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Sen. West Cites Baby's Death In Voting To Close Dawson State Jail

Shelley Kofler

State Senator Royce West, a Dallas Democrat, says he expects the full legislature to adopt a measure that will close the Dawson State Jail in Dallas where the deaths of a baby and some inmates have raised alarm.

  The Senate Finance Committee voted this week not to renew the contract with the jail’s private operator, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and to close the Dawson State Jail at the end of August.  Dawson holds about 2,200 non-violent men and women offenders.

Sen. West says a drop in the state’s prison population lessens the need for privately run jails.  But he says the biggest motivation for closing Dawson are persistent reports that inmates have become ill and in some cases died because they lacked proper medical treatment.

West says the most heart-wrenching case involved a four-day old baby last year.

“I don’t think the general public knows that a four-day old baby born to an incarcerated mother died there in a toilet with no medical personnel present,” he said. 

In a written statement Wednesday, Corrections Corporation of America spokesman Steve Owen said:

“TDJC (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) contracts with the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) to provide the healthcare services at Dawson State Jail. Although we are not the healthcare service provider at the facility, we take our role in the process of providing inmates access to care very seriously.”  

Sen. West says he’s angered that the jail operator seems to be blaming UT Medical Branch for the deaths of the baby and several female inmates.

"To have a baby die with no medical personnel present then turn around and say its not my fault… that’s not a good answer when in fact under your contract you are supposed to coordinate medical care for the people who are in your custody,” said West.

Corrections Corporation of America said it's disappointed with the committee vote not to renew the two-year, $43 million contract to operate the Dawson State Jail.

The measure must still be approved by the legislature, but West doesn’t think that will be a problem.   

The Senate Finance Committee also voted to end the contract Corrections Corporation of America has to operate the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and to close that jail in August as well.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.