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August 2015

Private prison bust hurts Texas communities, but leaves private prison corps unscathed

Two stories about the economics of for-profit prisons in Texas have caught our attention this month.  Both talk about a recent spate of communities in Texas defaulting on bonds that were issued to pay for private, for-profit prisons intended to detain or incarcerate immigrants.  

The basics of the stories - one by Bloomberg's Lauren Etter ("Border jails facing bond default as immigration boon goes bust," August 2) and the other by the San Antonio Express-News John MacCormack ("Prison bust spreads across rural Texas," August 22) - cover the boom in private prisons financed by local Texas communities on the promise that federal contracts would come rolling in.

Bloomberg's Etter summarizes the issue:

"In Texas, the heart of a jail-building boom over the past decade, nine of 21 counties that created agencies to issue about $1.3 billion in municipal bonds to build privately run correctional facilities largely for migrants have defaulted on their debt. A dozen other facilities from Florida to Louisiana to Arizona, many that housed immigrants, have also defaulted, according to figures from Municipal Market Analytics, a bond-research firm based in Concord, Massachusetts."

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Cleveland, TX mayor and residents successfully oppose new detention facility

On August 18, Cleveland, TX Mayor Niki Coats announced at a city council meeting that a private prison operator had withdrawn plans to build a new immigrant detention facility. 

Cleveland Mayor Niki Coats
Cleveland Mayor Niki Coats

The news drew cheers from more than two dozen residents who showed up to protest. 

One week earlier, private prison contractor, Emerald Companies, had asked the city for a letter of intent. Coats refused to sign, saying, "It's not the kind of growth in the community we need."

Coats later explained that Emerald withdrew the plan claiming they had another location in mind. 

When the Cleveland Advocate asked other Texas county judges about the impact on counties of building immigrant detention facilities, Polk County Judge Sidney Murphy had this to say:

"According to Murphy, in Polk County, the IAH Detention Facility operated by MTC of Utah and built a little more than 10 years ago is required to pay the county a per diem fee per inmate. However, the population of the 1,000-bed facility is so low, with only 300 beds being used, it is no longer generating any income for the county.

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Small Arizona town profits from family detention in Dilley

On August 5th, in the midst of the legal battle concerning the fate of immigrant families currently locked up awaiting their asylum hearings, News 4 Tucson investigators shined a spotlight on how a small Arizona town is cashing in on the detention of immigrant women and children in Dilley, TX.

CCA's Family Detention Camp in Dilley, TX
CCA's Family Detention Camp in Dilley, TX

The report broke down the agreement between the City of Eloy, AZ, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). 

After the surge of Central American immigrants arrived at the Texas border last year, CCA rushed to build the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX. According to ICE spokesperson, Adelina Pruneda, 

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Family detention update: More attorneys denied access at CCA's family detention camp in Dilley; Judge rules (again) that ICE should free children

CARA volunteers wheel legal materials into Dilley family detention camp
CARA volunteers wheel legal materials into Dilley family detention camp
Last week, Bethany reported on attorneys that were being denied access to see their clients at the massive family detention camp in Dilley, Texas operated by Corrections Corporation of America.  Today's Austin American-Statesman has an Associated Press article by Seth Robbins detailing even more denial of access to pro bono immigration attorneys at Dilley.  According to Robbins:

Attorneys denied access to Dilley family detention camp

CARA volunteers wheel legal materials into Dilley family detention camp
CARA volunteers wheel legal materials into Dilley family detention camp
In late July, pro bono attorneys representing detained families at the Dilley family detention camp through the CARA Pro Bono Project reported being “locked out” of the facilities after lodging complaints with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding “the cascade of due process violations and detrimental practices.” Attorneys report that their clients were forced to sign legal paperwork without their attorney present, even after clients asked for their attorney.

Brian Hoffman, lead attorney for CARA, said that ICE officials are “coercing women into accepting ankle monitors, denying access to legal counsel and impeding pro bono representation, along with mass disorganization and confusion in implementing the new release policy for mothers who fled violence and who are pursuing protection in the United States.”

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Whistleblower reveals harrowing details from inside Karnes family detention center

Olivia Lopez testifying at Congressional Progressive Caucus hearing on family detention
Olivia Lopez testifying at Congressional Progressive Caucus hearing on family detention
Social worker Olivia Lopez spoke to media and House Democrats in late July about the troubling inner workings of the GEO-operated Karnes family detention camp near San Antonio, Texas. She called what was happening at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility “tantamount to torture” and said that she was shocked when she began working at the facility to find that it was “really a prison.”

Lopez revealed that she was rebuked for attempting to provide basic social services such as showing the families the geographic location of the facility and creating better ways to document their concerns. In December, Lopez received this directive from her boss: “ICE: We don’t tell them anything.” She recalled that psychologists were encouraged to falsify records in order to leave a clean paper trail, and that they reported families’ stories to ICE agents.

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