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Texas Commission on Jail Standards

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."

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Following jail suicide, Waco private prison found non-compliant, guards arrested

protest at Jack Harwell
protest at Jack Harwell
Following a suicide at a for-profit jail in Waco, three private prison guards have been arrested and charged with tampering with records that tracked how often they checked on the prisoner, Michael Martinez, who hung himself in his cell on November 1st.  

The prison — the Jack Harwell Detention Center operated by private prison corporation LaSalle Corrections — 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.   

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Private prison that detains hundreds of immigrants fails Texas jail inspection

A for-profit prison that houses hundreds of immigration detainees has failed an inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  

The Rolling Plains Regional Detention Center is operated by Louisiana-based private prison corporation Emerald Corrections and detains 485 federal contract detainees and only 12 local prisoners. Those 12 local prisoners put it under the purview of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which found the lock-up non-compliant during a September inspection.  TCJS standards are considered base-line standards for operating a jail in Texas.

According to the Commission's audit (attached), the facility failed on a number of accounts including misclassification of prisoners, employees operating without a jailer's license, and that the facility was not operating at the required 1 officer per 48 prisoners ratio.  

The review should be of particular concern to immigration advocates as immigration detention standards generally are suppose to meet or exceed jail standards.  

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Private prison operator CEC will continue to manage scandal-plagued Liberty County Jail

Last month, private prison corporation Community Education Centers won a new contract to operate the troubled Liberty County Jail, according to a press release from the New Jersey-based company earlier this month.  The contract has a three year term and a two year option, according to the company, and followed a report by jail consultants MGT America.  CEC has operated the facility since 2006, though the company's tenure at the facility has anything but smooth.  

This past April, two prisoners were found dead at the 285-bed lock-up in a single week prompting a review by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards that found what the Houston Chronicle described as "a slew of deficiencies at the facility, including infrequent inmate observations, incomplete suicide prevention screening and improper distribution of medication."  

GEO's Karnes County Correctional Center found out-of-compliance for overcrowding, under-staffing

GEO Group's Karnes County Correctional Center was found out of compliance in an Jail Inspection Report issued today by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS). According to inspection (attached as a PDF): 

"While conducting the walk-through of the facility, it was discovered that there were 46 inmates confined in a holding cell with a capacity of 24. The capacity was visibly marked above the door of the cell."

Other problems found included a shortage of jail staff on sight, a past due inspection of the facility's kitchen, eight months of missing documentation related to emergency power equipment, and a lack of proper procedures to notify magistrate judges in the case of a prisoner with mental illness.  

According to TCJS's population report, the facility had 388 prisoners at the time of inspection out of a total capacity of 550.  All 388 prisoners were contract prisoners, and 355 were federal prisoners.  The fact that the facility has overcrowded cells, but is under capacity, speaks to probable severe understaffing at the facility, a problem also mentioned in the report: 

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Commission on Jail Standards holds hearings this week; Webcasts now available

Diana Claitor at the Texas Jail Project forwarded us an email stating that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards will begin broadcasting its workshops and quarterly meetings as live webcasts.  The first such workshop is this afternoon at 2pm.  According to the email from TCJS, the purpose of today's hearing is:

"The Texas Commission on Jail Standards will re-engage its initiative to update some changes to minimum jail standards. We want as much interaction with all stakeholders throughout the process, and so the TCJS Commission will begin meeting in workshop session on November 2, 2011 at 2pm in the John Reagan building, room 120 to discuss proposed changes.  The initial workshop session will be to discuss procedures and process."

Tomorrow morning, the Commission will hold its quarterly meeting to review jail compliance and other issues tomorrow, November 3, 2011 at 9am.  Both hearings will be viewable via webcast at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/.

Mother Jones explores Perry's Connection to the Private Prison Industry

Texans should not be surprised by this recent article in Mother Jones (Tim Murphy, "Flush With Prison Industry Dollars, Rick Perry Pushed Privatized Prisoner Care," September 1) that explores the governor's relationship to the private prison industry. The article delves into recent developments that happened during the last Texas legislative session, specifically moves by Governor Perry to privatize the prison health care system.

"Perry's rush to privatize prison health care is consistent with the approach he's taken throughout most of his ten years as governor: slashing public services under the guise of austerity, and then contracting those services out to the well-connected businesses that have made his rise possible. As he put it during his re-election campaign in 2010, as the private prisons industry filled his war chest with donations, "Texas is open for business." To his critics, those words have never rang truer."

According to Mother Jones several prison privatization bills failed to move forward and policy changes that would have empowered the governor's office with new authority.  One effort would have transferred the authority for the state’s prison health care board to Perry by giving him the power to appoint the majority of the committee members.

TCJS head Adan Muñoz criticizes speculative private jails in Texas Tribune interview

The Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom sat down Texas Commission on Jails Standards chief Adan Muñoz for an interview covering jail overcrowding, privatization, and other aspects of Texas' enormous county jail system (Brandi Grissom, "Adan Muñoz: The TT Interview," August 3).  It's no wonder that Muñoz is one of our favorite Texas officials.  Here's his reponse to a question about privately operated jails:
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Two upcoming hearings on TCJS's future

Two hearings will be held in the next week that could effect the size, effectiveness, and purview of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the state agency charged with overseeing Texas' massive county jail system, including a number or privately-operated jails and detention centers.

1) Joint Budget Hearing: Tomorrow, Wednesday, September 1st, from 9am-10:30am in the Capitol Extension, Room E2.028 will see a budget hearing in which the agency will most likely be fending off budget cuts.  Check out Ana Yañez-Correa's excellent guest-post over at Grits for Breakfast for why this hearing is important.  Here's the highlight:

In the face of a potential 15% budget cut (including across-the-board 5% agency budget cuts and an extra, requested 10% budget cut), TCJS could potentially lose 2-3 staff members, possibly inspectors (out of a current total of 5 inspectors). Without inspections, TCJS will not be able to fully realize its critical mission to set constitutional jail standards, conduct facility inspections, and enforce compliance with rules and procedures - all of which keep Texas jails safe, well regulated, and run by educated, professional leadership.

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