In February, we reported that Limestone County officials had hopes of reopening the shuttered Limestone County Detention Center by potentially contracting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The private prison for immigrants, owned by the county and operated by Management and Training Corporation, has been empty since 2003.
On March 24th, according to a report from the Groesbeck Journal, rather than discussing the reopening of the facility, Limestone County Commissioners were asking why the county should be paying invoices for costs associated with the empty prison rather than the prison operator.
According to the report:
"The county paid three invoices in 2015, totaling $464, but has now received two new invoices, one for $1,250 and another for $40.
“Why should we pay these?” asked Commissioner Pct. 2 W.A. “Sonny” Baker, pointing out that the invoice was addressed not to the county but to a company that ran the prison previously.
Commissioner Pct. 4 Bobby Forrest noted the same thing, that the invoice was marked “Attention: Mike Sutton,” the name of the man who ran the prison for many years through Continuing Education Centers, then later through a company he formed.
The commissioners agreed to delay a decision on paying any more invoices until they are certain it's a final bill.
Two social work students at the University of Houston are calling on the university to drop shares in four large financial corporations that invest heavily in for-profit prison corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Working with End Mass Incarceration Houston, Julia Kramp and Nakia Winfield began a petition that has garnered more than 200 signatures requesting that their university stop “banking on bondage.” Winfield told the Houston Press that private prisons promote increased incarceration at the expense of low-income communities and communities of color.
"Private prisons really prey on and exploit targeted populations: people of color, usually in poor neighborhoods," Winfield said. "They try to pass legislation that increases detentions, that rips apart families, that has people in jail for longer sentences for nonviolent crimes. So it's really insidious on a personal level because of the way it rips apart communities."
The campaign follows in the footsteps of others at Columbia University and the University of California that have successfully led their colleges to divest from private prison stock. The students and an activist from End Mass Incarceration Houston will hold a panel on campus to raise awareness of the issue on April 12, and hope that this will create interest for other actions, such as rallies or sit-ins to support divestment at UoH.
The Department of Homeland Security is going to change the Karnes family detention center from a mother and child lockup to one for fathers and their children, according to an NBC News report.
"Multiple government sources confirmed that the Department of Homeland Security intends to transition immigrant women and children out of the Karnes County Family Residential Center in Texas. The facility would instead detain male heads of household and their young children."
The first indication of this change came when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña told a congressional committee of the plans last month.
The change comes at a time when the Obama Administration’s policy of family detention is in flux. The same NBC News report also noted that the numbers of women and children detained in both Texas family detention centers are low, despite the facilities being built to hold thousands.
Meanwhile, the fight over state-issued child care licenses for family detention continues, with immigrant and child advocates calling for anyone opposed to granting child care licenses to speak up at a public hearing at the Karnes County Correctional Center (KCCC), a separate facility from the family detention lockup that is also operated located in Karnes City and operated by the GEO Group.
Last month the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), approved a proposed rule that would allow the licensing of family detention centers as a child care facilities to move forward. But the outcry against the decision has only increased.
The move is widely understood to allow the facilities remain open after Judge Dolly Gee’s 2015 ruling said the federal government could not hold children in secure, unlicensed facilities. Immigration and child welfare advocates oppose the licensing of the facilities and say the state is lowering child care standards.
The Austin Chronicle reported on some of the reactions to the news:
“Child-care facilities exist to take care of children," wrote Virginia Raymond, an Austin-based immigration attorney who vocally opposes the move. The state of Texas, which requires most child-care centers to be licensed, also mandates through DFPS the specific minimal standards those centers must meet. Because family detention centers cannot meet those standards, these critical requirements are waived for the sole purpose of licensing these centers, so they can legally remain open.”
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission which houses the Department of Family and Protective Services responded with “ the licensure would protect the health and safety of children, as they found "an imminent peril to the public's health, safety, or welfare." However, the decision to license family detention centers is in fact the state's preferred approach to comply with a court order of last summer.” “The adopted rule (Rule 40) to license family detention centers, which became effective March 1, exempts the two facilities in Dilley and Karnes City from three of the minimum residential standards: 1) the limitation of four occupants to a room; 2) the limitation on a child sharing a bedroom with an adult; and 3) the limitations on children of different genders sharing rooms.”
Cristina Parker of Grassroots Leadership argues that “"Licensing family detention centers will not improve the conditions for children and women; DFPS is not seeking to make detention centers into child-care facilities,”. She and other advocates argue that these facilities will not any safer but that standards have been lowered for the facilities to remain open citing the facilities conditions as proof that they are not suitable for housing children.
“Six days a week, I walk into this facility [Dilley] and I meet with over 150 mothers who with them are their children who all are sick. They are crying. They have fevers. ... They are bloated. They have diarrhea. ... That is what we see every single day. And it is a sign of both the inadequacy of the child care that is provided and also the inhuman standards in which these children are put," testified Ian Philabaum, the underground project coordinator for the CARA pro bono project at Dilley.
The Karnes and Dilley detention centers will now have to apply for their licenses in the counties where they are located, Karnes and Frio Counties, respectively. We'll post updates when those hearing dates are announced.