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Texas Civil Rights Project Files Suit Against Private Corporation Running Dawson State Jail

Bobby Blanchard for KUT News

The Texas Civil Rights Projectand Prison Legal News have filed a lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America, claiming the company is withholding evidence of mismanagement and mistreatment of prison inmates.

The lawsuit claims that Corrections Corporation of America covered up the deaths of seven inmates at the Dawson State Jail in Dallas. Earlier this year, the death of an infant at the prison made headlines statewide. Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, said the lawsuit will shine light on the private prison industry.

“This is an industry that thrives when no one is paying attention," Libal said.  "This is an industry that uses campaign contributions and its lobbying influence to win contracts and to maintain contracts even when there is ample evidence that these contracts should be ended. And I think there is probably no better example than what is happening here in Texas right now.”

Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Brian McGiverin said the jail is designed as a short-term correction facility for minor crimes including property crimes and writing a bad check. McGiverin said despite their crimes, these prison inmates still have rights.

"The constitution does not end at the prison walls, that’s been true for decades," McGiverin said. "They absolutely have rights. And when they were sent to prison, they certainly weren’t sent there with a death sentence.”

In an emailed statement, Corrections Corporation of America spokesperson Steven Owen said medical services are provided by University of Texas Medical Branch, not the jail itself.

"We will review the complaint and determine the appropriate course of action," Owen said in the email.

But Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Brian McGiverin said the jail is still responsible.

“The choice to bring doctors to any particular inmate, bring them to a scene where there might be an emergency or to take an inmate to a doctor, those are the choices of the guard employed by the private corporation running the Dawson State Jail," McGiverin said.

The state legislature is currently considering closing Dawson State Jail. Corrections Corporation of America has, meanwhile, asked for a bailout from the state legislature for both the Dawson State Jail and the Mineral Wells Facility.

The Tennessee-based private prison company is celebrating its 30th anniversary. 

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