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ACLU Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) Report: Willacy County Correctional Center

The Willacy County Detention Facility in Raymondville, Texas is the third criminal alien requirement (CAR) facility covered in the ACLU's recent report about abuses inside such facilities. The prison in Willacy County is operated by the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) as per the company's contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). This facility is also known at "Tent City" because detained people actually live in tents. 

The ACLU found that the detained men lived in in extremely tight and unclean quarters which, along with the lack of educational or occupational activities, presents an environment that is not safe for incarcerated people or prison staff. Tensions can, and often do, arise quickly between the detained men, who are bored. Prisoners report that there are 200 beds packed into each Kevlar tent, with only three feet between each bed. There are only five toilets, which are exposed with no walls or curtains, and only eight televisions. Prisoners also reported that spiders and insects come in through holes in the tents and bite them. Uniforms are allegedly washed without detergent and are washed with mops and other cleaning supplies. The men attempt to keep their areas clean with the two ounces of solution allocated to each tent. One prisoner recounted, "They treat us like animals." 

The stench from the five exposed toilets, which reportedly overflow and leave a putrid smell in the tents, provoked prisoners to strike in July 2013 when staff initially refused to repair them. The toilets were fixed later that day, but strike organizers were taken to solitary as punishment. 

The report also alleges that solitary confinement is overused at Willacy. Prisoners report that, of the 3,000 men detained at  there, 300 are held in the SHU at all times. Extreme isolation causes some men mental distress, which can manifest itself in screaming and kicking doors, suicide and self-harm. Showers in the SHU are only available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Recreation, which is available for an hour each day, takes place in an enclosure with fencing on all sides and on top. New arrivals, as well as men who claimed that they had not done anything to merit being placed in the SHU, were sent there due to the lack of room in the tents. Such small requests as asking for new shoes and food could result in a prisoner being sent to the SHU. 

Willacy staff also deny prisoners medical care. Zavier, 52, who was formerly incercerated at the Eden CAR prison, has been denied medical care for an infected vericose vein on his ankle, which has led to discoloration and swelling. He has also been denied dentures at Willacy after having his teeth removed because of an infection at Eden. Preventative dental care is not provided at Willacy in order to cut costs. The only method of treatment for infection or cavities is extraction. Zavier recounts that a guard once yelled, "Don't forget that you're a prisoner here! And that the medicines you get here are given to you for free!" Others who report medical problems are often given Tylenol and sent away. Santiago, 45, who was diagnosed with Hepatitis C while at Eden, had not yet received treatment at the time of his interview with the ACLU. He had waited two years. 

Texas Prison Bidness writers have covered Tent City in the past. Check out our coverage of protests, the facility's transition from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility to one mangaged by the BOP, and guard misconduct at the facility.