Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Which prisons should Texas close next?, Part II

Earlier this year Grits had speculated which prison units might be targeted for closure if Texas incarceration levels continue to decline. Recent news has raised a couple of additional possibilities.

First, flooding in Brazos County forced evacuation of three prison units: Terrell, Stringfellow, and Ramsey. How much might it cost to repair flood damage? How likely is such an event to recur? Does this argue for placing one or more of these units on a possible closure list, or was flooding a one-off, as TDCJ officials are telling the press? It'll be interesting to learn more about the circumstances surrounding these evacuations once the crisis has passed.

Meanwhile, arsenic levels in well water at the Pack Unit in Navasota County (see earlier Grits coverage) perhaps argue for adding that facility to the potential closure list. The issue has arisen in ongoing heat litigation because inmates who need to cool down have not choice but to drink it. Reported the Houston Chronicle:
Arsenic has been found in the well water at the Pack Unit at levels that violate the Environmental Protection Agency's cap for safe amounts, and the Pack Unit operates one of 60 Texas water systems that are out of compliance with the federal standard, according to testimony from Michael Honeycutt, director of toxicology at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Prior to 2001, the EPA's cap for safe amounts of arsenic in an aquifer was 50 parts per billion (PPB), Honeycutt said.

A federal law lowered the cap to 10 PPB, he said, and enforcement of that level began in 2006. The Pack Unit put in a new filtration system in 2007, but the water still tests at 25 or 30 PPB, he said.
Though state officials claim the situation is not an emergency, an expert told the court those levels are unsafe.
Michael McGeehin, a national expert on heat exposure, told U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison that the situation is urgent at the Pack Unit in Navasota, where inmates are trying to force the state to provide an alternative to well water that contains elevated levels of arsenic.

"If you're asking me if I can say to a captive population, 'You should continue to drink this water until it gets fixed,' I can't," testified McGeehin, a former division director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
TDCJ is paying for a new filtration system, but perhaps closure would be the better option.


Gadfly said...

Among state units, the Hobby Unit and possibly the Marlin transfer unit could stand to be closed. The Hobby Unit is old, and both units are subject to the city of Marlin's past history of water supply problems.

Anonymous said...

Hey Grits, how come no mention of the upcoming hearings in Tyler on the Kerry Max Cook case?

Anonymous said...

The issue at Pack is horrible! The suggestion that the situation in Rosharon where Terrell, Ramsey and Stringfellow are is NOT a one off as many staff & inmates who have endured hurricane evacuationss will attest. Terrell and Stringfellow are tin buildings that should close. Ramsey is old achool Huntsville brick.

Unknown said...

What about the Eastham Unit? that needs to be shut down also they are always having water problems that water is very much so unsafe.. The inmates are always without water.. Probably bc of bad pipes... EASTHAM NEEDS TO BE SHUT DOWN PLEASE DON'T EXCLUDE THAT UNIT AS WELL!!!

Anonymous said...

Considering all the money that goes into Texas prisons, why can't the prisoners at least be provided with good, safe drinking water? The thought of this is sickening.

Your Face Sez... said...

Isn't arsenic a poison? How can there be a safe level of poison that one can ingest EVERY DAY, several times a day?

Concerned said...

In 1890 William C. Clemens, the chairperson of the Texas Prison Board, purchased an initial parcel of land from the Huntington Estate for $4,126.[5] The prison, named after Clemens,[6] opened in 1893.[1] The State of Texas bought the entire prison, then 5,527 acres (2,237 ha), in 1899.[7] One of the oldest and most run down facilities in the State. Windows broken out, rusted pipes everywhere, light fixtures rusting and falling from ceiling everywhere (including the showers), cement falling from ceilings, sewage pipes bursting in tanks and rows. Even from the exterior you can see the rust and deterioration of the facility.

Paul Bailey said...

Toilets and other plumbing does not wotk at Lynaugh.

Lynaugh unit should be condemned