“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

Private detention industry booms with high cost for immigrant community

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Following an increase in immigration enforcement across the country, NPR reported the resulting boon for the detention industry. The article named detention centers as “private immigrant jails” operated by private corporations like GEO Group and CoreCivic. NPR also reported that GEO Group is facing two class-action lawsuits for forced labor within detention, among a number of issues raised by immigrant rights advocacy groups.

The article interviewed Douglas Menjivar on his experience while detained at Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, Texas operated by GEO Group:

“Menjivar says he was raped by gang members in his cell, and when he reported it to the medical staff they mocked him. ICE found the rape allegation to be unsubstantiated. His lawyer has filed a federal civil rights complaint.

Menjivar also says he was forced to work for a dollar a day.

‘Lots of things happened to me in Conroe,’ he says.”

The Trump administration reversed the Bureau of Prisons’ previous decision to end federal contracts with private companies to detain immigrants who had been convicted of crimes, leading to more revenue for GEO Group and CoreCivic and a bump in the companies’ stock prices. Advocates and human rights organizations have shown detention to be costly and ineffective. Further, according to NPR, “The Justice Department found these prisons fall short on safety and security, and are no cheaper than those run by the federal government.”

NPR reported that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requested a 25% budget increase for detention to raise the total number of beds to 51,000, far exceeding the Congressionally mandated 34,000 immigrant detention bed quota. The request for increased detention capacity facilitates ICE’s plan to conduct widespread raids and arrests as "immigration agents under Trump have been much more aggressive” across the country.

Menjivar commented on the plan to build a second detention center in Conroe, Texas with 1,000 beds, costing $44 million per year to detain immigrants: "For me it's a bad idea. They're psychologically mistreating immigrants."

 

Willacy County Sells Prison to Management & Training Corporation in “Prisonville”

The Valley Morning Star reported the details of Willacy County’s sale of the former Willacy County Correctional Center to Management & Training Corporation (MTC) in Raymondville. According to details released on October 9, the sale for $2.025 million released the county of its $68 million debt to the prison’s bond holders. The 53-acre facility was originally developed by MTC as a detention center in 2006. The county bought the prison in 2011 to turn it to a minimum-security prison. The facility closed in 2015 following a riot and fire.

Management & Training Corporation is soliciting a new contract for the facility. Known previously as Tent City for its windowless pods, “MTC removed 10 Kevlar-covered domes damaged in the February 2015 riot that led to the 3,000-bed prison’s closure.”

Raymondville has been known as “Prisonville” for its three prison and detention facilities, now all privately owned. The town suffered tremendous financial impacts following the closure of the prison. “The closure of the prison, which paid the county for every inmate it held, led to 400 employee layoffs, slashing a third of the county’s $8.1 million general fund budget and plunging the area into financial crisis,” the Valley Morning Star reported.

Check out our previous coverage of MTC's scandals in Raymondville:

Diabetic Woman in Hutto Reveals Abuse of Asylum Seekers in Detention

An article by The Outline highlights the story of Brenda Menjivar Guarado, an asylum seeker from El Salvador who came to the United States seeking refuge from violence in her home. Menjivar Guerado’s story gained attention from the media in July when she suffered medical neglect within detention, and was forced to choose deportation.

Note from Menjivar Guarado

Menjivar Guarado was detained in T. Don Hutto Detention Facility in Taylor, Texas, operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America or CCA). “Upon arrival, guards took away her insulin and began giving her different, less effective treatment for her Type 1 diabetes,” the Outline reports. The lack of proper medical treatment became so dangerous that she was forced to choose deportation over continuing to pursue her asylum case in detention.

Menjivar Guarado’s story reveals the difficulty of fighting one’s asylum case from behind bars. Facilities like Hutto are purposefully isolated from community and legal services, thus the vast majority of women lack legal representation for the asylum process. According to a study by Syracuse University in 2016, of “those who didn’t have a lawyer, only 10 percent got asylum.”

In October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated a priority to close a so-called “loophole” in the asylum process and make it more difficult for judges to grant asylum. Further, according to the Outline, the government argued in Jennings v. Rodriguez that asylum seekers do not have constitutional rights in detention. “It's unclear whether Menjivar Guarado would have eventually been granted asylum, but it appears that the federal government isn't interested in finding out,” the article states.

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ICE Detained Pregnant Survivor of Sexual Violence in Joe Corley Detention Facility

 According to an article in the Texas Observer, the alarming trend of ICE detaining pregnant women claimed national attention when seven human rights organizations filed a complaint for the practice in September (see “Pregnant Women Seeking Asylum Detained, Women Miscarried in ICE Facilities").

The report details the stories of ten women, including Carolina Ramirez, a woman who migrated from El Salvador to Texas at age 23. The journey lasted two months, involving sexual assault by the man who brought her to the United States. She arrived carrying his child and was sent to detention at Joe Corley Detention Facility, a private facility operated by GEO Group. There, she experienced isolation from her family in Missouri and began to suffer from major depressive disorder.

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Ramirez petitioned to be released from detention on bond. Instead, she was held in detention for six months. “Advocates say Ramirez’s story is part of a troubling trend of prolonged detention of pregnant women in ICE custody,” Gus Bova writes in the Texas Observer.

An ICE spokesperson said 525 pregnant women have been detained since October of last year, with 33 in detention as of September 13. The Observer estimates that Ramirez’s detention cost U.S. taxpayers about $22,000 in the private facility.

The GEO Group has a long-standing record of human rights abuses within jails, prisons, and detention centers in Texas. The article cites incidents of rape allegations within the Joe Corley Detention Facility from 2015, and the detainee-organized resistance in 2014 when “more than 180 detainees took part in a hunger strike at the facility over poor food and telephone access.”

The Women’s Refugee Commission recently investigated Joe Corley Detention Facility alongside detention facilities across the country. The Texas Observer references their report released in October to show inadequate care for people detained. “In the worst case documented, Joe Corley had one full-time physician and one full-time nurse practitioner for over 1,500 people at the time of our visit,” the report cited.

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