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June 2011

Sexual Assault Charges, Contract Changes Hit MTC's "Tent City"

MTC's Tent City
MTC's Tent City
Late last week, the Department of Justice formally charged a former Management and Training Corporation guard at the company's notorious "Tent City" detention center in Willacy County with sexual assault of a detained woman.  Ending years of rumors about sexual assault at the facility, the DOJ issued a press release about the charges:

" The Justice Department today announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Contract Security Officer Edwin Rodriguez, 31, of Raymondville, Texas, with sexual abuse of a female Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainee who was under his supervision at the Willacy Detention Center, a federally contracted detention facility in Raymondville, Texas. 

 Rodriguez is charged in a one-count felony indictment returned by a Brownsville, Texas, grand jury under seal on June 21, 2011, with the felony offense of sexual abuse of a ward.  The indictment was unsealed following Rodriguez’s arrest on June 22, 2011. According to allegations contained in the indictment, Rodriguez engaged sexual intercourse with a female detainee on or about Oct. 26, 2008, while she was being held in official detention pending deportation."


As we've reported, the "Tent City" detention center (so-named because of its construction out of a series of Kevlar pods) has been rocked by allegations of sexual assaults, immigrant smuggling, spoiled food, and protests for years. 


The accusations may have finally caught up to the facility.  Last month, ICE announced that it would be discontinuing its contract with the detention facility.  However, as ICE left its contract with Willacy, the Bureau of Prisons has stepped in to provide a contract for the facility. 


According to the KRGV report ("Change to Willacy County Detention Center Could Boost Coffers," June 21) , county officials believe the contract will be more lucrative for the county (and for MTC, who, according to a company press release (PDF) will make a $532 million over 10 years off the new contract):

"The Willacy County Detention Center is currently contracted to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It's functioning as place where illegals are held before deportation. That will change soon. The future changes come down to revenue.  'We are going to be making more money in the long run,”' says Willacy County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr.

The Willacy County Detention Center is a 3,000 bed facility. Gonzales says the building is making the county just less than $1 million a year right now. He says the money will more than double with a new business deal. In a few months, the Willacy County Detention Center will become a federal prison."


However, many questions remain unanswered.  Will the facility continue to have major operational problems?  Will a lawsuit come out of the sexual assault and conditions complaints from the facility?  Will the BOP, which has had notoriously lax oversight of it's privately-contracted facilities, be able to ensure that basic standards are met at this facility? 


Perhaps the most important question is who will fill these 3,000 beds?  According to the MTC press release, Tent City will now incarcerate "federal, low-security, adult male, short term sentenced, criminal aliens."  To me, that sounds a lot like folks who have been convicted of "illegal re-entry" under Operation Streamline.  These folks are one of the quickest growing segments of the federal prison population, and were, prior to Streamline, usually processed through the civil immigration system.  So, is this the same group of immigrants filling Tent City under a different contract? 

JPI Report on Private Prison Companies Using Politics

The Justice Policy Institue released a report earlier this week entitled Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies that highlights the politics for profit prison compannies use to maximize their bottom line. 

The report features our Bob Libal who is quoted as saying,

“In the South and Southwest, the private prison industry has consistently targeted poor communities,” said Bob Libal the Texas Campaigns Coordinator for Grassroots Leadership. “We believe that it’s important to fight, particularly in these communities, to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention, and ultimately build lasting movements for social justice. This important report helps shed light onto this particularly troubling industry.”

You can download the report here.


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Immigrants for Sale: The Private Prison Industry & Immigration

Immigrants for Sale is a new website that is dedicated to exposing the links between the private prison industry and anti-immigrant laws.  They launched a few months ago with this video, which is well worth a watch.


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Former BOP director hired by Corrections Corporation of America

Hat tip t

Harley Lappin
Harley Lappin
o the Private Corrections Working Group who first alerted me to this story.  In a story reminiscent to that of Stacia Hylton - the former US Marshals contracting officer turned GEO Group lobbyist turned US Marshals director - immediate past Bureau of Prisons (BOP) director Harley Lappin has been hired by Corrections Corporation of America as an executive vice president and "chief corrections officer."   

Lappin retired just last month from the BOP after it was revealed that he had been arrested for drunken and reckless driving.  PCWG sums up the problem with the private prison revolving door in their press release:

"Former BOP director Lappin’s decision to join CCA represents a continuing trend under the Obama administration of former senior federal employees taking jobs in an industry closely related to their government service. By hiring high-level former federal officials, companies can capitalize on their insider knowledge of government operations, contract requirements and other information that gives them an advantage when dealing with federal agencies.

This is particularly problematic in terms of prison operations, when companies such as CCA lobby heavily (spending approximately $1 million on the federal level alone) to influence legislation and obtain lucrative contracts to house federal prisoners in for-profit prisons."

In fact, recent data released by the Detention Watch Network found that CCA has spent more than $18 million over the last 10 years lobbying the federal government alone, including directly lobbying the Bureau of Prisons. 

And, that lobbying pays off.  Here in Texas, CCA operates the 1,500 bed Eden Correctional Center for the BOP, and the company has won major contracts from the BOP in recent years.  With a current round of BOP contracts being decided at the BOP, it will be interesting to see how much influence Mr. Lappin's recent employment gives CCA in Washington.

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Trouble private prison featured in NPR story put on auction block

Littlefield's troubled Bill Clayton Detention Center in west Texas, featured last month in an NPR expose about the problems with speculative private prison building, is now, literally, on the auction block

According to a press release this morning on Business Wire ("Williams & Williams to Auction Medium Security Detention Center in Littlefield, TX On July 28th," June 7)

A unique opportunity to acquire a turn-key medium security detention center will be offered when Williams & Williams Marketing Services, Inc. auctions the Littlefield, TX-based Bill Clayton Detention Center on July 28th at 11 am CDT. Offered in cooperation with Coldwell Banker Commercial Rick Canup Realtors, the property will sell to the highest bidder above the opening bid of $5,000,000. Interested buyers can bid on site or live from anywhere via

However, buyers may be wary of such a purchase. Littlefield has been paying back loans it floated to build the prison facility before its closure in 2008. That year, the state of Idaho pulled its prisoners from the facility, then operated by GEO Group, after the suicide of Randall McCullough, who, according to news reports, had spent more than a year in solitary confinement. GEO was later hit with a massive lawsuit over in the McCullough case.

Since the facility's closure, Littlefield has had its bond ratings dropped and turned to two different private prison companies in an effort to fill the prison beds.  One has to wonder why, given this history, a different owner would be more successful in turning this "turn-key detention center" into a financial success.

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GEO guards picket at South Texas Detention Center

The GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall was hit with protests by guards at the facility last week.  According to KSAT's coverage ("Pearsall Prison Guards Stage Picket," May 26), about 25 prison guards picketed the facility:

Many of [the protestors] are members of Local 304, a labor union which represents some prison guards and police officers.

"This is not a strike. It's a picket," said Officer Tim Stone, a spokesman for the group. "We have not had a (significant) raise in six years and we feel we deserve one."

Stone, however, did say his employer has given workers a 50 cent per hour cost of living increase on occasion.  In the latest contract being negotiated, Stone said, there is no wage increase at all.

Similar labor tensions have occurred in the past, with GEO narrowly averting a strike two years ago at the same facility. 

It should be noted that the Pearsall facility is one of the few private detention or corrections facilities with a strong union presence.  Wages in private faciltiies tend to be substantially lower than in comparable public facilities, and guard turnover rates tend to be correspondingly higher.

See our previous coverage of the South Texas Detention Facility: