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December 2008

CEC Kinney Detention Center on Lock Down After Riot

Thanks to Matt Tedrow over at New Texas Radical for the heads up on this story about a major disturbance at CEC/CiviGenics' Kinney County Detention Center. Matt sums up the story well,

The Kinney County Detention Center in Bracketville remained in full lockdown yesterday after a Friday night riot, reports the Del Rio News Herald. According to a press release from the Kinney County Sheriff's Office, 30 prisoners refused to return to their cells from an indoor recreation area, and instead set fire to mattresses and clothing.

Note that this isn't the first prison riot in Texas this month. On Dec. 12, prisoners at the Reeves County Detention Center rioted, taking two hostages and setting fire to the building. (Texas Prison Bid'ness has more on the Reeves story here.) The media didn't offer any explanations as to why prisoners rioted in Bracketville, but I'm guessing the rioters at both facilities shared similar concerns. In addition, both are private prisons (GEO Group runs Reeves, and CEC runs Kinney County, according to their website). Is it possible that a for-profit prison cares more about its bottom line than it cares about providing humane living conditions?

It's unclear from the story if the prisoners were local detainees or held on a contract from a federal agency. According to the Del Rio News Herald ("Kinney County Detention Center riot," December 28), a substantial amount of local and state resources were used in attempting to quell the disturbance.

Still, area law enforcement, emergency medical services and firefighters remained at the facility, located on Highway 131 toward Spofford, until well after midnight Saturday morning.

The Val Verde County Rural Volunteer Fire Department was called to the detention center around 10:20 p.m. at the request of the Kinney County Sheriff’s Office. At the time, emergency responders at the scene worried the indoor fires might breach the roof and called on Val Verde County to bring additional engines, equipment and manpower.

Val Verde County fire chief Jerry Rust said he responded with five trucks and about a dozen firefighters. Unsure of the amount of water supply in the area surrounding the Kinney County Detention Center, Rust also ordered the mobilization of the fire department’s 5,000-gallon tanker truck.

While armed Texas Department of Public Safety troopers stood guard at set intervals around the perimeter of the complex, medics tended to the detention center guards who occasionally were overcome by the pepper spray used to subdue the inmates.

We'll keep you posted as we hear more.

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Riot and Mysterious Deaths at GEO's Reeves County Detention Center

Earlier this month a riot broke out at the Reeves County Detention Center. The GEO Group manages the west Texas prison through contracts with Reeves County and the Federal Bureau of Prisons; the facility has a 2,400-bed capacity.

During the riot, two recreational specialists, aged 57 and 60, were taken hostage. The center where the two worked was set on fire, and smoke could be scene from outside of the facility. The staffers were civilians and were not prison guards. The hostages were released at different times, but both were free by midnight the next morning. There has been no reporting to their condition during the incident. Initially, reports stated that there were no hostages although there obviously were:

NewsWest9 first reported there were hostages at the prison, but officials denied that before finally saying the information was true.

According to news reports, the riot may have been sparked by the death of one of the prisoners. The prisoners demanded better health care and food. Some of the prisoners also asked to speak with the Mexican Consulate; many of those incarcerated at the Reeves prison are undocumented immigrants.

The riot ended soon after it started and despite the hostages there were no other reports of violence from the facility. Additional news reports uncovered another death this month from the usual "natural causes." No additional information regarding these deaths or what may have led to them has been released publicly.

As usual with these incidents, GEO is being very secretive about what actually transpired. We will continue to monitor the news reports on the recent disturbances and mysterious deaths. As soon as we learn of anything new will be sure to let y'all know.

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Another Smuggling Arrest Outside CCA's Mineral Wells Facility

For the fourth time this year, police in Mineral Wells have arrested someone allegedly attempting to throw contraband, including cell phones, over the facility's gates and into the recreation area, according to the Mineral Wells Index ("Man charged with chunking contraband," December 19).

A Murchison, Texas, man was taken into custody late Wednesday after he allegedly attempted to throw contraband over the fence at Corrections Corporation of America’s facility in the 700 block of Heintzelman Road.

Mineral Wells police were notified of the incident at 10:24 p.m. According to police reports, two CCA guards witnessed “several people” on the outside of the gate throwing plastic-wrapped bundles of tobacco over the fence. When the guards approached, the individuals reportedly ran though Steven Wade Richards, 35, was apprehended.

He allegedly claimed to be the look-out for the others and was found in possession of a bundle of Bugler tobacco. There was reportedly an assortment of cell phones and tobacco tossed over the fence. Richards was detained for contraband in a correctional facility.

See selected previous coverage of CCA's Mineral Wells facility:

Opponents of Proposed MTC Nacogdoches Prison File Open Records Request

Citizens Opposed to the Prison Siting, the opposition group to a proposed MTC federal prison in Nacogdoches, has filed an open records request to obtain documents relating to county negotiations with prison developers, according to an article KTRE.com, ("Citizens against prison file open records request," December 12).

The grass roots group COPS, is taking their opposition to a proposed federal prison to another level. The East Texas News learned from Nacogdoches County Judge Joe English that the organization has filed an open records request with Nacogdoches County for any and all correspondence concerning the proposed prison, including e-mails. Requests were also sent to the City of Nacogdoches and the economic development group, NEDCO.

