Social worker Olivia Lopez spoke to media and House Democrats in late July about the troubling inner workings of the GEO-operated Karnes family detention camp near San Antonio, Texas. She called what was happening at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility “tantamount to torture” and said that she was shocked when she began working at the facility to find that it was “really a prison.”
Lopez revealed that she was rebuked for attempting to provide basic social services such as showing the families the geographic location of the facility and creating better ways to document their concerns. In December, Lopez received this directive from her boss: “ICE: We don’t tell them anything.” She recalled that psychologists were encouraged to falsify records in order to leave a clean paper trail, and that they reported families’ stories to ICE agents.
She also observed severe medical neglect inside the facility, including instances where GEO staff ignored severe abdominal pain and cranial bleeding in toddlers and infants until the emergency became so severe that they were flown to a hospital to undergo major operations. Additionally, Lopez said during one chicken pox outbreak, each “resident” was forced to submit to a blood draw in a way that terrorized children and left many with heavy bruising.
Lopez also confirmed reports of retaliation against leaders of a hunger strike that took place inside the facility earlier this year. She says that leaders of the strike were placed in isolation, sometimes being separated from their children, who were placed in the care of guards with no childcare license. Children were not told of their mothers’ whereabouts and were left to sleep alone without protection.
At various points, Lopez observed that ICE officials condoned and participated in the environment that GEO created, which isolated and terrorized the detained mothers and children. Lopez stated that she was compelled to resign from her position in April after being asked to withhold information from federal officials and follow policies that violated her social work license. Her full testimony the the Congressional Progressive Caucus is available here.
Columbia University this month became the first college in the U.S. to divest from private prisons, as the result of the student organizing campaign, Columbia Prison Divest.
Could the University of Texas be next for a divestment campaign? It's possible.
According to their publicly available filings, the UT Investment Management Corporation indirectly invests in the two largest private prison companies through its more than 18,000 shares in the Vanguard REIT Exchange Traded Fund. (REIT stands for Real Estate Investment Trust.) In turn, this fund in has nearly $300 million invested in the Corrections Corporation of America and more than $200 million invested in the GEO Group.
This wouldn't be the first time the University of Texas has been at the center of controversy over university ties to private prison companies. UT students, faculty, and alumni called out the McCombs School of Business in December over namesake Red McCombs' deal with CCA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to open the nation's largest family detention camp since Japanese internment. The family detention camp in Dilley, Texas, was leased to CCA and ICE by his real estate firm, Koontz McCombs.
Students, alumni and their supporters staged a sit-in at the off of the dean of the McCombs School of Busness demanding a meeting. About 50 UT faculty members also signed a letter to University President William Powers asking him to put pressue on McCombs to reconsider the deal.
In December, news broke that McCombcs had sold his stake in the firm.
There are several job openings at the Lindsey State Jail in North Texas as a result of a "rough year." And Security Chief Jim Cochran thinks local teenagers should apply.
Cochran said it has been a rough year for the facility, with three correctional officers being lost for various reasons. Correctional officers are needed at the facility right now, which Cochran said would be a perfect job for those teenagers needing a job. The facility is also in need of a horticulture instructor and substitute teachers.
“Most teenagers won’t be making $10 an hour and that’s what we start at,” Cochran said. “We also offer health benefits for under $100 a month to our employees, which are pretty good.”
The Lindsey State Jail is run by the for-profit, private prison company Corrections Corporation of America. Anyone looking to work for CCA would do well to read up on the company's history. A report released by Grassroots Leadership in 2013 details CCA's track record of "Keeping Costs Low and Profits High Through Employee Mistreatment."
The report explains that CCA's cost-cutting initatives include low pay, little benefits, forcing employees to work without pay, and underpaying female staff. Perhaps the nearby Jackboro Country Club is hiring caddies.
On Monday June 22 and Tuesday June 23, eight Democratic House members will visit two Texas family detention centers, the GEO-operated Karnes County Residential Center outside of San Antonio, and CCA-operated South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. The House members announced their trip and expressed concern over the Obama Administration's family detention policy in a press conference held last Thursday.
"It is not illegal to apply for asylum. It is the law of the land," said Rep. Gutierrez.
"Detaining children puts them at risk of mental and developmental problems," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. "The people in these detention centers are...the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free of which Emma Lazarus spoke and which is emblazoned on our Statue of Liberty."
The members who will be touring the detention centers are: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), Rep. Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40). They are among the 136 House Democrats who signed a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for an end to family detention.