This week, the New York Times reported that incarcerated immigrants are forced to labor in detention centers ("Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor" 5/24/14).
The report claims that nearly 5,500 incarcerated immigrants work every day — 60,000 people per year — in immigrant detention centers in the United States. Though federal officials claim that immigrants are not required to work, immigrant advocates are concerned that using immigrants for labor inside these facilities is neither lawful nor voluntary. Immigrant labor costs 13 cents per hour, which saves private prison corporations and the United States government $40 million per year.
Detained men at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas staged a hunger strike earlier this year to protest such working conditions. The men were also protesting deportations, cell overcrowding, poor medical care and expensive commissary prices.
Private prison officials have only commented that immigrant labor is legal and "helps with morale." Carl Takei, an attorney with ACLU's National Prison Project, commented: "This in essence makes the government, which forbids everyone else from hiring people without documents, the single largest employer of undocumented immigrants in the country."
Jacqueline Stephens, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, believes that these immigrants' 13th Amendment rights are being violated. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involunary servitude, except when used as the punishment for a crime. "By law, firms contracting with the federal government are supposed to match or increase local wages, not commit wage theft," Stephens remarked.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claimes that detained people cannot work more than 40 hours per week, and are not permitted to provide work for any outside entity. 140 detained men at the Joe Corley Detention Center, however, make 7,000 meals per day, and half of those meals are sent to the Montgomery County Jail.
The Lone Star News Group reported this week that two former CCA guards have been indicted on bribery charges ("Former prison employees plead guilty to bribery," 5/20/14).
Carl James Guittard, 36, and Terrie Elaine Glover, 49, were both required to pay a $1000 fine, serve 240 hours of community service, and must serve 10 years of probation. Both were guards at the 2100-bed Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, which closed on July 30th, 2013 after the Texas Legislature cut its funding. The facility was operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
The indictments also claim that 10 people offered or gave money and prepaid debit cards to Guittard, Glover, or both guards. They also allegedly provided tobacco products to people incarcerated at the facility. A state prosecutor has deemed the investigation "extensive."
Sixteen formerly incarcerated people were indicted in this investigation.
The Valley Morning Star reported last week that Willacy County Commissioners discussed the lawsuit pending against Houston-based Hale Mills Construction and took no action. The lawsuit first came to light and we wrote about it in our May 2 post.
Commissioner Eliberto Guerra claimed that the county will take Hale Mills to mediation the lawsuit, which accuses Hale Mills of of "poor workmanship." Management and Training Corporation (MTC), the private prison company that operates the $14.5 million Willacy County Jail and is contracted to house US Marhsals prisoners, is being sued alongside Hale Mills.
San Antonio's KSAT reported on the prevalence of private prisons in Texas, particularly in South Texas ("Privately rin prisons profit from detainees," 5/1/14).
According to the report, over 12,000 people will spend the night in cells at private prisons. There are at least 50 private prisons all over Texas, which incarcerate people for profit. This business model has grown into a $1 billion industry.
"In south Texas you see one of the greatest concentrations of for-profit prisons of anywhere in the country," according to Grassroots Leadership's Bob Libal. He continued, "For private prison corporations, every person that's in prison is a dollar sign. Rehabilitation is bad for business; a shrinking prison population hurts the bottom line."
In 2012, humanrightsfirst.org published a study which indicated that the average per diem cost for one incarcerated person is $164, or $5,000 per month. The company that has the most stake in the private prison industry on the local level is the GEO Group. GEO was initially silent when KSAT contacted them for comment, but the company has since responded.
GEO operates many of the large prisons and detention centers in South Texas, including the Central Texas Detention Facility in San Antonio with 688 beds, as well as the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall with 1,904 beds. Pearsall is estimated to make $9 million per month, or $114 million per year.
Christy, a former GEO employee who worked at Pearsall for two years, is critical of GEO: "It’s all about the money. It not only puts their life at stake, the detainees, but it puts our life at stake too." Christy still has her GEO uniform and ID. She was allegedly fired for being a "bad officer" only after she filed a sexual harassment claim against another officer. She has also allegedly observed the company's habit of cutting corners on equipment, lack of staff, and lack of reports filed regarding violence among incarcerated persons at the facility.
"GEO would be a good company if they would follow their policies and their regulations," Christy said.
Christy was unwilling to speak on camera because she fears the GEO Group.