Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prison unit short-staffed, waterworks failing, ought to be closed

Though Texas will shutter two private prison units this month, the Connally Unit did not make it onto the closure list despite chronic staffing problems and ongoing difficulties providing safe water to the facility. The unit had no running water from July 25-28 and a boil-water notice remained in effect through Aug. 2nd.  Reported the Austin Statesman's Mike Ward (Aug. 13):
While summertime water issues are not new — complaints have rolled in for years about the sulfur smell in water at state prison facility near Marlin — this summer’s heat and water outages at Connally highlight unrest over working and living conditions inside many of Texas’ 111 state prisons.

All but a few aren’t air conditioned. And most of them, built two decades ago when Texas tripled the size of its corrections system in just five years, face increasing maintenance costs as the infrastructure ages along with the average age of the prisoners.

The convict population has declined in recent years, and Texas is in the process of closing two additional prisons. Some officials are wondering whether one of them should have been Connally.

“If the water problems continue there in any way, the (prisons) agency needs to think about getting out of that location,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston. “You shouldn’t have 2,100 inmates and several hundred employees in that kind of summer heat, with no water.”

According to prison officials, two city water wells supplying the prison broke on July 22. Three days later, the prison’s water tower went dry, and tankers of water and trailers of ice were brought in to keep the lockup operating, said Jeff Baldwin, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman.

With no water, the laundry, showers and kitchens could not operate as usual. Sack meals were served to convicts. Portable toilets were brought in. Complaints about dysentery and illnesses quickly spread, though prison officials denied they were true.

Although water service was restored July 28, boil-water notices issued by the State Department of Health Services remained in effect, and the water supply was not approved for drinking until Aug. 2, officials said.
Baldwin said prison operations have returned to normal. But other officials confirmed that there have been new complaints about electrical outages in some areas. Workers bringing in fans and portable air conditioners are regularly tripping circuit breakers.
Chairman Whitmire told Ward that, “We have enough empty beds in the system to take them, even with the two prisons we’re closing.” If that's the case they should do it. This is the second summer running the unit has run out of water and it's not like the state has ponied up to improve the unit's infrastructure..

Grits thought Connally should have been on the short list for closure this year and that the Lege missed an opportunity to close more units while there was political momentum to do so. (I don't fault the decision to close units in Dallas and Mineral Wells, but IMO they could and should have gone further.) TDCJ should take the senator's advice and shutter Connally of its own accord, then the Lege could polish it off in 2015.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, TDCJ doesn't do much 'of its own accord.' There's little to no proactive movement in that entire agency. Sadly, they will continue to waste taxpayer money trying to keep that unit up and running unless lawmakers step in and tell them to stop.

Jim D said...

How have no lawmakers stepped in to tell them to stop?

Anonymous said...

Most of the northern region units have water issues as well. It was laughable to read that inmates got extra showers and ice water daily when it was hot. Recently, at Beto one of the (Nigerian import) officers sat on his duff an entire evening shift and did not pass water. Too many inmates told me the story for me not to believe it and as we well know, showers are three times a week.

Anonymous said...

I have one phrase for this. PRISON INDUSTRY. The only concern in the minds of those who profit from this industry is their gain. Certainly not spending money to make the jails and prisons habitable. Or looking into making laws that stress prevention and rehabilitation instead of mass incarceration.

Anonymous said...

I have talked to several inmates at Polunsky and same problem. They have been without water a few times. Once for three days, sack meals, no showers, water bucket brought around and a dipper used to fill a container (if inmate had container) now, once again they are having water problems. They are turning water off each night, thus no laundry, but turning it on during the day. Now, I hear the state is going to air-condition the pig farm, and let humans suffer. Yep, makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Wow, old rusty barrel of water bought in with hot water and a dipper to dip with. Just like the Crain Unit. But the officers on the Crain Unit will send the inmates to fetch them ice for their persons.

Anonymous said...

In 1995, the old TYC took over a TDCJ unit in Marlin. TYC added air conditioning to the remainder of the building and erected a huge water tower out back because of frequent and long water outages in the city of Marlin. A year or so later, TYC vacated and left the buildings and all the improvements to Big Brother TDCJ. As far as I know, TDCJ still occupies that facility. I hope they've taken care of it.

Vincent van Gogh said...

TDCJ has $750,00 to build A/C enclosures to raise pigs but, there doesn't seem to be any money for needed infer structure improvements to existing prisons. On top of that it is possible the State will be ordered to come up with the funding to install A/C in some 100 prisons that were not engineered for it in the first place and then pay the electric bill. Where is this staggering amount of money going to come from. I don't think the tax payers can be counted on for all of it.

sally sue said...

My husband is at the Polunsky unit. He has not said anything about the water situation but did say that the unit is providing ice - which is placed in a cooler or some other type of container, yet, there's no other way for inmates to get the ice except to dip it out with their hands. Imagine how many germs and bacteria are on an inmates' hand. Therefore, very few of the inmates are getting ice. This way of providing ice could snow ball into a full scale health problem for the inmates. TDCJ does not care as long as they can say they are following procedure by providing the ice.