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Groups Urge Lawmakers to Shutter Privately Run Jail

Civil rights, human rights and criminal justice groups on Thursday sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to close a privately run state jail in downtown Dallas.

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More than two dozen civil rights, human rights and criminal justice groups sent a letter Thursday to Texas lawmakers calling on them to close a privately run state jail in downtown Dallas, citing what they call a history of poor management and inhumane conditions.

"Recent media accounts of inadequate medical care and a rash of preventable deaths at the Dawson State Jail illustrate problems at this facility," the letter states.

The Corrections Corporation of America runs the Dawson State Jail under a contract with the state. In an emailed statement, the company said that the University of Texas Medical Branch provides health care at the facility and that the company takes seriously its responsibility to oversee that care.

"It’s unfortunate that these organizations are so closed-minded when it comes to facts and perspectives that might challenge their political agendas," said Steven Owen, CCA spokesman."CCA simply provides safe inmate housing and quality rehabilitation programming at a cost savings to Texas taxpayers."

With its position on prime Dallas real estate and the falling number of prisoners in Texas, the groups' letter is not the first suggestion of shuttering the facility. The state jail population has fallen from more than 14,000 in 2006 to just less than 12,000 in 2011, and statewide there are some 10,000 vacant prison beds. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, has called for the closure of two prison units, including Dawson. With that many empty beds, he said, it makes sense to consider shutting down unnecessary facilities that are high-security risks. Dawson has faced criticism recently over allegations that health care there is inadequate. The company has denied any wrongdoing and said it works with the state to provide inmates access to health care. 

In response to the letter, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman John Hurt said the agency would work closely with state lawmakers on decisions regarding the closure of facilities.

The state's contract with CCA for the Dawson facility operations expires Aug. 31, and the groups said in the letter that lawmakers should heed reports of poor conditions and take note of a 2012 health services audit that found conditions at the facility were not compliant with contract.

"Closing a facility like Dawson State Jail would save taxpayer dollars that can be better spent on programs that work," Ana Yáñez Correa, director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said in a prepared statement.

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