Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Private Jails A Private Nightmare For Private Citizens

"Define status quo? Why, yes, sir. Status quo is Latin for
the mess we done got ourselves in now."
- sworn testimony of
a legendary Texas Ranger in a long-ago court case

Nobody wins:

It costs taxpayers money to hold prisoners in private jails; it
costs politicians their jobs to hold positions in corporations

Waco -- McLennan County voters eliminated a veteran
Republican County Commissioner in a primary runoff election
by a huge percentage.

Though Ben Perry emerged victorious over Ray Meadows with
67.28% of the total to Mr. Meadows' 32.72%, the vote was
really in part a referendum on private contracting of county
jail operations.

Mr. Meadows played a large part in brokering the deal that
led to Community Education Centers, the corporation that
operates Civigenics, the contractor that runs McLennan
County's Jack Harwell Detention Center, in building a nearly
1,000-bed detention center using a $49,150,000 revenue bond

He got a lot of help from County Judge Jim Lewis, and a
mysterious individual named Bob Prince, who contributed
greenbacks to the election campaign of Ray Meadows, a
man some folks say is a retired Texas Ranger who now has a posi-
tion of prominence with the multinational corporation.

The Ethics Commission did not enter an order in that case be-
cause no one made a formal complaint.

The Ethics Commission did issue a formal response to a com-
plaint on Sheriff Larry Lynch. Sheriff Lynch was required to fill
out the paperwork correctly and his compliance was not deemed
an admission of anywrongdoing on his part. After considering the
seriousness of thecomplaint, the Commission imposed a $500
civil penalty.

Sheriff Lynch still receives a $12,000 per year salary
for "monitoring and administrative
responsibilities relating to county detention facilities
operated for the county by a contractor," according to
McLennan County Budget Director Adam Harry.

That was the subject of an Attorney General's opinion
holding that it is improper to do so. However, McLennan
County officials don't see it that way.

In an interview, Mr. Harry said he is unaware of exactly how
the funds are obtained to pay the supplemental salary, if
they are derived from CEC's accounts with McLennan County,
or if they are paid from the county's general fund.

"I'm probably not the best person to talk to about that," he

Sheriff Lynch's predecessor, Sheriff Jack Harwell, also
received the salary supplement. He is the namesake of the
private detention center the corporation built across the
road from the McLennan County Jail on State Highway 6.

Knowledgeable observers who loudly protested the move at the
time insist that it was all part of the deal for the Sheriff
to receive the supplemental salary from the corporation.

At any rate, the history of McLennan County's relations with
CEC is checkered, fraught with problems and folly, and the
source of much consternation among voters.

During a period when Civigenics operated the downtown lockup
next door to the Courthouse, a squabble with a grocery
contractor led to the company's being unable to obtain
grits, gravy, bacon, beans, baloney and coffee to feed the

County officials stepped in and had inmate labor prepare the
meals, which were delivered from the County Jail out on
Highway 6.

A Civigenics guard accepted a bribe offer of $5,000 from a
felon known to have mental problems and gave him the key to
the outside fire escape at the downtown federal lockup in
2001. The man was sentenced to a 4-year term in federal

Sherman Lamont Fields escaped and went on to murder his
former girlfriend. He is awaiting execution on the Federal
Bureau of Prisons death row at Terre Haute, Indiana.

The Sheriff's Department is still investigating allegations
that Civigenics guards have furnished marijuana to female
prisoners in exchange for sexual relations. One guard
allegedly allowed his high school friends who were locked up
in his care to use his cell phone to contact people on the

But the Civigenics track record is not just spotty at
McLennan County.

Recently the corporation walked out on an operations
contract with neighboring Johnson County when an agreement
proved unprofitable.

CEC/Civigenics had agreed to run the county lockup in
Cleburne because of the highly marketable empty beds to be
found there.

Corporate officials were banking on a need for Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house deportees awaiting
, but the arrangement proved a money sinkhole when
federal authorities arranged to have the prisoners put on
the bus and the airplane before they were able to haul them
to the central Texas community and get them safely bedded
down there.

A massive lockup built by the economic development authority
at Hardin, Montana, still stands empty after corporate
officials persuaded the city council and authority board
members to build it for the economic boost it would
supposedly offer the depressed area, which is adjacent to
the Rosebud Indian Reservation and the Custer Battlefield
National Monument.

In fact, the Jack Harwell detention facility sat empty for
many months after its costly completion when the Texas
Commission on Jail Standards balked at a census ratio of 1
guard for every 48 prisoners, something the staff had
objected to when the proposal was first unveiled.

Finally, health care is a constant thorn in the side of the
private contractor and others in that business. There are
numerous lawsuits pending. Some of the most aggravating are
those of dialysis patients who have contracted Hepatitis
from infected equipment and inmates who have gone blind and
worse because of being placed on and off insulin so many
times they in effect received none of the life-sustaining
medicine from doctors and nurses of the University of Texas
Medical Branch and Texas Tech Medical School. The two enjoy
a 80/20 percent split in providing health care for state

But there is a complication. Medical records pertaining to
allegations of improper care - and sometimes no care at all
- are completely confidential - even to the inmates
themselves and their families.


John C. Cornyn, now a U.S. Senator, who was then the At-
torney General,explained it this way in an AG's opinion.

"These are confidential areas ofstate law, and these records
just happen to fall withinthose areas," according go an aide
quoted in an Austin"American-Statesman" story.

"The only way to change that is through the Legislature."


Legislators have moved effectively time after time
to keep the status quo flying straight and level. In the
absence of good and reliable information, allegations of
complaint in support of negligence or wrongful death
litigation is highly unlikely.

It's not that way everywhere. Florida is one state that
insists on open records under its Government in the Sunshine
Act. Such conditions apply in most states.

The bottom line: There are no guarantees, not when it comes
to privatized detention facilities.

It's definitely not a moneymaker, at least from the point of
view of the property owners who pay County taxes.

The outlook: Voters are looking to replace many of the
officials who contributed to the status quo.

Nearby counties faced with census problems of overcrowding
identified by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards have
resorted to having McLennan County house their inmates at a
rate of about $45 per day.

Hell of a deal.

The Legendary can hear the Devil himself just laughing up a
storm from his fiery perch in the hot hades of hell.

This, then, is my humble prayer.

May I live out my days in freedom.

Otherwise, The Legendary would merely resort to those
immortal words by Brother Patrick Henry, a Virginia planter
and member of the House of Burgesses.

"Give me liberty, or give me death."

So mote it be.

Now, then, wouldst thou care for a glass of iced tea?

Thou art humbly invited to refresh thyself thereby.

We keep it handy here at Chez Jimmy's.

Hot, ain't it?


  1. McLennan County by contract is supposed to pay $45.50 per day for our inmates. Harris County (Houston) is paying $45.00 a day for theirs, and they have a prison gang problem that is not so bad here. If there is an upset, County deputies will have to respond, because CEC is incapable of handling that.

  2. I noticed that Ralph Cooper, candidate for County Judge opposing Jim Lewis, has commented that even if the Jack Harwell Dentention Center is operated at full capacity, the taxpayers will still be losing money. His calculations show a negative cash flow, even at that rate.

    The Legendary

  3. Capital Corrections + CiviGenics = CEC.