“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

Eight Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors Sue Cornell Over Physical Abuse

Eight unaccompanied minors formerly held under the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement have sued Houston-based Cornell Companies alleging physical abuse and other violations of their constitutional rights. According to the KRIS TV ("Detention Facility for Immigrant Kids Sued") article,

Eight immigrant teenagers held at a facility for unaccompanied minors filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming they were abused and denied access to attorneys.

The teens from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Cuba were being held at the San Antonio facility run by Houston-based Cornell Companies Inc. under a contract with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Undocumented minors caught by authorities in the United States fall under the care of ORR while their immigration cases are decided.

But Susan Watson, an attorney for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, said the teens were beaten and subjected to other excessive force in violation of their constitutional rights.

At least one teen was knocked unconscious, but complaints to facility administrators were ignored, according to the lawsuit.

As the article rightly states that this isn't the first problem at a Cornell facility.

Arkansas fired Cornell from the operation of a juvenile facility in November 2006 after finding employees inappropriately injected youth with anti-psychotic medication to control behavior.

And in September, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials removed 600 detainees from an Albuquerque, N.M., facility run by Cornell, citing failure to maintain safety, health and well-being standards there.

As we reported last week, Cornell has made a bid to take over the former Webb County juvenile detention center and turn it into a half-way house. This lawsuit might give Webb County officials further pause in their negotiations with Cornell.

Man Escapes GEO Group's San Antonio Jail

KSAT ("Fugitive Escapes from Downtown Jail," April 1) reports that a man escaped the GEO Group's downtown San Antonio jail sometime on Sunday or Monday.  According to the story,  

A man who escaped from a jail facility downtown had quite a headstart on law enforcement.

Esequiel Pena escaped from the GEO Group Jail sometime between Sunday and Monday afternoons when he pulled open a recreation yard fence and climbed down an eight-story fire escape, according to a press release from the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force.

Pena was originally sentenced to more than 15 years in prison on weapons charges, but was awaiting transfer into a release program when he was at the facility, according to the release. He has a history of mental problems, according to the release.

We'll keep you posted on developments. 

Webb County Rejects Cornell's Offer to Buy Detention Center

According to the Laredo Morning Times ("County Backs Off," 3/26), Webb County has rejected an offer by private prison corporation Cornell Companies to buy the county's former youth detention center.

The Webb County Commissioners Court unanimously voted Tuesday to rescind all action taken with respect to an earnest-money contract approved earlier this month with Cornell Correction of California for the sale of the Webb County Juvenile Detention Center.The decision means the private corrections company will not immediately purchase the facility, in the 4100 block of Juarez Avenue, for a rehabilitation center for federal prisoners.

Nick reported that members of the Laredo Independent School District had opposed the facility being located so close to a school. Apparently those concerns won out. Cornell representatives are quoted in the story as saying the lines of communication are still open, so this story might not be over.

Is a Private Detention Center Good for Caldwell County's Economy?

The debate over the recently proposed Caldwell County detention center, proposed by private prison corporation Emerald Companies, has largely centered on the inflammatory comments of Charles Law, mayor pro tem of the City of Mustang Ridge and a local water board official. Law called the detention center a "holding pen for wetbacks" and has been rightly condemned for his comments. In January, a similar proposal was defeated after widespread community opposition on the other side of the county.

Ignored in the debate about the current Emerald proposal has been one of the key driving forces behind detention center expansion in rural Texas - the idea that building a prison will stimulate the local economy and create jobs. Which begs the question, does building a prison or detention center in a rural community help the local economy? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is no. And it points to one of the most persistent myths surrounding prisons and detention centers - that they are good for rural economies. In fact, the exact opposite appears to be true.

According to multiple studies on prisons and economic development, rural counties that build prisons actually end up worse off than those that do not. According to one of the most comprehensive study on the topic, The Prison Industry: Carceral Expansion and Employment in U.S. Counties, 1969-1994, rural counties with slow-growing economies that built prisons actually fared worse than comparable counties that did not build prisons. In faster-growing areas, prisons had no positive economic benefit.

The reasons for this outcome aren't entirely known, but researchers have offered several hypothesis.

  1. The so-called "prison-town effect" where large prisons deter more beneficial businesses from wanting to come to a community while at the same time scaring off tourism and other industries reliant on a positive community image.
  2. Prisons can drain scarce public resources such as water hook-ups and other utilities, law enforcement, and road construction monies.
  3. These factors are compacted by private prisons where "profits" from the facility are taken out of the community and given to shareholders or invested in future prison and detention center expansion efforts.

Unfortunately, Carceral Expansion is not online in its entirity, but you can read a review of the study by University of Texas LBJ School professor Michele Deitch in the Considering a Private Jail? resource guide. These studies should provide food for thought for local public officials dealing with private prison or detention center proposals.

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