is that the downtown jail could bring them more money because the county has the option to operate it. As of now the commissioners have no idea when CEC will finish upgrading that jail however."

If McLennan is thinking of taking the facility back under public control, they would be the second county, after Liberty County, thinking of taking jail operations back from CEC.  

CEC's problems don't end there.  The Jack Harwell Detention Center is currently listed as non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for numerous reasons (see attached document if link doesn't work).  

In December, Jack Harwell also lost its Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract to detain immigrant women after, according to the Waco Tribune: 

"the agency investigated complaints from its inmates about housing conditions at the Harwell jail and determined that New Jersey-based Community Education Centers, which manages the jail for the county, was "unable to provide appropriate medical treatment in accordance to our detention standards."

Critiques of CEC's handling of immigration detainees continued this week as New York University and New Jersey immigrant rights groups issued a report claiming the company's Delaney Hall facility does not "fully comply with ICE standards, the report documents problems with everything from access to legal assistance and worship services to adequate health care, food and other basic services for detainees."  (Washington Post, March 23)

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Failed Inspections & Escapes at LaSalle Southwestern Corrections' Burnet County Jail

It's been a bad couple of weeks for LaSalle Southwest CorrectionsBurnet County Jail.  The facility was the subject to headlines across the state after a Shawshank-like escape where a prisoner broke through bricks under his sink and crawled to freedom through a skylight while guards assumed pillows tucked under his bedding were the prisoner (he has since been apprehended). It appears that both shoddy construction and human error led to the escape.  

According to a story on KVUE ("Sheriff: Jail staff to blame for inmate's escape," March 1) LaSalle Southwest Corrections has admitted fault in the incident:

"It's on us," warden Bruce Zeller said. "Like the sheriff said, the responsibility is on Lasalle Corrections, our facility, and our employees." 

Burnet County Sheriff W.T. Smith is in a battle of words and wills with members of the Burnet Commissioners Court.  Commissioners have blamed Smith's oversight of the jail for the problems, but Smith - rightfully, I believe - complains in the Burnet Bulletin ("War of wards over jail heats up," March 5) that he has limited purview over the facility: 

"I would like to have it, yes. But I don’t believe it’s financially feasible,” Smith said. But that’s not my call.” Smith acknowledged that, "Constitutionally, the sheriff is over the jail,” but said he has little authority.

It now appears that structural issues with the jail, constructed by prison construction firm Hale Mills, may be at fault.  The facility has flunked its Texas Commission on Jail Standards review, according to the River Tribune ("State officials find Burnet County Jail flunks security review, March 5): 

"The Burnet County Jail has flunked a state inspection that found design flaws in the wake of an escape March 1 by an inmate who chiseled a hole in the wall.

The state report says the private-public jail, which opened with 587 beds in April 2009 at a cost of $23 million, is "non-compliant" with security standards. "It means something is wrong," County Judge Donna Klaeger said March 5.

The Burnet County Sheriff's Office supervises the jail, which is operated by the private firm LaSalle Southwest Corrections.

Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspectors recently found "deficiencies" in the network of concrete blocks and reinforcement bars that support walls near cells for handicapped inmates, Executive Director Adan Munoz said."

This is certainly not the first problem for the Burnet County Jail.  The prison had another high-profile escape in September of 2009.  In the fall-out from that escape, the jail received a sharp rebuke from the Jail Standards Commission for not providing medical care to a pregnant inmate, amongst other problem.  At the time, TCJS director Muñoz described the situation this way:  “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism."  It doesn't appear that much has changed for LaSalle Southwestern Corrections. 

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Southwestern Correctional draws Jail Standards rebuke on medical care, recreation in Burnet jail

Southwestern Correctional's Burnet County jail drew a fairly sharp rebuke from Texas Commission on Jail Standards' head Adan Muñoz for apparently not providing medical care to a pregnant inmate, amongst other problems.  According to a KXAN story ("Surprise jail visit uncovers new issues," October 20),

On a surprise visit last Thursday, jail inspectors found concerns inside after questioning two female inmates. One was pregnant and said she was not given proper medication. Another mental health patient said she was not given her medicaiton either, so inspectors checked her medical chart.

"There were certain medications that needed to be prescribed for her that had not been given to her, and that's obviously not in compliance with jail standards," said Adan Munoz, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards .

"They get excellent care here," said Tammy Manning, the Burnet County Jail medical supervisor. Manning was out of town during the inspection but normally sees the inmate who she said had been refusing to show up to appointments after they were scheduled. The situation had not been documented on her medical chart that state inspectors reviewed. "We do have room for improvement in our documentation," said Manning. "And our actional plan we put into place Friday was to improve our documentation so this will not happen again."

One of the female inmates also said they were not getting recreation time everyday. "We went on to check the recreation log to see if their concerns were valid," said Munoz. "We couldn't even find a recreation log."
 Burnet County Jail Warden Bruce Armstrong admits there was a breakdown there, too.

"We run rec everyday," said Armstrong. "And the officer calls in the count to the central control officer whose suppose to be logging the count down on how many offenders went to rec, and they were neglecting to document the count."

Armstrong said it has been taken care of, but the state said there is one more requirement the county has yet to comply with.

