According to News West 9, a hunger strike broke out at the Reeves County Detention Center on March 4. Prisoners and their families say they were put into solitary confinement as retaliation for talking to an attorney.
The wife of a prisoner at Reeves said her husband was among those placed in solitary. "They're punishing them. Those who spoke with a lawyer, or were wanting to speak with one, they put them in solitary confinement," she said.
William McBride, an attorney who says he had a meeting with 56 prisoners at Reeves on March 2, told News West 9 that prison officials suddenly prevented him from speaking with clients on March 3. McBride says prison officials gave no explanation for why he couldn’t meet with clients.
“[The warden] didn’t give me a reason why. He just said, “We’re not going to let you see them today, tomorrow or in the future,” McBride said.
McBride also told reporters that the prison blocked prisoners from calling his phone number from inside.
The reports of retaliation and a hunger strike at Reeves come just weeks after McBride announced that he would pursue a $15 million lawsuit against the Willacy County Correctional facility. The Reeves and Willacy facilities are two of the nation’s 13 segregated, federal “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons for immigrants. Most of those incarcerated in CAR prisons have been convicted of crossing the border. McBride said he wants to include all five of the CAR prisons in Texas in the lawsuit. McBride told NewsWest 9 that prisoners say they only eat rice and beans and that 4 computers must be shared among the 2,300 prisoners, making it nearly impossible to look for legal representation.
McBride also said medical care is withheld at Reeves. He says a diabetic prisoner who lost all of his five toes and part of his foot because of an infection went untreated.
The hunger strike allegations at Reeves come just days after a major two day uprising where 2,000 immigrant prisoners at the Willacy County Correctional Center last month. Willacy is operated by the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) and, according to an ACLU report, is home to the same abuse and poor medical care.
News West 9 contacted GEO Group to comment on McBride’s access to the inmates. In a statement, they said, “As a matter of policy, our company cannot comment on operational and legal matters."
Last week plans for GEO Care/Correct Care Recovery Solutions' to take over the Terrell State Hospital were scrapped after the release of a state audit. This effort was a privatization scheme that was part of GEO Care's, a subsidiary of private prison company GEO Group, expansion ambitions into state hospital and civil commitment centers. This decision was instigated by a large contracting scandal in the state and a critical state audit.
Last week, the State Auditor’s Office released a seething audit of Texas’ Health and Human Service Commission’s (HHSC) attempt to privatize Terrell State Hospital last year. The audit acknowledges that some procurement processes were followed. Yet, significant breaches to protocol occurred. According to the audit “the Health and Human Services Commission (Commission) did not ensure that its decision to tentatively award a contract to GEO Care, LLC to manage selected operations at Terrell State Hospital provided the best value to the State. The Commission and the Department of State Health Services (Department) did not fully comply with the Commission’s contract planning and procurement processes.”
The results of the audit included a list of mishaps on the part of HHSC. This included failure to conduct a preliminary needs assessment and a cost-benefit-analysis, tardy purchase requisitions, and failure to adequately verify the background, qualifications, and experiences of vendors. In addition, there were a number of discrepancies in the bid evaluation process including inconsistencies in scoring, lack of a minimum qualifying score, and failure to receive non-disclosure agreements prior to negotiations.
In 2012, Texas Department of State Health Services attempted to offer a contract with GEO Care to operate the Kerrville State Hospital. In the end, Commissioner Dr. David Lakey rejected GEO Care’s bid to privatize the Kerrville State Hospital on the grounds that savings in the proposal were achieved “primarily through reductions in staffing and benefits to a degree that would put both our patients and the State of Texas at risk.” Even with this conclusion, HHSC chose to move forward with solicitation to privatize Terrell State Hospital in 2014. Nevertheless, the audit has rendered current attempts to privatize Terrell State Hospital momentarily dead.
Last week immigrant mothers detained at Karnes Detention Center near San Antonio told reporters that they faced retaliation after declaring a hunger strike to demand their release and protest the conditions in which they and their children are being held.
Advocates say that although 40 to 45 women initially began participating in the hunger strike, that number decreased after three women perceived as leaders were placed in isolation in a dark medical clinic with their children overnight on Monday.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is expected to investigate these allegations.
There are also reports that facility guards threatened women participating in the strike with deportation or having their children taken away. Additionally, there are anecdotal reports that all food was cleared from the fridges, even for those women who were not fasting, and that facility officials tightly monitored calls and cut off any conversation that mentioned the hunger strike.
One San Antonio paralegal was accused of inciting the protest and has been banned from the facility, despite multiple statements from both the women inside and advocates that the detained mothers are acting of their own accord. The hunger strike spanned 4 days, from the morning of Tuesday March 31 to Saturday April 4.
Last month, February 25th, an uprising over negligence, poor sanitation, and lack of medical care occurred at the “Tent City” criminal alien requirement (CAR) prison in Willacy County. Following the uprising, Management and Training Corporation (MTC) lost its contract with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and fired the nearly 400 employees that worked there. All of the 2,400 prisoners were transferred to other facilities around the country.
Although MTC is investigating the uprising, there are no immediate plans to reopen the facility. The damage, loss of the BOP contract, and the layoffs are piling up on top of the county's $63 million debt from the building of the facility.
All this has caused the Willacy County Local Government Corp. bonds to be downgraded to junk status by the S&P. The already struggling county will be left to fill the gaps in its budget, and will not be able to afford some of its planned expenditures — including a new hurricane shelter.
The model of MTC and other private prison companies is to find small, struggling towns and counties like Willacy and Raymondsville and promise them economic recovery. The aftermath of the Willacy uprising is one more example of how they do not deliver on their promises, and if anything goes wrong, the companies bail — leaving the vulnerable community to fend for itself.