Dallas County Gets Key Concessions from For-Profit Prison Operator

Released prison inmates gather at their new home on the outside, the former Cabana Motor Hotel.
Released prison inmates gather at their new home on the outside, the former Cabana Motor Hotel.
Dylan Hollingsworth

Dallas County won't be able to stop the most notorious for-profit prison operator in the United States from taking over management of a large halfway house for ex-prison inmates, but opponents of Corrections Corporation of America did manage to win a delay they hope will give them time to set conditions how CCA runs the facility located in the old Cabana Motor Hotel's Dallas County-owned cabana and the new facility residents of the halfway house will be moved to as the county completes the transfer of the Cabana property, which has been sold to a developer.

Avalon Corrections, the company that currently runs the halfway house, is within its legal rights to transfer its lease to CCA. Activists and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, however dismayed they were about CCA's potential involvement, couldn't actually stop the company from taking over operations at the facility, even though the county owns the building. County Commissioner John Wiley Price, in a letter written before the new lease first came before the commissioner's court on October 20, suggested that those who didn't want CCA involved were being overly fearful.

"We must not give into our fears of CCA's involvement in this worthy endeavor of running the transitional center for our people. Rather than trying to prevent something which we have no legal means to stop, let us join in acknowledging the need being filled and lend our voices to the chorus calling on CCA to do better. Let us find constructive ways to encourage them to be good corporate partners in this county, and to not put money before all else," Price wrote.

It may have been impossible to stop CCA — a company that ran both a Kentucky prison that was shut down after the discovery of widespread sexual abuse of inmates by guards in 2009 and a Tyler immigration detention center whose supervisor went to prison for sexually assaulting female detainees — from taking over the halfway house, but commissioners did delay the vote to accept the lease transfer for two weeks.

In taking over the lease, CCA will be required to provide transportation for residents of the halfway house, have a maximum of 300 beds at the facility and not use the leased property as anything but a halfway house. CCA will also not be allowed to accept anyone civilly committed by the state of Texas as a resident. Civil commitment is the process by which certain sex offenders who have completed their prison sentence are required to enter a state treatment program.

Josh Gravens, the executive director of Organize Justice, an advocacy group that helped lead the anti-CCA push, called the new conditions a win for the groups fighting for the rights of the halfway house residents, even if they don't accomplish everything advocates wanted.

"I'm sure the contract will pass, but there's still some people that want to see CCA out all together, but my understanding, and why [Organize Justice] isn't pushing it, is the DA said that would be illegal," Gravens says. "I realize that we have to have this halfway house, but I think, if not for the organizing, [the new conditions] would not be in the lease."

Clarification: This post has been edited to clarify that the halfway house is not located in the former Cabana Motor Hotel itself, but the Cabana's former cabana area, which is a separate structure. Dallas County has sold the property, and residents will be moved out of the halfway house, according to the lease agreement with CCA, by the end of January. They will be moved to a new, CCA-operated facility at 1508 Langdon Dr..

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