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Jones County prison sits empty at a cost of $35 Million

A prison in Jones County built by Community Education Centers for $35 million in local revenue bonds sits empty according to a new story at KTXS ("New Detention Center in Jones County Awaits Inmates," July 15).

County officials have said that they hope to fill the prison with state prisoners even though the state state has adopted various policy reforms (PDF) that have lessened the demand for state prison capacity.  The story is a little murky here -- we will do some digging to see if we can follow the money. From this report ("Jones County officials await word from the state on detention facility funding," Abilene Reporter-News, May 23), it appears that even though policies were adopted to lessen the need for prison space, state authorities were assuming the need for expansion:

"The state approved a contract for the prison to be built in Jones County in 2008. Revenue bonds were approved by the county to pay for construction, which began in May 2009."

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Grits Explores which Private Prison Contracts could be Terminated

Our pal Scott at Grits for Breakfast, posted a list of private prison contract term obligations earlier this month.  Grits post was further exploration of a story we posted a few weeks ago regarding the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDC) looking to terminate private prison contracts.  Scott adds this analysis:

Annual turnover rate is 90% in TDCJ's private prisons

Amongst the interesting statistics in the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee's interim report on private prisons (PDF), was the shocking statistic that TDCJ-contracted private prisons have a 90% annual staff turnover rate.  The report also presented numbers on differences in guard pay between public and private facilities.

"The wages and benefits paid to employees of private contractors are generally lower than that paid to employees of state-operated facilities... Correctional officer salaries in the private prisons vary among facilities, with the highest peaking at slightly more than $24,000 annually."

For comparison to this figure, TDCJ Director Brad Livingston told the Austin American Statesman ("Big raises sought for prison workers," August 14) that starting pay for correctional officers in public facilities is $26,016, and the maximum salaries range from $34,624 to $42,242. This means the lowest-paid TDCJ guard's annual salary is $2,000 more than the highest-paid guard at TDCJ-contracted private prisons.

This probably contributes to the high turnover at private facilities noted in the report:           

During FY 2008 the correctional officer turnover rate at the seven private prisons was 90 percent (60 percent for the five privately-operated state jails), which in either case is higher than the 24 percent turnover rate for TDCJ correctional officers during FY 2008.

It's hard to understand how ANY organization can operate with 90% staff turnover.

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