To obtain information about CCA's operations in Texas, PLN submitted a records request to the company on March 1, 2013 pursuant to the state's Public Information Act, requesting a number of documents related to CCA's contracts with state and local Texas government agencies, injunctions issued against CCA in Texas, and settlements and verdicts in legal actions involving CCA in Texas. The company did not respond to the records request.
"Privately operated prisons and jails are notorious for their abhorrent conditions," PLN stated in its complaint. "Although they perform a government function, they are driven by a profit model that cuts costs for the benefit of shareholders and to the detriment of basic services, security, and oversight. Prison Legal News seeks to enforce its rights under the Public Information Act to investigate details about these facilities in Texas."
The lawsuit filing was tied to CCA's lack of transparency with respect to the Dawson State Jail, where at least eight prisoners have died, some due to medical-related problems.
Demands to close the CCA-operated Dawson State Jail erupted in June 2012 after a pregnant prisoner gave premature birth in a toilet in her cell, with her baby dying four days later. CCA staff had reportedly refused the prisoner's requests for medical care. "The baby was born premature and without any medical personnel present because of CCA's gross mismanagement," said TCRP attorney Brian McGiverin, who represents PLN in its public records suit. "Their indifference was horrifying."
Autumn Miller, the mother of the deceased baby, who was named Gracie, filed a federal lawsuit against CCA on March 8, 2013. See: Miller v. CCA, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Tex.), Case No. 3:13-cv-01022-L.
According to an investigative report by CBS 11, at least eight prisoners have died at the Dawson State Jail since 2004. One of those deaths involved diabetic prisoner Pam D. Weatherby, 45. An internal CCA document indicated that jail staff "did not follow proper procedures, in that they did not call a medical professional and advise them of the offender vomiting, prior to the medical staff arriving" at the facility. Weatherby died in July 2011; she was serving one year for drug possession. Her family has since filed a wrongful death suit against CCA. See: Alfano v. CCA, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Texas), Case No. 3:11-cv-01006-P.
"Private prisons siphon public taxpayer dollars into corporate profit," noted PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann. "They slash [medical] services to funnel money to their shareholders and executives, and people die. Even when we don't need these for-profit prisons, they are rarely shuttered until the scandals reach critical mass."
"Prisons and jails operated by CCA and other profit-making corporations have been responsible for dozens of scandals around Texas," added Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit organization that opposes prison privatization. "In the last ten years alone, there have been instances of medical neglect, sexual abuse and preventable suicide in private facilities in Austin, Bartlett, Beaumont, Big Spring, Bronte, Dallas, Del Rio, Eden, Encinal, Falfurrias, Fort Worth, Henderson, Liberty, Littlefield, Pearsall, Pecos, Raymondville, Spur, Taylor, Texarkana and Waco."
The Texas legislature is currently debating whether to discontinue state funding for the Dawson State Jail and another CCA-run facility, the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility. State Senator John Whitmire wants to close the two prisons, citing a surplus of 12,000 empty prison beds, and neither facility was funded in the Senate's 2014-15 budget. The House's budget similarly cut funding, and the Texas Board of Criminal Justice will decide which prisons to close, which will likely include the Dawson State Jail.
In its public records lawsuit against CCA, PLN is seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the company's violation of the Public Information Act, a writ of mandamus requiring CCA to produce the requested records, and attorney fees and costs.
"CCA hides the truth about its management because it knows the truth is horrific," said McGiverin. "But they won't get away with it. Texans know how to keep government accountable. Our laws entitle us to check its homework and keep it honest. At Dawson State Jail and beyond, we intend to show CCA it is not above the law." See: Prison Legal News v. CCA, Travis County District Court (TX), Case No. D-1-GN-13-001445.
Sources: TCRP press release (May 1, 2013), Texas Tribune, Dallas Morning News, www.dfw.cbslocal.com
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Related legal case
Prison Legal News v. CCA
|Travis County District Court (TX), Case No. D-1-GN-13-001445
|State Trial Court