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Sexual Assault Charges, Contract Changes Hit MTC's "Tent City"

MTC's Tent City
MTC's Tent City
Late last week, the Department of Justice formally charged a former Management and Training Corporation guard at the company's notorious "Tent City" detention center in Willacy County with sexual assault of a detained woman.  Ending years of rumors about sexual assault at the facility, the DOJ issued a press release about the charges:

" The Justice Department today announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Contract Security Officer Edwin Rodriguez, 31, of Raymondville, Texas, with sexual abuse of a female Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainee who was under his supervision at the Willacy Detention Center, a federally contracted detention facility in Raymondville, Texas. 

 Rodriguez is charged in a one-count felony indictment returned by a Brownsville, Texas, grand jury under seal on June 21, 2011, with the felony offense of sexual abuse of a ward.  The indictment was unsealed following Rodriguez’s arrest on June 22, 2011. According to allegations contained in the indictment, Rodriguez engaged sexual intercourse with a female detainee on or about Oct. 26, 2008, while she was being held in official detention pending deportation."

 

As we've reported, the "Tent City" detention center (so-named because of its construction out of a series of Kevlar pods) has been rocked by allegations of sexual assaults, immigrant smuggling, spoiled food, and protests for years. 

 

The accusations may have finally caught up to the facility.  Last month, ICE announced that it would be discontinuing its contract with the detention facility.  However, as ICE left its contract with Willacy, the Bureau of Prisons has stepped in to provide a contract for the facility. 

 

According to the KRGV report ("Change to Willacy County Detention Center Could Boost Coffers," June 21) , county officials believe the contract will be more lucrative for the county (and for MTC, who, according to a company press release (PDF) will make a $532 million over 10 years off the new contract):


"The Willacy County Detention Center is currently contracted to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It's functioning as place where illegals are held before deportation. That will change soon. The future changes come down to revenue.  'We are going to be making more money in the long run,”' says Willacy County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr.

The Willacy County Detention Center is a 3,000 bed facility. Gonzales says the building is making the county just less than $1 million a year right now. He says the money will more than double with a new business deal. In a few months, the Willacy County Detention Center will become a federal prison."

 

However, many questions remain unanswered.  Will the facility continue to have major operational problems?  Will a lawsuit come out of the sexual assault and conditions complaints from the facility?  Will the BOP, which has had notoriously lax oversight of it's privately-contracted facilities, be able to ensure that basic standards are met at this facility? 

 

Perhaps the most important question is who will fill these 3,000 beds?  According to the MTC press release, Tent City will now incarcerate "federal, low-security, adult male, short term sentenced, criminal aliens."  To me, that sounds a lot like folks who have been convicted of "illegal re-entry" under Operation Streamline.  These folks are one of the quickest growing segments of the federal prison population, and were, prior to Streamline, usually processed through the civil immigration system.  So, is this the same group of immigrants filling Tent City under a different contract? 

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