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May 2017

Deaths in immigrant detention centers are on pace to double from last year

According to the Daily Beast, individuals locked up in immigrant detention facilities are on pace to die at a rate twice as high as last year.

The Daily Beast was able to obtain records from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the government agency that runs the sprawling immigrant detention system. Since the beginning of the 2017 fiscal year, which began in October of 2016, eight individuals have died in ICE custody. Most recently this includes Jean Jimenez-Joseph, who hung himself in his jail cell, and Atulkumar Babubhai Patel, who died of congestive heart failure.

According to the Daily Beast, the number of deaths (eight) in fiscal year 2017 is almost equal to the number in fiscal year 2016 (10), and is on track to double that number. All but one of the deaths this year took place in privately run facilities. Last year, all but two of the deaths occurred in private facilities.

Another issue is the possibilities of prisoners in these facilities committing suicide. Earlier this month, a woman detained at the Karnes Family Residential Center attempted suicide. In a low moment, she believed that her death would allow her children, who are also detained, to be released as they cannot be in the facility without a parent or guardian.

Sadly, deaths in detention centers are not a new issue. Many facilities operated by private companies see prisoner deaths, both in immigrant detention facilities and in privately run jails.  

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Private prison's scheme to license baby jails fails in Texas

Karnes County Civil Detention Center
A proposal written by a private prison company to license baby jails as child care facilities has failed, according to a press release from Grassroots Leadership.

The proposal was written to bypass a ruling by an Austin-area judge in a lawsuit filed by immigrant families saying Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) could not license the family detention centers as child care facilities. If the bills to license had passed, they would have resulted in the prolonged detention of families at two family detention centers in Texas —  the South Texas Residential Center and the Karnes County Residential Center. These facilities are operated by two private prison companies, CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO Group respectively.

Dilley family detention camp

The passage of this law would have been a boon to private prison companies, as evident by these companies paying lobbyists $480,000 to advocate for their interests to the Texas legislature.

Representative John Raney, a Republican who authored the House version of the bill, even admitted that the legislation came directly from a GEO lobbyist.

"I've known the lady who's their lobbyist for a long time ...That's where the legislation came from," said state Rep. John Raney, a Republican from the rural town of Bryan. "We don't make things up. People bring things to us and ask us to help."

In a legislative session where racism and bigotry won most of the time, having this bill die was a welcome, positive result.

Two Reeves County Detention units to close down indefinitely

The Reeves County Detention is closing two of its units indefinitely, reports CBS 7.

 County Judge W.J. Bang stated in a release that Unit 1 and Unit 2 of the detention center will be closed after July 31. They will close following the loss of a contract with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The contract, which was for 3,600 prisoners, was instead awarded to the GEO Group at their Big Spring units.

 There is a possibility that Unit 3 of the detention center could remain open for another year, as the county and BOP negotiate a bridge contract that would allow time for relocating prisoners.

 Over the years, the Reeves County Detention Center has been plagued by numerous prisoner deaths, riots, and other issues such as denying attorneys access and using solitary confinement to retaliate against prisoners. Most recently, the detention center canceled visiting hours after placing the facility on "precautionary lockdown."

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A mother locked up in family detention attempts suicide in bid to have children released

A mother detained in a family detention center attempted suicide, reports the Huffington Post.

Samira Hakimi of Afghanistan has been detained at both the Dilley family detention center and the Karnes family detention center with her two young children. Hakimi passed her credible fear interview, an important first step in the asylum process. Normally an individual would be freed so they can continue their case in immigration court. However, Hakimi and her family are still detained and ICE has given no reason as to why. Hakimi's sister-in-law is also detained in Karnes with her 10-month-old baby.

 Hakimi has been suffering from clinical depression due to being detained for months, and felt particularly low when her son asked her why some families were leaving but they were not.

 Amy Fisher, policy director at RAICES, a non-profit focused on providing legal aid to families in detention, said, "She was crying and really depressed. And she went into this thought process, when she was really low, thinking, ‘Well, if I’m no longer here, maybe my children can be free.’" Children cannot be held in family detention without a family member or guardian.

 Following her suicide attempt, Hakimi woke up in the medical center at Karnes and was then taken to a nearby hospital. Staff from the detention center gave her medicine but did not give a reason as to what the medicine was or the purpose of it. Hakimi did not know what the medicine was, and RAICES is currently requesting her medical records.

