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March 2015

Willacy County Local Gov't bonds downgraded to junk, county and city left to plug gaping budget holes

Last month, February 25th, an uprising over negligence, poor sanitation, and lack of medical care occurred at the “Tent City” criminal alien requirement (CAR) prison in Willacy County. Following the uprising, Management and Training Corporation (MTC) lost its contract with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and fired the nearly 400 employees that worked there. All of the 2,400 prisoners were transferred to other facilities around the country.

Although MTC is investigating the uprising, there are no immediate plans to reopen the facility. The damage, loss of the BOP contract, and the layoffs are piling up on top of the county's $63 million debt from the building of the facility.

All this has caused the Willacy County Local Government Corp. bonds to be downgraded to junk status by the S&P. The already struggling county will be left to fill the gaps in its budget, and will not be able to afford some of its planned expenditures — including a new hurricane shelter.

The model of MTC and other private prison companies is to find small, struggling towns and counties like Willacy and Raymondsville and promise them economic recovery. The aftermath of the Willacy uprising is one more example of how they do not deliver on their promises, and if anything goes wrong, the companies bail — leaving the vulnerable community to fend for itself.

Immigrant mothers begin Holy Week hunger strike in Karnes City family detention lock up

Hunger Strike Announcement Letter
Hunger Strike Announcement Letter

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Yesterday, reports emerged that nearly 80 immigrant women at Karnes family detention center near San Antonio signed a letter announcing that beginning this morning they would participate in a Holy Week fast, during which they would not eat, send their children to school, or use any facility services until they received an answer to their demands.

 

According to their letter, the purpose of the strike is to demand their release and protest the conditions in which their children are being held. 

 

The original hand-written letter is pictured above, and a translated version reads as follows:

 

“In the name of the mothers, residents of the Center for Detentions in Karnes City, we are writing this petition whereby we ask to be set free with our children. There are mothers here who have been locked in this place for as long as 10 months.

 

We also have mothers, that because they have had a previous deportation, are not granted a bond.  They are granting a bond to their children, but they are not allowing an out to the mothers. This is the motive that we have taken the initiative of uniting ourselves and initiating a Hunger Strike, so that you can see and feel our desperation.

 

We have come to this country, with our children, seeking refugee status and we are being treated like delinquents. We are not delinquents nor do we pose any threat to this country.

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During this Hunger Strike, no mother will work in the center of detention or send our children to school.  We will not use any of the services provided by this place until we have been heard and our freedom has been approved.

 

All of the mothers demand that you give us a solution. Included amongst us are mothers whom this is the first time they have been in this country.

 

Asylum Officials have conducted Credible Fear Interviews and determined them to be Positive. Even after having a result of positive, we are still detained because we are not able to pay the elevated bond and in some cases we are not given the opportunity to pay the bond.   

 

You should know that this is only the beginning and we will not  stop until we achieve our objectives.  This strike will continue until every one of us is freed.

The conditions, in which our children find themselves, are not good. Our children are not eating well and every day they are losing weight.  Their health is deteriorating.

 

We know that any mother would do what we are doing for their children.  

We deserve to be treated with some dignity and that our rights, to the immigration process, be respected.There are some mothers that lost their appeal for Asylum and were forced to sign deportation papers. We believe that this is unjust because they have come to this country asking for Asylum because they are in danger in their country. And now they are being deported back to the place where they could even lose their life.

 This petition is signed by all the mothers, of this center, in detention.”

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Immigrant denounces alleged rape at Joe Corley Detention Center

Douglas Menjivar, an immigrant just released from the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston after 22 months in detention, says he was raped in September and October 2013 while detained at the Joe Corley detention center. Joe Corley is an immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas run by the private prison corporation GEO Group.

Menjivar says he reported the rape to the supervising Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer known only as "Mr. Hernandez," immediately after it occurred, but was ridiculed and called “stupid” for "allowing himself to be raped."

Menjivar officially reported the incident to an ICE doctor in December 2014. The agency concluded its investigation in February, stating that the results of the investigation “do not corroborate the accusation.” However, Menjivar told Semana News that he couldn't provide the names of the four witnesses to the rape because he feard for the safety of his family in El Salvador.

