“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

Suicide attempt at GEO's Joe Corley prison

A prisoner at the Joe Corley Detention Center, operated by the GEO Group, is in the hospital after an attempted suicide attempt, according to news reports ("Inmate in hospital after apparent suicide attempt," Houston Chronicle, April 7),

Authorities are investigating what appears to be a suicide attempt by an inmate found Tuesday hanging by his neck at a jail where federal prisoners are held in Montgomery County.

The 47-year-old man, whose name has not been released, was discovered by a guard about 4:20 p.m. in an inmate dormitory at the Joe Corley Detention Facility in the 500 block of Hillbig Road near Conroe, said Lt. Bill Bucks of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the case. He was rushed to Conroe Regional Hospital, where he is currently in critical condition, Bucks said.

Bucks said foul play is not suspected, and it appears the man hung himself. He is a prisoner of the U.S. Marshal's Service, but officials declined to discuss why he was in jail.

We'll keep you posted on any developments in the case.

New York Times on conditions in Texas detention centers, GEO's Karnes Correctional Center

Nina Berstein at the New York Times continues her marvelous reporting on the immigrant detention system this week with a series of gut-wrenching and mind-boggling stories, including yesterday's story that chronicles a low-level New York drug-offender's experience in the Texas detention system ("How One Marijuana Cigarette May Lead to Deportation," March 30). 

The story follows Jerry Lemaine, a Hatian-New Yorker living as a permanent legal resident in the U.S. since age 3, who was convicted of a marijuana offense and paid a $100 fine.  The government subsequently put Mr. Lemaine in deportation proceedings where he was then shipped to series of Texas detention centers, including the GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center and Karnes County Correctional Center

The story includes some especially damning testimony about Karnes:

His lowest point, he said, came in the private Karnes County Correctional Center, which houses a mix of immigration detainees and federal prisoners. As he tells it, guards there let inmate gangs impose their own pecking order, and as the only black detainee in his dormitory, he seemed especially vulnerable. In the first days, the guards refused him utensils at mealtime, he said, leaving him alone eating stew and cereal with his hands. Later, half a dozen inmates beat him up in a racially motivated attack, he and his lawyers said.

Early on, after he wrote the medical staff that he was depressed, he was placed on a 10-day suicide watch in a filthy segregation unit where he did not see a psychiatrist for a week, he said.
“They just break you down so much,” Mr. Lemaine said. “They just forget about you. Basically, you fend for yourself.”

He was returned to isolation for his own protection after being beaten up, and chose to stay there, he said, locked in a tiny cell 23 hours a day, rather than go back to the same dorm.

I visited a detained immigrant, another long-time U.S. resident with a marijuana conviction, at Karnes several weeks ago who reported similar conditions.  He especially was concerned by a lack of security at the facility.  He also reported that video cameras set up for detainees to testify at their immigration hearings had been broken, pushing back court dates and contributing to the prolonged detention many immigrants face.

In a related ground-breaking Supreme Court ruling this week, the high court ruled that lawyers must tell immigrants such as Mr. Lemaine of the deportation risks of criminal convictions before reaching a plea deal ("Supreme Court says lawyers must tell immigrant clients of deportation risk," Washington Post, April 1). 

Check out more of important stories this week on the immigrant detention system:

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Grayson County to send inmates to Fannin County's CEC jail

After the Grayson County commissioners decided earlier this month to not construct a private jail in Sherman, they are staying true to this commitment. However, in Monday's commissioner meeting it was decided that some of their inmates might be housed in a private facility after all -- just not in Grayson County. The commissioners signed a deal with their neighbor to the East, Fannin County, to house some of their overflow inmates in order to give the commissioners more time to make a decision on how best to solve their jail problems in Sherman. The inmates would be sent to CEC's 432-bed Fannin County Detention Center in Bonham, TX.  

"We have always maintained a good working relationship with Fannin county and this has been in the works for a few months" said Judge Drue Bynum.

Bynum says [Monday's] agreement allows the county to house prisoners closer to home, instead of in McClellan or Limestone county jails and that it could also save Grayson County money.

"The contract was signed for 48 dollars a day, that includes transportation so depending on who you talk to around here that is cheaper than we can do it,” said Bynum.

Fannin County Sheriff Kenneth Moore says his jail has the space, but doesn't need the extra income to operate.

"It was in the back of our minds, but we didn't build this facility to depend on another county," said Moore.

The Jail in Fannin County is operated by a private company, Community education centers, or CEC. Sheriff Moore says he is glad to offer any help he can to Grayson County.

"They have helped us on many occasions, they have never failed to offer assistance in any situation," said Sheriff Moore.

While the future of the Grayson County jail is still not set in stone, housing some prisoners in Fannin County will give Grayson County more options and that means more breathing room to make a final decision ("Grayson and Fannin Counties enter jail agreement," KXII, 29 March 2010).

While Judge Bynum says the contract is for "48 dollars a day," I am assuming he means "48 dollars per day, per inmate." Any further details of the plan have not been released, such as the duration of these inmates stay in Fannin County. Judge Bynum did mention, however, that Grayson County sends 5 to 10 inmates to other counties already. Check back here regularly as this development pans out. In the meantime, below are some links to the background of the Grayson County debate and CEC

Tuesday: Protest of MTC in Georgetown planned

I'll be headed out tomorrow to this protest against Management and Training Corporation in Georgetown, Texas.  Activists will be calling for the closure of MTC's notorious Willacy County "Tent City" detention center in Raymondville.  "Tent City" is the largest immigrant detention center in the country, incarcerating up to 3,000 immigrants awaiting hearings, and is built out of a series of kevlar pods which has earned it the "Tent City" distinction.  Here's the announcement circulating:

Immigrant rights organizers will gather for a protest and letter-delivery calling for the closure of the "Tent City" detention center at the offices of private prison corporation Management and Training Corporation in Georgetown, Texas.  MTC operates the "Tent City" detention center in Raymondville, Texas.  The prison, largely built out of kevlar pods, is the largest immigrant detention center in the country and has been racked by a series of allegations of horrendous conditions and abuse, reports of detainees being fed rotten and inadequate food, and poor access to medical and mental health care.  Activists have called on ICE to close both "Tent City" and the Port Isabel Detention Center - two large immigrant detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley and to implement community-based alternatives to detention policies that are more humane and less costly. 

The protest will be held on Tuesday, March 30th, from 12-1pm at MTC offices (2995 Dawn Drive, Georgetown, TX).  For information on a carpool to Georgetown, contact blibal (at) grassrootsleadership.org or (512) 499-8111.

I'll post some pictures of the protest later in the week.  For now, read some of our previous coverage of MTC's "Tent City" detention center:

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