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June 2015

Congressional delegation to visit Texas family detention centers

Congressional Democrats announce their tour of two Texas family detention centers
Congressional Democrats announce their tour of two Texas family detention centers
On Monday June 22 and Tuesday June 23, eight Democratic House members will visit two Texas family detention centers, the GEO-operated Karnes County Residential Center outside of San Antonio, and CCA-operated South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. The House members announced their trip and expressed concern over the Obama Administration's family detention policy in a press conference held last Thursday.

"It is not illegal to apply for asylum. It is the law of the land," said Rep. Gutierrez.

"Detaining children puts them at risk of mental and developmental problems," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. "The people in these detention centers are...the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free of which Emma Lazarus spoke and which is emblazoned on our Statue of Liberty."

 

The members who will be touring the detention centers are: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), Rep. Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40). They are among the 136 House Democrats who signed a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for an end to family detention. 

 

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Negotiations extended in Flores settlement, which could impact family detention policy

Negotiations based on this 1997 settlement are still underway.
Negotiations based on this 1997 settlement are still underway.

Negotiations between immigrant rights and government attorneys have been extended for another week in what been known as "the Flores case" after parties were unable to reach an agreement based on Judge Dolly Gee's preliminary decision.

As previously reported, some advocates believe that this litigation could cause dramatic changes to, or even end, the government's current policy of detaining asylum-seeking mothers and children while their cases proceed through immigration courts.

The outcome of these negotiations could determine the future of three family detention facilities, which together have the capacity to detain more than 3,000 individuals. These include two for-profit facilities in Texas: the Karnes County Residential Center run by the GEO Group, and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley run by Corrections Corporation of America.

The new deadline set for reporting on the Flores Settlement negotiations is July 3.

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Willacy County still reeling after prison uprising as insurance doesn't go far enough for local community

Willacy County Correctional CenterWillacy County is still feeling the effects of an immigrant prisoner uprising that destroyed the privately operated Willacy County Correctional Center in February. The prison, run by Management & Training Corporation (MTC), was closed due to significant structural damage causing the relocation of 2,500 federal prisoners and nearly 400 employee layoffs.

Willacy County Correctional Center

According to recent reports, the county received about $4 milion in insurance money, but county officials say the money won't last long. Currently, the money is being divided four ways — clean up from the uprising, county administration costs, losses to MTC, and payments toward the $9 million bond to pay for the jail. 

In the meantime, hundreds in the community are struggling financially. One employee who was laid off in March said her unemployment compensation is insufficient and she is taking out a loan to help cover her bills. 

The county aims to get the facility up and running again, but the insurance money may not last. And, if the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) decides against renewing the contract, the county could face a big blow to their income. 

 

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Report reveals local quotas in South Texas immigrant detention facilities

Texas local quotas, image by Detention Watch Network
Texas local quotas, image by Detention Watch Network

A recent Detention Watch Network report uncovered local quotas at immigrant detention facilities in South Texas, according to The Associated Press. These local quotas are found in contracts with local governments and the private corporations that manage facilities for ICE.

In total, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is contractually obligated to pay for the detention of 3,255 immigrants daily at five facilities in Texas. Three of these are for-profit facilities operated by either Corrections Corporation of America or the GEO Group. These facilities are the Houston Processing Center, South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, and Karnes County Correctional Center. The highest guaranteed minimum at one of these for-profit facilities is 750 at Houston Processing Center, with South Texas Detention Complex falling close behind at 725. It is unclear whether the Karnes detention center, which has been converted into a family detention facility, is still operating under a 450-bed quota for its current population.

ICE officials say that these local minimums are a way to ensure that they meet the national quota mandating that 34,000 beds be available to detain immigrants each day. In all of the Texas facilities, the local quotas have been exceeded.

Parker County Jail dumps CEC, goes with LaSalle

Parker County has dumped private jail operater Community Education Centers in favor of of the Louisiana-based private prison company LaSalle Southwest Corrections. According to a story in the Weatherford Democrat (Parker County Jail to get new management), the jail will change hands in October:

Ousting the current jail operator, Community Education Centers, Parker County commissioners voted to award the 5-year contract to the Louisiana-based company due to the difference in price. 

The county has the option to renew the contract twice for two-year periods, according to information presented to the commissioners.

As we reported way back in 2007, Parker County privatized its jail at the time citing cost savings.  At the time we quoted a Grits for Breakfast article questioning whether CEC could provide the same services at a discounted price and still make a profit.  

It's unclear if, this time around, the Parker County Commissioners addressed any other factors than price in determining the new operator of the jail.  We'd note that when Ellis County Commissioners rated bids for taking over that county's jail in 2013, LaSalle only received a 53 out of 100 rating while CEC got a 65.  In 2013, both Ellis County and nearby Kaufman County rejected jail privatization with opposition from conservative forces.

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Federal audit finds the Reeves County Detention Complex rife with problems

Reeves County Detention Center
Reeves County Detention Center
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, the Reeves County Detention Complex, also known as the world’s largest for-profit prison, has “minimal oversight, overcharged the federal government by $2.1 million, arbitrarily punishes protesting inmates and suffers from severe understaffing.”

Reeves County Detention Complex is run by private prison corporation, the GEO Group, and holds almost 4,000 mostly undocumented federal prisoners who are serving time for federal drug and immigration-related offenses.

The report found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had asked GEO Group to eliminate minimum staffing requirements for correctional officers, medical care providers and other personnel—a move that saved the Bureau nearly $10 million. “BOP officials told us they removed these staffing requirements to achieve cost savings and grant the contractor flexibility and discretion to manage the staffing of the facility,” the report states.