While at the Joe Corley Detention Center, Menjivar participated in a hunger strike last year to call attention to the inhumane conditions at the facility. The hunger strike at Joe Corley was inspired by hunger strikes at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Shortly after protests in June 2014, ICE transferred some of the immigrant protesters detained at Joe Corley to other facilities, but the majority were deported.

Menjivar has been issued an order of deportation but says he fears for his life if returned to El Salvador. Menjivar's attorney appealed to the 5th Circuit Appellate Court to stop his deportation on the grounds that since he does not have a criminal record in this country, he should not be an enforcement priority. Though the legal process has not yet been successful, advocates credit Menjivar's recent release to a congressional letter by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee requesting a stay of deportation. Additionally, due to the danger he would face if deported, the Salvadoran consulate did not issue departure papers, which further delayed his deportation. 

GEO Group abandons Maverick County Detention Center over rape allegation

Maverick County Detention Center
Maverick County Detention Center
In December, we reported that the Maverick County Detention Center was at the center of a lawsuit over rape allegations. A woman who was detained at the facility sued GEO Group, alleging that the company was negligent in operating the facility. She says this led to her rape by a 27-year-old guard named Luis Armando Valladarez.

The facility remains open but is no longer operated by the GEO Group, begging the question, “who operates it now?”.

First, some history. The GEO Group signed a contract to build the 654-bed facility in Maverick County and began operating it in 2007. But in 2013, Maverick County Judge David Saucedo called a press conference to announce that GEO was ending the contract. At the time, he suggested the facility would find a new purpose.

That new purpose appears to be coming under the control of the county’s public facility corporation, a legal entity that can finance public facilities and issue bonds on behalf of its sponsor. The legal details are laid out here.

As of November 1, 2013, Maverick County Detention Center has been owned by the Maverick County Public Facility Corporation. The Eagle Pass Business Journal explains:

The Maverick County Public Facility Corporation was incorporated by Maverick County Commissioners Court in 2007 as a separate non-profit corporation in order to create a legal entity to construct and operate the Maverick County Detention Center and to issue over $40 Million in Bonds for the construction of the over 625 bed prison facility.  Maverick County contracted with a private prison management company, The Geo Group, Inc., to operate the Maverick County Detention Center, since its opening but The Geo Group, Inc. withdrew from managing the prison facility on October 31, 2013 at 12 Midnight, forcing Maverick County to request the Maverick County Sheriff’s Department to take over management of the prison facility.  Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber appointed Guillermo De Los Santos as the Warden of the Maverick County Detention Center.


This isn’t the first time that GEO Group has left a county with an expensive facility and no choice but to take it over. In 2009, we reported the Beaumont Correctional Center to be one of at least five GEO facilities that had been closed or put under new management in several years. Then there's a long saga of Littlefield, a small Texas town still paying dearly for partnering with GEO Group on the promise that a detention center would bring jobs.

Consulting firm to Liberty County: It will cost more for the County to run the jail, unless you reduce population


The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The firm hired by Liberty County to consult on whether it should continue a partnership with a private prison company has some advice for commissioners. MGT of America, Inc. told Commissioners last month that the way to save money was to reduce the jail's population to allow for staffing cuts.  

Liberty County hired MGT last year to advise commissioners on whether County Sheriff Bobby Rader should take over direct operation of the jail or leave it in the hands of Community Education Centers (CEC). 

According to YourHoustonNews.com, MGT consultant Travis Miller told Liberty County commissioners that, "the cost of operating the jail remains the same regardless of who is running it, whether it is a private company, the county, or 'Johnny’s Garage and Jail Service.'"

Miller went on to say that the only way to get significant savings would be through a reduction of staff, and that this would require “a huge reduction in the number of inmates.”

But later in the same meeting, Miller said that  that without a reduction in jail population and a resulting reduction in staff, the cost to the county would rise if it took over the jail. Miller said this move would make jail employees eligible for county benefits, (including pensions) potentially costing the county at least $400,000 more. 

Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, who ran and won on a platform of kicking CEC out of the jail, suggested creating a separate division for jail employees with a different benefits plan.

The county is now waiting to hear more from from MGT. In response to questions about the potential $400,000 increase if the county takes over, Miller told commissioners that MGT "did not yet have a cost-per-inmate figure to present and has not yet looked at the amount the county is currently paying under its contract with CEC."

