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Thursday, October 04, 2007

West Texas Youth Facility Under Investigation

GEO private prison corporation was running this prison..

DALLAS — The Texas Youth Commission is investigating why teenage inmates endured squalor and deprivation at a privately run West Texas prison that had won repeated praise from the commission's own monitors.

The agency on Tuesday began busing the 197 male inmates from the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center. That was after an $8 million annual contract with operators of the state's largest private juvenile prison was canceled, with commission officials citing "deplorable conditions."

The problems at the juvenile prison in Bronte, operated by the GEO Group Inc. of Florida, were described in a report by TYC Ombudsman Will Harrell.

"There is a greater sense of fear and intimidation in this facility than perhaps any other I have been to," Harrell wrote, according to The Dallas Morning News.

He also noted that some juvenile offenders were kept in "malodorous and dark" security cells for five weeks. They were allowed to leave, in shackles, only once a day for a shower.

There was an "over-reliance" on the use of pepper spray, and inmates complained regularly about discovering insects in their food, he wrote.

A legislative delegation planned to tour the closed lockup Wednesday.

The Texas Youth Commission said its inspector general's office and Department of Public Safety troopers were investigating. Commission spokesman Jim Hurley said other agencies, including the state auditor's office and the attorney general's office, could join the investigation.

Asked whether any financial wrongdoing is suspected, Hurley said only, "We're concerned about every aspect of the way this facility was run and the contract was administered."

The agency "cannot tolerate this kind of situation," he added. "Not only do there need to be financial sanctions, but there need to be other actions taken against people who operate this way."

This is only the latest problem for the commission, which was placed in state conservatorship this year after a sex abuse scandal and subsequent cover-up were exposed by The Dallas Morning News and the Web site of The Texas Observer.

At least two other states have closed GEO-run facilities because of inadequate care of inmates and abuse allegations.

GEO spokesman Pablo Paez said the company was disappointed by the Texas Youth Commission's decision, which he said was unexpected.

"We had not received any notices or any indication of any significant deficiencies at the facility prior to agency's decision to discontinue the contract," Paez said.

Before the teenage inmates departed Tuesday, some of them extensively damaged the Bronte facility by flooding dorms and destroying smoke detectors, mattresses, sheets, blankets and other items, officials said.

Inmates were moved to TYC's McLennan County facility on buses escorted by state troopers.

Among other matters at the Bronte facility near San Angelo, state investigators will explore whether inmates were prevented from filing grievances.

"I don't think the phones worked all the time if they wanted to complain," Hurley said, and "kids weren't let out of their cells" to file complaints.

TYC employs four full-time quality-assurance monitors at the Coke County prison. They work in a portable building just outside the facility's secure perimeter.

Their jobs were to ensure that GEO was meeting the terms of its contract, the first priority being inmates' health and safety, Hurley said.

"What were they doing? That's what we're asking," Hurley said of the monitors.

Read the Article Here


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