The cash saving measure is hardly worth it, Reeves has experienced riots, complaints of inadequate medical care and allegations that prison officials use solitary confinement to retaliate against prisoners who complain. The prison has been the stage of several riots, including two in late 2008 and early 2009 that caused over $1 million in damage. An alleged hunger strike occurred in March of this year when several prisoners claimed they were put in solitary confinement for seeking legal representation.

According to the Texas Observer, health service-providers, Correct Care Solutions LLC, has failed to reach BOP’s requirement to maintain staffing levels at 85 percent for 90 percent of the last three years.

The audit also criticized the GEO Group for arbitrarily sending prisoners into the “J-Unit”— a solitary confinement which was created after a round of inmate protests in October 2013. After the protest, 364 inmates were sent to Reeves’ solitary confinement unit, which was originally designed for only 210.

Audit investigators discovered that 9 out of 10 of those prisoners sent after the protest did not meet the prison’s own criteria to be put into solitary confinement. The audit listed several recommendations for the prison, including the remedying of unallowable costs of over $2 million, the assurance that policies and procedures be established for the J-Unit and the emphasis on improving the prison’s monitoring system. The rest can be viewed on page 44 of the audit here.

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State Rep. Allen Fletcher’s affiliation with private prison companies raises questions about candidacy for Harris County Sheriff

State Rep. Allen Fletcher's official legislative portrait
State Rep. Allen Fletcher's official legislative portrait

UPDATE: The Houston Chronicle reports that Rep. Allen Fletcher has decided not to run for Harris County Sheriff and instead will instead seek the Precinct 4 constable spot.

According to the Houston Press, State Rep. Allen Fletcher announced his candidacy to become the next Harris County Sheriff in early May. Fletcher has served as state representative since 2008, but it is his work outside of the legislature that could be an indicator of the type of sheriff he would be.

Since 2009, Fletcher has been working as a consultant for private prison companies like Community Education Centers (CEC) and La Salle Management Company, both of which have faced numerous controversies including bribery, prisoner escapes, and human rights abuses.

Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, expressed concern about Fletcher being elected as Harris County Sheriff, and whether that brings the controversial possibility of the privatization of Harris County Jail into play. Harris County Jail is the fourth largest jail in the U.S — it would be a boom for any private corporation looking to drive up its profit margins.

Ana Yáñez-Correa told the Houston Press that privatizing the jail would be bad for inmates, employees and taxpayers, because private prison companies “make money by lowering the costs of running these places, by paying their staff less, by offering fewer programs and all kinds of shortcuts people take when they want to save money and run a profitable business.”

 

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Some say immigrant family detention policy may disappear after court ruling

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.
According to memos from a migrant attorney group, a tentative court ruling regarding the legality of detaining immigrant women and children was made by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in California on April 24. The 22-page ruling states that the Obama administration’s policy of detaining migrant children is in violation with an 18-year-old settlement called Flores v. Meese.

According to McClatchy DC, the ruling has not officially been filed but the migrant lawyers and federal attorneys were given 30 days to come to an agreement. Now that the 30 days have passed, the agreement has been given an extension. Gee will issue a final ruling on the matter if no agreement is reached.

McClatchy reports that some believe the tentative court ruling could force the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to drastically change current policy. They may decide to take any number of options: release undocumented women and children into the community; release the children but detain the mothers; or completely overhaul the way the agency shelters the migrants until their cases are heard by immigration courts.

According to the memos, the Flores ruling states that children and their mothers cannot be detained in unlicensced, secure facilities like the Karnes County Residential Center and the South Texas Family Residential Center. It also states that it is inappropriate for migrant women and children to be detained unless they pose a safety risk to the community.

In 1997’s Flores v. Meese case, the settlement called for minors to be in the custody of family or legal guardians if available. The case also stipulates that the government is only allowed to detain children in safe and sanitary facilities that are licensed.

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Liberty County officials still debating whether to take over jail operation from private prison company

The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The debate over the future of the Liberty County Jail continues and it looks like it will all come down to cost.

Liberty County has been mulling over a proposal for the county to take over operations of the jail from Community Education Centers (CEC), which currently runs the facility. At a special meeting of the Liberty County Commissioners Court on May 19, Commissioners heard from county officials and others including CEC Warden Raye Carnes, Liberty County Indigent Health Care Director Donna Burt and Liberty County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Rader.

Burt told commissioners that when the county last ran the jail, the biggest medical cost was providing malpractice insurance coverage for the jail doctor, costing $100,000 in the 1990s. Burt told commissioners that finding a doctor was the biggest challenge facing the county and that she didn’t think the county would save money by taking over operation of the jail.

Warden Carnes told commissioners that CEC provides medical care, but left out the company’s widely reported and troubled history. That history includes an incident that left a woman dead of pregnancy complications at an Indiana facility after CEC staff waited hours to seek emergency medical care.

Commissioners hired Austin-based consultant firm MGT of America, Inc. in August 2014 to advise the county on which route would save the county money. In March of this year, MGT told commissioners that the cost of running the jail would be the same whether it was run by the county sheriff or CEC “or 'Johnny’s Garage and Jail Service.'" MGT also told commissioners in the same meeting that their best bet to reduce the cost of running the jail would be to reduce the jail population.

For his part, Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, a Republican who ran and won on a platform of kicking CEC out of the jail, cited projections that the average population would actually grow to 275 inmates over the next five years.

Sheriff Rader summed up the county’s concerns: “If it’s going to cost more money for us to take it over [from CEC], then it’s not the right thing to do.”

A change in management very well may be the right thing to do for those locked up in the jail. In April, two prisoners died in a single week at the CEC-run Liberty County Jail.

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