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June 2010

DeportationNation.org tracks stories from detention centers

Our

friends Renée Feltz and Stokely Baksh, creaters of the Business of Detention website, are back with a new project - Deportation Nation - aimed at critically reporting on Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Secure Communities program.  Secure Communities utilizes an extensive database to track anyone booked into many local jails around the country for their immigration status, and has been criticized by immigrant rights and civil liberties organizations for streamling immigrants, even those only charged with minor offenses, into detention and deportation proceedings. Amongst the really interesting features at Deportation Nation is an ambitious effort to collected detained people's voices through a hotline system.  We'll keep you posted on Deportation Nation's progress, but for now, check out the terrific new site.

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GEO loses TDCJ contract to MTC

The GEO Group has lost a TDCJ contract to operate the Bridgeport Correctional Center in Bridgeport, Texas near Fort Worth, according to reporting by Mandy Bourgeois in the Wise County Messenger (Geo Group loses bid for prison, June 27),

A new management company will take over the Bridgeport Correctional Center beginning Aug. 31. The 520-bed facility has been managed by GEO Group Inc., since the center opened in August 1989. GEO was reawarded a three-year contract from Sept. 1, 2005, and also had two, one-year renewals.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice conducted a competitive bid process, and Management & Training Corp. won the seven-year bid. "There's a technical review of the bid and a financial review of the bid," said Jason Clark, public information officer for the TDCJ. Clark said that the reviews are done separately by different committees. "They score those reviews and compile the scores and a recommendation is made to the TDCJ."

Notably, this represents a trend in TDCJ contracts going toward MTC and away from other contractors.  MTC took over three contracted facilities in 2008 from other private prison corporations - two from CCA and one - the Sanders Estes Correctional Center - from GEO. 

It should also be noted that this is at least the fifth GEO facility to be closed or put under new management in the past several years.  In addition to losing the Bridgeport contract and the 2008 re-contracting of the Estes unit to MTC, the state of Idaho pulled its inmates from the Dickens County Correctional Center in the spring of 2007 in the wake of the suicide of inmate Scot Noble Payne and a subsequent investigation into "squalid" conditions at the lock-up and cut its contract the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas after the 2008 suicide of Randy McCullough. In October 2007, the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center was shuttered by the Texas Youth Commission after a damning investigation into conditions at the youth detention center.

CEC faces two lawsuits at Odessa lock-up

The Odessa American ("Civigenics faces multiple suits" June 18) reported last week two separate lawsuits against Community Education Centers jail in Odessa, Texas.  In the first,

A Midland man who claims he was beaten into submission while jailed in the Odessa Detention Center has not given up a years-long effort to be compensated for what he said was the use of excessive force after he ran out of his cell.

Larry Wesley Brown, a federal prisoner serving more than four years on a conviction of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, sought $8 million in damages from Civigenics — a private company also known as Community Education Centers — that operates the detention center — for injuries he said occurred while he was awaiting trial in July 2007. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice in March, but this month, Brown appealed the district court’s decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The second lawsuit involves a prisoner who claims that CEC negligence caused his loss of eyesight,

Colby E. Miller of Odessa claims in a federal lawsuit that Civigenics guards negligently allowed a fellow inmate to obtain a broom.

Miller’s attorney, Robert Swafford of Austin, said in the lawsuit that the inmate struck Miller in the eye with the broomstick, causing him to permanently lose his sight. Greeder declined to comment on the Miller case, citing the pending litigation. No trial date has been set in the Miller case.

We'll keep you posted on this and other lawsuits involving CEC and other private prison corporations in Texas.

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Upcoming changes to immigration detention centers leaked through email

Some of Texas' immigration detention facilities can expect some changes to give them a feel that is less prison-like, offering them internet, television, bingo games, and other amenities all for cheaper than it would cost to detain them. In an email leaked by the Houston Chronicle, a total of nine Corrections Corporation of America facilities nationwide will undergo these changes.

Of those nine, a few were mentioned in Texas, including the Laredo Processing Center, T. Don Hutto Residential Center, and the Houston Processing Center. All three of these facilities are contracted with ICE to detain low-risk immigrants who are not charged with a crime. This being the case, ICE is not focusing on punishment, rather focusing on the most humane way to hold these people while they await trial or deportation. ICE spokesperson Beth Gibson said, "When people come to our custody, we're detaining them to effect their removal. It's about deportation. It's not about punishing people for a crime they committed." 

The Houston Chronicle outlines some of the ways in which the facilities will change:

At the CCA facilities that have agreed to ICE's changes, detainees will see more variety in their dining hall menus and have self-serve beverage and fresh vegetable bars.

