A new "green paper" released Monday entitled Operation Streamline: Drowning Justice and Draining Dollars along the Rio Grande takes a look at the impact of Operation Streamline on the private prison industry. I co-authored the report for Grassroots Leadership, a sponsor of this blog.
Operation Streamline, initiated in 2005 in Del Rio and expanded to much of the Texas and Arizona border, mandates that immigrants apprehended at the border are detained, prosecuted, and incarcerated in the criminal system in addition to the civil immigration system. This is a departure from previous policy in which most immigrants were only dealt with in the civil immigration system.
The result has been a mess. In Texas alone, 135,000 immigrants now have criminal records and many have done real prison time under the Streamline before being deported (far from streamlining the process, the policy adds another layer of incarceration on top of the existing civil detention system).
While most researchers believe that the program hasn't deterred unauthorized immigration, the program has affected the judicial system in serious ways. The federal court system is horrendously over-booked. 54% of 2009's federal prosecutions across the country were for immigration violations. In the Southern District of Texas, a district that includes Houston, a full 84% of April prosecutions were for two immigration violations - unauthorized entry (1325) and unauthorized re-entry (1326). With a mandated focus on prosecution of immigration violations, diligence to other prosecutions has fallen off dramatically.
So, who wins in this scenario? Our research indicates that, since 2005, more than $1.2 billion in federal money has been spent on the detention and incarceration for unauthorized entry and re-entry in Texas alone. Nearly all of that prison beds - contracted by the US Marshals and Federal Bureau of Prisons - are operated by private prison corporations. Prisons like the GEO Group's Laredo Superjail, Emerald's LaSalle County Detention Center, and LCS's Coastal Bend Detention Center have sprung up around south and west Texas to win US Marshals contracts, largely driven by increased immigration prosecutions. Could it be that Operation Streamline is a billion dollar give-away to the private prison industry?
Check out the full report and a new blog on Operation Streamline at www.grassrootsleadership.org.
Our friends Renée Feltz and Stokely Baksh, creaters of the Business of Detention website, are back with a new project - Deportation Nation - aimed at critically reporting on Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Secure Communities program. Secure Communities utilizes an extensive database to track anyone booked into many local jails around the country for their immigration status, and has been criticized by immigrant rights and civil liberties organizations for streamling immigrants, even those only charged with minor offenses, into detention and deportation proceedings. Amongst the really interesting features at Deportation Nation is an ambitious effort to collected detained people's voices through a hotline system. We'll keep you posted on Deportation Nation's progress, but for now, check out the terrific new site.
Some of Texas' immigration detention facilities can expect some changes to give them a feel that is less prison-like, offering them internet, television, bingo games, and other amenities all for cheaper than it would cost to detain them. In an email leaked by the Houston Chronicle, a total of nine Corrections Corporation of America facilities nationwide will undergo these changes.
Of those nine, a few were mentioned in Texas, including the Laredo Processing Center, T. Don Hutto Residential Center, and the Houston Processing Center. All three of these facilities are contracted with ICE to detain low-risk immigrants who are not charged with a crime. This being the case, ICE is not focusing on punishment, rather focusing on the most humane way to hold these people while they await trial or deportation. ICE spokesperson Beth Gibson said, "When people come to our custody, we're detaining them to effect their removal. It's about deportation. It's not about punishing people for a crime they committed."
The Houston Chronicle outlines some of the ways in which the facilities will change:
At the CCA facilities that have agreed to ICE's changes, detainees will see more variety in their dining hall menus and have self-serve beverage and fresh vegetable bars.
CCA also plans to offer movie nights, bingo, arts and crafts, dance and cooking classes, tutoring and computer training, the e-mail states.
Detainees also will be allowed four hours or more of recreation "in a natural setting, allowing for robust aerobic exercise."
CCA also committed to improving the look of the facilities, such as requiring plants, fresh paint and new bedding in lower-risk units.
...Gibson said CCA is making the improvements at no additional cost to ICE. The agency's contract with CCA for the Houston detention center requires that ICE pay $99 per bed daily for each detainee, slightly lower than the $102 average daily rate ICE pays nationally. (Susan Carroll, "ICE to make detention centers more humane," Houston Chronicle, 8 June, 2010)
This is good news for Texas, especially for the T. Don Hutto Residential Center given its rocky past and recent sexual assault case. Whether or not ICE and CCA follow through with the proposed plans and whether they have an impact remain to be seen. As soon as we find out the timeline and plan of action we will relay the information here.
Argyle, Texas-based private prison development firm CorPlan has brought its much-rejected private detention center proposal to Italy, Texas - a small community just south of Waxahachi and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, according to the Italy Neotribune ("Italy City Council hears proposal for commercial development," May 18),
"James Parkey along with associates Kent Bratcher and Gary McKibben of James Parkey Associates presented their proposal of a detention center for illegal immigrants for all nationalities to be built in Italy. They would like to put it on fifty acres. He stated the building would look like a school. There would be no guard houses, no guard dogs, but would be a gorilla proof facility with a fence. The facility would only be used as a processing center and would be designed to current building codes.
Parkey explained it would be a five hundred bed facility and would provide approximately one hundred and fifty jobs. The hired employees would be put through training and at the end of their training they would be a licensed correction officer."
Parkey and his associates have traveled across the southwest pitching supposed "family immigrant detention centers." Last month, a CorPlan proposal met blistering criticism in Globe, Arizona ("Revisiting Globe's prison proposal: Companies behind project have a questionable past," Arizona Silver Belt, June 9th) including in an attempt to persuade the city of Weslaco to finance such a facility with the help of State Representative Eddie Lucio, III. According to Forrest Wilder's coverage at the Texas Observer ("For the Lucios, Private Prison Consulting is a Family Affair," April 23),
"In recent years, Corplan has been at the center of numerous controversies, including a bizarre prison-building scheme in Hardin, Montana that involved a private military force called American Police Force run by an ex-con. The prison cost the small town $27 million but never housed any prisoners.
In one of his latest gambits, Parkey has approached city officials in several towns across the U.S. – Benson, Arizona; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Weslaco, Texas – with a proposal to build a new detention center for immigrant families. Parkey’s reputation, however, has caught up with him in Las Cruces and Benson, where officials have nixed the deal."
One of the many problems with this supposed family detention center was that ICE is no longer soliciting family detention centers from contractors. Even so, a prison developer could be paid up front if a community were to build such a facility on speculation of a contract, regardless of the success of the project. Thus far, we have seen no media coverage outside the NeoTribune of Italy proposal, but we'll continue to monitor the situation and let you know the developments.