The Karnes City Family Detention Center came under intense scrutiny earlier this month when the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and lawyers from the University of Texas School of Law submitted a complaint that guards have been committing “substantial, ongoing sexual abuse” against the mothers being detained.
When the facility—run by the GEO Group—began receiving mothers and their children at the beginning of August, advocates remembered the conditions and trauma that the families detained at the T. Don Hutto facility had to endure from 2006 to 2009. On an ICE directed visit to the Karnes facility last month, mothers complained about the severe cold, poor food quality, and the lack of freedom that they and their children experience on a daily basis, a nearly identical description of initial conditions in the Hutto facility.
Private prison corporations like the GEO Group deal primarily in adult criminal detention, and are not equipped to deal compassionately with vulnerable populations such as recently arrived immigrant families who are seeking asylum. “The recent allegations of sexual abuse don’t surprise me at all,” Grassroots Leadership’s Immigration Projects Director Cristina Parker commented, "I'm sickened, but not surprised." A report jointly released by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies documents the lousy track record of the GEO Group when it comes to human rights abuses.
In April, Juan Aguilar, a former GEO employee was charged with sexual abuse of a detainee. The victim of the abuse was being detained at Pearsall during his deportation proceedings. The two men were working in the kitchen when Aguilar pulled down the detainee's pants off and performed fellatio on him in the freezer.
On Wednesday, a jury took just over an hour to find Aguilar guilty, and he is nowawaiting his sentence. Aguilar’s lawyer reportedly argued that he had no authority over the inmate and that the act was “wrong but not a crime,” and likened it to someone having an extra-marital affair — morally wrong but not illegal. However, the law in Texas is clear that sex between inmates and employees is absolutely illegal.
This is not the first time that the GEO Group, and specifically the detention center in Pearsall, has been involved in a sexual abuse scandal.
The Karnes County family detention center, operated by the GEO Group, was at the center of a scandal over the denial of treatment for a seven year old girl with brain cancer detained inside with her mother.
Last week Grassroots Leadership highlighted ICE’s refusal to release a Nayely, a seven-year-old with a life threatening brain tumor, from Karnes County Family Detention Center even after her mom, Sara, passed a Credible Fear Interview, the threshold for qualifying for asylum.
ICE's refusal to allow a terminally ill child to bond out of detention to receive treatment is due to a new "no or high bond" policy for immigrants seeking asylum. The policy was enacted to act as a deterrant for people who may be considering seeking asylum here. According to the Houston Chronicle, Nina Pruñeda, an ICE spokeswoman, stated that bond is actually being granted on a case by case basis. Legally, two factors are used to determine bond eligibility: whether the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community. Some advocates might argue that mothers with children are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
In light of the new policy, we are very happy to report that Nayely and her mom Sara were released from Karnes last week after ICE was overwhelmed by intense media coverage and phone calls from people demanding their immediate release. Nayely's condition was evaluated at Dell Children's Hospital in Austin on Tuesday, September 9th.
The last prisoner who was still hospitalized after suffering an injury in a roof collapse at the Diboll Correctional Center was expected to be released on Wednsday, July 23.
The facility, south of Lufkin, is owned by the Management and Training Corporation.
The roof collaposed at the Diboll Correctional Center on Saturday, July 19 just as prisoners and others were preparing for visitation. The Houston Chronicle reports that a team of engineers and investigators with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice visited the prison on Monday, July 21.
Since the damaged housing unit is not livable, the prisoners normally housed there were transferred to another facility Saturday and will remain there until the damage has been repaired, according to a statement released to the Chronicle.
Warden David Driskell said he does not want to speculate on what caused the roof to collapse before the TDCJ completes the investigation.
"I'm not the expert in that. We do have a team TDCJ officials who actually owns this building and they're evaluating it and they're here today inspecting, and hopefully, we'll come up with a plan to get it repaired," Driskell told KTRE Channel 9.
Eighty-five prisoners are in another facility until repairs at Diboll can be completed.