“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

Thanks to the Settlement, ICE Can Now Have Monitors at Hutto

ICE has not yet posted their statement about the Hutto settlement to the press room of their website (9 AM PT August 29th), which is surprising, given that to hear them tell it, the settlement is even better for them than it is for the children who have now been released from Hutto. From the Houston Chronicle:

ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda would not answer questions about the settlement on Monday, but she released a statement that defended conditions at Hutto and welcomed the outside monitoring.

The judge's participation "will help improve communication about the facility and end any misconceptions and allegations falsely made about the Hutto facility," the ICE statement said.

That's a fascinating argument for monitoring: that the presence of a monitor at a prison could end any false accusations of mistreatment, rather than end any actual mistreatment or address any issues of confinement that concern the children held there. Okay... so maybe ICE could've ended some of those false accusations by letting a leading UN expert on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante, take a look at Hutto back in May, instead of inviting him and then abruptly cancelling his visit.

More from the article:

Pruneda also said Monday afternoon that ICE could not provide the number of detainees currently in Hutto.

Could not? Is it possible that they don't know? Highly unlikely. Like most correctional facilities, Hutto staff count heads a few times a day. (This KVUE article from the AP wire reports that counts there happen four times a day. This article also suggests that there are around 400 people currently detained in Hutto, but it's not an exact number.)

ICE probably could answer that question. But, then, the next logical question is, "how many of the detainees at Hutto are children?" and that's the question that they really don't want to answer. After all, hundreds of children sitting in a prison is a pretty unnerving image, and Hutto is unpopular enough already.

Speaking of which: the next vigil at Hutto is scheduled for September 29th.

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Breaking News: Government Settles Hutto Lawsuit

The Associated Press is reporting that the government has settled the lawsuit brought by the ACLU and others over the detention of immigrant children at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.

The Hutto detention center, a converted medium-security prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has come under fierce criticism from human rights activists and immigration lawyers. The trial against ICE by several Hutto families was set to open today (Monday) but Judge Sam Sparks had already told Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this spring that the families were likely to prevail.

The settlement does not close the prison or release all the children incarcerated there, but does better conditions at the jail. According to the ACLU's statement released today:

Additional improvements ICE will be required to make as a result of the settlement include allowing children over the age of 12 to move freely about the facility; providing a full-time, on-site pediatrician; eliminating the count system so that families are not forced to stay in their cells 12 hours a day; installing privacy curtains around toilets; offering field trip opportunities to children; supplying more toys and age-and language-appropriate books; and improving the nutritional value of food. ICE must also allow regular legal orientation presentations by local immigrants' rights organizations; allow family and friends to visit Hutto detainees seven days a week; and allow children to keep paper and pens in their rooms. ICE's compliance with each of these reforms, as well as other conditions reforms, will be subject to external oversight to ensure their permanence.

Since the lawsuit was filed, all of the 26 children named in it have been released from Hutto. The last few were just released prior to the settlement, moving out of the lockup to live with family members while they await hearings to determine their asylum cases. One child formerly locked up in Hutto, 12-year-old Andrea Restrepo, is quoted by the ACLU:

"I feel much better, I feel tranquil, I can do things now I couldn't do there," said Restrepo. "I am trying to forget everything about Hutto. I feel free. It was a nightmare."

Despite the settlement, the ACLU continues its opposition to Hutto and "remains adamant that detaining immigrant children at Hutto is inappropriate, and calls on Congress to compel the Department of Homeland Security to find humane alternatives for managing families whose immigration status is in limbo."

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"People are as safe as they have ever been" in GEO Group's Val Verde Lockup

That's the word from a state health services doctor in charge of figuring out why two prisoners from GEO Group's Val Verde prison have died and two more are ill, according to the San Antonio Express News. I think the statement is supposed to be reassuring (unless you consider the experience of LeTisha Tapia at Val Verde).

According to the article, at least 50 people and several labs have participated in the investigation, although it still seems like there are big gaps in our knowledge about what's going on. One reason for this information gap is that one of the prisoners who died was not autopsied. But this article includes a surprising (or maybe not so surprising) detail about that:

The investigation produced little information on the fourth inmate. He was one of the two who died, and he did so shortly after becoming ill. He apparently was a Honduran whose body was embalmed and shipped to his country after the Bexar County medical examiner's office declined a request to perform an autopsy. (emphasis added)

Has anyone asked why the medical examiner's office declined to perform an autopsy?

Reassurances continue that there's probably nothing to worry about, even as it has emerged that the story does include TB, a theory that has been advanced by Scott over at Grits. But the four people's illnesses are not identical, and so the plan for now is to wait for test results but mostly continue with business as usual. As Forrest Wilder points out at the Texas Observer, GEO Group's profit margin is dependent on keeping their costs low, and the "steady drumbeat of scandal has done little to harm the company's bottom line."

So yes, we may already be back to business as usual at Val Verde... and people will be just as safe there as they have ever been.

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County Jail Capacity Expands in Texas

According to the San Antonio Express News, county jail capacity increased dramatically in recent years and continues to grow. Reportedly, 52 new jails are currently under construction or in the early planning stages.

Texas counties contain more that 84,000 county jail beds -- nearly 10,000 of those beds are private (see chart below). About 32,000 jail detainees are pretrial felons compared to 10,100 convicted felons. Remaining jail detainees include misdemeanants, parole violators, state jail felons, and those held on bench warrants.

Expanding jail capacity continues to be a failed policy option. Jail space has grown significantly in recent years, and yet cities like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio continue to experience chronic overcrowding. We previously reported that Harris County (Houston) is dealing with overcrowding problems by sending detainees to a privately managed lockup several hundred miles away in Louisiana. Jail crowding leads to significant problems like exposure to infectious disease and high levels of violence due to inadequate staffing levels.

During the 80th Legislative Session, lawmakers implemented legislation that allows law enforcement officials to issue citations for certain Class B misdemeanors rather than lock up defendants in county jails. Other policy measures have yet to be implemented. Grits for Breakfast recently posted about the governor's veto of a significant piece of legislation that would permit parole violators to "bond out" of county jail lockups.

Yet, local officials can implement innovative solutions to improve criminal justice policy in their jurisdiction. For example, they could strengthen pre-release bond programs for low-level, nonviolent defendants. Additionally, in counties like Harris and Dallas where multiple law enforcement agencies contribute to the jail population, the sheriff must work with the judges, district attorneys and police chiefs to address law enforcement and prosecution strategies that contribute to county jail growth. Finally, local officials could leverage available resources to divert defendants arrested for minor, nonviolent offenses to secure facilities where they would receive help and alleviate crowding.

According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, 18 of the states 246 county jails are privately managed.

 

Private County Jail Capacity

(as of August 1, 2007)

County

Population

Capacity

% of Capacity

Angelina 108111
97.30
Bowie 897921 97.39
Brooks 409 544 75.18
Dickens 402 490 82.04
Falls 96 107 89.72
Frio 296 391 75.70
Haskell
524 555 94.41
Hidalgo
888 990 89.70
Hudspeth
443 518 85.52
Jefferson
453 496 91.33
La Salle
501 566 88.52
Liberty
340 372 91.40
Limestone
999 1022 97.75
McLennan
321 326 98.47
Newton
858 932 92.06
Polk
534 1054 50.66
Val Vere
187 187100.00
Zavala
495515
96.12
Total
8,6439,747
88.67

(Source: Texas Commission on Jail Standards)

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