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More Heat for CEC/CiviGenics in McLennan County; CLEAT Calls for Investigation

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McLennan County is shaping up to be the biggest private prison fight in the state right now, and the rhetoric keeps getting hotter. We've reported that a CEC/CiviGenics proposal to take over the existing county jail was defeated last week. Now, a proposal for a new 1,000 bed private CEC/CiviGenics jail is under fire as well.

The Combined Law Enforcement Agencies of Texas or CLEAT, the union representing jailers in McLennan County, is calling for an investigation into potentially improper dealings between county officials and the private prison corporation. According to another good article by Waco Tribune writer Tommy Witherspoon,

A spokesman for the state’s largest law enforcement association is calling for state and federal investigations into dealings between McLennan County officials and a private detention corporation as the county continues to negotiate jail contracts.

“First of all, we don’t believe anything that officials in McLennan County say anymore,” said Charley Wilkison, political and legislative director for the 16,500-member Combined Law Enforcement Agencies of Texas. “The credibility gap in this county is incredible.”

According to the article, the CLEAT's concerns center around Sheriff Lynch's acceptance of additional money from the private prison corporation on top of his county salary, and whether that relationship has tainted his ability to objectively decide on the issue of privatization.

Wilkison said he will ask Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to investigate whether Lynch violated the Texas Public Information Act by failing to respond to CLEAT’s open-records requests for all correspondence between Lynch and CEC officials.

He said he also is seeking state and federal investigations about whether Lynch lawfully and ethically can accept money from the private vendor or whether it is a conflict of interest when he helps decide the fate of the jail system.

“The sheriff has taken $91,000 of personal money that goes into his bank account, and then he says: ‘I am still able to decide. I am still OK deciding whether it is in our best interest to privatize.’ That old dog won’t hunt. Nobody here believes that.”

Even more damningly, the allegations from CLEAT also include that the Sheriff has manufactured an overcrowding crisis as an excuse for privatization and expansion of the county jail - an account which, if true, is certainly well beyond the pale.

"We think inmates are being kept in jail to create an artificial public safety crisis so the hue and cry for a new jail can come and the new jail can be privatized and built by CEC,” Wilkison said.

Lewis scoffed at that notion and said Wilkison’s claims are off-target. He said Lynch is paid the same in the contract with CEC whether there are 300 prisoners or none.

“It is still his responsibility to oversee that jail,” Lewis said. “By statute, it is the sheriff’s responsibility, whether it was Jack or Larry. That contract has not changed, and up until 20 months ago, we didn’t have a prisoner in that jail. So does that logic make any sense?”

Wilkison also charged that Lewis’ office is using “stalling tactics” by asking for an attorney general’s opinion about whether his office has to release 170 pages from CLEAT’s open-records request that Lewis claims are attorney-client privilege. Wilkison said Lewis’s office has released 1,300 pages to CLEAT pursuant to the

“We believe somewhere in that 170 pages will be some of the information that will tell the tale about how you get only one bid on a private prison,” Wilkison said. “If they have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to worry about. If they have done nothing wrong, then they should release it anyway."

The dispute has apparently spilled over into today's County Commission meeting. According to the Waco Trib blog,

McLennan County commissioners debated for two hours this morning without resolution on whether a private company should operate the downtown jail, and Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Mashek said that County Judge Jim Lewis violated federal antitrust laws by allowing a Houston contractor to visit the county jail in August 2007, a year before the county requested proposals for construction of a new jail.

The county received one proposal from Community Education Centers, which has had a contract to operate the downtown county jail since 1999.

The contractor that visited, Hale Mills Construction Ltd., was named by CEC as a contractor/builder on the proposal it submitted for the new jail.

Mashek said the visit allowed Hale Mills representatives to have an unfair advantage in the county’s request-for-proposal process.

We'll keep you updated as this dramatic story from McLennan County continues...


Please post all the comments on the racial riot at Mineral Wells in July 2008. The Natural Guards were called in. It started in the rec yard and ended in my relatives cell. He seen it all. In-mateS, 2, I know where care-flighted out. Why won't the truth be published. I seen the CCA website. Him and his wife at the breakfat table. My relative's breakfast is sparse at Mineral Wells, there are roaches, bugs, brown recluse spiders, etc. The vistors restrooms commodes are black in the bottom. Do they know what bleach is. Staph is everywhere in Mineral Wells. Oh and visitors have to wait in heat, rain, ice and snow to see loved one. What do they get per day per in-mate $50 to $60 per day. Feed the in-mates please. I'm having to send so much money just to ensure my loved one can eat. The food is sparse and horrible to eat. I wish he (founder of CCA) had to stay in Mineral Wells x 1 month. Oh and icing on the cake, ba a visitor x 1 month also. THERE IS ALSO OVER-CROWDING, DON'T KNOW WHERE ALL IN-MATES SLEEP BECAUSE THEY ARE OVER THERE HOUSING LIMITS????????????????????????????????????????????????????? He's also getting filthy rich on the vending machines. Vistitation is like Christmas because the in-mates can have their relatives buy food out of the HHIGHLY OVER-PRICED VENDING MACHINES. Oh, and let us never forget the rudeness of the employees there, the few they have. 2 Correctional Officers for 300 inmates. Classess are a joke, mainly OLD videos. What where they VHS??? That's how old they are. Additionallly the classes recommended by the Board of Pardons and Paroles always have a waiting list in Mineral Wells, just an addditonal security blanet to keep offenders, might I add non-violent, there as long as possible to make more money $$$$$$$$$$$$. I think I'm in the wrong business. CCA needs to be sued monthly and petitions started. There are so many stories on this one facility a book should be written on it alone. This is a pre-parole facility or they named it that. I can only in my wildest dreams, imagine the higher security prisons. Thease are my beliefs and Just my two cents on the subject. I'm waiting on my chance to sue. Why are they not monitored BETTER, any other state or federal business funded program would be. Likely most in-mates are not very well educated, although my relative stated an MD and a lawyer are there now. I asked him to see if they would contact me as we could hash this CCA problem out. PUBLIC BE AWARE YOUR LOVED ONE OR YOU COULD BE NEXT.