A Human Rights Watch report released yesterday identifies numerous cases of sexual assault against immigrants detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement's vast and largely private immigrant detention system. As we reported, last week a former supervisor at Correction Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto detention center was arrested and charged in a case of sexual assault of many detained women being transported from the facilities.
HRW's report, Detained and at Risk: Sexual Abuse and Harassment in United States Immigration Detention, details several cases of abuse at many of Texas' private immigrant detentio centers. About Hutto, the report says:
In May 2007, when Hutto still functioned as a family detention center, a young boy was sleeping in a crib inside his mother’s cell when a guard entered and had sexual contact with her. Video surveillance captured the guard, employed by private contractor Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), crawling out of the cell in the middle of the night in an apparent failed attempt to evade security cameras. CCA fired the guard, but he never faced criminal prosecution by either state or federal authorities. According to an ICE spokesperson, the police investigation concluded that the sexual contact had been consensual. In any Bureau of Prisons facility in the US, the same incident would have constituted a crime because federal law criminalizes sexual contact between guards and those in their custody. However, at the time, that particular provision of the federal criminal code applied only to facilities under the authority of the Department of Justice. Immigration facilities had been under the authority of the DOJ until 2003, but then authority passed to the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Consequently, the statutory provision did not cover sexual misconduct in ICE facilities at the time of the incident at Hutto. Later in 2007, a legislative amendment was passed to make the provision cover all federal facilities.
The report also details alleged abuse at the GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center,
The South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas has also been dogged by reports of sexual abuse of detainees. In 2008, media outlets reported detainees attesting to frequent sexual abuse. One such report stated that documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request described an investigation into an alleged assault of a detainee from Mexico by a private security guard which led to his firing but did not result in prosecution. According to the report, the documents also said that another detainee had reported multiple sexual assaults.
And at Management and Training Corporation's Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville,
In the summer of 2009, the Women’s Refugee Commission received numerous reports of sexual assault at the Willacy Detention Center in Raymondville. In at least one case, a lawsuit was filed by the victim, who was transferred to the Port Isabel center after the allegations were made. The allegations received by the Women’s Refugee Commission included not only assaults by guards on women, but also one alleged incident in which a guard locked a female detainee in a room with a male detainee to whom he “owed a favor,” so that he could rape her. These reports came from various sources, including former staff at the facility who wished to remain anonymous. These alleged incidents were reported to Dora Schriro in August of 2009 and she responded by immediately going to Willacy herself to investigate and conduct interviews.
A former Corrections Corporation of America supervisor at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor has been indicted on several counts of sexually assaulting women in his custody while the women were being transported to the facility. According to the story in the Austin American Statesman (Isadora Vail, "Former supervisor charged in sexual assaults of detainees," August 20),
Williamson County officials have charged a resident supervisor at a Taylor immigrant detention facility in the sexual assaults of three female detainees who were being driven to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Donald Dunn, 30, was arrested and charged Thursday with three counts of official oppression and two counts of unlawful restraint.
He is accused of inappropriately touching several women as they were being taken from the T. Don Hutto Residential Center to the airport. He remained in the Williamson County Jail on Thursday with bail set at $35,000.
The allegations were first reported to Austin police May 11 after one of the victims told an airport employee that Dunn had inappropriately touched her on the outside of her clothing, according to the Williamson County sheriff's office.
Sheriff's deputies interviewed Dunn on May 20, and he confirmed that the allegations were true, officials said. According to a news release from the sheriff's office, Dunn "explained to detectives that he told the women he was going to 'frisk' them and then inappropriately touched their breasts, crotch and buttocks. Mr. Dunn advised that he didn't do this for safety concerns but as self gratification. Mr. Dunn indicated to detectives that he had done this to numerous other women while performing his duties as a transport officer."
CCA has come under criticism for allowing male guards to transport female detainees without supervision, in violation of detention standards. Williamson County is holding a press conference at 10am, so we're bound to see a flurry of news after that, and will keep updating the story.
The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) held its quarterly conference call last week. We have previously reported that CCA has excess capacity and that trend continues; company officials mentioned they had unoccupied 12,500 beds in their system. As a result there are no immediate plans to build new CCA prison beds.
CCA currently operates 65 prisons, including 44 company-owned facilities that include 89,000 beds in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Currently, the company’s biggest customers are the state of California and the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
During the call, CCA officials made assumptions that states and the federal government would soon need new beds to accommodate a growing prison population despite current budget constraints. The BOP is reportedly over capacity by 36%; while CCA claimed state prison systems exceed capacity by 12,000 prisoners.
Company representatives went on to mention that while current state prison demand is anemic, potential state customers are not authorizing new beds making the company’s excess capacity readily available for new contracts.
It’s a good thing that while CCA profiteers are struggling to find new customers for their excess supply that state legislators are rethinking criminal justice policies. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that state prison systems declined by nearly 3,000 beds in 2009; prison populations declined in 20 states. While tight budgets are a salient feature they are not the sole contributing factor. Our own Judy Greene co-authored a report earlier this year along with my Sentencing Project colleague Marc Mauer, entitled Downscaling Prisons: Lessons from Four States. In that report, Judy and Marc document legislative and administrative reforms that predate the current recession and contributed to the states of New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Kansas all reducing their prison populations while maintaining public safety.
While there is movement at the state level, federal demand remains steady driven significantly by the need for capacity in the immigrant detention system. During the CCA call, company officials mentioned that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) population numbers 33,000 persons in detention. To meet demand, BOP issued several requests for proposals to add new beds to their system. These requests seek to contract with existing facilities and not new ones. One proposal request would add a new prison in either Texas, Arizona, or Oklahoma and would require a capacity of 1,200 beds.
CCA’s excess supply of prison beds shows that policy reforms - legislative or administrative -- can reduce the need for prison capacity. It further indicates that state policy makers can make other choices when confronted with how to maintain public safety. But, the steady demand from the federal government indicates that there continues to be an over-reliance on confinement as social policy -- the reason why the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. But steps can be taken at the federal level - in immigrant detention and the prison system to reduce overall capacity and undermine CCA’s efforts to fill those 12,500 beds.
I'll be driving out to Taylor for the vigil this Saturday at Corrections Corporation of America's notorious T. Don Hutto detention center,
Please join Texans United for Families, Grassroots Leadership, and organizers from across Texas for a vigil to draw attention to the nation's unaccountable and out-of-control detention system. The vigil will mark the one-year anniversary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) announced detention reform and the end of family detention at Hutto. ICE currently heralds Hutto as a model detention center despite the recent revelation in May that a CCA guard was accused of sexually assaulting several women detained at this 500-bed facility.
Texas holds 10,000 beds in detention centers to date, with plans for continued expansion. Please join us to call for Dignity NOT Detention for immigrants. The vigil takes place starting at 7pm. For details or carpooling information, please email blibal at grassrootsleadership dot org.
Contact me for more information through our contact form.