Due Diligence Part 2: Emerald Corrections, LaSalle, and CEC

stop flushing arizonas futureKJZZ reported that five for-profit prison corporations have expressed interest in taking over the Kingman contract: CCA, GEO Group, Emerald Corrections, LaSalle, and Community Education Centers (CEC). In our last post, we gave you the dirt on CCA and GEO Group. Now we will introduce you to the other three companies vying for the contract.

You may notice certain patterns–eerie similarities, in fact–between the problems documented here and those we have seen at Kingman under MTC. As we have said consistently, problems like riots, escapes, abuses, violence, and mismanagement are inherent in the business model of for-profit corrections. None of these companies deserves a contract in Arizona.

Emerald Corrections:

Emerald currently operates seven correctional facilities and detention centers through Intergovernmental Agreements and operating contracts, with a total service capacity of more than 5,500 beds. This includes the 916-bed San Luis Regional Detention Center (SLRDC) in the Yuma Area, which houses primarily immigrant detainees.

  • Emerald’s only Arizona facility, the San Luis Regional Detention Center (SLRDC) recently reported having trouble filling its beds, due to a decrease in immigrant apprehensions in the Yuma district. In August of 2014, the facility had to lay off 20 employees. Emerald had expanded the facility in 2011, betting (wrongly) on an increase in immigrant detention. According to a Chief Deputy with the US Marshalls, “Emerald has come in and expanded, hoping they could attract more inmates causing an increase in overall revenue. It was the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality.” But, he stated, immigrant prosecutions in Yuma never supported large numbers. He went so far as to admit that, “I am still paying more than I have to and keeping prisoners longer than I have to, because I don’t want the facility to go out of business…” (“Private prison having trouble filling cells,” Yuma Sun, 9/21/14).
  • In Encinal, Texas, “County Commissioners were persuaded by a lobbyist and the management team to issue $22 million in bonds to build a 500-bed prison, with little public input. It was later revealed that the bonds paid an outrageous 12-percent interest, underwriter fees were 6 percent, Emerald would get a flat amount for operating the prison no matter how small the inmate population, and the persuasive lobbyist reportedly received a percentage of the deal, not a fee. (“Getting to know Emerald Companies,” Texas Civil Rights Review, 4/1/07).
  • In winter of 2014, Emerald suddenly pulled out all inmates in Encinal, leaving the county with empty beds, a leaking roof and almost $20 million in debt. The county has assumed responsibility for the facility and is working with bondholders to stave off default. (“Border jails facing bond defaults as immigration boom goes bust,” Bloomberg News, 8/3/15).
  • In April, 2006, two Wyoming inmates escaped from an Emerald-operated jail in Haskell, Texas. According to an AP report, corrections officials refused to say how the prisoners escaped.  The warden was quoted as saying, “It was human error and that’s all we can tell you at this time.”  (“Two Wyoming inmates caught after escape from Texas prison,” Associated Press, 4/18/06).
  • Benjamin Franklin (his real name), a former guard in Emerald’s Hudspeth County Regional Correctional Facility in Sierra Blanca, TX, was charged with murdering a woman with whom he had “an on again, off again boyfriend-girlfriend relationship.” The victim, Monica Beasley “was shot in the throat with a heavy caliber pistol.”  (“Grand Jury indicts two men in murder cases,” Midland Reporter-Telegram, 11/25/08).
  • Rolling Plains Regional Jail and Detention Center in Haskell, TX is being investigated by federal authorities after allegations surfaced of mistreatment of immigrant detainees. These allegations were raised when a correctional officer quit over “inhumane” treatment of inmates.  The guard, Judy Morrell, alerted federal authorities about the conditions, saying “animals were treated better than the inmates…I refuse to be a part of it any more.” (“Getting to know Emerald Companies,” Texas Civil Rights Review, 4/1/07)
  • A Habeas Corpus writ for the family of a detainee in the Rolling Plains facility describes women immigrants being subjected to full body cavity searches every time they met with outside visitors, “including humiliating inspections that took place in full view of male guards on multiple occasions.” There are also concerns about denial of medical treatment.  A 17 year old was placed in solitary confinement for three months because he was the only minor in an adult facility.  When he started urinating blood shortly after his arrival, he was mocked by guards who told him he was “probably dying” and could not be saved.  His requests to see a doctor were denied for 10 days.  (“Habeas writ for Hazahza family details allegations of sexual harassment, medical neglect, overcrowding, and isolation techniques,” Texas Civil Rights Review, 2/21/07)

LaSalle 

LaSalle is a relatively small company and a newcomer to the Arizona private prison bidding wars.  Based in Ruston, LA, LaSalle and its affiliates currently manage 17 correctional facilities in Louisiana, Texas and Georgia with a total inmate capacity of over 11,500, and lease one facility to a law enforcement agency. It does not currently operate any prisons in Arizona.