 Dr. Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas, has interviewed countless individuals in detention and documented the effects of detention on children. “This is what happens when people get desperate,” Zayas said. “This woman is suffering a mental health crisis. But we know where it’s coming from. We know what we can do to stop it.”

 Dr. Zayas is right. We know what we can do to stop it. We must end family detention.

 

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The federal government is looking to increase private prison beds

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking to increase the number of beds prisons, reports CNN.

In April, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued a notice stating they were looking to increase the number of beds in Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities. These facilities are operated by private prison companies and are used to incarcerate non-citizen immigrants who are mostly convicted of low-level drug offenses or civil immigration offenses. In the U.S. there are 11 such facilities, operated by three private companies: CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. The addition of over 1,500 beds would take the overall population of immigrants in CAR prisons to over 22,000.

This shift is the opposite of what the Obama administration planned for the future of these federal prisons. Last August, then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates released a memo stating that the DOJ would begin to phase out the use of private prisons in the federal prison system. The original goal from the Obama administration was to reduce 7,000 beds by May 1st. That memo and plan was overturned by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded Yates’ previous memo.

Since then, private prison companies have been expanding their operations. The GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit prison companies, was recently awarded a contract for a new, 1,000-bed detention center that will cost over $100 million to construct and operate. There have also been multiple examples of counties looking to expand their jail capacity or reopen closed immigration facilities.

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State Senator accused of accepting bribes from private companies

Federal prosecutors have indicted state Sen. Carlos Uresti for accepting bribes from a private prison medical contractor, reports the San Antonio Current.

Federal prosecutors revealed last week that the senator had been involved in a lawsuit against the Reeves County Detention Center following the death of Jesus Manuel Galindo. When Galindo was first detained in the facility, he told prison staff that he had a history of epileptic seizures. He complained about not receiving his medication and ended up in solitary confinement. He begged to guards to not put him into solitary in case of another seizure. The ACLU, which sued on behalf of Galindo's family, listed Physicians Network Associates (PNA) as a defendant. PNA was the private medical company that the detention center had contracted with to provide their medical care.

After Reeves County won the contract to work with the Bureau of Prisons, they needed to find a medical provider for the prisoners. The indictment claims that Jimmy Galindo, then a judge in Reeves County, agreed to push through the contract for the PNA to work at the Reeves County Detention Center in return for kickbacks. It is then believed that Sen. Uresti was brought in to act as a middleman for PNA and Judge Galindo. The lawsuit alleges that PNA and its successor companies paid Uresti $10,000 each month from September 2006 to September 2016. It is believed he pocketed half of the money and gave the rest to Jimmy Galindo.

It is particularly upsetting knowing that state officials profited off the Reeves Detention Center, which has a history of denying access to attorneys, riots, and the death of prisoners in their custody.

Private prison stocks: the ups and downs

Stock in private prison companies has been changing a lot in the past few months, reports the Motley Fool.

Two of the nation’s largest private prison companies, the GEO Group and CoreCivic, have been experiencing a fluctuation in their stocks over the past few months. Following the announcement by the Department of Justice (DOJ) last August saying they would begin phasing out the use of private prisons, stock in those private companies dropped dramatically. It seemed that private prison companies were on the decline and would soon lose a large source of their profit.

Then Donald Trump was elected President. Running on a platform of “law and order” and an increase in immigration enforcement, his election seemed a boon to private prison companies. After the election, stock in private prison companies soared, with stock in CoreCivic increasing by 34% while the GEO Group saw an increase of 18%.

According to the Motley Fool, sentiment is changing as investors believe that the president will be ineffective in pushing policy, and the thought of his possible impeachment during his term. This has led investors to move away from private prison companies, with stock in CoreCivic dropping by about 12%. The GEO Group saw their stock drop by about 9%.

While it is hard to determine what will happen next, dropping stocks can only be a good thing as we try to move away from private prisons and the companies that operate them.

Bill that would license "baby jails" dies in the Texas House

A bill before the Texas House of Representatives that would allow the licensing of family detention centers as child care facilities has died, reports The Eagle.

