Monday, September 14, 2009

Open records reveal Grayson Sheriff's disdain for private jail plans

Kathy Williams at the Sherman Herald-Democrat is doing an excellent job covering the roller coaster ride over building a new Grayson County Jail after police unions scuttled a November election with threatened open meetings litigation. Williams has been especially adept using the open records act to dig deeper into the local controversy. A portion of her latest piece explains why the Sheriff opposes building a private jail operated by Southwestern Correctional/La Salle Corrections:

A few clues as to why the sheriff continues to question the wisdom of contracting with Southwestern to build and operate the jail came to light this week when he responded to a Herald Democrat request for records under the Texas Public Information Act.

In an interview Thursday, [Sheriff Keith] Gary said he will continue to meet with Southwestern, its construction contractor Hale Mills and its architect HOK until the Commissioners Court officially abandons that option. He added that he will not sign anything until he has an approved contract with all its attachments in hand and those documents address all of his safety and operational concerns.

Among the records the Herald Democrat received are notes that show that the sheriff, Chief Deputy Ron Brown and others have deep concerns about Southwestern Correctional's jail design. The company has operated in Louisiana under the name LaSalle Corrections and works mainly with prisons there.

In a letter to Pete Newsham, project architect with HOK, Gary wrote Aug. 24 that he and his staff were pleased with the cooperation of HOK, Hale Mills and Southwestern during a meeting on Aug. 11. However, "The outcome of the meeting on 8-19-09 has totally changed our feelings in regard to the progress made during our first meeting. The Sheriff's Office does not want a prison. ... I do not approve of a building, the design of which is primarily for prison operations and programs.

"The purpose of a County jail is, 'Care, Custody and Control of Inmates.' A large number of county inmates have not been to trial and found guilty. We understand that your mind set is totally different, and based on a convicted criminal concept. The fact that we are the customer has been lost in the discussion! Therefore we will find it difficult to approve the purchase of a product that we do not agree with."

Gary told HOK that he intends to continue working with them to address specific issues, and would ask Bynum to sit in on the next round of discussions.

In brief form, Gary outlined to Newsham the areas of disagreement, "the concept of what we believe to be the excessive inmate movement within the facility with or without supervision ... the concept of feeding inmates in a common dining hall ... the large outside prison yards ... inmate movement to the commissary ... the concept of contact visits.

"You have often stated to us that this facility will be under my control and will ultimately become our county jail. Therefore the facility must be planned, constructed and operated as a county jail. At this time, I cannot in good faith approve the plans."

Adding to Gary's apprehension, he said, is that Southwestern's newest enterprise, the Burnet County Jail, experienced a jail break a few weeks ago. The incident led to TCJS ruling Southwestern was non-compliant with jail operations requirements.

Excellent local coverage, particularly for a small-market paper. I don't recall reporters from the Tyler Morning Telegraph, for example, using open records so aggressively during Smith County's three recent failed jail-bond elections.


Anonymous said...

The Sheriff has good reason to be cautious when considering privatization of their jail operations. Once privatized (particularly if it will be the only jail for the county) it may be too expensive to return to public operation (See the history of jail privatization in Frio County and elsewhere).

Furthermore, privatization not only privatizes operations, it also privatizes public policy decision making. Once privatized the public interest chanel that had been filled by the Sheriff's Office for jail and corrections policy is controlled by private sector managers.

When asked if there is such a thing as too much confinement -- public officials consider such things as economic and social costs on the community as well as opportunity costs when public funds are used in this way. When the same question is asked of private prison and jail companies their response is that they are ready to house as many people as we want. In short, to them it is business and more jail beds equate to increased revenue. Public interest is not their concern -- but it is the concern for the Sheriff.

A not uncommon outcome is that promises made (even in the contract) are left unfullfilled unless the county pays for on-site monitoring and monitors the monitors for cooptation or collusion to misrepresent contractor performance. This has and continues to happen all too often.

Regardless of who operates the jail -- there is only one payer out there for all inmate bed days and it is a taxpayer somewhere.

An analogy for privatization of jails would be the difference between using paper plates at home rather than buying dishes. This initial outlay is lower but the long term costs are much higher for paper plates compared to dishes.

In the end the privatization is unlikely to safe Greyson County taxpayers money and may cost far more (just as paper plates do over time).

Charlie O said...

"Public interest is not their concern --"

The number one reason against jail privatization. Especially a county jail that houses the non-convicted, merely waiting for trial. It's the very "public" that the private company is unconcerned with, that fills those beds.

