Farm Them Out: Sheriff Garcia Makes a Move on Overcrowding

Overcrowding at the Harris County Jail continues to be a problem, despite the positive outcome of a recent surprise inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  Sheriff Adrian Garcia has an idea to relieve this problem:  Farm It Out to other counties.

The arguments are simple:  We don’t have room, so we have to pay $15 million to have other counties house them.  But it is the how the plan comes about–in surgical fashion–that is most interesting and probably cause for support from the Commissioners Court.

Garcia said he expects the majority of Harris County inmates sent to the four in-state jails will be those convicted, sentenced and awaiting transfer to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison. Also expected to be transferred are those convicted of a state jail felony, but plea bargained to serve their sentence in county jail. Late last month, there were 395 inmates awaiting transfer to state prison and 1,295 serving state jail offenses.

“The real win here is … we’re trying to find ways to deal with the overcrowding situation and we’re trying to partner with surrounding counties so we can get TDCJ paper-ready inmates“ transferred to state prison, Garcia said. ‘‘Obviously, any population we can relieve from here is going to be a win, a plus, and take pressure off our operations.”

He acknowledged the transfers may initially pose a hardship for families of local inmates, but said they eventually were going to have to make arrangements to visit their loved ones in state prisons.

And just who and where are these counties:

Dickens–in Northwest Texas, is bordered on the north by Motley County, on the west by Crosby County, on the south by Kent County, and on the east by King County; its center point is 33°38′ north latitude and 100°45′ west longitude fifty miles east of Lubbock.

Bowie–It is part of the Texarkana, Texas – Texarkana, Arkansas Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of 2000, the population was 89,306. Its county seat is New Boston[1].

Newton–the easternmost county in the U.S. state of Texas. In of 2000, its population was 14,090. Its county seat is Newton.

Jefferson–Beaumont.

My main question:  Are these jails run by the respective County or by some lackluster detention profiteering corporation.  One look finds that the Jefferson County jail is run by GEO Group.  Newton County, too.

GEO Group doesn’t have a great track record regarding inmate treatment and has been sued various times. Their Texas juvenile facility is also among those that had the worst record of child abuse.

One thing they do have is a cracker jack team of lobbyists, according to Texas Watchdog.

Dickens County Jail also seems to have gotten some bad marks, according to Prison watchdog Texas Prison Bid’ness, after Ft. Bend County made the decision to send some of their inmates out west.  It has also seen its problems as a privately run facility.

Certainly long-distance separation of prisoners from their families can have devastating impacts. Just last spring at theDickens County Correctional Center, Idaho inmate Scot Noble Payne committed suicide after enduring what the AP later called squalid” conditions. The Idaho Department of Corrections health director later called the facility the worst prison he’d ever seen and “beyond repair.”

So, why would Fort Bend want to send their prisoners to a prison with this track record? Well, one answer might lie in the change of ownership – the GEO Group, who had operated the prison, handed over management to CiviGenics, another private prison corporation, in December.

But CiviGenics has had its own troubled history in Texas. As we’ve reported, a 21 year-old immigrant took his own life in CiviGenics Ector lock-up last month, and CiviGenics facilities in Texarkanas and Waco have both experienced sexual assault incidents at their facilities.

CEC/Civigenics also runs the Bowie County facility.

Before the Commissioners support this contract, they need to really look into how these particular jails rate.

It’s not that I do not support a plan to farm-out those that TDCJ should already have, it’s just we need to be thinking about the possible liability, considering the track record of GEO-run facilities.

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