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.
The Jack Harwell Detention Center, built in 2010 on $49 million in revenue bonds, is once again housing immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. McLennan County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cawthon told the Waco Tribune that the facility would begin leasing two hundred beds to ICE for people awaiting immigration hearings.
LaSalle Corrections took control of the facility just last month when the county decided to change operators from Community Education Centers, which had run the detention center since its construction. The county had always had trouble filling the beds, but after an audit by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and an ICE investigation uncovered poor conditions, McLennan County lost its contract with ICE in December 2011.
County commissioners chose LaSalle because of the company's "stability and its track record of persuading federal agencies to contract for its services." In fact, a LaSalle executive was quoted in the Waco Tribune as saying that the company has:
“...been blessed to have a relatively good history of increasing the jail population for our clients,” said Billy McConnell, an executive with LaSalle. “We are confident we can provide a service that the county will find satisfactory.”
Like many contracts with for-profit prison companies, McLennan's contains a bed guarantee -- a stipulation that McLennan will continue to pay LaSalle if the population drops below a set level. The only commissioner who voted against the proposal said that he could "not in good conscience" put his support behind a contract that put McLennan County on the hook for unfilled beds. If prison population declines or if the facility once again fails to live up to ICE's standards (which are notoriously low), the county could find itself in even more fiscal trouble.
While McLennan County was lucky to be rid of CEC, it might have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire with this new deal with LaSalle.