Miller expects MGT to have its final report, for which the firm was paid $64,000, ready in three weeks. 

Time is of the essence. The county’s contract with CEC expires on April 30.

 

MTC loses Bureau of Prisons contract after Willacy riot

According to a KRGV report, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has cancelled their contract with Management and Training Corporation (MTC) at the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, TX. 

The KRGV report said, 

"MTC representatives told CHANNEL 5 NEWS the national inmate population is down and the Bureau of Prisons doesn't need the additional beds. There is a 3-day hiring event planned to help workers who were laid off."

The announcement comes after a prisoner riot last month left the facility uninhabitable. The prisoners have all been transferred to other facilities and MTC has laid off 363 employees, which Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence described as "devastating". 

In a statement on BOP's closing of the Willacy prison, the ACLU commented,

“The Bureau of Prisons’ decision to shut down the Willacy private prison is a welcome but long overdue move,” said Carl Takei, an attorney at the ACLU's National Prison Project. “We hope the Bureau will sustain this momentum by ending the use of private prisons entirely. Additionally, Congress must pass sentencing reform legislation and take steps to address our country’s mass incarceration epidemic.”

MTC to lay off 242 employees in the wake of uprising in Willacy County

Willacy County

In the wake of the uprising at the criminal alien requirement (CAR) prison in Willacy County that left the facility uninhabitable, Management and Training Corporation will reportedly lay off around 242 administrators and guards. Initial reports indicated that around 50 staff would remain at the facility, but the number is now being reported as a meager 25, with those positions under review. The 2,834 inmates have been transferred to other prisons in the CAR system, and the future of the facility is uncertain.

 

Management and Training Corporation purports to have some of the best corrections facilities in the country, and claims that their “facilities are safe and secure for neighboring communities, staff members, offenders, and detainees.” The uprising in late February was a reaction to well documented sanitation issues, physical and sexual abuse, and lack of medical care.

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Complaints over medical care mounting in private immigrant prisons in Texas

Big Spring
Big Spring
Families of prisoners in Big Spring Correctional Center are speaking out over a lack of medical care in the facility. An attorney who filed a lawsuit in Willacy County last month says he plans on filing similar suits over conditions at all five criminal alien requirement (CAR) prisons in Texas. News West 9 reports that Attorney William McBride filed a lawsuit against the Willacy County Private Prison after allegations of maltreatment against the immigrants detained there.

Family members of prisoners inside the Big Spring Correctional Center are also claiming that the facility is not giving proper medical care to their loved ones. Big Spring is one of five criminal alien requirement (CAR) private prisons in Texas, and is currently being run by GEO Group.

The lack of medical care was at the heart of an uprising at a the Willacy County facility in Raymondville last month, which is run by Mangement & Training Corporation (MTC). Media reported that as many as 2,000 prisoners at the Willacy County Correctional Center staged a two-day protest over medical care that began on the morning of February 20 when they refused to eat breakfast. The prisoners would eventually take control of part of the prison, and set fires to a number of the kevlar tents that make up the prison.

In Big Spring, among the 3,500 prisoners is Marcy Torres’ father, a man who needs a daily dose of medication for his liver disease. She told News West 9, “When he goes to the doctor [at the facility], he has to tell them what he's there for because basically they don't know. They're changing doctors so many times, they don't have the staff.”

Another incarcerated person at Big Spring told News West 9 that he has been waiting for over nine months to receive his medication. He shared inside information about the conditions within the facility, but declined to be named. According to him, if those incarcerated need certain medications, they must pay for them - an expense that few can afford. He claimed prisoners are forced to wear blood-stained underwear and that the only time bathrooms are fixed is when inspectors make visits. He told News West 9, “The abuse from the employees is terrible. They humiliate us. They say they're gonna deport us because we don't have rights."

CAR prisons are segregated prisons for immigrants in the federal prison system. They are all operated by for-profit, private prison companies. There are 13 CAR facilities in the U.S. and five of those are in Texas. These prisons hold immigrants convicted of federal crimes, which are mostly related to crossing the border. Because of a program called Operation Streamline and a related spike in felony prosecutions for border-crossing, immigrants are criminally prosecuted for crossing the border and funneled into CAR prisons.

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