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Brief mention of PLN in article about jail escapee in Texas

Houston Chronicle, Oct. 14, 2015.

Inmate still on lam after escape from Liberty County Jail

Updated 12:24 pm, Wednesday, October 14, 2015

An inmate remains on the lam after escaping  from the Liberty County Jail.

Phillip Henry Freeman, 38, was last seen about 11 a.m. Tuesday in the jail's kitchen area, where he had been assigned, according to officials with the Liberty County Sheriff's Office.

Staffers spent about four hours searching for him at the jail. Freeman, who had been convicted of a home break-in and was scheduled to be transferred within days to the state's corrections department  was listed as an escapee about 3 p.m.

The escape was the latest in a string of troubling incidents in recent years at the facility, which can hold up to 285 inmates and is run by Community Education Centers, a private corrections company based in New Jersey.

Earlier this year, two inmates died within a week of each other, prompting a review of the facility by state inspectors, who found a slew of deficiencies, including infrequent inmate observations, incomplete suicide prevention screening and improper distribution of medication.

In annual visits from 2010 to 2015, state inspectors found the jail noncompliant with minimum jail standards every year, with the exception of 2012. Violations have included inmates lacking access to drinking water in some dorms and cells with broken locking mechanisms. Other inspections found inmates were not receiving the minimum amount of exercise mandated by law and described facilities with broken toilets and showers.

Follow-up inspections show the jail took steps to fix the areas where it had been noncompliant, according to records from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Other incidents have plagued the jail. In 2012, for example, two top jail administrators were fired after allegations that an employee sexually assaulted a female inmate, according to Prison Legal News.

And in 2010, an inmate hanged himself from a noose hung from a vent in the top of his cell.

Raye Carnes, the jail's warden, declined to comment on the escape, referring questions to CEC's spokesmen. They have not yet responded to requests for more details about Freeman's escape.

Ken DeFoor, spokesman for the Liberty County Sheriff's Office, could not be reached for additional comment Wednesday morning.

The last time an inmate escaped from the facility was in 2009, according to Brandon Wood, the jail commission's executive director.

Earlier this year, Liberty County officials considered transferring jail operations to the sheriff's office but decided a private contractor remained the most economical method.

A consultant's review of the facility found that staff vacancies appeared to be a "common occurrence" at the facility, and noted that the jail's staff turnover-rate was three times higher than the statewide average in November 2014.

The review also found that during the first nine months of 2014, jail was only staffed at 59 percent or 84 percent of the facility's authorized level.

"The CEC staffing plan does not recognize a relief factor," the review noted. "A minimum number of staff are assigned to each shift and when staff are unavailable to fill a post assignment, the initial response often involves having the sergeant assigned to the shift fill the line position, expand existing staff responsibilities beyond the post description, hire staff to fill the post at an overtime rate or a combination of the three."

News of the escape raised concerns from criminal justice advocates and civil rights advocates.

The incident "seems to encapsulate all of problems of turning a jail over to a for-profit prison corporation," said Bob Libal, Executive Director Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based civil-rights organization and an outspoken opponent of the private prison industry. "Including incentivizing high rates of incarceration, staffing at a very low level to mazimize profits, which lead to operational outcomes like you've seen - failed inspections and escapes. These things are all preventable, but symptomatic of for-profit prison corporations operating jails as for-profit and not for rehabilitation or public safety, frankly."

Wood, with the TCJS, said the jail had contacted the jail commission, as required in deaths, escapes or other high-profile incidents.

When asked about the staffing issues, he said they could be a factor in the commission's investigation.

"There's no margin for error," he said. "Even in best circumstances, you have to be perfect when operating a jail." 

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