KLBJ has the story this morning that the Williamson County Commissioner's Court will be discussing converting a wing of the controversial T. Don Hutto detention center to house adult women immigrant detainees. From the story:
This morning, the Williamson County Commissioners will consider a proposal to create a new wing of the T Don Hutto Residential Center. The former prison in Taylor is used by Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrant families awaiting immigration or asylum hearings.
ICE is suggesting the about half of T Don Hutto be used to detain non-criminal females. Right now, about 250 men, women and children are being held at the former prison, which has the capacity to hold 500 people
T Don Hutto is run by Corrections Corporation of America via a contract with Williamson County, which in turn has a contract with ICE.
We'll keep you updated on what happens in Williamson County today, and keep covering the T. Don Hutto lock-up.
Update: Word from Williamson County is that the motion was passed by the Williamson County Commissioners Court. Hutto will be home to 250 women without children when there is space for them. We'll have more when the news stories about this come out.
Texas prisoners will have access to telephones in the next few months. The service will be provided via a private contractor who will install the phones in prisons around the state. According to recent reports, about 4,000 phones will be installed in state prisons. Texas is the last state to provide this service to state prisoners.
This policy is a long time coming. Advocates and family groups have worked for years to provide telephone access to state prisoners. According to Lisa Sandberg in the the Houston Chronicle, "All calls to relatives and friends on an approved list will be recorded, and prison officials will be in charge of monitoring them".
It is certainly a step in the right direction for improving the conditions of Texas prisons. As Grits for Breakfast mentioned, telephone access among prisoners is a behavior management tool and serves to keep prisoners in contact with their families and friends. That is significant since the majority of Texas prisoners will return home.
Undoubtedly, telephone contracts will raise a need for vigorous advocacy as watchdog groups monitor the contracts and make sure that families are not being overcharged for prison telephone calls.
The Vera Commission reported in it's 2006 report Confronting Confinement that the price of prison telephone calls minimized the condition of prisons by reducing the ability of prisoners to maintain contact with family and friends. The Commission found that safety is promoted in correctional facilities when prisoners are allowed to communicate with people in their home communities and maintain personal relationships. This is particularly important in Texas where prison sentences have increased in recent years and prisons are located in remote areas.
We will monitor these telephone contracts and and assess how the cost and management are impacting prisoners and their home communities.
Shondalyn S. Jones, 25, of Dayton, and Manitra L. Taylor, 42, of Cleveland, both employed by the corporation that runs the county jail, were taken into custody about 11:45 a.m. after they accepted the illegal drugs and $1,000 from an undercover agent in a parking lot at the intersection of Main and U.S. 90 in Liberty, investigators said.
The guards were fired following these allegations. However, the fact that two private jail employees were hired indicates bad management of the facility and highlights why private prison outsourcing continues to be bad public policy.
County officials could certainly improve their management of the facility. According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), the private jail's bed capacity numbered 372 earlier this month. Yet, the number of prisoners incarcerated exceeded current space and reached a capacity level of 101.9%. Liberty County reported that 121 or nearl 32% of jail detainees were Federal prisoners.
You would think that if Liberty County officials were going to rent beds to other jurisdictions they would vigoursly manage the capacity and avoid jail overcrowding.
Via Grits and Eye on Williamson County, there is a new website and an upcoming short documentary about the T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas. The film and interactive website are called Children in Jail, and based on the trailer, the film looks really good:
We recently named the controversy around T. Don Hutto our the one of the top five private prison story for 2007, and have highlighted another great short film on the detention center - Hutto: America's Family Prison. Here's hoping Children in Jail and America's Family Prison will continue the scrutiny on T. Don Hutto and the practice of incarcerating immigrant families for a profit in 2008. We'll keep you updated on upcoming screenings of both films.