  • In 2009, LaSalle’s Burnet County jail was deemed non-compliant by TCJS after an escape lead to an inspection.  At that point, Muñoz said “The best way to describe it is a lack of diligence, a lack of professionalism.” Inspectors also found that LaSalle apparently had not been providing medical care to a pregnant prisoner, did not give prescribed medications to prisoners or provide them with recreation time, and had not submitted an emergency response plan. (“Sheriff Gary makes statement on Southwestern’s noncompliance,” Sherman Herald-Democrat, 9/5/09).
  • The same jail failed a state inspection in March 2012, which found it was non-compliant with security standards. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards noted there were “deficiencies” in concrete blocks and reinforcement bars. (“LaSalle Corrections: A family-run prison firm,” Prison Legal News, Feb 2013).
  • LaSalle ultimately lost the contract for the facility to Community Education Centers in April of 2014. (“CEC Snatches Contract with Burnet County Jail,” Texas Prison Bid’ness blog, 3/18/14).
  • Attorneys in Austin and Waco sent a complaint letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement regarding conditions at a LaSalle operated detention center in Texas in 2014. They say the Jack Harwell Detention Center is not an appropriate place to house immigrants in detention and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have not done enough to fix serious problems at the facility. (“Attorneys sound the alarm as ICE continues to detain immigrants in sub-standard Waco facility,” Grassroots Leadership blog, 6/9/14).
  • Nuana Antonio Fuentes-Sanchez, a suspect in a home invasion, escaped from LaSalle/Southwestern’s Burnet County Jail in Burnet, Texas.  The escapee then stole a gun from a nearby residence.  The resulting search included trailers full of horses, bloodhounds, all-terrain vehicles, members of the local Sheriff’s Department and electricity cooperative (“Cops: Inmate stole gun from home,” KXAN, 9/3/09).
  • Fuentes-Sanchez remained at large for two years. (“LaSalle Corrections: A family-run prison firm,” Prison Legal News, Feb 2013).
  • In 2011 there was another escape from the same facility. A prisoner broke out by using a handicap hand-rail as a tool to chisel through the cinder block wall under a sink, then escaped through a skylight. Guards were reportedly fooled by the oldest trick in the book—he left a lump under the blanket on his bed and guards did not realize he was missing until they came to feed him breakfast. (“LaSalle Corrections: A family-run prison firm,” Prison Legal News, Feb 2013).
  • An Arizona Republic investigation found that LaSalle has had eight escapes in the last six years, including three of minimum-security prisoners who walked away while on work crews outside the prisons (“Arizona to expand private prisons,” Arizona Republic, 7/3/11).
  • Leroy Holliday Sr., warden of the LaSalle Correctional Center, was booked into the LaSalle Parish Jail on a charge of malfeasance. LaSalle Parish Sheriff Scott Franklin said Holliday allegedly used inmates and employees at the minimum security prison for personal reasons. Franklin said evidence supports 40 counts of malfeasance and the number is expected to grow. In addition to being warden for the LaSalle prison in Urania, Holliday was regional warden for LaSalle Management Company LLC, putting him in charge of facilities in Catahoula, Concordia and Ouachita parishes. (“Prison Warden Arrested,” Associated Press, 11/13/08).
  • On April 7, 2011, Joseph Taunton, 32, a former guard at the LaSalle Correctional Center, pleaded guilty to engaging in a sex act with a prisoner; he was sentenced in July 2011 to 10 months in prison and will have to register as a sex offender. Taunton admitted to entering the prisoner’s cell while on duty and engaging in sexual activity. (“LaSalle Corrections: A family-run prison firm,” Prison Legal News, Feb 2013).
  • And on July 14, 2011, LaSalle employee Amy Sue Lancaster, 40, was arrested after she confessed to investigators that she had engaged in sexual acts with a prisoner at the Johnson County Law Enforcement Center in Texas. She was charged with violating the civil rights of a person in custody. (“LaSalle Corrections: A family-run prison firm,” Prison Legal News, Feb 2013).
  • The city of Littlefield, TX had its bond rating downgraded to “BB” with an “outlook negative” after LaSalle/Southwestern took over management of the jail from GEO Group in 2009.  The company was unable to attract enough prisoners to fill the detention center and the city was not able to scrape together the funds to pay the debt on the facility.  The city also considered raising taxes to pay for the jail  (“Fitch Affirms Littlefield, Texas’ COs at ‘BB’; Outlook Negative,” BUSINESS WIRE, Austin, Texas, 4/14/10).
  • Finally, officials in Littlefield became so desperate to unload the debt on the facility that they actually put the prison up for auction.  Although it cost $10 million to build, a minimum bid of $5 million could be enough to purchase the facility (“Texas town pins hopes on prison auction Thursday, years after private operator left,” The American Independent, 7-27-11).
  • The prison didn’t sell. “We have not been in arrears. We have made payments twice a year since it opened in 2000. With utilities and other costs, it’s about $1 million a year, which is 13 percent of my budget,” said the City Manager. After years of futile searching, the city landed a new tenant, although it is not one that would be welcome everywhere. The Texas inmates will be violent sex offenders who require additional treatment before being released. (“Prison bust spreads across rural Texas,” San Antonio Express-News, 8/22/15)

Community Education Centers (CEC)

The company operates in 16 states and the Commonwealth of Bermuda. The company manages several prisons, but it has long focused on re-entry centers, offering states an “alternative to incarceration.” CEC now operates halfway houses in ten states, with a total of about 9,000 beds.

