Physical and Sexual Abuse

Prisoners transferred, county government S&P rating downgraded in the wake of uprising at Willacy County

Prisoners at a "criminal alien requirement" (CAR) prison in Willacy County recently protested conditions and medical care at the facility. The prisoners began protesting by refusing breakfast, but then escalated to setting fire to several of the kevlar tents that make up the housing units. Currently, the 2,900 prisoners have begun to be transferred to other Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities throughout the country. 

Management and Training Corporation, the private corporation that runs the facility, has refused to comment on where the prisoners are being moved, citing safety and security as the main reason for the secrecy. The uprising was not surprising to many advocates of prison and immigration reform. An ACLU report released last year detailed squalid conditions, rampant abuse, and little to no medical care at the facility.

The Willacy County Local Government Corporation, which contracts with MTC to run the facility, has had its S&P rating downgraded to a BBB long-term rating because it relied on the facility as a primary source of income. The 400 people who worked at the facility are reportedly afraid of losing their jobsThe BOP has not commented on whether it plans on reopening the facility, and MTC has maintained that they will assess the damage once all of the prisoners have been evacuated.

Immigrant prisoner uprising at Willacy County CAR prison

Last week, up to 2,000 immigrant prisoners staged a two-day riot at a private prison in Raymondville, TX. According to a report by DemocracyNow!, the prisoners were protesting inadequate medical care when they refused to eat breakfast on February 20, seized control of part of the prison, and set fires.

The prison, Willacy County Correctional Center, is owned and operated by the private prison company Management & Training Corporation (MTC), and is known by critics as "Ritmo" — short for Raymondville’s Guantánamo prison. It is also referred to as “tent city” because the majority of the prisoners sleep in large, cramped kevlar tents.

Willacy County Correctional Center

The Raymondville prison is also one of 13 privately operated CAR or “Criminal Alien Requirement” prisons. Carl Takei, staff attorney with the ACLU’s national prison project explained:

"Willacy is one of 13 private prisons in the federal system. It’s sort of a shadow system within the Federal Bureau of Prisons system, that is run by private prison companies. These prisons house immigrants who have been convicted of drug offenses and immigrants who have been convicted of something called illegally re-entering the United States after deportation. The Bureau of Prisons has consigned immigrants to these prisons based on the assumption that they are all going to be deported after their sentences are up. And it can therefore treat them as second-class prisoners and hand them over to these for-profit companies that have a history of abusing and mistreating the people in their custody."

Takei also authored the report, Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System, which provides a closer look at CAR prisons and the inhumane conditions inside.  

Texas private prisons take center stage at U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearings

At the end of January, I was invited to testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about abuses in U.S. immigrant detention system.  My testimony was part of a day full of panels on civil rights violations in immigrant detention centers.  I was joined by fellow Texans Marisa Bono from MALDEF and Sister Norma Pimental, a leader in the refugee relief effort in the Rio Grande Valley this summer. National advocates from the ACLU, National Immigrant Justice Center, and Human Rights Campaign along with government officials joined the panels.

The resurgence of the detention of immigrant families at two remote Texas prisons and violations in private detention centers, including facilities here in Texas often covered by Texas Prison Bid'ness, took center stage.  Notably, Corrections Corporation of America sent a representative to the hearing while rival private prison corporation GEO Group decided not to, eliciting remarks from Committee Chair Marty Castro that he may have to use the Commission's power of subpoena to force the company to come testify.  

My comments focused on the massive and largely for-profit detention system that has dramatically expanded in Texas over the past decade.   I noted that sexual assault has been far from uncommon in Texas' detention centers, including allegations or prosecutions at a half dozen different detention centers.  Even when the same facility has had multiple cases of demonstrated sexual assault, ICE remains unwilling or unable to cut contracts with the facilities or private prison corporations responsible.   I also noted the rise of family detention — a major profit center for private prison corporations — and my recent trip the new Karnes County family detention center.   There I saw small children detained with their mothers who reported that their children are suffering weight loss and that they were threatened with separation from their children if they did not sign their deportation papers.  

Across the board, the recommendation from advocates was to use detention sparingly if at all and dramatically scale back the system.  I'm looking forward to the Commission's final recommendations.  You can watch the full testimony online and read my written testimony here.   

Former guard at Jack Harwell pleads guilty to improper sexual relationship with inmate

A former guard at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, Melissa Corona, has pled guilty to charges of sexual misconduct with one of the inmates. Ms. Corona was indicted in March 2014, after allegations that she began a relationship with a male inmate in 2013 by kissing him more than 10 times.

Ms. Corona was the fifth person to be arrested in 2013 after an investigation into improprieties between staff and inmates. Three other female guards were arrested on charges of sexual misconduct, and a male guard was charged with bringing contraband into the facility.

This is not the first investigation into sexual misconduct at the facility. In fact, Community Education Centers (CEC), the private corporation responsible for the maintenance and staffing of Jack Harwell, is currently facing a lawsuit alleging that the company was grossly negligent by failing to screen, hire, train and supervise its employees to maintain a secure and safe facility. In this case, the allegation is that prolonged sexual misconduct occured between a male guard and a female inmate from November 2012 to March 2013.

The Jack Harwell facility was run by CEC until June 2013, when LaSalle Corrections took over management. Although LaSalle may have won the contract from CEC, the small Louisiana based company doesn’t have a clean record either.

Troubles at the Jack Harwell center are not confined to those held on local charges, either. Until last year, the facility also had a contract to hold detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but was at the center of controversy and protests over substandard conditions for those federal detainees as well. ICE pulled their detainees from the facility shortly after news broke of the conditions. 

Syndicate content