Soronel Haetir said...

I wonder if that plate analogy holds after counting total cost. The UK did a study on diapers and it turned out that disposables beat re-usables because the cost of cleaning the cloth diapers was too high.

Skimping on oversight seems to be a recurring issue with such facilities, regardless of whether they are public or private. Look at the mess in Houston where despite repeated write-ups the problem persists. People just don't care that much whether a jail is up to standards, much less prisons.

I am glad to see the sheriff making a stand on wanting a jail not a prison though.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea, form a Pre Trial Services Department in Grayson County and lower the number of people in jail! I certainly agree that a new jail is needed but there are a lot of folks in there now that would be better suited out in the community while awaiting trial.

PirateFriedman said...

More propaganda against private prisons.

It's just a myth, pure and simple, that private prisons are harmful to inmates.

The reality is that public prisons are run by bearacrats and redneck guards. Private prisons are run by companies. Neither cares about the inmates. But both can create humane conditions for the inmate if they have oversight. It's the outside influence, coming mostly from the fedral courts, that gives inmates improved conditions.

The big winner from having government run prisons: the guards. They get paid much more than they would working for Geo Group. Those are your tax dollars being wasted. I'm happy that the percentage of inmates in private prisons in Texas has increased, I hope it continues.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Pirate,

You sir are a fool if you think that those same redneck guards that work at the public prison/jail wouldn't be the same guards that would work at that same prison/jail if it were private. Do you homework, the pay for private prison guards is horrible, at least public guards have somewhat decent benefits.
The big difference between the two is that private prison/jail will skip on the level of supervision to make more money, public prison/jails will skip on the level of supervision because they are not given adequate resources.
The fact is, private prisons are a steamy pile of crap, plain and simple!

Karo said...

I love how a municipality can put something up for a bond election and if they lose they can just run the same bond next election and next election and so on until it passes in some low turn-out election where the only office on the ballot is Dog Catcher.

If a bond fails there should be a 4 year waiting period before it can go back on the ballot.

PirateFriedman said...

The big difference between the two is that private prison/jail will skip on the level of supervision to make more money

No big loss for me. I think eventually the courts will come in and straighten these private companies out. But if GeoGroup can get away with making jails/prisons a little tougher for a little while, then why not.

Anonymous said...

Grayson County has 2 large juvenile jails (and building more beds currently) of which most beds are filled by out of county inmates. Great cash cow for the county while minimal services are provided to the contracted counties.
Why not swap the juvenile beds to the contracting counties for adult beds, dollar for dollar, and save everyone except the county juvenile officials who are lining their pockets at the expense of the taxpayer the wasted dollars. citizens

Anonymous said...

To: 9/15/2009 07:29:00PM

Why don't you speak about something you know something about, Grayson County has one juvenile detention center and one juvenile boot camp, both have different purposes. The juvenile detention center is a shared facility between Cooke, Fannin and Grayson Counties (funding comes from each county) which other counties can use that don't have their own detention center. The boot camp is open to any county that wants to send their kids there. And, neither of them are in any way large and neither are adding beds (they are adding a multi-purpose gym). As for the services provided, both facilities provide the same services to kids from other counties as they do to kids from Grayson County. As to your ingorant comment about putting adults in a juvenile facility, you are an idiot, do you really think putting adult criminals together in a facility with juveniles is a good idea?

Someone who knows

Anonymous said...

The July 2009 posted Juvenile Board minutes from Grayson County indicate the review and approval of the addition of 20 beds to the post adjudication program. So much for being ignorant.

My point of swapping beds was they put their KIDS in your KID facilities and you put your ADULTS in their ADULT facilities.

Wow!! I also saw your approved salary order in the posted minutes. You guys must be making a nice profit. For a little country facility you sure pay good!!

Someone who knows better!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Someone who knows better!!!

Take your idea to Grayson Commissioners. Maybe they can swap some beds. Commissioners need 400 or so and juvenile are building 20. Adds up in your head some how!

Anonymous said...

They pay us well because we do quality work! However, I can asure you that none of us are getting rich. The issue isn't really that we are paid too much, it's that many other departments pay too little.

Anonymous said...

At Anon @ 9/14/2009 11:32:00 AM

Grayson County CSCD proposed a pre-trial program and was shot down. Ask the Chief there. I bet he still has the plans.

Anonymous said...

9/21/2009 05:44:00 PM

Pre-trial release and add to the number of contract prosecutors (Recognized as an innovative project)...that will help. Ask the CSCD Chief and read the report.