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October 2016

Senators press Department of Homeland Security to stop family detention

A group of 17 Democratic senators called on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to end the practice of family detention, as reported by Mother Jones.

The group of senators, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, sent a letter to Sec. Johnson saying family detention is "wrong" and "should be ended immediately." They cited research showing how prolonged confinement can hurt children's physical and mental health. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has taken a similar position as her running mate, and called for an end to family detention.

There are currently three family detention centers in the United States, one in Pennsylvania and  two in Texas. These centers have a history of poor medical care, lack of legal access, and sexual assault.


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Limestone County Detention Center to reopen for 17-year-olds from Harris County

The Limestone County Detention Center is to reopen after being closed for three years, reported 10 KWTX

This summer Limestone County signed a new contract with LaSalle Southwest Corrections, a privately owned prison corporation, to run the detention facility. The warden, Charles Vondra, said that the detention center will be used to detain 17-year-olds from Harris County, with a beginning population of about 130. The warden then said the population should grow to 650 inmates. 

Limestone County Judge Daniel Burkeen said the facility has not been used in over three years. Until May 2013, the facility was run by Community Education Centers (CEC), another private prison corporation. CEC pulled out after they lost their contract with the federal government to detain inmates, but county officials had hoped that another private corporation, Management Training Corporation (MTC) would continue to operate and pay rent on the facility. However, after two months of operation, MTC announced that it was closing the center after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said they would no longer be sending immigrants detained at the border to the center. ICE instead decided to return them to their home countries. 

The county hopes that reopening the detention center will boost the local economy as well as create new jobs for the area. 

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'I can't breathe': Father begged for help before dying in private jail

Video from a private prison on the Texas-Arkansas-Louisana border showed the distrubing circumstances around the death of a 35-year old man that occurred last July, reported Carbonated.TV. The prison, Bi-State Jail, is privately run by LaSalle Southwest Corrections

Video of Michael Sabbie begging for help. Source: Huffington Post

Michael Sabbie, a father of four, was found dead in his cell three days after his arrest. When he had arrived in court earlier, he said that he was spitting blood and needed to go to the hospital. The video, released by Huffington Post last Wednesday, shows prison guards violently subduing Mr. Sabbie.

The guards flung him to the ground, piled on top of him, and then pepper-sprayed him in the face. A sixth guard joined in and accused him of resisting the other guards, and ignored Mr. Sabbie as he begged "I can't breathe. Please, please, I got pneumonia." He then continued to beg for water as he was examined by a facility nurse, who said his symptoms were normal for someone who had just been hit with pepper spray. He died three days later of 'natural' causes. 

“If you just looked at the cause of death, you would think that Michael died of some sort of hypertensive heart condition, and that may be true,” Erik J. Heipt, one of the attorneys representing the Sabbie family, told the Huffington Post. “But if we didn’t have a video, we’d never know that he had been begging for help due to his shortness of breath and inability to breathe. We’d never know that he said ‘I can’t breathe’ 19 times in the nine minutes that we hear in that video.”

The Department of Justice decided earlier this year to not pursue charges against any of the officers involved in the video.