The state does not have the jail's operational plan, which covers everything from what to do in case of a fire to how to administer health care. "The fact that it's been open since April and still not within our agency certainly gives us great concern," said Munoz.  The county told the state they were working on it. Munoz sent written notification of the deficiencies to the county and Southwest Corrections, the company who manages the jail. They have 30 days to comply.

Southwestern's Burnet lock-up was deemed non-compliant by TCJS in September 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 now proven downfalls of private jail companies and potential dangers in floating debt for private jail expansion.  We'll keep you posted on Burnet's continuing problems with Southwestern Correctional. 

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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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Southwestern Correctional has major problems in Burnet; Are Grayson Commissioners watching?

At the same time as Grayson County has opened privatization talks with prison company Southwestern Correctional, the company is being hammered after a recent escape ("Officer resigns from Burnet jail after inmate escape," Austin American-Statesman, September 4) at its new Burnet County jail. The Burnet Bulletin ("County jail cited for not meeting state standards," September 3) is reporting that the facility has been deemed non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards

Only four months after opening its doors to the public with tours, speeches and a ribbon cutting, the Burnet County Jail has been cited by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for a different kind of open house: Improper supervision of inmates after a prisoner escaped Sunday night and fled past nearby residential neighborhoods and to freedom.

The controversial privately run jail – a facility that many nearby residents unsuccessfully fought during its development – now is officially deemed noncompliant with Texas jail standards, confirmed Adan Munoz, a former sheriff who serves as executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  ...

The Burnet County Jail’s issues fall under the heading of “supervision of inmates,” a key section of the 600 standards regulated by the commission. Munoz said.  “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism,” Munoz said

Burnet County officials ignored broad opposition when negotiating their deal with Southwestern Correctional. Here's hoping Grayson officials will take some time to re-evaluate their decision to move ahead with a decision to contract with Southwestern Correctional.

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Sunset Recommendations for TCJS

As the 81st Regular Session swings into gear, legislators will consider statutory changes to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) recommended by the Texas Sunset Advisory Committee. Bob submitted Grassroots Leadership's recommendations to Sunset last August, and the Commission adopted the recommendation that TCJS should receive better funding and more staff. Recommendations for TCJS, revealed in the Sunset Commission's January report, seek to improve operations at TCJS and make the agency run more effectively.

These are most of the Sunset Commission's recommendations for TCJS:

  1. Increase funding for TCJS, specifically for technical assistance, inspection staff, and training programs for guards, including training on mental health and physical health issues.
  2. Require TCJS to develop a list of risk factors affecting jails, such as a jail’s compliance history, population figures, complaints, escapes, recent turnover among sheriff s and jail staff, and to use those factors to determine the overall risk level of each jail under its jurisdiction.
  3. Require TCJS to use identified risk factors to guide the allocation of agency resources, so that the agency's 248 jails aren't necessarily divided among four inspectors. Instead, inspector assignments, travel schedules, and use of technical assistance and training would be set according to a TCJS risk assessment plan that includes each facility's risk level.
  4. Require the agency to increase its use of unannounced inspections, and to target unannounced inspections towards facilities with elevated risk factors.
  5. Require the agency to disseminate best practices
  6. Require the agency to better use technology, like email list-serves, electronic newsletters, and its existing website to disseminate valuable information, such as updates in case law, best practices, and notes from Commission meetings that would be valuable
  7. Require the Commission to develop clear, regularly updated internal policies and procedures, so staff understand their unique job responsibilities
  8. Require the Commission to develop complaint procedures, track and analyze complaints, and provide better information about how to file a complaint.
  9. Require the Commission to provide the public with easily accessible information on the compliance status of jails, through newsletters, the agency's website, or press releases
TCJS oversees all of the county and municipal jails in the state with just four inspectors, and the agency is miraculously able to inspect each of the 248 jail facilities every fourteen months. If you don't read the report (you should; it's a quick read), take some time to absorb these other impressive numbers relayed be the Sunset Staff:
"The Commission inspects each jail on an annual basis to determine compliance with standards. An inspection lasts between one day and a week or more, depending on the size of the facility. In fiscal year 2008, the agency completed 350 inspections, including 250 annual inspections, 85 repeat inspections, and 15 special inspections. Thirty-six percent, or 91, of the annual inspections were unannounced." pg. 38

"In fiscal year 2008, the Commission received 1,129 complaints from inmates, family members, and others regarding jail conditions. Th e agency employs a full-time complaint investigator who receives complaints in writing, over the internet, by email, or by telephone, and conducts investigations as necessary." pg. 40
Of the 248 facilities TCJS currently oversees, 19 are private. Only one of the private facilities, Community Educational Centers' Limestone County Detention Center, was listed as noncompliant as of August 31, 2008.

We hope the legislature will consider allowing the agency to oversee other county-owned jails, like GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center. As Nicole and Bob wrote, prisoners rioted and set fires to Reeves in late December of last year and early this February to protest poor medical care and a mysterious inmate death at the facility.

Expanding TCJS to additional county-owned facilities like Reeves would force the affected prisons to meet basic minimum standards set for other county-owned jails in Texas, positively impacting public safety by decreasing riots and hopefully eliminating hostage situations, and better protecting guards by forcing observation of a 48-1 inmate-staff ratio. It would als insulate Reeves County from some of the liability for problems at the facility. 
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