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April 2008

New Film "The Visitor" Tackles Immigrant Detention Issue

I was able to see the new film The Visitor at a pre-screening in Austin a few weeks ago, and highly recommend it. It follows a college professor who befriends an immigrant couple only to find his friend detained at private prison, which seems modeled after the GEO Group's Queens, NY detention center, after being caught up in a minor incident with the police. It's a pretty realistic look at the detention system. Take a look at the trailer:

 

The film is screening in selected theatres across the country, including several Texas locations. Check in out. See this site for locations and showtimes.

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Business of Detention: Great New Site on Private Detention Industry

A great new interactive site has been developed by Renee Feltz and Stokely Baksh, students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, called The Business of Detention. Check out the trailer:

 

The site features interviews with yours truly and Texas Prison Bid'ness found Judy Greene. We'll feature more clips from the Business of Detention in the coming days, but please check out the website for more information on the rise of the private detention industry in Texas.

 

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Is Sending Fort Bend County Prisoners to Dickens County Jail a Good Idea?

A great letter last week in the Fort Bend Star ("Sending Prisoners to Another Facility Disturbing," April 16, 2008) about the Ford Bend County Commission's decision to send county prisoners over 500 miles away to the Dickens County Correctional Center. According to the letter, authored by local resident Sue Ann Lorig (and referencing Texas Prison Bidness),

Although some of the Fort Bend County Commissioners find the location a joking matter, long-distance separation is not humorous to the families of inmates. When inmates are hundreds of miles away, few families can visit. Children especially suffer.

Children of incarcerated parents are at higher risk of incarceration themselves, and they exhibit many problems that accompany parental separation, especially (when) they can't even visit. For the inmates, family connections can mean the difference between future success and recidivism. Studies have shown that continued contact with family can reduce prisoner recidivism.

Certainly long-distance separation of prisoners from their families can have devastating impacts. Just last spring at the Dickens County Correctional Center, Idaho inmate Scot Noble Payne committed suicide after enduring what the AP later called "squalid" conditions. The Idaho Department of Corrections health director later called the facility the worst prison he'd ever seen and "beyond repair."

Hutto Still No Family Prison "Model"

Yesterday, there were a flurry of news stories about Tuesday's ICE-sponsored press tour at the T. Don Hutto family detention center. Nicole reported yesterday the favorable coverage that media outlets seemed to be providing Hutto in the wake of the tour.

Today, the media is far more critical of Hutto and the press tour. First, Lisa Falkenberg in the Houston Chronicle ("Imprisoned families: On the real tour," April 24, 2008) pens a terrific commentary taking on ICE's contention that the "family-friendly" additions to the facility would have happened without public scrutiny:

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ICE Makes Changes to Hutto, Lays Groundwork for Expansion of Family Detention

Recent media reports at the T. Don Hutto detention center, a prison owned by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), highlight changes to the private prison.  The notorious Hutto facility has been the target of numerous protests and a lawsuit as a result of its use to incarcerate immigrant families; some detainees as young as  newborns.  Press reports state that government officials are using a media blitz to lay the groundwork for additional family detention facilities that will be added to federal prison capacity over the next year.

According to an article in the San Antonio Express-News, reporter Hernán Rozemberg states:

Mired in controversy since its opening in May 2006, the 512-bed center has been through several makeovers. Administrators opened it for a swift media tour Tuesday to show how much has changed since the first tour 14 months ago.

Last year, the use of family detention at the private prison was resulted in litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas Law School.  The lawsuit settlement required CCA, which contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Williamson County, to meet comply with several standards that change the conditions of confinement at the prison.

ICE officials, like Gary Mead, stated in an Austin American-Statesman article written by Juan Castillo, that they learned a lot as they moved to lock up children and their parents:

GEO Group Presents to Lehman Brothers Investors

Last month, the GEO Group presented information at the Lehman Brothers 2008 High Yield Loan and Syndicated Loan Conference. On the call, George Zoley, the company’s Chairman and CEO, discussed why GEO is a good investment for Lehman Brothers stockholders. The call makes clear that private prison profiteers continue to exploit the poor sentencing policies in the United States and across the world that result in the over use of incarceration as a social policy.

It was truly remarkable and disturbing how Zoley talked about the nation’s significantly large prison population in terms of profit and revenue. His presentation mentioned nothing regarding the human factor of prison expansion and how GEO’s large market share contributes to overuse of a failed social policy and the disintegration of communities.

