Activists Call For Closure of Dawson State Jail

Activists held a vigil outside Dawson State Jail last night, demanding its closure. Photo: Jacie Scott
Activists held a vigil outside Dawson State Jail last night, demanding its closure. Photo: Jacie Scott

On a windy Thursday, on the eve of International Women’s Day, a small group of activists from across the state gathered outside of Dawson State Jail. One woman waved a sign that read “CCA Profits in Human Misery & Suffering.” Passing cars honked in approval. A bullhorn was passed for activists to voice their message to the community and those in the facility.

“They’re not providing adequate care,” said Michelle Smith, civil rights fellow at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “It violates everyone’s civil rights and it’s unconstitutional.”

Dawson is a low-security facility in downtown Dallas for individuals convicted of non-violent crimes, such as drug possession, drunk driving or writing bad checks. Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit private prison company based in Tennessee, operates the jail. Tuesday’s vigil was held in honor of the women who have died at the prison, and served as a call to close the jail. For good.

Dawson has garnered a reputation for being a hellhole (for lack of a better word) largely due to its persistent reports of prisoner mistreatment and poor management.

According to a year-long investigation by CBS 11, there have been three deaths inside the jail that can be attributed to lack of medical care and attention.

• In 2008, a woman died of pneumonia just weeks before her release date. Family of the woman believes she could still be alive today had she received antibiotics sooner.
• In May of 2010, a diabetic woman arrived at Dawson. According to her family, the woman did not receive her insulin injections as needed and was denied proper medical attention. She died in July of the same year.
• Last August, another woman died from complications due to pneumonia. Records show that the woman suffered from diarrhea and difficulty breathing for three days before she was given any medical attention.

Then there was the birth of a premature baby in a toilet in the prison without medically trained personnel on hand. The baby lived four days.

Several groups have lobbied against renewing Texas’ contract with CCA for years, citing a decrease in crime rates and thousands of jail beds going unused in Texas. According to KERA, the Texas Senate Finance Committee voted this week not to renew the contract, but the measure still has to be approved by the legislature.

The contract with CCA expires at the end of August.