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Nashville Scene Exposes CCA, ICE on Hutto

The Nashville Scene, Corrections Corporation of America's hometown alternative weekly, has published a blistering expose ("Locked and Loaded," June 19th) on the company, with particular attention paid to CCA's T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas. The story draws heavily on court documents from the lawsuit against the facility, including this heart-breaking testimony:

After she arrived in Taylor, Elsa and her family shared a tiny living area, where they’d be loudly awoken at 5:45 a.m. Elsa, Richard and Angelina then had 20 minutes to eat breakfast. When they didn’t finish on time, guards would just snatch their food and throw it in the trash. “When this happens, the children cry and cry,” Elsa later explained in an affidavit that chronicled her plight.

The detention center was very cold, so much so that the guards walked around wearing gloves. But they’d yell at Elsa if she asked for a blanket. One time they came into her cell and confiscated two of her sweaters.

“They don’t care that we are cold,” she said. “They don’t care if we eat or if we don’t eat.”

Elsa and her children wore prison uniforms and spent hours in their pod, often with no toys or books for the kids. One day, Elsa and her family were in the doctor’s office, where all the kids were playing with crayons. Angelina drew a picture, but a guard grabbed the girl’s artwork. She cried a lot at Hutto, wondering what her family had done wrong.

“Mommy, where is God that he doesn’t want to help us? Mommy, tell God to come and take us out of here and take us to our house,” Elsa recalled her daughter saying. “Mommy, why do they have us as prisoners if we have never killed anybody?”

Unfortunately, such stories of horrid conditions at Hutto were almost common-place before the settlement between the ACLU and UT Immigration Law Clinic and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Amongst the more interesting elements of the article are the revelation that internal ICE memos were highly critical of conditions at Hutto. According to the story,

Just about everyone else who walked through the gates at Hutto, including federal authorities, saw it as a deeply troubling facility. In March 2007, ICE inspectors visited Hutto and, in their own distinct bureaucratic language, corroborated the anguished accounts of the detainees. The inspectors noted that their “overall review of the facility can be accurately rated as deficient” and determined that the staff wasn’t following basic standards of detention.

“The Review Team’s observation of CCA’s overall attitude is of disinterest and complacency in their work performance,” the agency noted in its report.

A month later, an interoffice memo from ICE said that at Hutto, CCA is “losing staff as quick as they can hire them.” That’s because the company was only paying its detention officers around $10 an hour, nearly $4 less than what they could make at the county jail.

“As long as CCA continues to hire employees at this rate per hour, they will continue to experience the problems they are currently experiencing on the floor,” read the memo. “The current problems CCA is experiencing are a direct result of what ‘they are paying their employees for.’ Unfortunately, it is at ICE’s expense.”

We'll keep you posted on further developments on Hutto. For more information, see our previous coverage or check out tdonhutto.blogspot.com.

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