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Williamson County Renews Hutto Contract on 4-1 Vote; Opposition to Family Detention Continues

I was proud to speak along with 22 Williamson County residents and other central Texans at the Williamson County Commissioners Court meeting against the contract renewal for the controversial T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas. On December 23rd, the Commission voted 4-1 to renew, with Commissioner Lisa Birkman voting in opposition.

The Austin Chronicle, covered the vote this way ("T. Don Hutto: Lipstick on a Doberman," January 9),

Before voting to renew a 2006 contract naming the county as administrator of the center (and Correc­tions Corporation of America as operator), officials described the prison as if it were a home away from home where children laugh and play and are provided plenty of gym equipment and 22 computers. "The international language, the smile, hasn't been removed from the children's faces," said Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison. "I talked to a little boy, and he liked it there," said Precinct 2 Commis­sion­er Cynthia Long. Then came a shout from the audience: "How would you like it if your child was in there?"

The court's newfound humanitarianism stood in stark contrast to its purely financial justification for signing the contract in 2005 and its panic in 2007 over possible county liability for an alleged sexual assault by a guard and employment of undocumented workers at the center. The new court perspective did little to appease the gathered protesters, who still remember when the first children were spotted in prison garb by Taylor residents and who have since sponsored vigils, walks, and forums that have fueled an international outrage over T. Don Hutto as a prison for children. Only Precinct 1 Com­mis­sion­er Lisa Birkman broke with her past record, casting the lone dissenting vote Tuesday.

The vote took place just two days before Christmas and three days after more than 100 activists gathered for holiday vigil and toy delivery outside the prison. Organizers have vowed to continue pressure to close Hutto and end family detention both locally and nationally. The Austin-American Statesman ("New Citizens Group Forms in County," January 14) reports that another local group, the Hutto Citizens Group, has formed in part to oppose Williamson County's contract for Hutto.

Nationally, Grassroots Leadership's website and the T. Don Hutto blog have more information on a 100 Events to End Family Detention in the First 100 Days campaign. The first event protest will be held on January 21, the day after inauguration day, calling on the Obama administration to make administrative changes for a more just immigration system. See the flyer at La Nueva Raza.

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