“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

Protesters Target Private Prison in Raymondville

About 75 protesters from across the state gathered outside of the Willacy Detention Center in Raymondville this weekend. The private prison, which attracted national attention when it became operational in a mere 90 days, holds 2,000 people. The protesters very aptly described it as a "tent city" --- the prison is not made up of buildings, but a series of windowless structures made of fabric stretched tight over frames. These tents, in turn are surrounded by razor wire (see the photo below).

The 2,000-bed prison is the largest immigrant detention prison in the United States, and part of a broader plan by ICE to imprison more people than ever for immigration violations. The prison has attracted national attention for problems with conditions inside (you can read Democracy Now's interview with Jodi Goodwin or the rawstory.com's excellent story about conditions at Willacy last month).

Protesters did not announce when they plan to return to Willacy's gates, but you can probably find out at their new blog: Tent City. With any luck, the protests will grow larger over time, like the 400-person protest at Hutto that was also this weekend.

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Protests Grow at CCA’s Hutto Detention Center

This past Saturday, I joined more than 400 protesters gathered for a spirited vigil in honor of World Refugee Day outside the T. Don Hutto detention center.

As reported here at Texas Prison Bid’ness, Hutto, which holds migrant and refugee families with their children, has been the site of growing protests and problems inside the facility. Saturday’s vigil was sponsored by Amnesty International, and co-sponsored by a number of other groups.

A “freedom bus” from San Antonio, and two buses from Dallas joined protesters from Taylor, Austin, and Houston at the vigil. Amongst the most powerful speakers were Elsa and her children, who spent 6 months incarcerated at Hutto, and Selhadin, an African refugee formerly detained at the GEO Group’s Pearsall Detention Center. National LULAC president Rosa Rosales also gave a fiery speech and Elizabeth Kucinich, wife of presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, lent her support to the cause.

Hutto’s publicity problems continue to grow in the press as well. Today, The Daily Texan added its voice to the chorus of press outlets calling for the closure of Hutto, calling CCA a “member of the club of misery profiteers.”

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Study Shows New Prisons Won't Keep Texas Safe

The Texas Observer recently blogged about the impact of state policies on incarceration rates. The post centers on a recent report released by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) that compares youth crime statistics in California and Texas.

CJCJ found that Texas’s practice of tough sentencing for youth over the last decade focused on long sentences for nonviolent crimes. Meanwhile, the folks in California decreased the overall number of juvenile prisoners by using prison time only for youth convicted of the most violent crimes. They diverted many young adults who formerly would've been imprisoned.

 

Did these two different strategies produce different results? They did in terms of youth prison growth and prison spending, but the two states had identical drops in youth crime. You can read the six-page report to see the detailed numbers.

How was California able to divert youth from the state's youth prison system? The state offered financial incentives to the local youth authorities to keep youth out of the state system, by charging the counties more for low-level offenders. They also created a separate, dedicated funding source (Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act of 2002) that provides $100 million in funding each year for local juvenile justice programs. Between 1996 and 2003, the California Youth Authority's population of incarcerated youth fell 52 percent, during a period when the juvenile crime rate fell 31 percent. You can read more about how California lowered their prison population and lowered their crime rate thanks to the Justice Policy Institute report, Cost Effective Youth Corrections (for California, check out pages 8-13).

And unlike Texas, which has youth under the age of 18 locked up with adults in adult prisons, California does not have any youth serving prison time in adult prisons.

As the reforms of the Texas Youth Commission continue, it will be interesting to see if state policymakers change sentencing practices as a result. But of course, any decrease in imprisonment might cut into the bottom line of a couple private prison companies, including GEO Group. But, they would likely save millions of dollars and prevent hardship for thousands of youth, families and communities.

Another Hutto Protester Arrested, Free the Children Publishes Protest Footage

A protester arrested in Austin joins the growing number of people drawing attention to the plight of families locked up in the T. Don Hutto prison. The protest at the state capitol was partly a response to an anti-immigration gathering that was already there, as reported by the Daily Texan.

The article's passing reference to criticism of Hutto says, "Some civil rights groups have claimed that the conditions at the Hutto facility are inhumane and unconstitutional." The article didn't give much context for the Hutto protesters, although the Daily Texan has covered Hutto more completely in the past (for example, this fairly comprehensive article from April about the lawsuit filed by the Hutto families).

For more context on Hutto, turn to the Houston Chronicle. They just ran an excellent piece about the growing number of folks calling for an end to the imprisonment of children at the private prison. After all, what reasonable person wants to throw kids in a prison while you determine their immigration status? Of course, even if we shut down Hutto, Corrections Corporation of America is likely to just re-open the prison as a prison for adults, since there's so much money to be made --- the Daily Texan reported in February that CCA was pulling in $95 per person per day locked up in Hutto.

Many people find profiting off of incarcerated children just plain wrong -- like Free the Children. They've posted a great video compilation of protest photos. It might inspire you to turn out for the protest there this Saturday, which will hopefully be even bigger than the protest that drew over 100 people to Hutto earlier this month. We'll be posting more about this protest later this week.

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