Monday, May 4, 1998

Ross group loses
Newton jail contract

A total of 435 prisoners from
Hawaii are locked up in the Texas
facility, near the Louisiana border

By Gregg K. Kakesako


The Bobby Ross Group has lost the contract to operate the Newton County jail, which houses 435 inmates from Hawaii.

The contract, which will expire next year, has been turned over to Correctional Services Corp. headquartered in Sarasota, Fla.

State Public Safety Director Keith Kaneshiro said there are no plans to move Hawaii's inmate population from Newton.

Hawaii's contract is with Newton County and "the county is obligated to uphold the contract," Kaneshiro said

"As far as I know," Kaneshiro said. "they (Correctional Services) are competent."

However, Kaneshiro said he didn't know how prison operations under Correctional Services would differ from operations under the Bobby Ross Group, which runs seven correctional facilities in Texas and Georgia.

Since Dec. 28, 1995, more than half of Newton County Correctional Center's 872 beds have been filled with inmates from Hawaii.

Another 200 inmates also are housed in facilities managed by BRG at Crystal City County Correctional Center in southwest Texas and Dickens Community Correctional Center in southeast Texas.

Crystal City is a women's facility holding more than 60 inmates from the islands.

Correctional Services is also interested in managing those facilities, according to a company spokesman.

The biggest problems between Hawaii inmates and BRG have been at the Newton County jail, near the Texas-Louisiana border.

The Texas Jail Standards Commission, which regulates the operations of privately run prisons, stepped into the picture in February after several prison riots, fires and complaints from the Newton community.

It gave BRG until the end of April to implement changes.

With more inmates than bed space in Hawaii's prisons and the threat of lawsuits that could result in freeing inmates, state corrections officials began in 1995 to move inmates to mainland prisons.

So far, 600 have been taken to Texas facilities, all run by BRG.

Another 600 inmates will be relocated to other states by the end of the year.

But the overcrowding problem has persisted while the debate raged over a prison site for a 2,300-bed medium security prison in the Big Island's Kau district. More than 4,200 inmates are jammed into eight island prisons meant to house 2,900 inmates.

At Newton on Feb. 14, 1996, Hawaii inmate Larry Pagan escaped, taking Wilma Parnell, 50, as a hostage.

He was recaptured four days later and later sentenced to life in a federal prison.

Another Hawaii inmate, Matthew Dale Treu, and an Oklahoma inmate stole a truck belonging to a Newton County prison worker on Aug. 30, 1997.Both were recaptured a few hours later.

Fights broke out at Newton in December and 11 Hawaii inmates were charged with inciting a riot.

In February after another riot, three Hawaii inmates were charged with kidnapping and assaulting a corrections officer.

On Feb. 24, the Texas Jail Standards Commission sent BRG a letter of non-compliance citing problems in emergency procedures, prisoner classification and prison sanitation at Newton.

In response, BRG fired Newton Warden Charles Hardy.

Two months ago Oklahoma pulled out its 134 inmates, leaving Hawaii inmates as the only occupants at Newton.

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