Tarrant County plans to cut ties with private prison that violated state jail standards
Tarrant County will cut ties with a private prison in West Texas after KERA News reported on a state inspection that found medical neglect, late checks on prisoners, missing documentation and other problems at the facility.
Since 2022, Tarrant County has signed more than $40 million in contracts to use the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility, near Lubbock, as an overflow facility, sending local prisoners there.
In December, the state’s jail watchdog, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), found Dalby was in violation of six of the state’s minimum jail standards.
Dalby has since resolved five of those issues, and the prison is almost ready to request a reinspection, TCJS Executive Director Brandon Wood said last week.
County officials say the company that runs Dalby, Management & Training Corporation, never notified Tarrant County about the failed inspection.
On Tuesday, the five-member Commissioners Court did not immediately cancel the contract, but they voted to look for other options for housing prisoners. They also directed county staff to write a letter to the company that runs the jail, Management & Training Corporation, expressing "our severe displeasure," County Judge Tim O'Hare said.
"I can tell you that every member of the court finds the failure to be notified of the falling out of jail compliance to be unacceptable and very disturbing," O'Hare said. "I think we are also equally disturbed over the different issues that they fell out of compliance over. Simply unacceptable."
Dalby’s violations gave the Tarrant County Commissioners Court a chance “to correct, what in my mind, was a mistake on behalf of this court,” Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks said to the packed house at the meeting.
The two Democratic county commissioners, Brooks and Alisa Simmons, voted against the $22.5 million, 500-bed contract renewal last year. The three Republicans, Gary Fickes, Manny Ramirez and O'Hare, voted for it, although Ramirez expressed concern about the cost.
“When you find yourself on the losing side of a 3-2 vote, you pray that the decision of the majority will cause no harm to those that are affected by it,” Brooks said.
The contract with MTC, approved in 2022, stipulates, “MTC shall immediately report unusual incidents, emergencies or controversial situations that arise in the performance of the Services to the Sheriff.”
The failed inspection came as a surprise to Tarrant County’s top officials. Some heard about it only when KERA asked them for comment.
KERA asked MTC if they ever told the county about the failed inspections.
“We maintain regular contact with Tarrant and Harris counties and have a great working relationship with them; however, there was some miscommunication,” MTC spokesperson Emily Lawhead wrote in an email on Feb. 1.
Lawhead has not yet responded to an email asking what she meant by “miscommunication.”
There has been some communication between MTC and the county since. The county publicly shared emails to County Administrator Chandler Merritt from MTC Vice President Dan Joslin.
MTC took the six violations seriously, Joslin told Merritt in an email dated Jan. 31.
“I assure you MTC began addressing noted areas of non-compliance immediately and in several cases corrective measures were taken prior to the inspection team completing their on-site review,” Joslin wrote.
Staff completed their required safety training for the first quarter of 2024, Joslin said, addressing one of the violations the state found. In the first quarter of 2023, no staff got training, according to TCJS. In the third quarter of 2023, 88 out of 111 staff members missed training.
Jailers were late on 42% of their required checks on inmates, the inspection also found. Dalby has switched from an electronic to a paper observation log that undergoes “additional oversight and reviews by supervisory staff,” according to Joslin.
In Texas, jails are supposed to document when they restrain someone in custody and check on the restrained person every 15 minutes. Dalby could not produce five hours of that documentation.
“The [restraint] system was immediately removed from facility use until additional training could be provided to staff in the use and documentation requirements,” Joslin wrote. “The instructional materials and completed training rosters were submitted to TCJS on January 24, 2024.”
More than 15 people urged commissioners to cut ties with MTC on Tuesday.
Fort Worth resident Byron Griffith told commissioners he works in the pharmaceutical industry, which often uses outside contractors.
It would never be acceptable for a pharmaceutical contractor to be out of compliance and not inform their client, Griffith said.
“If they’re hiding this from us, what else are they hiding?” he said.
Others raised concerns about the tens of millions of dollars in public money dedicated to the MTC contract.
“They should not be profiting if they are not doing their job,” Charles Bilz said.
The current contract with Tarrant County is set to expire at the end of the year, according to county documents.
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