D.C. Prisoners Too Much for DMS

Some states export peaches, some ship troublesome wastes across state lines, but the District of Columbia has been more ambitious. In 1989, it signed a contract with Diversified Municipal Services. DMS then offered the cash- and job-poor Texas town of Pecos an opportunity to profit from traffic in overflow prisoners from the nation's capital. DMS's first project, the Zavala County Detention Center in Pecos, opened in 1989 with beds for 226 prisoners. The operators counted on low wage-scales and design innovations to turn a profit. They didn't count on D.C. prisoners for whom the local guards were no match. The jail soon be came unmanageable. Eyewitnesses and legal documents reported vats of home brew fermenting in the showers, roving gangs of base ball bat-wielding inmates, and eight escapes during the year the D.C. contract was in effect. D.C. authorities, citing jail conditions as well as distance and cultural insensitivity, declined to renew and transferred their surplus prisoners elsewhere. Now, the jail is empty, the county's $4.5 million construction bonds are in default, and DMS has moved on to greener pastures. But DMS's other prison projects, too, are browning around the edges--two are on shaky financial ground, and a third houses no prisoners.
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