CCA also plans to offer movie nights, bingo, arts and crafts, dance and cooking classes, tutoring and computer training, the e-mail states.

Detainees also will be allowed four hours or more of recreation "in a natural setting, allowing for robust aerobic exercise."

CCA also committed to improving the look of the facilities, such as requiring plants, fresh paint and new bedding in lower-risk units.

...Gibson said CCA is making the improvements at no additional cost to ICE. The agency's contract with CCA for the Houston detention center requires that ICE pay $99 per bed daily for each detainee, slightly lower than the $102 average daily rate ICE pays nationally. (Susan Carroll, "ICE to make detention centers more humane," Houston Chronicle, 8 June, 2010)

This is good news for Texas, especially for the T. Don Hutto Residential Center given its rocky past and recent sexual assault case. Whether or not ICE and CCA follow through with the proposed plans and whether they have an impact remain to be seen. As soon as we find out the timeline and plan of action we will relay the information here.

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Another Death at LCS Corrections' Coastal Bend Detention Center

Earlier this month, a 27-year old man who was detained at the Coastal Bend Detention Center died from a brain tumor after going to the doctor for high blood pressure (Melissa Schroeder, KrisTV, "LCS Detention Center Inmate Dies at 27," June 2nd, 2010):

A Taft man who was detained at the LCS Detention Center in Robstown died this past Saturday.  Warden Mike Striedel said 27-year-old Leo Guajardo died from a brain tumor.

Striedel said Guajardo had been at the detention center since January for taking the weapon of a U.S. Marshal. Striedel says Guajardo saw a doctor Friday afternoon for high blood pressure, he was immediately put on medication, but a couple hours later he claimed to feel dizzy.

The Warden says he was taken to the hospital and doctors found a massive brain tumor. His condition worsened and eventually he was put on life support.

Striedel says the family decided to take him off life support Saturday night and he was pronounced dead.

The Texas Rangers will investigate the incident to make sure everyone at the detention center did what they could to help Guajardo.  The man's family is not ready to make a statement yet, as they are preparing for Guajardo's funeral. 

Earlier this year, the Coastal Bend Detention Center was found to have not known that the facility was supposed to report deaths of inmates while in custody. If the family or LCS have any more comments we will share them here.

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Massive lawsuit filed against GEO, alleges bribery, neglect, and coverup

In

New Braunfels, Daniel McCullough has filed a $595 million lawsuit against the GEO Group (the total worth of company) following the 2008 death of his father Randall McCullough, who allegedly committed suicide while in custody at the Bill Clayton Detention Center. McCullough senior, an Idaho native, was in solitary confinement for over a year for a fight that was never criminally prosecuted. About a month later, the state of Idaho dropped their contract with GEO and stopped sending their inmates to the facility.

Now, two years later, Daniel McCullough seeks retribution for the illegal treatment of his father and perhaps question whether his death was a suicide or not, given the alleged record-keeping practices of some of the employees at the Bill Clayton Detention Center (Madison Venza, Courthouse News Service, "Corruption and Death Alleged at Private Jail," June 17, 2010):

In his complaint in Comal County Court, Daniel McCullough says his father "was found dead after supposedly being monitored by GEO and its personnel."

The complaint states: "McCullough's death was caused by specific breaches of duty by the Defendants... who engaged in grossly inhumane treatment, abuse, neglect, illegal conditions of confinement, and subsequent coverup of wrongdoings." McCullough claims that "GEO and its personnel were found to have fabricated evidence, including practicing 'pencil whipping,' a policy and practice of GEO to destroy and fabricate log books and other relevant evidence." 

He claims that GEO and its officers "personally engage in efforts to illegally influence public officials in Austin, Texas and in the Texas counties where the GEO prisons are located, including Laredo, Webb County, Texas. Their goal is to conceal, deflect, hide or exculpate themselves and their company from all forms of personal civil or criminal liability, censure, detriment, or punishment in order to procure and continue their lucrative contracts at the expense of the inmates' and their families' suffering. They and their company, GEO, engage in a pattern and practice of abuse, neglect, public corruption, and cover up."

McCullough claims that GEO and its officers "have a history of illegally neglecting, manipulating, and abusing inmates, and then covering up their wrongful and illegal conduct." 

He claims these abuses include "making illegal payments to governmental entities in exchange for contracts and permits; ... destruction of evidence and lying to state investigators; and misrepresentations to state and governmental entities regarding conditions inside their facilities." 

