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 jobs. The 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.
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.
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.
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.
The former warden of the privately operated East Hidalgo Detention Center, Elberto E. Bravo, was arrested last Friday in a complex bribery scandal. According to local reports, Bravo participated in a scheme to bribe former Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace Melo Ochoa to lower the bond for a Mexican drug trafficker, Luis Martinez-Gallegos .
Private prison operator LCS Corrections removed Bravo from his post as warden in February 2012 amid a federal investigation, but it is unclear if it is related to this case.
The complex case began when Martinez-Gallegos was stopped by Hidalgo County law enforcement officers and arrested for possession of 89 kilograms of cocaine in his vehicle.
According to Breitbart Texas, "Bravo, another woman, and a local attorney worked to get Martinez’s bond lowered so that federal authorities could deport him before the case went federal, the criminal complaint shows."
Ochoa took the cash and decreased the bond from $2.5 million to $50,000. Martinez-Gallegos was subsequently released and deported. What did former private prison warden Bravo have to gain from deporting a drug trafficker? That remains a mystery.