“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

Advocates and County Judge at Odds Over New Detention Center

Duval County officials are still pushing for a new family detention center despite immigrant rights advocates and others saying that the centers have many problems, according to Public Radio International (PRI).

As we reported earlier, Duval County Judge Ricardo Carrillo submitted a proposal in July for a new family detention center in San Diego, hoping that the new facility will bring economic opportunities to the county. However, advocates and former employees of Karnes County Residential Facility, have different opinions on the matter.

Dr. Olivia Lopez, a former social worker at Karnes and whistleblower who exposed what she called “torture” inside, said that the environment at the detention center created high levels of anxiety for both the mothers and their children. "They were being lorded over at all times with the threat of removal of children or deportation all the time," Lopez said.

Immigrant rights advocates are also concerned about the detention center being run by Serco, a private UK-based corporation, which has been accused of abusive practices in their detention centers in both Britain and Australia. Justin Tullius, the managing attorney with RAICES at Corpus Christi, said "we're continuing our campaign to raise awareness about family detention, as it already exists in Karnes and Dilley. And to let them know that that's what it would look like here."

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Largest chapter of Texas prison guard union supports closing private prisons

The president of the largest chapter of the state Texas prison guard union said that the Texas prison system should close all private prisons, according to a report from Fusion on Aug. 25.

Lance Lowry, President of the Huntsville AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees chapter, said in a blog post that closing private prisons is necessary with the state prison system facing millions of dollars in budget cuts. Lowry said that the state should move low-level, nonviolent inmates out of prisons and to parole, probation, or electronic monitoring.

If private prisons are not closed or prisoners moved from those facilities, the budget cuts would stretch correctional officers even thinner without support in overcrowded prisons, he argued.

Lowry said “We’re not running our criminal justice system efficiently. A lot of inmates could be better managed under community supervision.”  

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Five Private Prisons in Texas to Lose Contracts

Five private prisons in Texas will lose their contracts following the Department of Justice (DOJ) announcement to phase out the use of private prisons, according to The Texas Tribune.


The announcement came after the inspector general of the DOJ recently concluded in a report that federal prisons operated by private companies have greater issues with contraband and inmate discipline than those run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The office noted that "In recent years, disturbances in several federal contract prisons resulted in extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a correctional officer."

Multiple incidents in Texas were among those driving the DOJ decision.

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Private prison companies are paid for family detention centers whether beds are filled or not

Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) will receive payment from the federal government from their 2,400-bed family detention center regardless of how many beds are filled, according to The Washington Post.

Due to the high number of migrants crossing the border from Central American countries, the Obama administration agreed to a deal with CCA in a four-year, $1 billion contract to run the South Texas Residential Facility in Dilley, Texas. Typically,  contracts between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private corporations have the payout based on the percentage of beds filled.

ICE spokesperson Jennifer Elzea said that the contract is “unique” in its payment because they pay "a fixed monthly fee for use of the entire facility regardless of the number of residents."

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House of Representatives' Immigration and Border Subcommittee, said "for the most part, what I see is a very expensive incarceration scheme. It's costly to the taxpayers and achieves almost nothing, other than trauma to already traumatized individuals."

Elzea also told The Washington Post that the Karnes County Residential Center, operated by GEO Group, is under a contract with a similar pay structure, where it will receive full payment regardless of the number of beds filled.

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