As the Texas Department of Criminal Justice adjusts to both a tighter budget and a smaller prison population, it has decided to end operations at two privately run Texas prison facilities — the Dawson State Jail in Dallas and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility — at the end of the summer.
On Monday, the TDCJ informed the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit private vendor that operates both facilities, of its intent to “not extend the term of the contract” for the prisons, TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said. The contracts will end Aug. 31.
In preparation for the closure, Mineral Wells and Dawson will no longer receive new inmates, Clark said. “Offenders will be transferred to facilities with existing capacity in the coming months,” he added.
Dawson, which is near its maximum capacity of 2,216 inmates, will probably see its male offenders moved to Hutchins State Jail, Clark said. Female offenders at Dawson would probably go to Woodman State Jail in Gatesville, he added.
The 796 offenders at the Mineral Wells facility will be “transferred to facilities across the system,” Clark said.
The Texas Legislature slashed $97 million from the TDCJ's budget in May and "made it clear that their intent was to reduce [the capacity of the jails]," Clark said. "We’re moving forward with steps to reduce our capacity."
State legislators, including Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, pushed to close the Dawson and Mineral Wells facilities in light of shrinking prison populations across the state and allegations of inadequate health care at Dawson. A Dawson inmate filed a federal lawsuit in March alleging prison guards ignored her cries for help as she delivered a premature baby into a toilet. CCA has said the University of Texas Medical Branch provides health care and that the company takes the responsibility of managing that care seriously.
The Texas chapter of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, which represents prison workers in the state, also supported closing the jails.
“[The closing] will save state jobs. It'll save taxpayers money," said Brian Olsen, the executive director of the AFSCME Texas chapter, referring to the costs cut by shutting down the prisons.
Closing Dawson will also make prisons safer, Olsen added. “There needed to be more oversight and scrutiny of those private units, because look at what happened.” CCA says it provides safe inmate housing.
CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an email that the company has “provided notification to our dedicated professionals so they can plan for next steps ahead of the contract expiration in August.”
CCA employees at Dawson and Mineral Wells are all being offered “the opportunity to transfer to other CCA facilities,” Owen wrote, adding, “For employees unable to transfer, our team will coordinate opportunities to help them find jobs in the local area.”
The TDCJ “will work with CCA as much as they’ll allow us” to assist employees at Dawson and Mineral Wells, Clark said. “They can certainly apply for open positions at TDCJ facilities.”
Owen did not comment on plans for the Mineral Wells facility, which is owned by CCA, saying only that the company is "very focused on our dedicated employees at the facility right now."
The Dawson facility is owned by the TDCJ, which plans to “work with local and state leaders to determine the final deposition,” Clark said, though the future of the facility has yet to be decided.
The city of Dallas has expressed interest for years in developing the Dawson property, which lies on the Trinity River. Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm told The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday that the closing of the jail was “very good news.”
“It’s a nice opportunity, and we’ll go to work on it right away,” Suhm told the Morning News. “We’ll talk to folks, and especially folks who own land around the jail, and see what their interest is.”
Once inmates have been completely transferred from Dawson, workers from Hutchins will conduct “general minimal maintenance,” checking the air temperature, water and other factors at the Dawson facility, Clark said.