Zoley mentioned that GEO has a total global bed capacity of 59,000 beds. That makes GEO the 7th largest prison in the U.S. directly after the state of New York; according to GEO, Texas is number three after only California and the Federal system. That number includes beds in operation and those under construction in 61 U.S. facilities and 6 international facilities in Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

According to Zoley, GEO has 7,400 beds under development in Texas alone for completion over the next few months. Those beds include:

Opposition of CCA Executive to Federal Judgeship

A significant amount of opposition has been registered against Gustavus A. Puryear IV, general counsel since 2001 for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA is the nation's largest for-profit private prison company. As many of you know, several of the private prisons in Texas are operated by CCA. We recently posted information on CCA's latest investor phone call.

Puryear was nominated by President Bush in June of 2007 for a federal judgeship for U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Tennessee (the same jurisdiction where CCA's corporate headquarters is located).

An effort in Tennesse has developed that has worked hard to oppose the Puryear nomination. Tennesseans Against Puryear opposes the nomination for several reasons including:

  • Because as CCA's general counsel, Puryear, would hold a judgeship in the same district where CCA's corporate office is located, where numerous lawsuits against CCA are filed;
  • He has little trial experience in federal court; during his time at CCA he has worked to conceal damaging information about the company and has belittled prisoner litigation; and
  • As the top lawyer for the nation's largest private prison company is particularly ill suited to serve as a federal judge.

We find it encouraging that community groups are working the process to hold the President accountable for his nominations. Puryear's appointment could significantly impact the ability of the judicary to oversee private prison corporations and the various government agencies that contract with them. As the nomination process continues we will keep y'all posted.

Hutto Resolutions Pass County Conventions

I've been slow to post this news, but we've heard that resolutions opposing the use of family detention at the CCA's T. Don Hutto detention center passed Democratic Conventions in Travis County (Senate District 14, and possibly 25 as well), Williamson County, and Brewster County back on March 29th. If you know of other counties (Bexar and Harris, perhaps?) where the resolution passed, please let me know.

The next step for the Hutto resolution is the Texas Democratic Convention June 5-7 in Austin where the state Democratic Party has the opportunity to adopt an alternatives to family detention line into its platform. We'll keep you updated on what happens in June.

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Raymondville MTC Guard Accused of Stealing from Detainees

Weslaco's News Channel 5 ("Detention Center Investigating Allegations Against Guard," April 9) is reporting that a guard at MTC's Ramondville detention center, also known as Tent City because it is constructed out of windowless kevlar pods, is accused of stealing property from an immigrant detainee. According to the story,

NEWSCHANNEL 5 learned a guard is accused of stealing property and money from a detainee. We spoke to J.C. Conner, the company's regional vice president on the phone. He confirms the investigation. He adds, "By policy, we carefully maintain every detainee's property. If any of it is missing, it is promptly replaced in its entirety."

... This is the second time within a year employees at the facility are being investigated. Last year, four guards were arrested after they allegedly used a company van to cross illegals past the Sarita checkpoint.

We'll keep you posted on developments from Raymondville. Check out our previous coverage of MTC's Raymondville detention center:

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Eight Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors Sue Cornell Over Physical Abuse

Eight unaccompanied minors formerly held under the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement have sued Houston-based Cornell Companies alleging physical abuse and other violations of their constitutional rights. According to the KRIS TV ("Detention Facility for Immigrant Kids Sued") article,

Eight immigrant teenagers held at a facility for unaccompanied minors filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming they were abused and denied access to attorneys.

The teens from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Cuba were being held at the San Antonio facility run by Houston-based Cornell Companies Inc. under a contract with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Undocumented minors caught by authorities in the United States fall under the care of ORR while their immigration cases are decided.

But Susan Watson, an attorney for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, said the teens were beaten and subjected to other excessive force in violation of their constitutional rights.

At least one teen was knocked unconscious, but complaints to facility administrators were ignored, according to the lawsuit.

As the article rightly states that this isn't the first problem at a Cornell facility.

Arkansas fired Cornell from the operation of a juvenile facility in November 2006 after finding employees inappropriately injected youth with anti-psychotic medication to control behavior.

And in September, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials removed 600 detainees from an Albuquerque, N.M., facility run by Cornell, citing failure to maintain safety, health and well-being standards there.

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