Sunday, July 24, 2011

Private jail to “borrow” McLennan County prisoners

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Waco - Jail contractor CEC, Inc., will receive 180 prisoners from the local county lockup, according to a knowledgeable confidential source.

The planned move is intended to allow the New Jersey-based corporation to “make parole.”

According to the source, “CEC has the same old 300 they have always new contracts...which means that we have around 250 empty beds to use.” That's in addition to the 326 empty beds in the downtown jail, which was at one time contracted by CEC as a lockup for federal prisoners.

That facility stands empty, awaiting multimillion dollar remodeling and refurbishment to its lock systems, smoke and fire detectors.

When the company began to operate the year-old $50 million Jack Harwell Detention Center, located adjacent to the McLennan County Jail on Highway 6, the Commissioners' Court and Sheriff Larry Lynch elected to allow the contractor to transfer the prisoners to the new jail.

So far, the only thing the move has netted the taxpayers is the obligation to cover the interest carry on the bonds. Even though they are revenue bonds issued by public service corporation created by the County Commissioners' Court and not approved by the voters as General Obligation Bonds, taxpayers are still liable for the financial burden..

Apparently, there are some problems with staffing the deadbeat operation next door to the County Jail on Highway 6.

“CEC has posted a sign out front, 'Hiring Jailers' again,” our source wrote. “They cannot keep employees. Most come to work for the Sheriff's Department if they are qualified.”

There is increasing agitation in the ranks of the corrections staff over the issue of privatization. “If they privatize us, there will be no one to compete for jailers with higher salaries. Everyone starting would be at a controlled $8.50 an hour.”

Nevertheless, the executives of the department continue to help arrange Personal Recognizance releases – at no charge – for inmates who have not the ability to pay bond fees.

It is the responsibility of an inmate to arrange their own release on bail, our source says. If they are not charged within 48 hours, prosecuted or at least indicted within 90 days by the DA, they are to be released under the provisions for a speedy trial guaranteed in the Texas Constitution.

But Chief Deputy Randy Plemons and the top-ranking jail staff have a proactive personal Linkrecognizance release program to accelerate the process of getting offenders released without having to post bail fees, even though there is an overabundance of jail space in three separate lockups scattered around Waco.

“They also waive the PR bond for a lot of repeaters that do no have the money to pay...PR bond out illegal immigrants on their charges so ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will send them back to Mexico. Then the outlaw doesn't show up for court, a warrant is issued, the outlaw sneaks back into Texas and gets caught again. The process starts over. Whatever happened to serve their sentence, then get deported?”

CEC has abandoned its operation of the Johnson County Law Enforcement Center – and other pubic facilities - due to similar problems of maintaining staffing and attracting contracts to house prisoners. They walked away from a bespoke speculative penitentiary operation built by an economic developemnt authority in Hardin, Montana, because of precisely the same problems.

But CEC's problems have been nowhere near as severe as GEO, formerly known as Wackenhut.

The Boca Raton-based company has multinational security and detention operations, many of them performed for the CIA.

They got hit with one of the largest judgments ever in a wrongful death suit, a jury award of $47 million in a case tried in 2006.

A Laredo inmate, Gregorio de la Rosa, was held in the Willacy County lockup operated by Wackenhut when other inmates slowly beat him to death with a mace improvised from a padlock in a sock only a few days before his scheduled release on April 26, 2001.

His attorney, Ron Rodriguez of Laredo, alleged in the lawsuit that while the beating took place, private corrections staff from Wackenhut stood around “smirking and smiling.”

After the death, Wackenhut officials first lied about the beating, then tried to conceal evidence that it occurred.

In upholding the judgment, the 13th District Court of Appeals at Brownsville said in its opinion, “We find that Wackenhut's conduct was clearly reprehensible and, frankly, constituted a disgusting display of disrespect for the welfare of others and for this state's civil justice system.

GEO's problems don't stop there.

Littlefield, Texas, will hold an auction to sell a private jail built with an $11 million bond issue for the operation of GEO. The Bill Clayton Detention Center will go to the highest bidder on Thursday, July 28. The city still owes an estimated $5 million on the speculative development, which has stood empty for many months.

The small community near Lubbock has lost more than 100 jobs as a result, jobs their city government gambled on getting for an underemployed population.

The State of Idaho withdrew its contract for GEO to house prisoner in the Littlefield private jail after the suicide death of an Idaho man named Randall McCullough. He was incarcerated in a solitary confinement cell for more than a year following a fight with a corrections staffer, an offense for which he was never prosecuted.

In despair, he committed suicide, as did six others in facilities scattered out over the west.

In a similar development, the corporation lost its contract to operate the Dickens County Jail where inmate Noble Payne took his own life.

In both cases, Idaho corrections officials determined that GEO staffers were negligent in their surveillance and supervision of the inmates.

In announcing the move to sever its contract with GEO, Idaho Department of Corrections Director Brent Reinke said an audit of the facility showed repeated abuses of record keeping that shows the staff falsified their reports to show they were in attendance and watching the inmates when all the while they were at locations far remote from the jail.

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