As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year. Our third biggest story of 2013 was the growing campaign to close the privately-operated Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, Texas.
About 90 miles northeast of Houston is what many advocates call one of the worst immigration detention centers in the U.S. The Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, Texas is notorious for its substandard conditions, poor quality food and discriminatation against immigrant detainees. The facility is operated by private prison corporation Community Education Centers.
In fact, the Polk Detention Center has been attracting the attention of human rights activists in Texas for some time. In November of 2012, Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families released a report on the conditions at Polk and recommended it's immediate closure.
That set the stage for 2013, when the campaign to close Polk ramped up with several actions targeting the facility. One such action came in April when 37 national and Texas-based organizations sent a letter to then-DHS Sec. Janet Napolitano calling for the immediate closure of Polk. The letter read in part:
"ICE should prioritize release of immigrants into alternatives to detention and community support programs that are far more humane, less costly, and are effective at ensuring immigrants are able to appear at their hearings. As a first step toward ending inhumane detention, we call for the closure of the IAH Polk County Secure Adult Detention Center."
And on Father's Day (June 15), a caravan of protestors traveled from Austin and Houston to Polk to hold a vigil for the fathers detained at Polk. The event drew extensive media coverage and even the attention of Representative Lloyd Doggett, who said in a statement:
"I commend you for your efforts in highlighting the mistreatment in some detention centers and support you in your campaign to expose the truth and bring justice to this situation."
Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families also returned to Polk in 2013 to interview detained immigrants about conditions. Unfortunately, they found that nothing had improved since their previous visit in July 2012, and in fact, some things were much worse.
This prompted the release of a second report on Polk, called "The Top Ten Reasons the Polk County Detention Center Still needs to be Closed." The report cites 10 serious human and civil rights abuses reported by multiple detained immigrants and renews the demand from Texas advocates to close the facility.
The on-going campaign to close Polk was intensified in 2013, setting the stage for advocates and communities to apply more pressure in 2014.