Monday, May 25, 2009

Does Hall County Know Something That Stewart County Does Not?

Recently I was asked how the story I posted last week on Hall County could apply to Stewart County. In order to understand that you have to look at many different factors. Will also look at some other factors that could influence emergency situations at the Stewart Detention Center that are not addressed by the Hall County specific article.

First off you have to look at the actual correctional officers CCA employees at SDC. CCA Detention Officers at SDC are not certified by the State of Georgia or the Federal Government. In my opinion there is a huge divide in corrections between certified and non-certified detention/corrections officers. I like to think of state or federally certified corrections officers as being professionals who have received better training and usually been screened better prior to employment. Certified correctional officers are professionals whose training and standards are close to those of police officers and other law enforcement professionals. The non-certified ones to me are more like mall cops who just took a brief course to enter into a new "profession" in private corrections. While individual state certification results vary, in most cases certified officers are given more authority and power in conducting actual correctional duties. Sometimes this can be reflected in arrest powers or in legal/financial coverage in cases of serious incidents.

If an escape was to happen at SDC then would CCA staff members be able to actually go out and legally "capture" the escapee? Keep in mind that the detainees at SDC are not being held as criminals. They are instead "civilly" committed. That however does not mean that some detainees did not come to SDC immediately after completing long prison sentences for prior crimes. I imagine that the vast majority of the detainees at SDC are of very good morale standing, However just like in the free world a certain percentage of them could be "bad apples" at any time.

It might seem odd that I would even wonder whether CCA employees could actually legally detain a captured escapee. But please keep in mind that it was not against the law for private detention staff members to have sexual relations with detainees until after CCA staff at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center forced a very quick law through because of a CCA employed Detention Officers own sexual activity with a female detainee.

If an escape happened then how many staff members are available to actually search for an escapee? Even if SDC could somehow immediately come up with 5-10 staff members to go hunt for an escapee it would most likely be at least an hour before they could get more CCA staff members to arrive and be organized into a search. It seems to me like the vast majority of CCA officers live outside of Stewart County. If they were needed then time could be easily wasted while they were contacted, travelled to the facility and then received instructions. In the case of a hostage or riot this wasted time could be even more crucial. Sure ICE staff might be found at the facility but how well do they know the area around Stewart County? In my opinion CCA has shortchanged the safety of Stewart County by not hiring a greater percentages of locals who might be more familiar with the area.

Stewart County and the rural towns located in it have very small city police agencies and a very small sheriff's office. The small numbers of individuals employed by these organizations could also be a significant factor. That statement is not meant as a slight to those organizations. It is just a natural consequence of CCA placing such a large facility in such a small rural area. Sure officers from other counties and towns might be made available but they would also have significant travel times and delays in arriving.

I wonder if CCA has actually conducted any significant escape drills with local law enforcement? I personally can't think of ever hearing of any. How ready is SDC/CCA to actually deal with these types of situations? Has anyone in Stewart County actually seen any CCA staff conducting any escape drills in the areas around the facility? It might even be a good idea for Stewart County to conduct a no notice escape drill with CCA and observe the possible results for themselves. From what I understand it is Stewart County that has a contract with CCA and not the other way around.

What Hall County seems to be saying is that if CCA wishes to run a prison then they can run it without response or help from any Hall County law enforcement. Some people might consider this childish behavior. But others might say they are just being prudent and protecting the citizens of Hall County from possibly catastrophic financial repercussions. By citing legal liability they seem to be very upfront about saying that Hall County does not wish to become financially liable for CCA's problems or mistakes. This is an issue that Stewart County might wish to examine very closely before an incident happens and it becomes financially tied into potential CCA/Stewart County liability. By acting as the middle man in an ICE/CCA contract they could very well be opening the door to future financial hardships for all of the taxpayers of Stewart County.