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December 2014

Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #1 - CCA’s Devious Deal in Dilley reaches all the way to Arizona and the University of Texas

The Texas Observer broke the news in September that Corrections Corporation of America was getting back into the business of family detention in the remote South Texas town of Dilley. 

The deal was for a facility that now sits on a 50-acre site just outside the town of Dilley, 70 miles southwest of San Antonio. The property is part of Sendero Ranch, a “workforce housing community,” more commonly called a “man camp,” for oilfield workers. Sendero Ranch is owned by Koontz McCombs, a commercial real estate firm.

The involvement of Red McCombs, a well-known University of Texas alumnus and booster, did not sit well with students at UT. At a protest at the eponymous McCombs School of Business, they demanded that McCombs either break the lease or students and faculty would push to have his name dropped from the school. 

That wasn't the only thing about the deal that had people calling foul. The unusual contract involves a lease agreement between real estate group Koontz McCombs, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), CCA, and the town of Eloy, AZ, which is nearly 1,000 miles away.

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Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #2 - Karnes County votes to expand GEO’s troubled family detention camp

Almost as soon as it opened in August, the Karnes Family Detention Center was the subject of controversy.

First, immigrant rights advocates rallied around Sara and her 7-year-old daughter Nayely when word got out that the GEO Group was denying the girl medical treatment for a life-treatening brain cancer and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was refusing to release them. Calls demanding their released flooded the facility for two days.  Once reporters started calling, officials at the facility finally released Sara and Nayely. 

Nayely went on to get treatment at Dell Children's Hospital in Austin before she and her mother moved to be with family in the U.S. 

Then in October, news broke again of problems at the facility. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), along with Immigration Rights and Civil Rights Clinics at the University of Texas Law School, Human Rights First, and the Law Office of Javier N. Maldonado, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE demanding the immediate investigation of and swift response to widespread allegations of sexual abuse and harassment at the detention center in Karnes City.

Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #3 - Empty Bill Clayton facility drives Littlefield to desperation

The city of Littlefield tried a number of times to fill the empty private prison that has been draining revenue from the tiny West Texas town of Littlefield for years.  

The first opportunity came when news broke this summer of Central American children showing up at the U.S. border seeking asylum. Officials in the City of Littlefield asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to send some of the families and children to their empty private prison, hoping it would be the end of a years-long debacle that started when the for-profit private prison came to town.

Littlefield City Manager Mike Arismendez told KCBD in Lubbock that a contract with ICE could mean having the facility up and running soon to detain the women and children seeking refuge at the border. 

“It would actually be a revenue stream to be able to offset the debt we have on the facility,” Arismendez said.

The idea to house refugee families at Bill Clayton gained bipartisan agreement in Littlefield, with the support of both U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, and Neal Marchbanks, who was his Democratic opponent in the November general election.

It sounds bad to put [children] in a prison, but that’s about all we can do," Marchbanks said. 

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Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #4 - Bizarre hazing exposed at the Bartlett State Jail

A bizarre hazing ritual at the Bartlett State Jail in central Texas that led to the sexual assult of one inmate and was the subject of a lawsuit against the Corrections Corportation of America is our #4 top story of the year. 

As we reported in September:

Bartlett State Jail is a prison facility for low-level inmates serving short-term sentences. The tradition of hazing inmates who are near to their release date involves forcibly removing their pants, turning them upside down and slamming them against the glass of the guard station. It is impossible for guards to ignore the behavior, as they are literally faced with the exposed backside of the inmate who is being hazed. Bartlett’s Warden Eduardo Carmona and other CCA executives were previously aware of the tradition and yet had never attempted to prevent it from happening.

According to the court documents, the hazing incident that resulted in the sexual assault was a three hour ordeal in which every single inmate in a 55-person block was subjected to the hazing practice while the single officer on duty — who was not only in charge of the victim’s block but three other 55-person blocks — did nothing to intervene.

Typically, in correctional facilities that follow best practices, there should be two officers on duty at all times so that one can intervene while the other calls for backup. 

