Prison videotape casts negative light on private jailing
August 21, 1997
Web posted at: 4:02 a.m. EDT (0802 GMT)
From Correspondent Charles Zewe
ANGLETON, TEXAS (CNN) -- Texas prison officials confirmed Wednesday that one of several guards caught on videotape manhandling prisoners has a history of prisoner abuse.
Officials said guard Wilton Wallace, who is shown at one point with his foot on a prisoner's back, is a former Texas prison system major who once pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five months in jail for beating a prisoner with his nightstick.
The disclosure came as a federal civil rights investigation intensified into the alleged abuse of Missouri inmates being housed by a private company at the Brazoria County, Texas, Detention Center.
Corrections experts say the incident raises questions about the ability of private companies running public prisons and jails. The principal question being asked today is whether the guards they hire are qualified and properly trained.
Capital Correctional Resources, the private company that leases the portion of the jail where the Missouri inmates were housed, says it's not responsible for hiring the guards, the Brazoria County Sheriff's office is.
The Sheriff's Office is refusing comment. State prison officials in Texas, however, are outraged.
"This certainly indicates that the corrections officers in Brazoria are not properly trained," says Allan Polunsky, chairman of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "There is no excuse for this type of action. It can only be described as reprehensible and it will not be tolerated."
Little local sympathy
The tape at the heart of the uproar was shot by a sheriff's deputy for training purposes as guards moved in to strip-search inmates after a jailer claimed he smelled marijuana in a bunk room.
The video surfaced in public as part of a lawsuit filed by a convicted burglar who was shown being bitten by a German Shepherd. Since the videotape was disclosed, Missouri has ordered all 415 of its inmates returned.
In Brazoria County, the local newspaper is being both praised and criticized for breaking the story that prompted cancellation of the nearly $2 million county contract to house the Missouri inmates.
"There's talk now that there will have to be a property tax rate increases to offset this loss of revenue," Wanda Cash, managing editor of "The Facts."
At the barber shop in rural Clute, Texas, there's not much sympathy for the inmates.
"It's inhuman, what I saw and I regret that it happened. But they're not in there for singing too loud in the choir," says Barber Jeep Mitchell.
"When you're dealing with vicious people, sometimes you have to get kind of rough," adds fellow Barber Dorman Edison.
But federal investigators say they're alarmed by the tape.
"If you look at that tape at face value, that type of activity is not consistent with behavior that I don't think the law would concur with," says FBI agent Don K. Clark.
The Justice Department will now decide if the videotape shows jailhouse brutality or the necessary use of force in dealing with convicted criminals.