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More Jail Closures Announced

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Seemingly without concern for public safety, more jails and correctional facilities are shutting down, putting people out of work, and creating worries of mismanagement by jail officials or disregard for the laws they are serving to protect. Not all of the closures are due to financial problems, one takes a step toward eliminating privatized inmate housing.

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Not Trusted Enough To Operate A Jail

While most state constitutions specify that the County Sheriff is responsible for law enforcement and detention services in their jurisdiction, a vote taken Tuesday April 24th 2012 by Bernalillo County Commissioners in Albuquerque New Mexico has struck down a proposal to put County Sheriff Dan Houston in charge of the jail. Sheriff Houston has argued that the county jail would be run more efficiently under his command while the opposing Deputy’s Union criticized the plan, saying the sheriff needs to fix problems within his own department before taking over responsibility for the jail. The New Mexico State Constitution has no such provision and the jail is currently overseen by a county administrator.

View of the jail facility

Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles County California has been under attack from public and federal investigations into brutalitiy and mistreatment of inmates by guards employed at the Men's Central Jail which houses some 1800+ offenders. Most of the over 300 reported incidents surround the third floor of the jail, nicknamed the 3000 Block because it houses the most dangerous and infamous prisoners, and for a reputed gang of guards calling themselves the "3000 Boys". Accusations against third floor guards ranged from using excessive force, causing inmate deaths, and a custody assistant who was selling cocaine to inmates. In the past Sheriff Baca, who was elected into an already degrading system, has tried to distance himself, even remove himself, from responsibility of jail operations because of the already mounting scrutiny of poor management and out of control behaviour of correctional officers.

Financial And Safety Issues Plague Privatized Prison

In Rhode Island, a special legislative panel has proposed an audit of the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls to study the facility's operations and finances as well as to investigate any possible negligence or incompetence surrounding the death of inmates. The top official at the for-profit prison operated by the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation said it ran up millions in deficits and needs more money to fix problems caused by faulty construction dating back to 2005 when a $47 million addition was added. The cost is estimated is more than $2 million.

According to the official web site, "The corporation is governed by a five-member Board of Directors appointed by the Mayor of Central Falls". Central Falls itself, which is now bankrupt, had been collecting more than $500,000 annually from the 771 bed capacity jail which holds federal detainees awaiting deportation and transport to other federal prisons. The facility came under scrutiny for failing to make it's annual payments to the city which stopped after the death of a detainee who was being held on immigration violations in 2008, a death that was the result of advanced cancer that wasn't diagnosed until days before his death after spending several months in custody at the facility. Immediatly following the inmate's death, Immigration officials removed over 150 inmates from the facility's custody and the jail has since tried to keep beds filled with prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing.

A report with recommendations for improvements is due to the General Assembly by December 1. The panel is recommending that the state Department of Revenue renegotiate payment terms on the jail's $100 million debt and that the state consider reimbursing the bankrupt city of Central Falls for payments it was promised by the jail. The panel also recommends that the executive board for the corporation that runs the jail consider selling it. Officials want the jail to resume payments, but jail officials said the city will not be getting money anytime soon.

Closing A Private Jail To House Inmates In Expanded State Facilities

The 650 bed Otter Creek Correctional Center located in Wheelwright Kentucky will be closing at the end of June after officials said that with capacity being added at other state owned facilities, they did not renew a contract with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) who owns runs the private jail. "The department did not have a need for the continuation of that contract beyond its current term," said CCA spokesperson Steve Owen.

More than 170 people from the Wheelwright area are employed by the facility, but after June 30 they will no longer have jobs. "A lot of them live within the city and a lot of them live in the community, you know. We're a tight knit community around here," said Wheelwright Mayor Andy Akers who fears the prison's closing could be devastating to the local businesses and that Wheelwright's economy could suffer.

While the town and it's mayor try to find solutions to prevent a local economic tragedy, CCA, which has operations in Kentucky and across the country says it will help relocate those employees who wish to continue their employment but says they are trying to market the facility to other potential users. The spokesman for CCA commented that "We are preparing our employees for the fact that at the end of June we will not have a population in that facility so we want to work very closely to take care of them."

Other jail financial problems announced in recent weeks include Bluefield City Jail in West Virginia, Passaic County Jail that caused motivated jailors to pass out flyers in the community to oppose the closing, and the Josephine County Jail which will have to shut down a cell block and release 30 of it's 150 inmates due to deputies and jailors taking more secure, better paying positions elsewhere.

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