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March 2017

New family detention center no longer being considered

A family detention center in San Diego, Texas, is no longer being considered as local officials cite low apprehensions at the border, reports the Caller-Times.

Last July, Duval County Commissioners voted to begin contract negotiations with Serco to turn an old nursing home into a family detention center. Serco, a UK-based private prison company, tried to negotiate with Jim Wells County to use the same nursing home, which is located in both Duval and Jim Wells County. The negotiation with Jim Wells failed following backlash from the community, leading to Serco reaching out to Duval County about the proposed facility.

In an email to the Caller-Times, Duval County Judge Ricardo Carrillo, who supported the work with Serco, stated: "Serco informed me back on Feb. 28 that after several meetings with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials, the news is that they (the government) are not planning to move out on the family residential center approach at this time because ‘apprehensions are at an all-time low level.’”

While this is a welcome win to prevent more family detention centers, it comes at a time when Texas state lawmakers are considering bills to allow the state to license family detention centers as child care facilities. The state was unable to license the facilities following a ruling by Judge Karin Crump saying the state did not have the authority to license immigrant family detention centers. The ruling was praised by immigrant families and immigrant rights advocates who oppose the policy of family detention. The Texas Attorney General is appealing that decision now.

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Empty jails hope to cash in on immigration crackdown

Several counties in Texas with prisons that are empty or have low numbers are looking into filling their jails with immigrants who came into the U.S. without documentation, reports the Lexington Herald Leader in association with the Associated Press.

These counties were in debt in the 1990s and early 2000s, when they were losing employment prospects and population. To remedy this, these counties turned to building prisons with hundreds of beds that could be used to house prisoners from other counties, as well as from the state and federal level. The hope was to use these facilities to bring in jobs and money to debt-ridden counties.

The plan worked for a time, but eventually the Texas prison population began to decline as crime declined and there was an increase in alternative sentencing. However, these counties are now looking to the federal government to fill their bed space, banking on the immigration crackdowns following the election of Donald Trump. A proposed budget item in the Texas Senate would end state contracts with four facilities that detain state prisoners, three of which are privately owned. This has led these facilities to look for other ways to make profits, including by detaining immigrants who have been apprehended without documentation.

Many private companies have looked into renovating or reopening existing facilities to house immigrants, including the Willacy County Detention Center, which was closed in 2015 following a prisoner uprising. However, advocates are speaking out against reopening facilities operated by private companies with long histories of complaints and scandals.

Bob Libal, of Grassroots Leadership, said "If this is the plan to expand to the bottom of the barrel in detention centers, that should raise huge red flags for people concerned about immigrants' well-being and rights."

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Former Willacy County prison guard sentenced to 18 months in prison

A former Willacy County prison guard has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for bribery, reports CBS 4 News.

Harry Cordero, a former guard at the Willacy County Regional Detention Center, was charged last November with two counts of bribery and one count of providing contraband in prison. Cordero accepted bribes to allow alcohol and a cell phone into the prison in December of 2015. Following the conviction, Cordero was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Cordero and another inmate, Stephen Salinas, were both guards at the Willacy County Detention Center, which is operated by the Utah-based private prison company Management and Training Corporation. The men were employed at the facility before it was closed in 2015, when it was destroyed in a prisoner uprising. Prisoners had received poor medical attention and neglect, which led to the uprising.

The Willacy County facility lost its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in  2011 following multiple physical and sexual assaults by the guards on the prisoners. The facility then had a contract with the U.S. Marshals service until its destruction. Though the facility has been closed for years, in February Willacy County officials stated ICE was interested in reopening the facility following comments from President Trump around increased border security and immigration enforcement.

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Federal prisons have fewer inmates but Justice Dept. says it still needs private prisons

Even though the federal prison population is falling, the Justice Department says private prisons are still necessary, reports the Washington Post.

Last August, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would begin to phase out the use of private prisons. Yates cited sentencing reforms and other measures that had reduced the federal prison population. Officials in the Justice Department even pointed to a recent White House budget proposal which showed a 14 percent drop in the federal prison population since 2013. If the prison population has dropped since 2013, why has Attorney General Sessions reversed the DOJ's memo phasing out private prisons?

David Fathi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, said that of the decision, "the embrace of private prisons was a purely ideological decision unconnected to any actual need.”Fathi said the Justice Department officials knew there would be an increase in the prisoner population.

"The fact that they are simultaneously acknowledging that the federal prison population is falling and saying that they need private prisons to accommodate future needs seems to me can only be explained by a plan to radically increase the federal prison population,” Fathi said. “Otherwise, those two things are just irreconcilable.”

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Proposed legislation would provide state license to immigrant family detention centers

Karnes County Detention Center
State lawmakers in Austin have proposed a bill that would allow the state of Texas to license two family detention centers near San Antonio as childcare facilities, reports the San Antonio Express

Since the two facilities hold both adults and children, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) wouldn't license the facilities when they opened in 2014 following a large influx of Central America families seeking asylum in the US. In 2015, a federal judge ruled that family detention centers, such as those in Karnes City and Dilley, were not allowed to hold families for extended periods of time because the centers were not licensed and the families could not leave.

