It reads almost like a Hollywood script, a wanted murderer is being transported via ground transport from Michigan back to Texas. In an effort to maximize profits, the private transport company uses a long, inefficient route that allows them to make multiple stops along the way picking up and discharging detainees. Then it happens, the vehicle stops for food and the murderer somehow manages to escape. The suspect is an agile mixed martial arts fighter and incredible at getting free from tight spaces. He makes a run for it, sending panic through a community. Well, that is exactly what happened in north of Houston Sunday morning.
44 year old Cedric Marks somehow managed to escape from a privately owned prisoner transport company in the community of Conroe, north of Houston.
As of post, the wanted murderer had just been recaptured, but how could this happen? It’s actually more sinister than you might think. Private prison companies and private inmate transport services are notoriously famous for being irresponsible and favoring profits over public safety. Counties, states and even the federal government use them to transport prisoners around the country—largely because they are cheaper than sending your own staff to transport them. In America’s capitalist economy, it’s all too common that everyday public safety chores be carried out by private contractors and it seems that by doing so, the public becomes more and more at risk.
Industry insiders claim that these private companies often alter paperwork to appear to be compliant with what few regulations that they have. Private prison and transport companies deny the fact, but both those who work in the system and those who have been it know that the failures are all too common.
“In this case, it’s clear what happened,” says a former GEO Group employee. “They stopped for food, left the prisoners either unattended or lightly guarded and there was an escape.” The former employee goes onto say that he would almost bet that the paperwork would state otherwise.
“I worked in both transport and detention where we lied about everything we did,” he claims. “We’d claim to take food and water with us on long trips. We wouldn’t. We claimed to give detainees federally required recreation times, but we wouldn’t,” he says. But on jail activity logs it’s all there.
Juan Rodriguez was held on an immigration detainer at a privately ran facility in San Antonio. He knows GEO Group all too well. Rodriguez claims that for days he would go without federally required recreation, was never given access to a law library and on numerous occasions those in his housing unit went without even toilet tissue.
“Sometimes they even forget to feed us,”’Rodriguez says. The former employee of GEO validates the claim.
Other companies are just as bad claim other former employees who asked not to be identified.
One former employee worked for two different private companies in Waco, Texas. He started working for a private prison company called Community Education Centers, before they lost their contract at the Jack Harwell detention in Waco to the La Salle Group. She claims that the violations with both La Salle and CEC were even more sinister.
“CEC paid us just above minimum wage, it was an easy job to get and then forced us to sign contracts that we would never disclose what we heard, saw or did there at the facility,” she claims.
“One man was not even sick and was locked in medical segregation for 8 months without any human contact. We never offered rec time because we were always short staffed, he never had books, no TV, no radio, no letters and you felt sorry for the guy,” she says. “On paper, we gave him everything that the U.S. Marshals required. But the reality is that it never happened.”
“One day, we opened his cell door after eight months to conduct a cell search. It smelled horrible,” she says. “We let him out and he cried.”
She tells of how they gave him a haircut, some paper, new uniform and even let him sit outside for as long as he wanted. He sat there crying just looking at the hole in the roof as they watched.
“I remember that,” says a former psychiatrist who worked at Jack Harwell. He was the nicest guy and was there on a non-violent charge she says. “They did more harm to him than good and the root cause was laziness and carelessness.”
Laziness and carelessness seems to be the typical method of operations for these private companies. But in nearly every single piece of documentation that you see, the rules are followed perfectly. How could this be?
Most staff make in the $9-12 dollar an hour range and have no experience. The facilities are usually older jails or facilities that counties see as a profit source if they can lease them out.
Slick sales pitches are usually presented to facility owners such as cities, counties or states. They are clad with inventive ways to get unused jails full again and help mainly counties earn a little extra money. For facility owners and the private prisons, it’s a win-win, but for everybody else, they are a liability.
Jill Jones, a former contracts administrator in the private transport and detention industry explains just that.
“Let’s say the United States Department of Marshals (USDM) lays out an exact protocol to be followed. It says detainees must have access to healthy food, a certain number of calories, daily recreation, access to a law library or something similar,” Jones explains. “You as a company have access to all of that stuff, but employees eat up profits and the fewer staff per detainee means more money for the company. Less staff means less access to contractually obligated objectives while turning more profits for the given company.”
Jones says that in her experience, she personally witnessed human rights violations and safety standards being compromised at nearly every turn.
“Geo is a known offender, so is Texas Prisoner Transport as well is La Salle,” Jones said during an interview. “These buses are nowhere near safety compliant to DOT standards.”
“Oh on paper they are and when the inspection that they know about ahead of time happens they are in compliance but the minute it’s done the game starts again.”
“The transport bus had a broken toilet,” says former detainee Arturo Gonzales. “They gave us a bucket and the threw it away at the little park along the highway and then they never replaced it.” Gonzales claims that he was being transported from a GEO facility in San Antonio to another GEO Group facility in Conroe near where Sunday’s escape took place.
“Piss in the bucket wetback,” Gonzales said that the young male guard told him. “He started making fun of us and said how we should be used to it because it’s how we lived in Mexico. Well, I never lived in Mexico since I was 5.”
“Sadly, it’s not uncommon for these staff members to act that way,” Jones says. “I believe him because I’ve seen it.”
All of the people that we spoke with told chilling tales of missing meals, inappropriate behavior and human rights violations at the hands of private prison and transport companies. Not surprisingly, none of the companies responded to our request for comment for this article.
“They likely won’t respond and if they do, they will deny, deny, deny,” says Jones. “Most of these companies are owned, managed and/or operated by former criminal justice professionals who should know better,” Jones claims.
And as for how the murderer managed to escape on Sunday, we will have to wait for a formal investigation. But as we wait, experts claim that the prisons and transport for profit model will continue to thrive and people will continue to suffer and civil rights violations will keep being broken—all while you and I trust them and our government agencies to keep us safe.
**Due to confidently and non-disclosure agreements certain identifying markers have been removed from sources, though all have been properly vetted. Several asked to not be identified due to security concerns.
***Portions of this article were written prior to Sunday’s escape with intent to publish at a later date.
****Jonathan Tovar contributed from Conroe, Texas.