“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

FBI Takes Investigation on Sexual Assault in Hutto Detention Center

National coverage of the sexual abuse scandal at the Hutto Detention Center continues as Rewire reported that the FBI announced it would intervene to conduct an investigation. Laura Monterrosa, an asylum seeker from El Salvador, came forward publicly on November 9 to speak out against the abuse she experienced while she remains held in detention where her abuser is still employed.

The detention center, operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), has a history of sexual abuse incidents. In 2007, a CCA guard was accused of assaulting a woman detained with her son. In 2010, another CCA guard assaulted eight women in transport. 

 
Photo of Laura Monterrosa courtesy of Grassroots Leadership

In addition to Monterrosa, two other women formerly detained at Hutto have come forward with claims of sexual abuse. One woman, Ana, filed a formal complaint regarding sexual harassment and was subsequently transferred to the Laredo Detention Center. Another woman, named Esmeralda, also came forward to claim she was abused by the same guard as Ana.

Following interviews with Monterrosa, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a statement that it found Monterrosa’s claims unsubstantiated in a joint investigation with the Williamson County Sheriff's Office. This statement was not communicated to Monterrosa, who has been “left in the dark” according to Grassroots Leadership researcher and immigration organizer Bethany Carson.

Rewire interviewed Christina M. Fialho, co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), who spoke on ICE’s secrecy in hiding abuses of power within detention. Fialho stated, “If more people knew what was truly happening behind locked doors, I think there would be an outcry against the immigrant prison system. So, ICE has an incentive to keep the public in the dark about what is happening behind locked doors. What better way to do this than to deny that any problems exist? By adopting a head-in-the-sand approach and declaring sexual assault complaints ‘unfounded,’ ICE and its contracted facility guards can continue to perpetrate rights [abuses].”

While sexual assault remains underreported in detention, CIVIC analyzed sexual assault reports from detention through a FOIA request to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Attorney General. The investigation uncovered that between January 2010 and July 2016, Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General received over 33,000 complaints of sexual assault or physical abuse against DHS’s component agencies. But the Inspector General investigated less than 1 percent of these cases” (CIVIC).

Carson stated that Williamson County Sheriff’s Department contacted advocates prior to a press conference on December 4 to state that the FBI would handle the investigation. Questions remained, however, regarding the facility and governing agencies’ prior investigation: “If they do follow PREA [Prison Rape Elimination Act], a policy for allegations is required, and now that the FBI has stepped in, everyone has kind of thrown their hands up and bucked responsibility for how it was initially handled—and we don’t even know how it was handled. This is all highly problematic,” Carson said.

Describing the issue as “extremely pervasive,” Carson added, “What is happening to Laura is endemic of detention centers and almost impossible to completely eliminate unless we eliminate detention centers.”

Texas Prison Bid’ness will continue to report on Monterrosa’s case and the developing investigation by the FBI as it is reported.

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Private Prison Companies Cash Out in Texas under Trump

According to reporting by Mother Jones, private prison companies are among the top profiteers from the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement practices.

Nearly one year after Trump’s inauguration, the prospects for the private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of American, or CCA) “have never looked rosier.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has surged its interior enforcement, increasing arrests by 40 percent, while requesting increased capacity for immigrant detention.

The administration’s first private prison contract went to  GEO Group in April to build a new facility in Conroe, Texas. The expected revenue boost totals $44 million annually.

The increased interior enforcement has facilitated the opportunity for ICE to request more detention facilities between the coasts: near Chicago, Detroit; Salt Lake City, Utah; and St. Paul, Minnesota. Following the administration’s announcement in October, GEO Group chairman and CEO George Zoley stated, “GEO has such an appetite for these kinds of facilities, particularly with the contemplated length of the contracts—which we estimate to be approximately 10 years.”

While Texas has the capacity to detain more than 10,000 people currently, according to Mother Jones’ count, ICE is seeking an additional 1,000 beds to incarcerate immigrants in the state. President Trump stated that the privatization of prisons seems to “work a lot better,” despite the countless human rights abuses documented in facilities.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, link to Flickr.

Members of Congress Call on DHS to Investigate Sexual Assault in Detention

Immigration advocates joined with congressional representatives to bring attention to the rampant issue of sexual assault in immigrant detention centers. In December, Newsweek reported that 71 members of congress sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security officials to condemn the agency’s failure to investigate claims of assault in detention.

The congressional sign-on letter named several cases of sexual abuse in detention, including the three women who came forward from Hutto Detention Facility in Taylor, Texas.

The national organization Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) filed a class-action civil rights complaint on April 11 for the Homeland Security’s refusal to disclose records or investigate reports of sexual abuse. “According to CIVIC, Homeland Security received a total of 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse from January 2010 to July 2016,” Newsweek reported. Less than one percent of those reports have been investigated, and 75 percent were filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CPB) employees.

While ICE responded to claim that all reports are “investigated thoroughly,” the agency has not responded to CIVIC’s complaint. It also has filed a request with the National Archives and Record Administration to destroy its files of scandals and abuse, including reports of sexual assault, deaths of detainees in custody, and solitary confinement.

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Prison guard pleads guilty to bribery at private detention facility in Conroe

According to an article from the Associated Press, a guard at GEO Group operated Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, Texas pleaded guilty to bribery of a federal employee. 28-year-old Jacoby Derrell Randall admitted to smuggling food, marijuana, and electronics, all banned items to detainees at the facility.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Randall sneaked food into the facility for $100 each occurrence, and later an MP3 player for $200.

Private prisons in Texas have been known for bribery scandals in the past: In January 2017, two former private prison guards pleaded guilty to charges of bribery from their time working at the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility. In 2015, the former warden of the privately operated East Hidalgo Detention Center was arrested in a complex bribery scandal.

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