While the plaintiff may not receive $595 million in this case, as GEO likely try to settle the case for significantly less money, I do think that given the history of GEO in Texas the case will be ruled in favor of McCullough. However it turns out, we will report the findings of the court here.

CorPlan brings private detention center scheme to Italy, Texas

Argyle, Texas-based private prison development firm CorPlan has brought its much-rejected private detention center proposal to Italy, Texas - a small community just south of Waxahachi and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, according to the Italy Neotribune ("Italy City Council hears proposal for commercial development," May 18),

"James Parkey along with associates Kent Bratcher and Gary McKibben of James Parkey Associates presented their proposal of a detention center for illegal immigrants for all nationalities to be built in Italy. They would like to put it on fifty acres. He stated the building would look like a school. There would be no guard houses, no guard dogs, but would be a gorilla proof facility with a fence. The facility would only be used as a processing center and would be designed to current building codes.

Parkey explained it would be a five hundred bed facility and would provide approximately one hundred and fifty jobs. The hired employees would be put through training and at the end of their training they would be a licensed correction officer."

Parkey and his associates have traveled across the southwest pitching supposed "family immigrant detention centers."  Last month, a CorPlan proposal met blistering criticism in Globe, Arizona ("Revisiting Globe's prison proposal: Companies behind project have a questionable past," Arizona Silver Belt, June 9th)   including in an attempt to persuade the city of Weslaco to finance such a facility with the help of State Representative Eddie Lucio, III.  According to Forrest Wilder's coverage at the Texas Observer ("For the Lucios, Private Prison Consulting is a Family Affair," April 23), 

"In recent years, Corplan has been at the center of numerous controversies, including a bizarre prison-building scheme in Hardin, Montana that involved a private military force called American Police Force run by an ex-con. The prison cost the small town $27 million but never housed any prisoners.

In one of his latest gambits, Parkey has approached city officials in several towns across the U.S. – Benson, Arizona; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Weslaco, Texas – with a proposal to build a new detention center for immigrant families.  Parkey’s reputation, however, has caught up with him in Las Cruces and Benson, where officials have nixed the deal."

One of the many problems with this supposed family detention center was that ICE is no longer soliciting family detention centers from contractors.  Even so, a prison developer could be paid up front if a community were to build such a facility on speculation of a contract, regardless of the success of the project.  Thus far, we have seen no media coverage outside the NeoTribune of Italy proposal, but we'll continue to monitor the situation and let you know the developments.

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Reactions to Hutto sexual abuse scandal

Several civil and immigrant rights organizations have issued condemnations of the reported sexual abuse of female detainees at Corrections Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.  The ACLU of Texas issued a statement that included the following:

“The continued occurrence of sexual assault in immigration detention facilities demonstrates the need for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to move more aggressively in implementing reforms like improving detention standards, strengthening federal oversight of private providers like GEO and CCA, or better yet, eliminating the use of contract providers altogether,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas.

In recent years guards have been accused of assaults of women at a number of immigrant detention facilities in Texas. Also at Hutto, another CCA guard was fired in May 2007 after he was discovered having sex with a detainee in her cell. In 2008, a guard employed by another private prison provider, GEO, at the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall reportedly impregnated at least one detainee. Most recently, in April 2010, a guard at the Port Isabel Detention Facility in Los Fresnos, Texas was sentenced to three years in prison for sexually assaulting female detainees being kept in medical isolation.

The National Immigrant Justice Center of the Heartland Alliance also issued a statement that included this passage:

“How many more lives are ICE and President Obama willing to put at risk before taking meaningful steps to end human rights abuses in the immigration detention system?” responded Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center. “Women – we do not even know how many – have now suffered the trauma of sexual assault because of the failure of ICE leadership to respect the human dignity of those in its custody and implement meaningful reform.”

And Grassroots Leadership, my organization, issued a statement (PDF) today that included this,

“These reports show the vulnerability of detained immigrants, especially women, in ICE’s vast and largely private immigrant detention system,” said Donna Red Wing, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership.  “ICE should immediately re-evaluate its contracts with all private prison corporations, and speed the pace of reforms to its system.  We are gravely concerned about the reality of women incarcerated for-profit and the impact of these closed corporate facilities on the lives, health and well being of women detainees.”

ICE’s release of information about the reported abuse before a holiday weekend also drew criticism.  “ICE has touted its move towards transparency and accountability,” Libal said. “Releasing this report on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend and just hours after meeting with senior administration officials and key detention advocates at the White House is anything but transparent and accountable.”

We'll keep you posted on what is sure to be an ongoing story in the fallout of this scandal.