Bowie County's contract with LaSalle Corrections to manage the Bi-State Justice Building jail and Bowie County Correctional Center is up for renewal in February.
The current contract between Bowie County and LaSalle took effect for three years beginning Feb. 14, 2013. The contract provides that upon expiration in February 2016, the contract could be extended three times for one-year periods.
County Judge James Carlow said he is reluctant to discuss the contract or LaSalle because of lawsuits pending against LaSalle and Bowie County stemming from deaths in the Bi-State jail in July 2015 and July 2016. Michael Sabbie was found dead in his one-man cell the morning after a confrontation with correctional officers that included use of pepper spray.
Morgan Angerbauer died of diabetic ketoacidosis in the early hours of July 1, 2016, in the Bi-State jail. Former licensed vocational nurse Brittany Johnson pleaded guilty to misdemeanor negligent homicide in the death. Members of Sabbie's and Angerbauer's families have filed federal civil lawsuits alleging wrongful death and violations of civil rights.
Carlow said Bowie County has not issued a request for proposals seeking bids to manage the Bi-State Jail and Bowie County Correctional Center, commonly referred to as the annex. Under the terms of the existing contract, it appears the option for three one-year extensions will be exhausted next month.
Carlow said he must be careful about what he publicly says about the jail and LaSalle because the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in lawsuits will "take anything I say and use it to their advantage. I don't want to say too much to the county's detriment."
Carlow said news media coverage of the Bi-State jail deaths and the resulting lawsuits have "sensationalized" the fatalities.
He said any new contract negotiated with LaSalle will have to be approved by the Bowie County Commissioner's Court.
"I would expect an agenda item in the next month or two," Carlow said.
When asked if commissioners and the Bowie County Sheriff's Office have discussed returning to in-house management of the jail by the Sheriff's Office, Carlow said there has not been any significant talk of that and said, "we're in a different environment now."
When asked what is different about the environment, Carlow referred to the pending lawsuits.
Bowie County Sheriff James Prince said he hopes the contract with LaSalle will be renewed.
"Of the companies we've used, this has been the best by far," Prince said.
Last month, Bowie County failed an inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and is currently listed as "non-compliant" on the agency's website. Brandon Wood, Executive Director of TCJS, said that once Bowie County submits a request for a new inspection, TCJS will return and the county's status could become compliant.
Among the reasons Bowie County failed the inspection was failing to maintain a ratio of one correctional officer for every 48 inmates, the inspection report states. Texas Commission on Law Enforcement licensure is required for all correctional staff before working with inmates. The inspection found that the warden, James McCormick, and three correctional officers had out-of-date licenses.
Also noted in the inspection was the failure of LaSalle to maintain 24/7 coverage of a post where round-the-clock staffing is required because of the fire panel located there. Also noted as receiving "technical assistance" from the commission were issues concerning training, supervision and sanitation. The sanitation issue stems from a leaky roof and issues with air vents in inmate-populated areas.
A Dec. 11 letter from Prince to the commission states that all of the staff license issues have been addressed and are now current. The letter states that work is ongoing to repair the roof and air vents. The letter states that steps to address the staffing issues include keeping officers at their posts until a replacement arrives at the end and beginning of a shift and maintaining the proper ratio of staff to inmates through overtime and other measures.
Wood said TCJS has not received a request from Bowie County for reinspection but that once received and once a reinspection is performed, the county could be removed from its current spot on the list of non-compliant Texas county jails.