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.
The Jack Harwell facility has long and troubled history dating back to before its construction. The facility was publicly financed and built on speculation that it would win federal contracts to detain or incarcerate immigrants, but has largely failed to generate the revenue needed to make the facility financially profitable. (Of course, in this case financial profitability relies on more people behind bars.) The jail has also been plagued with allegations of abuse and mismanagement, including sexual assault allegations. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed detainees from the facility last year following an outcry from attorneys and activists.
Suicides in county jails have endured more public scrutiny in recent months following the suicide of Sandra Bland and state legislators are currently looking into policy proposals to reduce the risk of suicide.
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.
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."
The deaths followed a spate of other problems at the facility including a long string of contraband smuggling and at least two allegations of sexual abuse in the facility. The facility has repeatedly run into problems with the Jail Commission, the agency charged with overseeing basic standards at county jails. In 2011, a Jail Commission failed the facility for a series of infractions including that the warden of the facility was not properly licensed.
Beyond operational problems, the facility has made headlines as an example of for-profit incarceration incentivizing high rates of incarceration. Back in 2012, Liberty County made our "big stories of the year" list after 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, but the contract for the jail stipulated at the time that if the jail population dipped below 200, the cost per inmate went up, reducing the financial incentive to keep jail populations low. It's unclear if the new contract with CEC retains this counter-incentive to sound criminal justice policy or not.
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:
"While reviewing staffing rosters, it was determined that the 1 jailer per 48 inmates required ratio was not being met at all times as required by minimum jail standards. On samples reviewed, during every month of 2013, several shifts were found to have a shortage of jailers for the number of inmates in the facility. Shortages were normally between one to two jailers, but in some cases, they were three jailers short of meeting the requirement."
Staffing shortages shouldn't come as a surprise at Karnes which is in the heart of the Texas fracking boom and where unemployment is relatively low. With KCCC experiencing staffing shortages and these operational problems, one has to wonder if the same problem isn't impacting the neighboring Karnes County Civil Detention Center, which is not subject to TCJS inspections because it only holds federal detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.