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June 2008

Opposition to SAVE Act, Additional "Hutto-like" Family Detention Centers in Central Texas

Last week, I participated in a press conference against the provision of the SAVE Act which mandates the construction of a new "family detention center" modeled after the notorious T. Don Hutto private detention center in Taylor. Specifically, the SAVE Act authorizes:

(d) Family Detention Facility- To further meet the special needs of detained families, the Department of Homeland Security shall retain or construct a family detention facility, similar to the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility, offering no less than 500 beds.

Over 20 organizations and faith leaders in Austin signed onto a national letter opposing family detention. National signatories to the letter include the National Education Association, First Focus, the Episcopal Church, and the National Council of La Raza. Local signatories included:

Texans United for Families, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, Catholic Charities of Austin, Rev. Jim Rigby of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Pastor Fred Krebs of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, the ACLU of Texas, People Organizing in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER), Political Asylum Project of Austin, Ponce Law Office, Grassroots Leadership, Proyecto Defensa Laboral, La Nueva Raza, LULAC, District 12, Texas Jail Project, Texas Civil Rights Project, American Friends Service Committee of Austin, Code Pink Austin, MADRES, and Marcelo Tafoya, LULAC National Civil Rights Commissioner.

Speakers at the press conference included Jose Orta of LULAC's Taylor chapter, Reverend Jim Rigby of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, and Professor Barbara Hines of the University of Texas Law School's Immigration Clinic. The Immigration Clinic along with the ACLU forced a lawsuit settlement with ICE last year which greatly improved conditions at Hutto. The press conference garnered media hits from Univision, KLBJ Radio, and the Austin American-Statesman.

As we reported last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has issued an pre-solicitation notice for three new smaller family detention centers. ICE appears to be ignoring the wishes of Congress, as stated in the last three appropriations bills, to invest in alternatives programs to family detention.

The SAVE Act's provision for another Hutto-like family detention center would be a departure from Congress's previous position that detention of immigrant children and their families should be the last alternative and not the first.

Harris County Increases Number of Detainees Sent to Louisiana

Harris County Commissioners approved ("Harris County rejects leasing Galveston jail," Houston Chronicle, June 3, 2008) earlier this week measures to send up to 1,000 jail detainees to Louisiana through private contracts with three parishes in the state. Over the last year, the county had already relied on sending 730 prisoners across state lines.

As of Tuesday, about 11,000 inmates were being held in Harris County Jail facilities. The jail is certified to hold 9,400 inmates, but the county has the state's permission to temporarily hold 2,000 more on "variance beds," nonstandard metal frame bunks on the floor.

Sending jail detainees out of state will cost local tax payers $15 million a year. In addition to this recently approved measure, Commissioners also considered leasing a vacant jail in nearby Galveston County.

These latest developments emphasize that county officials continue to focus on expanding capacity to deal with chronic overcrowding measures -- rather than looking at other solutions. We have posted previously the litany of recommendations that have been suggested by Scott Henson with Grits for Breakfast and Marc Levin with the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Voters denied lawmakers the authority to expand the jail during last November's elections. Yet, still officials continue to explore ways to build further jail capacity. According to reports, these discussions will surface again at a meeting later this month and at the budget meeting in September. Voters should watch out for the strong possibilty that jail expansion will once again be on the November ballot.

Related Posts:

  1. Harris County to Move More Jail Detainees to Private Facilities in Louisiana
  2. Harris County Sending More Prisoners to Private Facility in Louisiana
  3. Louisiana Residents Pose Questions About Harris County Jail Transfers
  4. Harris County Making Wrong Decision to Deal with Inmate 'Surge'
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McLennan County Seeking New Private Jail

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported in a story last week ("Solutions aplenty for jail overcrowding dilemma," May 28) that the McLennan County Commission is seeking proposals from private prison operators for a solution to alleviate crowding at the County Jail. McLennan County is home to Waco, and has had overcrowding problems in the past. From the story,

McLennan County commissioners are seeking proposals from private vendors to alleviate overcrowding at the county jail, a situation that earlier this month prompted them to authorize the hiring of 12 new jailers.

The jail on State Highway 6 has been teetering on its maximum capacity for several years and has been operating with variances from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Seeking to appease the state jail commission after it issued a remedial order May 1, the commissioners court Tuesday voted to request proposals to address overcrowding after meeting for an hour with Sheriff Larry Lynch and the county’s attorney, Herb Bristow. The deadline for proposals is July 8.

Herb Bristow, in addition to the being the McLennan County Attorney, has acted as a private consultant for other counties negotiating with private prison corporations, including a failed jail expansion deal in Grayson County.

The article points to a number of options the county is discussing to address its overcrowding issues:

County commissioners have settled on four options for solving jail overcrowding. With the county’s lease with private detention company Community Education Centers to operate a 329-bed downtown jail expiring Oct. 1, one option seeks proposals to operate and manage the McLennan County Detention Center on Columbus Avenue. ...

A second option calls for a private company to finance, design, construct, operate and manage a new 1,000-bed jail to be built on 8.9 acres west of the current 931-bed facility on Highway

A third option combines the first two, with a company operating the downtown jail and building and operating the new 1,000-bed jail on Highway

The fourth option calls for a private company to take over all county detention duties except for booking, releasing and records. That would include operating the downtown and Highway 6 jails and building a new one.

The current debate in McLennan County seems to be over how to expand the county's jail system and not on how to reduce the incarcerated population. Unfortunately, it's a conclusion that greatly benefits private prison corporations. It's often only after a jail expansion that communities realize you can't build your way out of a jail overcrowding problem.

As Nicole has blogged about here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, and Grits for Breakfast has covered here and here, common sense solutions to jail overcrowding exist, and they don't include jail expansion. It's a lesson McLennan County and many others will hopefully learn before its too late.

Top 100 Criminal Justice Blogs

The Criminal Justice Degrees Guide has posted an interesting list of the "Top 100 Criminal Justice Blogs" - a list that includes Texas Prison Bid'ness and our friends at Grits for Breakfast and the Real Cost of Prisons.  A few of the many other interesting blogs on the list:

Prison Blogs: A collection of blogs provided free of cost to prisoners from around the world. Doesn't seem to be updated too often, but still, it's rare to get a glimpse online in to the thoughts the world's prisoners.

Austin Criminal Defense Attorney Blog: An interesting blog on Austin criminal defense attorney Jamie Spencer covering a variety of criminal defense issues in law and culture.

Think Outside the Cage: The timely blog of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, covering a variety of sentencing, alternatives to incarceration, and re-entry issues.  

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