“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

Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #3 - Empty Bill Clayton facility drives Littlefield to desperation

The city of Littlefield tried a number of times to fill the empty private prison that has been draining revenue from the tiny West Texas town of Littlefield for years.  

The first opportunity came when news broke this summer of Central American children showing up at the U.S. border seeking asylum. Officials in the City of Littlefield asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to send some of the families and children to their empty private prison, hoping it would be the end of a years-long debacle that started when the for-profit private prison came to town.

Littlefield City Manager Mike Arismendez told KCBD in Lubbock that a contract with ICE could mean having the facility up and running soon to detain the women and children seeking refuge at the border. 

“It would actually be a revenue stream to be able to offset the debt we have on the facility,” Arismendez said.

The idea to house refugee families at Bill Clayton gained bipartisan agreement in Littlefield, with the support of both U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, and Neal Marchbanks, who was his Democratic opponent in the November general election.

It sounds bad to put [children] in a prison, but that’s about all we can do," Marchbanks said. 

But the contract with ICE was not to be, and went to Karnes County and the City of Dilley instead. 

Then, in August came news that Littlefield may have been pitching the facility to a private company from California to incarcerate people convicted of sex crimes at Bill Clayton. It was unclear whether the City was attempting to win a contract from the state of Texas or the state of California, but California does ship nearly 9,000 prisoners to out-of-state private prisons — all of which are operated by Corrections Corporation of America. 

Neither of these plans worked out, because in October news broke that the town was seeking a civil commitment contract with Correct Care Solutions. Correct Care Solutions, formerly known as GEO Care, is a spin-off corporation of GEO Group, the same corporation that operated the facility until 2009. Had this been approved, the facility would have housed approximately 200 individuals convicted of multiple violent sexual offenses — but who have already completed their prison sentences. 

As of now, it seems that the town has not found anyone to fill the facility and it will likely continue to cost local taxpayers millions. 

Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #4 - Bizarre hazing exposed at the Bartlett State Jail

A bizarre hazing ritual at the Bartlett State Jail in central Texas that led to the sexual assult of one inmate and was the subject of a lawsuit against the Corrections Corportation of America is our #4 top story of the year. 

As we reported in September:

Bartlett State Jail is a prison facility for low-level inmates serving short-term sentences. The tradition of hazing inmates who are near to their release date involves forcibly removing their pants, turning them upside down and slamming them against the glass of the guard station. It is impossible for guards to ignore the behavior, as they are literally faced with the exposed backside of the inmate who is being hazed. Bartlett’s Warden Eduardo Carmona and other CCA executives were previously aware of the tradition and yet had never attempted to prevent it from happening.

According to the court documents, the hazing incident that resulted in the sexual assault was a three hour ordeal in which every single inmate in a 55-person block was subjected to the hazing practice while the single officer on duty — who was not only in charge of the victim’s block but three other 55-person blocks — did nothing to intervene.

Typically, in correctional facilities that follow best practices, there should be two officers on duty at all times so that one can intervene while the other calls for backup. 

Top Texas Private Prison Stories of 2014 - #5 - Rape and other problems plague the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco

The Jack Harwell Detention Center first made headlines this summer over complaints from attorneys over conditions for immigrants being detained at the facility for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In a letter to ICE, attorneys said the Jack Harwell Detention Center is not an appropriate place to house immigrants in detention and that ICE officials have not done enough to fix serious problems at the facility. They detailed how the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found multiple non-compliance issues at the facility in 2012. “There were strong incentives for the county and the private facility management company to seek contracts with ICE whether or not the facility was appropriate for immigration detention,” the letter said.

This led to protests by Texans United for Families at the facility this summer. They delivered “know your rights” materials to the warden, demanded that the facility be closed and blamed the immigrant detention quota for the problems inside. 

Then in December, a woman who was previously detained at the Jack Harwell Detention Center filed a lawsuit alleging that she was sexually assaulted "on a number of occasions" while incarcerated there from November 2012 to March 2013.

According to the plaintiff in the case, CEC's negligence includes the failure to maintain sufficient staff, especially female staff to search female inmates. The suit also alleges that CEC “fostered an unsafe and relatively uncontrolled environment, which allowed smuggling into the facility, improper relations within the facility and generally created an environment where there was a lack of reasonable institutional control at the facility.”

The Waco Tribune reported that until June 2013, Jack Harwell was run by private prison corporation Community Education Centers (CEC), which is now facing a lawsuit alleging gross negligence that led to the conditions that permitted the assaults to take place.

As for the immigrants held in Jack Harwell, advocates claimed victory when an ICE official told Texas Prison Bid’ness in September that immigrants were no longer being held at the facility. 

CCA's Dilley family detention center opens amid criticism

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was in South Texas this week to open what is slated to become the nation's largest immigrant detention center in Dilley. 

Sitting on a former "man camp" for oil field workers, it will become the site of a new family detention camp for women and children who have recently come to the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the first 480 women and children are expected to arrive this week in Dilley and temporary housing under construction nearby could hold an additional 2,400. They will be held in portable buildings that can hold up to 8 women and children each.

The privately contracted facility sits on 51 acres and will have 2,400 beds at a cost of $260 million per year to taxpayers.

Johnson promoted the facility as a deterrant to others who might flee violence in Central America and come to the border seeking asylum. In a statement at the opening of the detention center, Johnson said the facility is part of "the border security aspects of the executive actions President Obama announced on Nov. 20."

The ACLU agreed and has sued the Obama Administration claiming that family detention is being used to intimidate others fleeing violence in from Central America from seeking asylum legally in the U.S. 

Johnson said that funding for the centers will expire in late February 2015 if Congress fails to act on a DHS request for supplemental funding for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
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