Mayor Roger Van Horn said he's not offended by the request and will turn over whatever there is. Judge English said he has nothing to hide and runs a transparent office. COPS chairperson,

Dr Paul Risk told the East Texas News the group has "no preconceived notion to their request other than they want to know what communication has gone on". The group has contended all along the public was "kept in the dark" during the officials' communications with prison developers. COPS believe those discussions began months before the issue was made public. Risk said, "We just don't know what MTC (Management and Training Corporation) has told them, if anything at all. We just want as much information as we can get."

See our previous coverage of the private prison controversy in Nacogdoches:

 

Williamson County to Vote on Hutto Contract Tuesday, December 23rd

Via the T. Don Hutto blog, Williamson County will be voting this coming Tuesday on a contract renewal for the controversial T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas. Since May 2006, Hutto has detained immigrant and asylum-seeking children and their families who are awaiting immigration hearings. The prison, operated by private prison corporation Corrections Corporation of America, has become a lighting rod of controversy and has been condemned by human rights organizations as as inappropriate place for children.

The vote will follow what is shaping up to be a large holiday vigil and toy delivery this Saturday (details here) outside of the prison. The last time the Hutto contract came up for a vote, CCA packed the Commissioner's Court meeting with employees, including uniformed guards, bussed in from the prison. The Court meets on Tuesday, December 23rd, at 9:00 AM at 710 Main St. Georgetown, TX 78626. Contact MaryEllen Kersch (512-863-7174, maryellenkersch at verizon.net) or Jose Orta (512-818-9802, orta_jose at hotmail.com) for more information.

CEC/CiviGenics Guard Charged with Smuggling Cell Phone

A CEC/CiviGenics Guard at Odessa's Ector County Correctional Center has been charged with smuggling cell phones into the west Texas facility, according to an article at OAOA.com ("Odessa guard accused of smuggling," December 9, 2008).

A guard working at the Ector County Correctional Center became the latest person accused in Texas of smuggling cell phones for jail inmates, an assistant U.S. attorney said.

John Klassen, a prosecutor with the Western District of Texas in Midland, said Odessan Andrew Allen Zehr, 23, was given a federal charge of bribery. He's accused of taking $150 to smuggle the cell phone and was also accused of smuggling two or three "baggies" of marijuana at $100 a pop since late October. Zehr was apprehended by DEA agents Tuesday afternoon and was in the process of being booked into the Midland County Jail at press time.

Klassen withheld the name of the prisoner that he said offered the bribes pending a further investigation, but said he was a federal inmate, and therefore the bribery charge Zehr had was also federal.

This arrest came as state prison officials were looking into several cell phone smuggling cases throughout Texas.

See Nick's previous coverage of the Ector County facility, where the suicide of 21 year-old immigrant committed suicide last year while being held on an illegal entry charge.

Hutto Opposition Continues; Vigil Planned for Saturday

CCA's T. Don Hutto family immigrant detention center continues to draw protests and media scrutiny. On December 7th, the WilCo Family Justice Alliance held a vigil protesting Williamson County's involvement in the ICE contract to detain immigrant families awaiting immigration hearings. According to the Austin-American Statesman ("Vigil opposes renewing Hutto center contract," December 8),

More than 100 Central Texans gathered for a vigil outside the Williamson County Courthouse on Sunday night, asking Williamson County commissioners to end a contract with the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.

County commissioners are to vote in January on extending the contract with the center, a former medium-security state prison in Taylor that holds 385 people, including 92 children, who are awaiting immigration hearings.

Retired pastor Milton Jordan said that closing the center is a moral issue for all the county's residents.

"The practice of incarcerating families and children, with little regards to their civil rights, is destructive ... to our community as a whole," Jordan said.

Protesters held signs that said "Prison is no place for children" and "Shut down T. Don Hutto" while singing the civil rights standard "We Shall Overcome."

They also donated toys, clothing and calling cards to detainees that will be delivered Dec. 20, said Sherry Dana, a member of the WilCo Family Justice Alliance, which organized the vigil with several other groups.

I'll be at a vigil this Saturday, December 20th at the prison itself delivering toys to the immigrant families held inside. Details are below. See our friends at the T. Don Hutto blog for ongoing coverage.

Hutto Toy Delivery and Vigil to End Family Detention
Saturday, December 20th, 3-5pm, T. Don Hutto Detention Center (1001 Welch, Taylor, TX)

Please join Texans United for Families, Grassroots Leadership, WilCo Family Justice Alliance, Border Ambassadors, CodePink Austin and other organizations and individuals from across the state in the third annual December vigil to end family detention, Saturday, December 20th, from 3-5pm. Organizers will deliver more than 500 toys to the facility in time for the holiday season. Toys should be made in the US, in their original packaging, and not on a recall-list to be accepted into the facility. A carpool will leave 2604 E. Cesar Chavez in Austin at 2pm for the Hutto detention center. Contact: Bob at (512) 971-0487 or blibal(at)grassrootsleadership.org

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