Waco: Lawsuits and Violations in the Jack Harwell Jail

Dec 29th, 2015 | By | Category: In The News, Lead Article, McLennan County
 LaSalle Corrections is the for-profit company that runs the Jack Harwell Center for McLennan County. “We think they’re excellent operators and, unfortunately, sometimes things like this happen,” said McLennan County Judge Scott Felton.

But that’s not what families with loved ones in that jail say. At the Texas Jail Project, we have received pleas for help from families concerned about loved ones being refused mental-health treatment, essential medications and medical care.

Several days before Christmas, another story came to light when the Tribune-Herald revealed that a formerly jailed 30-year-old woman filed a lawsuit in Waco’s 170th State District Court against LaSalle Corrections. The lawsuit alleges she was repeatedly sexually assaulted at the facility and goes on to describe an out-of-control institution rife with smuggling, extortion and drug abuse.

Felton’s description of LaSalle as “excellent operators” is strange considering these incidents as well as the history of this facility. Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed all immigrant detainees from the Jack Harwell Center after ongoing claims of civil rights violations by attorneys and advocates. Prior to May of 2013, another private contractor of this facility, CEC, was cited for sexual abuse and other violations.

Despite ongoing controversy, McLennan County renewed its contract with LaSalle last year with the addition of a 90 percent occupancy clause: If the jail is filled with fewer people than 90 percent of its available beds, LaSalle can end its contract with a 90-day notice. We believe that a jail should not have a contracted mandate to stay full because that results in a deliberate effort to increase the number of arrests.

This does not make Waco a safer community and intensifies mistrust of law enforcement.

Predictably, jail population increased from 85 percent capacity in January 2014 to 93 percent capacity this past November. In response to those numbers, a LaSalle executive actually said, “We have been blessed to have a relatively good history of increasing the jail population for our clients.”

That statement reveals a callous disregard for the citizens of this area and demonstrates how a for-profit jail company exploits its role. LaSalle seeks to satisfy its clients — its shareholders — no matter the cost to vulnerable families and to “the least of these my brethren.”

McLennan County now has the fifth largest incarceration rate among Texas counties, despite a lower-than-state average violent crime rate. As of Nov. 1, 75 percent of jailed people in McLennan County were pretrial. That means they have not been convicted of anything and, except for a few rare cases where bail is denied, are waiting in jail because they cannot afford to post bail.

The people of McLennan County deserve better. McLennan County should take steps to ensure that a facility this important to thousands of Texans be operated by administrators who are committed to more than a profit margin.

Diana Claitor is executive director of Texas Jail Project, which works with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, other advocates such as Catholic Conference of Texas, and sheriffs and jail administrators to improve conditions of confinement, especially for those held pretrial. Rebecca Larsen is its communications coordinator.

4 Comments to “Waco: Lawsuits and Violations in the Jack Harwell Jail”

  1. jason shelton says:

    I am from Victoria texas. and have accumulated several years of incarceration in the Victoria county jail due to a 2003 forgery and a felony dwi in 09. I have been put in solitary confinement while going through severe alcohol withdrawels on several occasions with no medical attention. I have watched crippled men sleep on the floor and men withdrawing fall from top bunks and spend hours waiting for attention. Pretrial inmates are held beyond the statute limits, court appointed attorneys will not educate the client. There is no law library and if you request info about your case or court info they respond saying contact lawer, who in turn never responds. The D.A.s office will work with probation and parole to hole an inmate indefinitely until they are able to persuade inmate to sign a plea for a non convictable crime or after months of incarceration they will just spit u out on the streets with no explanation. There is no grievence available for attorney neglect or poor ethics. Medical charges a 10 dollar fee for mental health meds and chronic meds. when you dispute it they will simply return the balance to your account.They will use the restraint chair on non combative inmates and leave them fully restrained for the duration of a shift. they place first time misdemeanor domestic violence inmates in max custody with seasoned convicts and criminals which results in abuse, extortion and recruitment into gangs,etc. On and on I have witnessed the sickness that infests the Victoria county judicial system with 4+ years of incarceration inside it.

  2. Hueso says:

    It is an organized criminal organization. Cosa Nostra in Texas? Looks like gov’t. is lining some pockets big time.

  3. Ramona Russum says:

    I have a complaint against the County Jail in Waco,Texas. I was in jail for a little over 24 hours. I received no food during that time. I wasn’t even offered food. I asked a question and got handcuffed to a chair. I screamed in terror for two hours!! I was assaulted physically and verbally. I had bruises on my face and body that other people saw. I think it is deplorable how staff treat people. i think it is wrong when they are the criminals of violence and they think it is all right because they can get away with it. I don’t want anyone treated like some kind of animal like I was. I think they need to be held accountable for their violent behavior like all citizens of Waco are. if citizens are to keep the law, then law enforcement even more so. I am currently a college student in Waco.

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