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June 2016

Dimmit County votes down proposed new family detention camp

The Dimmit County Commissioners Court voted Monday June 27 against a proposal to open a new facility to detain immigrant families for profit.

The South Carolina company Stratton Oilfields would have operated the 1000-bed facility in Carizzo Springs, which previously a “man camp” for oil field workers but now sits empty after the “oil bust.”

The vote is another strike against building another family detention camp in south Texas after Jim Wells County also unanimously rejected a proposal brought by British private prison corporation, Serco Inc. in July.

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Dimmit County could vote Monday on proposed new family detention facility

Dimmit County Commissioners could vote Monday on whether to move forward with a proposal to open a new immigrant family detention center in the Carizzo Springs, Texas.

The proposed facility site is a prior oil “man camp” owned by Stratton Oilfields, which is currently vacant.

Commissioners will hear public comment on this issue Monday from a Stratton representative and area residents.

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Welcoming new Texas Prison Bid'ness blogger, Jorge Renaud

Jorge Renaud
We are pleased to welcome our newest Texas Prison Bid'ness blooger, Jorge Renaud.

Jorge is the Texas Advocates for Justice (TAJ) organizer at Grassroots Leadership. He comes to this work after a long journey, from prison to walking the halls of the Texas Legislature as a policy analyst for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and as an organizer with the Center for Community Change.

An occasional slam poet and a fulltime believer in the necessity of those most affected by policy to be at the forefront of change, Jorge now is devoted to assisting the incredible work of the individuals in the Texas Advocates for Justice (TAJ) as they chop away at the roots of incarceration.

Jorge's daughter lives in Huntsville and holds his heart. Jorge shoots pool; try him. 

Ector County commissioners approve contract extension for troubled CEC jail

At a Monday June 13 Commissioners Court session, Ector County Commissioners approved a one-year extension of the Community Education Centers contract to operate the Ector County Correctional Center, despite numerous issues with the operation of the facility. The jail incarcerates up to 235 federal prisoners.

The facility is located directly above the County Courthouse, which proved to be an unfortunate place to have an office after repeated water and sewage leaks from the prison upstairs. Staff were forced to cover land deed records in plastic to protect them from destruction.

CEC’s deficiencies in operating the facility don’t end with maintenance. In 2013, eight former guards were sentenced for accepting cash to deliver contraband to individuals incarcerated at the prison, and in 2008 a guard was sentenced for smuggling cell phones. A 21-year-old man also committed suicide at the facility in 2008, which may have been tied to understaffing or lack of proper monitoring procedures.

The decision to renew the contract was made despite scant resources and a struggle to balance the county budget. According to, in a May meeting, commissioners even approved “a hiring freeze on all county departments not led by an elected official.”

Despite issues, commissioner Greg Simmons believes that revenue from the facility is helping the county and said that the county could either request new bids or extend CEC another contract renewal for the jail in 2017.

MTC tears down Willacy "Tent City" in attempt to secure new prison contract

Management and Training Corporation (MTC), owner and former operator of the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, will partially tear down remaining structures at the now-vacant prison according to KRGV News.

The company lost its contract with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) after a prisoner uprising broke out at the facility in 2015. Prisoners burned down multiple of the kevlar tents that compose what was known as “Tent City,” the site of a segregated federal prison for immigrants.

MTC told local press shortly after the uprising that it would work to secure another contract to re-open the prison. This latest move to tear down remaining tents appears to be an effort to achieve that goal, as an MTC spokesperson said the reason for the tent removal is that “the company doesn’t believe another contractor would like the idea of housing offenders in tents.”

The fact that MTC did approve of housing people in tents speaks to the abysmal conditions that led to the Willacy uprising, and abuse that has been exposed inside Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons, including deaths from medical neglect. It also reflects the increased scrutiny that any facility built on the site of the former prison will face. MTC’s efforts to market the facility come in the wake of an exposé in The Nation revealing that the BOP knew of violations inside CAR prisons for years but still renewed the contracts.

While insurance will cover MTC’s costs to tear down the tents, 400 jobs were lost when the prison closed and Willacy County was left with soaring debt and a budget crisis that led to more layoffs.

Prisoner dies at McLennan County private jail

The death of a prisoner reported on May 30 at the Jack Harwell Detention Center in McLennan County is under investigation by federal, state, and local officials. The private jail is operated by private, for-profit prison company LaSalle Corrections. 

Litte information is known about the incident, however, a news report stated:

"McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara did not return phone messages Tuesday. Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ricky Armstrong declined comment, saying the inmate was a U.S. Marshals Service prisoner and referring questions to the marshals service.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe Bays also declined comment, saying the matter is under investigation. Bays declined to provide details of the inmate’s death, his or her identity or suspected manner and means of death."

This is not the first prisoner death at this private jail. In February, three former LaSalle Corrections employees were indicted after surveillance video showed that they lied about conducting head counts after a prisoner committed suicide last November. 


