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Senate Finance Recommends Closing Dawson State Jail

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Is this the end of the nightmare factory called Dawson State Jail?

On Monday, the state Senate Finance Committee recommended against renewing Texas’ contract with Corrections Corporation of America to run Dawson State Jail when that contract expires at the end of August. The news likely comes as a relief to the many groups who have lobbied for years to close the troubled private prison.

In a press release today, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas explained that while a decreasing prisoner population has prompted closure of some facilities, lawmakers are targeting Dawson because of persistent reports of prisoner mistreatment, particularly medical neglect.

“These conditions have resulted in deaths over the last five years and have raised the ire of civil, criminal and faith-based organizations, in addition to correctional labor organizations,” the release said.

In a story last week, the Observer asked why Dawson was still open and reported another medical horror story, added to the many documented by the Dallas news station CBS 11. And in January, we brought you news of the unlikely alliance pressuring the state to close some facilities, particularly Dawson.

Houston Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, has tried to close Dawson for years and now finds himself joined by, among others, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the state’s foremost right-leaning think tank. TPPF issued a scathing report in November, citing the entire state jail system’s failure in its original purpose, which was to provide low-cost lockup for non-violent prisoners and rehabilitative programs that would lower recidivism. Instead, budget cuts stripped the jails of their therapeutic programs. The result is that state jail inmates are now more likely to reoffend after their release than former state prison inmates—who were convicted of more violent offenses. Plus, privatizing prisons has turned out to be more costly than anticipated.

Sen. West, in his press release, mentioned that Dawson is not the only private prison recommended for closure. He may have been referring to the Mineral Wells facility, which Whitmire has also recommended closing. Like Dawson, Mineral Wells is operated by Corrections Corporation of America and has been plagued by scandal. Dawson’s current warden, Michael Phillips, was warden of Mineral Wells from 1998 until he transferred to Dawson last year.

Emily DePrang joined The Texas Observer in 2011 as a staff writer covering criminal justice and public health. Before that, she was nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. Before that, she was a waitress. She's also appeared in The Atlantic, Salon.com, and VICE. She holds an MFA in Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and has won some things, including the Public Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists (2012), the National Health Journalism Fellowship from USC Annenberg (2013), and a nomination for a National Magazine Award in Reporting (2014). She still sometimes thinks about waitressing.

  • Yumnah

    I wish they would close Dawson State Jail and press charges against the Wardens there for over working employee 12 to 14 hours causing staff to sleep on post and not enough staff to cover post. They need medical staff there 24 hours and train officer CPR and train them to practice it for emergency situations. I pray Dawson close and every CCA facility in Texas close!!!