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August 2012

Groups working to Fight Private Prison Expansion and Immigrant Detention Host Webinar

This week, Bob and I participated in a webinar hosted by Detention Watch Network and our respective organizations, The Sentencing Project and Grassroots Leadership. The webinar addressed the relationship between for-profit prisons and immigrant detention.  

Cody Mason, with The Sentencing Project, presented on the recent report, Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention, where he discussed the growth in ICE and USMS contract capacity for immigrant detention.  Bob discussed how Operation Streamline is driving growth in immigrant detention through the increased prosecutions of certain federal offenses that have moved immigration policy into the criminal justice system.  Also, Emily Tucker with the Detention Watch Network focused her remarks on the problems with mandatory detention and the unjust federal and state policies that have expanding the government’s authority to detain people.  The call also featured Hope Mustakim of Texas; her husband Nazry immigrated from Singapore several years ago and due to changes in immigration policy was detained in the South Texas Detention Center in 2011.

A few notable facts reported during the webinar are:

  • State and federal prisoners held in private prisons grew 37% between 2002 and 2010;
  • Detainees held in private prisons increased by 259% between 2002 and 2010;
  • Operation Streamline has contributed to immigrant detainees held by USMS increased by 121% 
  • after 2005, despite Border Patrol Apprehensions decreasing by nearly 250%;
  • Operation Streamline has also led to a 136% increase in U.S.C. 1325 (improper entry) prosecutions and 85%; increase in prosecutions for U.S.C. 1326 (reentry of removed Aliens) prosecutions in both the W. Texas and S. Texas Districts;
  • 60% of people in detention are there under mandatory detention laws; and 
  • Obama administration's immigration enforcement policy targets individuals with criminal convictions.

Nearly 200 people registered for the webinar, representing communities of faith, impacted communities, and organizers working towards immigration and criminal justice reform.  Folks can download the webinar here until August 29th. 

GEO Group faces opposition in bid for state hospital

GEO protestor in Del Rio
GEO protestor in Del Rio
GEO Group is facing increasing opposition to its proposal to take over a state hospital in Texas.  We reported last week that the Austin American Statesman's Andrea Ball had reported on fines being leveled against GEO Group's Montgomery County psych facility and plans to privatize a state mental hospital moving through an RFP process.

Now, a coalition of mental health advocacy, civil rights, and criminal justice reform groups (including my organization Grassroots Leadership) has sent a letter to state officials opposing the take-over by GEO's subsidiary, GEO Care.  Written in the letter:   

"We are concerned that the requirement to cut 10% from the hospital’s budget through privatization can only be achieved by reducing the quality of care at a hospital run on an already austere budget.  Texas already spends the least per capita on mental health than any other state, at slightly less than 1/3 the national average. 

Furthermore, we are particularly concerned that the only respondent to the request for proposal was GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison corporation GEO Group. GEO Group has a long history of mismanaging the facilities it is charged with operating."

The signatories site recent events in Texas and several other states: 

"The list of scandals to which GEO can lay claim is a long one.  In the past five months alone, the company has made local and national headlines over multiple scandals perpetrated at several different facilities it operates.  In April, GEO contracts at three facilities ended in Mississippi, including a youth facility that a federal judge described as having “allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate.”  Last week, the Associated Press reported three gruesome deaths, including a patient who died in a scalding bathtub, at GEO’s South Florida State Hospital.  And in our own state, the Austin American Statesman reported that GEO has been fined by DSHS for problems at the GEO-run forensic psychiatric facility in Montgomery County, including “unauthorized restraint and seclusion of patients, incomplete medical records, failure to show patient consent for medications and failure to report serious injuries to the state.”

GEO also has a long history of operational problems at its facilities in Texas.  In 2009, prisoners at GEO-operated Reeves County Detention Center rioted over issues at the facility including poor quality of health care and multiple prisoner deaths.  In 2007, the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center was shut down due to the unsafe and unsanitary conditions under GEO operation."