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Emerald Corrections to open new ICE detention center in Alvarado

Emerald Companies sold the city on the idea of floating debt to build the detention center.
In November, the 700-bed Prairieland Detention Center is scheduled to open in Alvarado, Texas, a remote town in Johnson County 40 mines southeast of Dallas. The facility will be operated by Emerald Correctional Management, a Louisiana-based private prison corporation that manages six other facilities and has faced allegations of mistreatment of detained immigrants and shady contracting practices at other facilities.


The detention center will include a 36-person unit specifically designated to detain transgender immigrants, a practice that LGBTQI advocates decry as inhumane because transgender individuals are particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual assaults while in custody. Olga Tomchin, a staff attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told Fusion, “ICE has shown over and over again that they’re incapable of detaining trans people with even minimal levels of dignity or safety.”

In June 2015, as county officials were breaking ground for the new detention center in Alvarado, 35 U.S. Representatives sent a letter to to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urging him to end the detention of LGBTQI individuals. An excerpt from the letter reads, “These individuals are extremely vulnerable to abuse, including sexual assault, while in custody, in particular, transgender women housed in men’s detention facilities.”

Prairieland will be the second facility with an ICE contract in Johnson County, where the Johnson County Law Enforcement Center also currently detains immigrants for the federal agency. According to the Cleburne Times Review, Commissioner Rick Bailey was concerned that the county should not rely on two ICE facilities given the volatility of immigration laws. “I am concerned about ICE going away,” Bailey said in a Johnson County Commissioners meeting in early 2015.

These concerns are not unfounded, as Emerald suddenly pulled out of a contract with LaSalle County for a detention center in Encinal, Texas in late 2014 after the facility’s population decreased. This left the county with $20 million in debt, and county officials scrambling to run the facility without the resources or corrections knowledge for the job.

Despite the risks and opposition from some local officials, as well as national LGBTQI and immigrant advocates, the county approved the contract and the facility is slated to open in November 2016.

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CEC faces wrongful death suit from Dallas family

A Dallas family filed suit this month against New Jersey private prison operator, Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC), after the death of Charles Alvarez. The family alleges that Alvarez was given improper medical care while in custody at the Parker County Jail in Weatherford, Texas. The federal lawsuit names CEC and seven jail staffers as plaintiffs.

Police believe that Alvarez had been assaulted shortly before a Weatherford police officer found him lying in the roadway on North Denton Street on February 7, 2015. However, the officer arrested him on public intoxication charges and took him to the Parker County Jail.

At the jail, Alvarez told officials for 20 minutes that he could not breathe before an ambulance was called. He became unresponsive seconds after an ambulance was requested and CPR performed by jail personnel failed to revive him. Alvarez, 25, was ambulanced to Plaza Medical Center in Fort Worth where he died from internal bleeding, multi-organ failure, and heart failure.

The Parker County jury declined to indict anyone in for Alvarez’ death but obtained arrest warrants for two suspects for misdemeanor charges in connection with his assault.

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Community backlash influenced family detention decision

According to the Corpus Christi Caller times, Jim Wells county officials have voted against continuing negotiations with Serco, a UK-based company that runs private prisons and detention centers in the UK and Australia. Serco had proposed to use a shuttered nursing home in the area as the location of a new family detention center.

County commissioners first voted on June 6 to allow Jim Wells County Judge Pedro Treviño to enter negotiations with Serco over a proposed family detention center located in the county.

The county held a public hearing to get input from the community. During that hearing, there was backlash from the public, including the local bishop, immigration organizations and others. 

Due to the backlash at that first hearing, County Judge Treviño did not want negotiations to continue unless a second hearing was held within the week in San Diego, the town where the new family detention center was proposed. The purpose of a hearing would have been to give a chance for community members to voice and address any concerns they may have around a new family detention center in their community. However, Serco shut down the idea of a second hearing, citing time restraints. 

The lack of a second hearing, on top of the earlier response from the community, led the Jim Wells County Commissioners Court to vote against continuing negotiations with Serco. 

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British company aims to open immigration detention center

The UK private prison company Serco has moved one step closer to opening a new family detention center with a successful proposal to Texas county officials.

According to The Guardian, the company has been lobbying officials to allow Serco to open a family detention center in Jim Wells County. The company, which already runs private detention centers in both the UK and Australia, has been lobbying U.S. officials for over a year for contracts to detain immigrant families in their private detention centers. Their proposal is to turn a shuttered nursing home in San Diego Texas into a family detention center with the capability of holding up to 600 detainees. 

The county commissioners voted to begin negotiations with ICE and Serco for the proposed new family detention center. County Judge Pedro Treviño Jr. said that the new detention center would create around 200 jobs for the community. 

"People are most excited in the jobs it would create," Treviño said. "We know family detention centers are highly controversial and want to put all our ducks in a row and gather facts before we make our final decision." 

Serco has been operating private detention centers in both the UK and Australia for many years, and have a history of abuse allegations, riots, and detainee self-harm. Mohammad Abdollahi, director of advocacy for Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), told The Guardian, "There is no 'right' way to detain families, but they have shown, around the world, everything that is wrong with how you do it."