Following the ruling, the Department of Family and Protective Services made an emergency rule change which allowed it to license the facilities, leading to a lawsuit by immigrant families who had been detained in those facilities. A judge in Austin then ruled that the state did not have the power to inspect and license family detention center with action in the Texas Legislature. 

Identical bills in the Texas Senate and House would allow DFPS to license family detention centers, allowing mothers and children to be detained in jail-like conditions for extended period of times. It would also give the department permission to exempt the family detention facilities from the state rules governing child care facilities. Though the facilities have classrooms and play-areas, the American Academy of Pediatrics has outlined many negative aspects of family detention, and stated the facilities are "inappropriate for children and don’t meet basic needs or standards of child care". The two facilities in Texas are both operated by for-profit prison companies who would see an increase in profit if the bill passed, as it would allow them to detain mothers and children for extended periods of time. The Karnes City facility is owned and operated by the GEO Group, while the facility in Dilley is owned by CoreCivic.   


Guard at San Antonio detention center admits to sexually assaulting inmate

A guard from a private prison in San Antonio pled guilty to sexually abusing a prisoner, reports the San Antonio Current.

Barbara Jean Goodwin was a guard at the Central Texas Detention Facility, a private prison for immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. The detention center is operated by for-profit company GEO Group. Testimony from her victim and other detainees stated she forcibly performed oral sex on a prisoner over 30 times over a six month period. Goodwin now faces up to 15 years in federal prison.

GEO Group, the company that operates the Central Texas Detention Facility, is one of the largest for-profit prison companies in the U.S. It operates multiple facilities in Texas, with a history of abuse and prison riots due to deaths of prisoners. It is also not the first time that GEO employees have been charged with crimes. GEO employees have been arrested for burglary and smuggling in contraband.


Private prisons already booming under President Trump

Private prisons are already booming under President Trump, reports The Week.

Last August, the Department of Justice announced it would would begin the process of phasing out the use of private prisons, due to serious concerns over safety and treatment of inmates in private prisons, as well as a declining prison population. This decision was celebrated by activists against private prisons, and saw stocks plummet for major for-profit companies such as CoreCivic (formerly CCA) and GEO Group.   

Fast forward a few months, and things have changed. President, Donald Trump, has put a major focus on “law and order,” especially when it comes to detaining undocumented immigrants. New Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded the original DOJ memo and told the Bureau of Prisons to once again rely on private prisons. This led to an increase in private prison stock.

This is particularly frightening for Texas, as our state has prisons and detention centers run by various for-profit companies such as CoreCivic and GEO Group, which recently purchased Community Education Centers to expand their reach and increase their profit. These companies are now hoping to reuse old facilities, or reopen previously closed detention centers, therefore expanding the amount of people detained in private prisons in Texas.

Thousands of ICE detainees claim they were forced into labor, a violation of anti-slavery laws

Thousands of immigrants detained at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities have joined a class-action lawsuit over being forced to work for $1 a day or less, reports the Washington Post.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2014 is against the GEO Group, a Florida-based private prison company that operates many for-profit detention centers for immigrants.. The case originally started with nine plaintiffs, who claim that detainees are forced to work without pay — and if they don't they are threatened with solitary confinement. The case has now been upgraded to a class-action lawsuit, which could potentially involve thousands of immigrants who were forced to work in GEO facilities. This is the first time that a class-action lawsuit has been brought against a private prison company, and could have major ramifications depending on the outcome.

The GEO Group operates over 20 facilities in the state of Texas.  For-profit prison companies are focused on keeping costs down and using detainee labor is one way to do that. Detainees work in the kitchens, keep the facility clean, and help maintain the facility.  

Immigrants are held in federal detention while they wait to see an immigration judge.

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Young mother with brain tumor to be released by ICE

A young mother with a brain tumor is set to be released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to a press release from Amnesty International.

As we previously reported, Sara Beltran Hernandez was picked up by ICE at a Texas hospital, where doctors had told Beltran Hernandez that she had a brain tumor. Officials from ICE said that she was stable and  that her doctors were voluntarily releasing her into their custody. They then took her to the Praireland Detention Center, a private immigrant detention facility operated by the for-profit prison company Emerald Corrections.

Following a mobilization and campaign by Amnesty International, ICE released Beltran Hernandez. She will be permitted to live with her family in New York as she receives treatment for her brain tumor and her asylum case move forward. Eric Ferrero, of Amnesty International USA, said, "Sara and her family are overjoyed that she will finally be able to be with her loved ones and receive medical care after being unjustly detained for over 400 days."  


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ICE closing Haskell County Detention Center

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is moving detainees from the Rolling Plains Jail and Detention, causing the facility to close, reports KTAB/KRBC in Abilene.

The detention center, located in Haskell County, is a private prison for immigrants operated by corrections sector of Emerald Companies. ICE said they were “not happy with the current management company,” and so they will be moving detainees over the next to weeks to a new facility. The facility to which they are moving inmates is located in Alvarado Texas, where Emerald operates another detention facility, the Praireland Detention Center.  

County Judge David Davis assured residents in a press release that ICE had not pulled the contract with the Rolling Plains Jail and Detention center. He told residents that ICE still needed beds and if the county could find a new operator, ICE would continue to contract with the facility. While they look for a new operator, county officials are working with other counties to house prisoners from the Haskell County Jail, which is located inside the detention facility.

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