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Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #5 - Rape and other problems plague the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco

The Jack Harwell Detention Center first made headlines this summer over complaints from attorneys over conditions for immigrants being detained at the facility for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In a letter to ICE, attorneys said the Jack Harwell Detention Center is not an appropriate place to house immigrants in detention and that ICE officials have not done enough to fix serious problems at the facility. They detailed how the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found multiple non-compliance issues at the facility in 2012. “There were strong incentives for the county and the private facility management company to seek contracts with ICE whether or not the facility was appropriate for immigration detention,” the letter said.

This led to protests by Texans United for Families at the facility this summer. They delivered “know your rights” materials to the warden, demanded that the facility be closed and blamed the immigrant detention quota for the problems inside. 

Then in December, a woman who was previously detained at the Jack Harwell Detention Center filed a lawsuit alleging that she was sexually assaulted "on a number of occasions" while incarcerated there from November 2012 to March 2013.

CCA's Dilley family detention center opens amid criticism

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was in South Texas this week to open what is slated to become the nation's largest immigrant detention center in Dilley. 

Sitting on a former "man camp" for oil field workers, it will become the site of a new family detention camp for women and children who have recently come to the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the first 480 women and children are expected to arrive this week in Dilley and temporary housing under construction nearby could hold an additional 2,400. They will be held in portable buildings that can hold up to 8 women and children each.

The privately contracted facility sits on 51 acres and will have 2,400 beds at a cost of $260 million per year to taxpayers.

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Karnes County Commission approves expansion of GEO's family detention facility


The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.
Karnes County Commissioners voted earlier this month to allow the GEO Group to more than double the capacity of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) family detention center for immigrant women and children from 532 to 1,200 beds and cribs. The expansion was approved by a vote of 3-2. 

KSAT San Antonio reports that the county will get $125,000 annually, and more jobs at the center. According to the GEO Group, the county will also see $500,000 in additional tax revenue.

Controversy over Karnes Commissioners Court approval of GEO expansion

On Decemb

Karnes Commissioners Court
Karnes Commissioners Court
er 1st, the Monday after Thanksgiving, the Karnes County Commissioners Court convened for a rapidly summoned special session on the expansion of the GEO-run family detention center, now called the "Karnes County Residential Center." Though the privately operated prison company has already made record profits in the few months since it was granted a contract to detain immigrant families, they are now asking to more than double the facility's capacity from 600 beds to 1300.

Immigrant advocates and attorneys testified about the humanitarian costs of child detention and the sexual assault allegations filed by women in the detention center that are still being invistigated. Other community members were concerned that GEO is attempting to bully Karnes County into approving the expansion, despite forcing the county to shoulder the burden of investigating sexual assault cases and transporting victims. Some also expressed that many jobs were given to people outside the community and the income the county receives from the prison didn't justify the costs. GEO officials claimed that the county is contractually obligated to approve the expansion.

GEO sued for not responding to allegations of ongoing rape of an inmate

A woman who was incarcerated in a GEO Group operated facility in Eagle Pass is suing the company for undisclosed damages for not responding to her allegations of repeated rape by a guard. The woman, who was awaiting trial, was assigned to work in the kitchen where 27-year-old guard Luis Armando Valladarez raped her several times in a storage closet.Maverick County Detention Center

"The suit alleges that the guard told her not to resist or tell anyone or he’d kick her off kitchen detail, revoke her visitation privileges, remove funds from her commissary account, revoke her phone privileges or throw her in 'the hole.'" It also states that she went to another guard for help, and he disregarded her claim and never reported it to anyone. The GEO Group explicitly states that they have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assaults, but the woman's pleas for help weren't taken seriously until other inmates discovered what was happening to her.

CEC faces lawsuit over sexual assault allegation at Jack Harwell

Jack Harwell Detention Center
Jack Harwell Detention Center
A woman who was previously detained inside Jack Harwell Detention Center in McLennan County recently filed a lawsuit alleging the she was sexually assaulted "on a number of occasions" while incarcerated there from November 2012 to March 2013, as reported by the Waco Tribune.

 

Until June 2013, Jack Harwell was run by private prison corporation Community Education Centers (CEC), now facing a lawsuit alleging gross negligence that led to the conditions that permitted the assaults to take place.

 

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