Dallas County Set For Another Corrections Contract Fight

Dallas County appears to be about to get itself into another mess centered on the county's entering into contracts with some of the entities that underpin the nation's prodigious prison-industrial complex. Last year, the county almost banned in-person visits as part of a plan to implement widespread video visitation at Dallas County's jail. That contract was given to Securus Technologies, a company that installs video visitation equipment, charges high fees for off-site visits and promotes the potential cost savings it can help counties achieve by limiting or eliminating in-person jail visitation.

Thanks to County Judge Clay Jenkins' fight against the contract and a grassroots effort spearheaded by criminal justice reform advocate Josh Gravens, the county's contract with Securus got amended, and in-person visitation was preserved. Securus is still profiting from those whose families choose to use video visitation, but families at least have a choice.

Now Dallas County is about to get in bed with Corrections Corporation of America, perhaps the most notorious private prison company in the United States. CCA appears set to be handed the reigns of the halfway house located in the old Cabana Motor Hotel that's already a tough place to scratch out any sort of a life, in addition to a couple of other halfway houses filled by Dallas County offenders.

"I believe very much that CCA makes Securus, while Securus is a terrible company, CCA makes Securus look like cherubs. They're a despicable company," Gravens, the executive director of Organize Justice says.

CCA ran a Kentucky prison that was shut down in 2009 because of widespread sexual abuse of female inmates. So was a Tyler immigration detention center that saw a supervisor sent to prison for sexually assaulting female detainees. 

The turnover to CCA — the company that currently runs the halfway house, Lifestyle Management, Inc., wants to transfer its duties to CCA — will be a test case for the commissioner's court new briefing and meetings system. This summer, at the behest of county staff and against the wishes of Jenkins, the court cut meetings in half — to every other week — and changed policy to allow items to be briefed and voted on the same day. It makes organizing against court actions more difficult and heightens the potential, Gravens says, that the commissioners will simply do what staff recommends — like taking away in-person visits or allowing the biggest and baddest private company in America to run three of the county's halfway houses. 

Jenkins' office said it was aware of the CCA item on the agenda but needed to further evaluate the measure before commenting.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young