“What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.” -- Molly Ivins, 2003

Members of Congress Call on DHS to Investigate Sexual Assault in Detention

Immigration advocates joined with congressional representatives to bring attention to the rampant issue of sexual assault in immigrant detention centers. In December, Newsweek reported that 71 members of congress sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security officials to condemn the agency’s failure to investigate claims of assault in detention.

The congressional sign-on letter named several cases of sexual abuse in detention, including the three women who came forward from Hutto Detention Facility in Taylor, Texas.

The national organization Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) filed a class-action civil rights complaint on April 11 for the Homeland Security’s refusal to disclose records or investigate reports of sexual abuse. “According to CIVIC, Homeland Security received a total of 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse from January 2010 to July 2016,” Newsweek reported. Less than one percent of those reports have been investigated, and 75 percent were filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CPB) employees.

While ICE responded to claim that all reports are “investigated thoroughly,” the agency has not responded to CIVIC’s complaint. It also has filed a request with the National Archives and Record Administration to destroy its files of scandals and abuse, including reports of sexual assault, deaths of detainees in custody, and solitary confinement.

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Prison guard pleads guilty to bribery at private detention facility in Conroe

According to an article from the Associated Press, a guard at GEO Group operated Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, Texas pleaded guilty to bribery of a federal employee. 28-year-old Jacoby Derrell Randall admitted to smuggling food, marijuana, and electronics, all banned items to detainees at the facility.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Randall sneaked food into the facility for $100 each occurrence, and later an MP3 player for $200.

Private prisons in Texas have been known for bribery scandals in the past: In January 2017, two former private prison guards pleaded guilty to charges of bribery from their time working at the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility. In 2015, the former warden of the privately operated East Hidalgo Detention Center was arrested in a complex bribery scandal.

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CoreCivic Reports Lower Revenue from Texas facilities

CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) announced its Quarter 3 earnings in November including lower revenue compared to this quarter last year. “Total revenue in the third quarter of 2017 was $442.8 million compared to $474.9 million in the third quarter of 2016,” the company reported to NASDAQ.

While CoreCivic won new contracts in Tennessee and Arizona, its revenue was reduced by changes in contracts with Texas facilities. Effective November 2016, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) amended and extended its contract with CoreCivic to operate the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC), the nation’s largest immigrant detention center. The changes in the contract “resulted in a reduction of revenue to $28.7 million” compared to the third quarter in 2016.

CoreCivic also lost revenue in Texas following the expiration of contracts with the Federal Bureau of Prisons at Eden Detention Center that closed earlier this year.

The company states it is continuing to “diversify” its revenue stream as it gains new contracts for reentry facilities, such as the Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth Transitional Centers. Earnings are expected to increase as more detention facilities are solicited by the Trump administration.

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Laura Monterrosa Courageously Speaks Out Against Sexual Abuse in Hutto

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On November 9, 23-year-old Salvadoran asylum seeker Laura Monterrosa spoke out about the sexual abuse she has experienced since June while she has been detained at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, operated by private prison corporation CoreCivic (formerly called Corrections Corporation of America). The Independent reported on Monterrosa’s story on November 7 following advocacy by Grassroots Leadership.

In her letter, Laura writes how a female guard forced her into sexual acts against her will:

“She harassed me, telling me threatening words and forcing me to have unwanted relations with her. She looked for or took advantage of every moment she could to touch my breasts or my legs, she knew where and when she did it, I don't remember dates because there are many. She worked in the recreation area and what she did with me she did with other residents.”

Monterrosa spoke out publicly on November 9 following several media articles. Since then, she reports that she has experienced retaliation from within the detention center.  She remains  detained while her abuser continues to be employed at the facility by CoreCivic. “In this place, we don’t have rights, only duties," she said in a letter to Grassroots Leadership.

Two women joined Monterrosa in denouncing sexual abuse they experienced while detained at Hutto on November 22. One woman, ‘Ana,’ was transferred to another private detention center in Laredo after filing her formal complaint.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Rewire on November 22 that the agency conducted an investigation in collaboration with Williamson County, where Hutto is located, and found Monterrosa’s claims “unsubstantiated.” Williamson County has remained silent on the issue.

The T. Don Hutto Detention Center, which detains 512 women, nearly all of whom are seeking asylum, has been at the center of sexual assault scandals before — one former guard served time for multiple assaults.

From 2010 to 2016, out of approximately 33,000 complaints of physical and sexual abuse filed across the country with the DHS Office of Inspector General, less than 1 percent were actually investigated according to the national detention visitation program CIVIC.

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