  • A 2012 New York Times expose revealed the extremely high number of escapes from CEC halfway houses in New Jersey. The Times reported that, since 2005, roughly 5,100 inmates have escaped from the state’s privately run halfway houses, most of which are run by CEC. Some went on to commit violent crimes. At least 85 were still at large at the time the first article was published. (“As escapees stream out, a penal business thrives,” New York Times, 6/16/12).
  • CEC came under fire in New Jersey following a 2011 audit that found the state’s halfway houses, most of them run by CEC, were largely unregulated. State officials had failed to penalize the facilities for frequent escapes, or to monitor their effectiveness in keeping former convicts from returning to prison, the auditors said. They also raised questions about the state government’s relationship with CEC, which had set up a nonprofit entity in order to bypass state law preventing the corrections department from contracting with for-profit companies. (“A record of trouble: California looks to halfway houses, finds a company cited for violence and escapes,” The Marshall Project, 4/11/15).
  • A former director of CEC’s Long Beach, CA facility cited similar problems there. “It was a mess…The drug use was rampant, especially at night. People were jumping the fences, going out to liquor stores, scoring drugs.” He said that even when residents failed drug tests, CEC officials discouraged him from evicting them. “They had a hard time keeping the beds full.” (“A record of trouble: California looks to halfway houses, finds a company cited for violence and escapes,” The Marshall Project, 4/11/15).
  • In 2010, at least seven inmates were mistakenly released from a CEC-operated jail in Pennyslvania. (“2 PA corrections officers file bias suits,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/25/13)
  • A 2013 study by Pennsylvania officials found that CEC halfway house inmates had higher recidivism rates than those released directly from prison. Pennsylvania’s corrections secretary, John E. Wetzel, who oversaw the study, called the system “an abject failure.” “The focus has been on filling up beds,” Mr. Wetzel said in an interview. “It hasn’t been on producing good outcomes.”
  • In Texas, where CEC runs a network of jails, almost every one of those facilities has been sued for alleged staff misconduct. The warden and head of security at one jail were fired in 2012 after a former inmate sued the company, saying she was sexually assaulted repeatedly by the security officer and then forced by the warden to lie to investigators about the attacks. Sexual assault allegations led to two more lawsuits against CEC in 2014, one by inmates at another CEC jail, the second by a former inmate at a CEC immigration detention center. At yet another CEC facility, thirteen guards pleaded guilty in 2013 to accepting bribes and smuggling contraband; at least eight were sentenced to federal prison. (“A record of trouble: California looks to halfway houses, finds a company cited for violence and escapes,” The Marshall Project, 4/11/15).
  • Two prison guards in Pennsylvania filed racial bias suits against CEC in 2013. They charge that African-American guards were discriminated against and held to different standards than their white coworkers. A racially-charged photo of one African-American guard, picturing her with a noose around her neck, was found in a union mailbox. Abuse toward African-American inmates in the jail also sparked protests. This includes “waterboarding” Black prisoners with pepper spray until they vomit, and K-9 officers letting their dogs urinate on the belongings and bedding of African-American inmates. (“2 PA corrections officers file bias suits,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/25/13)
  • In 2012, two Texas jail officials, including the Warden, were fired after an inmate sued, stating she was repeatedly sexually assaulted and told to lie to investigators. (“Liberty County Jail Warden, Chief fired,” com, 9/22/12).
  • In 2014, two other sexual assault lawsuits were filed in Texas. According to the plaintiff in one case, CEC’s negligence includes the failure to maintain sufficient staff, especially female staff to search female inmates. The suit also alleges that CEC “fostered an unsafe and relatively uncontrolled environment.” (“CEC faces lawsuit over sexual abuse allegation at Jack Harwell,” Texas Prison Bid’ness, 12/10/14.)
  • In another case, two women prisoners filed suit claiming a CEC guard sexually assaulted them while transporting them between facilities. The complaint states the guard made special arrangements to find himself alone with both women.One woman reported that he fondled her intermittently throughout the six-hour transport despite her pleas to stop. The other stated that the guard ordered her to perform oral sex on him under threat of the use of his firearm. The jail operators later learned that the guard was the subject of a Texas Rangers investigation nearly a year later, and he was fired. (“Two women say deputy sexually assaulted them,” com, 11/17/14).

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