The Dallas Morning News ran an op-ed by Professor Barbara Hines on Monday against ICE's proposal for three new family detention centers of up to 200 beds each. Hines is a professor at the University of Texas' Immigration Law Clinic and was an attorney for detained children in the lawsuit challenging conditions at Hutto.
Here's a highlight from the article:
These facilities, each to be built with up to 200 beds, will expand the system of family detention made controversial in recent years at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.
The proposal for new centers is a step in the wrong direction. Congress has repeatedly called on ICE, the agency within the Department of Homeland Security responsible for immigration matters, to implement alternatives to detention programs for families, stating that detention of families should be the last alternative and not the first.
In 2006, when I first went to Hutto, I was appalled by the living conditions. Children as young as infants, along with their families, were detained in a converted medium-security prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit prison management corporation. Children received one hour of education a day and wore prison uniforms. They were required to be in their cells for long periods during the day to be present for multiple cell counts.
Many of the detainees at Hutto have come to the United States fleeing persecution or social turmoil — asylum seekers fleeing civil conflict in Eastern Africa, Iraqi Christians targeted by fundamentalists and Central Americans seeking refuge from drug, gang and domestic violence. No detainee has been accused of a crime.
Check out the full op-ed, and our previous coverage of ICE's new family detention proposals:
The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children has issued a strong statement (PDF) opposing Immigration and Customs Enforcement's proposal to construct three new contracted family detention centers around the country.
The facilities would dramatically expand the system of family detention made notorious at Corrections Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor. Bids for the facilities are due next Monday, June 16th. According to the release,
The Women’s Commission calls on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to immediately halt the alarming growth of family detention. “This is a system that has already been found to be completely inappropriate for families, and we are deeply distressed by this expansion,” said Michelle Brané, director of the detention and asylum program with the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children. “What’s more, it ignores the explicit directive of Congress that ICE release families whenever possible.”For more on the three new proposed family detention centers, see our coverage from last week or check out tdonhutto.blogspot.com for background information and to read the bidding documents.
The decision to add new facilities to the agency’s roster of family detention centers comes despite a 2007 lawsuit alleging that children detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas were subjected to conditions of confinement that violated minimum standards of care for minors in federal custody. The resulting settlement forced ICE to undertake substantial modifications in physical appearance, medical care, disciplinary actions, education and recreation at the Hutto facility.
ICE responded to the lawsuit and massive public outcry by issuing “family residential standards.”
However, they are based on adult correctional standards intended to regulate the behavior of criminal inmates, not preserve and protect the unique needs of non-criminal families. Also, DHS’ Request for Proposals for the new facilities violates its own standards in an alarming number of critical areas, including the provision of medical care, education, recreation and the use of restraining devices. “ICE’s failure to comply with its own standards is further evidence that the agency does not intend to open—or at the very least, properly administer—family-centered, non-penal residential programs,” according to Brané.
The new LCS Detention Center near Robstown is scheduled for completion late this summer following a series of setbacks.
Off County Road 2826 in what used to be a cotton field, the new 1,100-bed facility likely will be the destination for prisoners brought there by federal agencies such as the U.S. Marshals, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol.
Once it opens, the facility is projected to create more than 200 jobs and pump more than $1 million a year into Nueces County coffers via prisoner contracts and property taxes, county officials said.
LCS Corrections Services is one of the largest private prison operators in the nation, with six other prisons -- one in Brooks County, one in Hidalgo County, three in Louisiana and one in Alabama.
Two things jump out at me from this passage. First, the story says that the facility is "likely" to hold federal detainees from the U.S. Marshals and ICE and prisoners from the BOP. The use of the term "likely" to me indicates that the company may not have a contract in place to bring prisoners in. I wonder, given LCS's record of failing U.S. Marshals assessments, if that agency is rethinking sending prisoners to these facilities.
While this seems like a line lifted from a company press release, it's almost laughable to claim that LCS is one of the largest private prison operators in the nation. If anything, LCS is one of the smaller private prison corporations - certainly trailing far behind CCA, GEO, Cornell, MTC, and CiviGenics in terms of "market share" with its six prisons. And, it has certainly had its share of problems in the past. See our previous coverage of LCS, in our "Closer Look at LCS Corrections" post from last year.
The article then goes on to claim that the area will experience a financial boon from the construction of the prison.
Once it opens, the facility will bring 210 to 220 jobs to the area. Starting corrections workers with no experience will make $11.50 an hour. Once they complete training, the pay increases, Harbison said.
The private prison is projected to generate more than $400,000 a year in fresh property tax revenue for the county and another $1 million or more in annual cash via an agreement where the county passes federal prisoners through to the private facility in exchange for a share of the profit, county officials said.
Because the federal government does not deal directly with private detention businesses, Nueces County is in the process of negotiating a new federal prisoner housing rate for its own jail as well as a rate for prisoners housed under what is known as a "pass-through" contract. That new rate will include the Robstown facility as well as upgrade the rate that LCS and Nueces County are getting for a similar corrections facility at La Villa, in Hidalgo County.
Under the "pass through" agreement, Kaelin will serve as the ultimate oversight for any federal prisoner at the private facility.
Nueces County now gets a daily rate of $2 per prisoner, or some $1,900 a day for serving as overseer at La Villa. LCS gets roughly $43 a day per prisoner.
I'll be interested to see how many of the jobs actually go to residents of the Robstown area. As prison critics have stressed for years, the vast majority of prison workers drive into rural communities for work. Prisons are increasingly criticized as poor economic development tools. Greg Hooks' prisons and economic development study in our Considering a Private Jail? report (PDF) has more information on the detrimental impact a private prison or detention center has on a rural community's economy in the long-run.
Last week, I participated in a press conference against the provision of the SAVE Act which mandates the construction of a new "family detention center" modeled after the notorious T. Don Hutto private detention center in Taylor. Specifically, the SAVE Act authorizes:
(d) Family Detention Facility- To further meet the special needs of detained families, the Department of Homeland Security shall retain or construct a family detention facility, similar to the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility, offering no less than 500 beds.
Over 20 organizations and faith leaders in Austin signed onto a national letter opposing family detention. National signatories to the letter include the National Education Association, First Focus, the Episcopal Church, and the National Council of La Raza. Local signatories included:
Texans United for Families, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, Catholic Charities of Austin, Rev. Jim Rigby of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Pastor Fred Krebs of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, the ACLU of Texas, People Organizing in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER), Political Asylum Project of Austin, Ponce Law Office, Grassroots Leadership, Proyecto Defensa Laboral, La Nueva Raza, LULAC, District 12, Texas Jail Project, Texas Civil Rights Project, American Friends Service Committee of Austin, Code Pink Austin, MADRES, and Marcelo Tafoya, LULAC National Civil Rights Commissioner.
Speakers at the press conference included Jose Orta of LULAC's Taylor chapter, Reverend Jim Rigby of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, and Professor Barbara Hines of the University of Texas Law School's Immigration Clinic. The Immigration Clinic along with the ACLU forced a lawsuit settlement with ICE last year which greatly improved conditions at Hutto. The press conference garnered media hits from Univision, KLBJ Radio, and the Austin American-Statesman.
As we reported last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has issued an pre-solicitation notice for three new smaller family detention centers. ICE appears to be ignoring the wishes of Congress, as stated in the last three appropriations bills, to invest in alternatives programs to family detention.
The SAVE Act's provision for another Hutto-like family detention center would be a departure from Congress's previous position that detention of immigrant children and their families should be the last alternative and not the first.