As we say goodbye to 2013, Texas Prison Bid'ness is highlighting the top private prison stories of the year. Our third biggest story of 2013 was the growing campaign to close the privately-operated Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, Texas.
About 90 miles northeast of Houston is what many advocates call one of the worst immigration detention centers in the U.S. The Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, Texas is notorious for its substandard conditions, poor quality food and discriminatation against immigrant detainees. The facility is operated by private prison corporation Community Education Centers.
In fact, the Polk Detention Center has been attracting the attention of human rights activists in Texas for some time. In November of 2012, Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families released a report on the conditions at Polk and recommended it's immediate closure.
That set the stage for 2013, when the campaign to close Polk ramped up with several actions targeting the facility. One such action came in April when 37 national and Texas-based organizations sent a letter to then-DHS Sec. Janet Napolitano calling for the immediate closure of Polk. The letter read in part:
"ICE should prioritize release of immigrants into alternatives to detention and community support programs that are far more humane, less costly, and are effective at ensuring immigrants are able to appear at their hearings. As a first step toward ending inhumane detention, we call for the closure of the IAH Polk County Secure Adult Detention Center."
And on Father's Day (June 15), a caravan of protestors traveled from Austin and Houston to Polk to hold a vigil for the fathers detained at Polk. The event drew extensive media coverage and even the attention of Representative Lloyd Doggett, who said in a statement:
"I commend you for your efforts in highlighting the mistreatment in some detention centers and support you in your campaign to expose the truth and bring justice to this situation."
Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families also returned to Polk in 2013 to interview detained immigrants about conditions. Unfortunately, they found that nothing had improved since their previous visit in July 2012, and in fact, some things were much worse.
This prompted the release of a second report on Polk, called "The Top Ten Reasons the Polk County Detention Center Still needs to be Closed." The report cites 10 serious human and civil rights abuses reported by multiple detained immigrants and renews the demand from Texas advocates to close the facility.
The on-going campaign to close Polk was intensified in 2013, setting the stage for advocates and communities to apply more pressure in 2014.
On December 4, Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families released a report lsiting the reasons why the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston, Texas still needs to be closed. The report was released at the Federal Building in downtown Austin.
During our organizations' tour of Polk in September, we were able to interview 24 men who are detained at Polk by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Based on the men's responses, we were able to compose a list of the top ten reasons why Polk should be closed, including lack of access to basic medical care, legal services and recreation. A copy of our report can be viewed here.
More updates will follow in the near future about our campaign to close Polk. Please stay tuned for how you can support us as we stand in solidarity with our incarcerated community members.
Musicians and immigrant rights advocates will return to the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas on Sunday, December 1 for a protest concert. Hutto is the Corrections Corporation of America-operated immigrant detention center that gained notoriety as a family detention center in from 2006-2009. The facility now detains primarily asylum-seeking women.
Austin-area musicians Son Armado, Kiko Villamizar and Krudas Cubensi will perform for the women held at the immigrant prison starting at 11 a.m. Women held inside Hutto have reported to volunteer visitors that they can hear protesters from inside the facility. "They can hear us in there and our spirit will be felt also," said Kiko Villamizar, who will be performing starting at noon.
This is the second protest concert at Hutto in recent years.
The protest concert is organized by Texans United for Families (TUFF), who are also sponsoring a winter clothing drive to respond to reports from inside Hutto that the facility is not properly heated in the winter months.
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McLennan County is still struggling to fill its speculatively-built Jack Harwell Detention Center, according to an article in the Waco Tribune ("ICE detainees never delivered to county’s jail," August 27) this week:
"McLennan County officials said the 200 detainees U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement promised to the county’s private jail didn’t come.
Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cawthon said ICE told the county the detainees would be delivered to the Jack Harwell Detention Center on Highway 6 at the end of July, but none arrived.
Harwell warden James Duke said he has offered 300 of the center’s 833 beds to the federal agency, but he doesn’t know when to expect them to be filled.
“The thing with immigration is this facility is only an overflow facility. So basically, we can’t expect (detainees) unless (ICE) needs us for overflow beds, and there’s no way we can predict that,” he said. “Dealing with (ICE), it’s got to be on their time and on their need.”"
This is not the Jack Harwell lock-up's first foray into immigrant detention contracts. As we reported back in 2011, then-operator Community Education Centers had immigration detainees removed from its facility after complaints from legal service advisors and immigration rights advocates that conditions in the facility were inappropriate for immigrants in civil detention. The facility also was deemed non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
McLennan County has struggled to pay the debt the county's Public Facility Corporation floated to pay for the construction of hte facility. The facility has sat half-empty for years after county's financing agency spent $49 million to build it. The sitting McLennan County Sheriff was on the payroll of CEC at the time the county voted to finance the construction of the facility.