The bill, which was authored by by Rep. John Raney, was not heard before Thursday's midnight deadline to hear bills. The bill, House Bill 2225, would have allowed the two family detention centers located in Texas to be licensed as child care facilities. By licensing the facilities, the women and children detained in these detention camps could have been detained for even longer periods of time. The Senate version of the same bill was passed 20-11 along party lines and was referred to a House committee, where it could still be sent to to the House floor for a vote.

Rep. Raney stated that the bill would put an end to the legal dispute over the licensing of family detention centers in Texas. Following a ruling by a federal judge stating children could not be detained in secure facilities, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services approved a rule that would allow them to license the facilities. This was challenged in court by immigrant families, and led to an Austin-area judge issuing a final judgment saying that the family detention centers could not be licensed. That ruling is currently being appealed by the Texas Attorney General.

Rep. Raney then admitted that the bill was written by a lobbyist for the GEO Group who is a "longtime friend" of his. That is unsurprising, as the GEO Group is one of two private prison companies that operate family detention centers in Texas. The company would profit from the additional time that women and children would spend detained, as they are normally paid a per diem rate for each individual detained.

Following GEO's purchase of two correctional facilities and being awarded a new contract, this is a welcome setback for private prisons here in Texas.

Family detention centers are mostly empty — so why license them?

According to KUT, the two family detention centers in South Texas are mostly empty, leaving immigration judges who had been relocated to the centers with nothing to do.

Due to a low number of people being detained at the border, the number of individuals in the two family detention centers in Texas has dropped dramatically. Between the two facilities, there are only a few hundred people detained. The two facilities have a total capacity of more than 3,000.

Another reason for the low numbers is due to a federal ruling that stated that children could not be held in a secure, jail-like facility. To comply with the ruling, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the federal agency that contracts with the family detention centers — must release the children and their mothers in a short amount of time.

To bypass that decision, Texas State lawmakers this year proposed a bill that would allow the state to license this family detention camps as child care facilities. This bill, if signed into law, would be used to circumvent the ruling that an Austin-area judge made in a lawsuit but forth by immigrant families and allies against the licensing.   

The question is, why license the centers? There are less people being detained at the border, so there is less need for these detention centers. The answer is simple.

Money.

By being able to license these family detention centers as childcare facilities, the private prison companies who operate would be able to detain mothers and children for longer periods of time.

Most contracts between private prison companies have a clause written in them where they receive a daily sum for each person detained in their facilities. If the detention centers were licensed, it would extend the amount of time each individual is detained, meaning more money for the private prison companies. The author of the proposed bill admitted that the bill was authored by the GEO Group, one of two private prison companies that operate family detention centers in Texas. This shows that money, not looking out for the well-being of mothers and children, is what really drives legislation in Texas.

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Texas Senate passes bill that will license 'baby jails' as childcare facilities

The Texas Senate passed a bill that would allow family detention camps to be licensed as child care facilities, reports Raw Story. The bill now heads to the House.

The bill would allow family detention centers to be licensed as child care facilities, which would extend the length of detention for mothers in children detained at the centers. A federal judge ruled in 2015 that children could not be held in secure facilities that are not licensed child care facilities. To try and circumvent that ruling, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) approved a rule that would allow the licensing of family detention centers to continue.

This approved rule was then challenged by a lawsuit that was filed by immigrant families who had been detained in Karnes and Dilley — the two family detention centers located in Texas. An Austin-area judge issued a final judgement in December of 2016 that prevented DFPS from licensing the facilities. This ruling has been appealed by the Texas Attorney General.

To avoid more lawsuits and time in court, the Texas Legislature took matters into their own hands by trying to pass legislation that would allow Texas to license family detention centers as child care facilities. The Senate version of the bill will potentially waive regulations that other child care facilities must follow. A Texas representative recently admitted that a lobbyist from GEO Group, the private prison company that operates Karnes, wrote the legislation for this bill. GEO officials admitted in SEC filings that licensing would be good for the company  because it would prolong the amount of time women and children can be detained.

State Sen. José Rodriguez, who opposed the bill, insists that if this bill passes it will "lesser standards and lack of accountability that will result in women and children being harmed”.

He went on to say the family detention centers "are prisons and there’s no question about that. There may be some TVs here and there, some bunk beds, but it is a secure facility, a baby jail.”

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