Scandals

South Texas officials working to reopen scandal-ridden Willacy County prison

Tent CityTent CityWillacy officials are working to reopen the troubled Willacy County Correctional Center by winning a new federal, state, or local contract, according to a report by KRGV.

The prison, known as Tent City because of its construction out of Kevlar tents, was destroyed last year after an uprising by immigrant prisoners in protest of conditions at the privately operated facility in February. The prison, run by Management & Training Corporation (MTC), was closed due to significant structural damage causing the relocation of 2,500 federal prisoners and nearly 400 employee layoffs. The economic ripple effect in the area didn't end there, with job losses in the private and government sectors following the prison closure. 

The facility had been operating under "Criminal Alien Requirement" to incarcerate immigrants for the Bureau of Prisons.  

In June of last year, The Nation published a detailed exposé on the uprising describes a peaceful protest that was caused by widespread medical neglect.  The peaceful protest was followed by the what the Nation called an "avoidable escalation" caused by MTC's guards.   

This was not the first time that MTC had run afoul of a federal agency after allegations of abuse at the facility.  In 2011, the facility lost its Immigration and Customs Enfrocement (ICE) contract following an expose by PBS' Frontline detailing sexual and physical abuse at the prison.

Given this history, it would seem almost unbelievable that this facility would win any new contract, let alone a federal one.  We'll keep you posted on developments.   

Following jail suicide, Waco private prison found non-compliant, guards arrested

protest at Jack Harwellprotest at Jack HarwellFollowing a suicide at a for-profit jail in Waco, three private prison guards have been arrested and charged with tampering with records that tracked how often they checked on the prisoner, Michael Martinez, who hung himself in his cell on November 1st.  

The prison — the Jack Harwell Detention Center operated by private prison corporation LaSalle Corrections — was also found non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) following a review of the facility.  The TCJS review (attached) found that private jailers violated the standard mandating that potentially suicidal or mentally ill prisoners be checked on every 30 minutes.   

The Jack Harwell facility has long and troubled history dating back to before its construction.  The facility was publicly financed and built on speculation that it would win federal contracts to detain or incarcerate immigrants, but has largely failed to generate the revenue needed to make the facility financially profitable.  (Of course, in this case financial profitability relies on more people behind bars.)  The jail has also been plagued with allegations of abuse and mismanagement, including sexual assault allegations.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed detainees from the facility last year following an outcry from attorneys and activists.  

Suicides in county jails have endured more public scrutiny in recent months following the suicide of Sandra Bland and state legislators are currently looking into policy proposals to reduce the risk of suicide.   

Private prison that detains hundreds of immigrants fails Texas jail inspection

A for-profit prison that houses hundreds of immigration detainees has failed an inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  

The Rolling Plains Regional Detention Center is operated by Louisiana-based private prison corporation Emerald Corrections and detains 485 federal contract detainees and only 12 local prisoners. Those 12 local prisoners put it under the purview of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which found the lock-up non-compliant during a September inspection.  TCJS standards are considered base-line standards for operating a jail in Texas.

According to the Commission's audit (attached), the facility failed on a number of accounts including misclassification of prisoners, employees operating without a jailer's license, and that the facility was not operating at the required 1 officer per 48 prisoners ratio.  

The review should be of particular concern to immigration advocates as immigration detention standards generally are suppose to meet or exceed jail standards.  

Debate over prison privatization hits San Antonio court room

The national debate over private prisons may soon heat up a San Antonio court room sometime soon, according to a WOIA from this morning:

"A national debate over for-profit prisons has boiled over in San Antonio, where the warden of a unit run by The GEO Group was hauled before a federal judge and dressed down in open court over accusations that defendants were not receiving adequate health care.

"Your company gets millions and millions and millions and millions of dollar and we should get quality care," Judge Orlando Garcia sternly noted, announcing that a federal hearing would be held, where prison leaders would have to answer questions about the healthcare provided.

Companies like the GEO Group have recently been under fire for everything from poor conditions to cronyism to, in San Antonio's case, a lack of medical care.  The warden, in court, said a doctor was only on staff Monday through Thursday.  On Fridays and weekends, there were physician assistants available.  The day before, Federal Judge Fred Biery lashed out at the lockup, saying he believes some of the problems are because the prison is privately owned.  Assistant Federal Public Defender Donna Colthorp agrees.

"It appears that decisions are made based in how much things cost."  

The debate is part of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders platform.  This year, he authored the Justice Is Not For Sale Act."

Certainly, cutting corners at for-profit prisons in Texas is nothing new and has real and sometimes deadly consequences.  As we reported way back in 2009, state-contracted private prisons had an astounding 90% annual staff turnover rate.  These cost-cutting measures can lead to volatile facilities and Texas has sure seen its host of them, including in federally-contracted facilities like the Central Texas Detention Facility, the GEO Group facility in question.   

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