“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

Deaths in Detention Marks Eight-Year High in 2017

Image Source: Detention Watch Network and IMM Print

The Houston Chronicle reported on January 12 that the death toll in detention reached an eight-year high in 2017 with a total of twelve deaths. "The number of deaths in 2017 has alarmed immigration activists, who have long accused immigration officials and detention center operators of providing delayed or substandard medical care and ignoring complaints of illness,” the article stated.

The article featured the story of Felipe Almazan-Ruiz, who passed away on September 17 from cardiac arrest. Almazan-Ruiz was transferred from Florida to Livingston, Texas, following Hurricane Irma. The article also featured a map of all deaths in detention centers since ICE was created in 2003.

“Simply put, detention and deportation are a deadly business,” Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said. Libal commented that the “high-profile failings of the detention system in Texas” present major concerns when considering ICE’s plans to increase the number of detainees in privately owned facilities. This year, ICE plans to open a 1,000-bed for-profit detention center in Conroe, adjacent to Joe Corley Detention Facility.

This “deadly business” was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in December. The OIG report stated: "Overall, the problems we identified undermine the protection of detainees' rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” The investigators visited Laredo Processing Center along with five other facilities, and found that several facilities had inadequate medical care and misused solitary confinement, contributing to detainees’ health issues and deaths.

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Federal Elections Commission sued for Trump profiting from GEO Group

Law and Crime reported on January 10 that the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a lawsuit against the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) for delaying enforcement of federal law in favor of private prison companies. The lawsuit alleges that the FEC has allowed private prison company GEO Group to contribute to the pro-Trump Super PAC against “the 75-year-old prohibition on government contractors making political contributions.”

During the 2016 general election, GEO Group contributed $225,000 in funding to the Super PAC. Following the election, the Trump administration then reversed the Obama administration’s decision to phase out private prisons. In April 2017, the administration granted its first contract to GEO Group in the amount of $110 million to build and administer a new detention center in Conroe, Texas.

The article quoted Brendan Fischer from the Campaign Legal Center: “If the FEC doesn’t enforce the 75-year-old contractor contribution ban against companies like GEO Group, then taxpayer-funded contracts become an obvious way for politicians to reward their deep-pocketed campaign supporters. As the FEC continues to delay taking action, GEO continues buying influence with illegal contributions. With the 2018 elections quickly approaching, the FEC must make clear that private prison companies and other contractors cannot expect to violate the law and get away with it.”

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Bloomberg News reported back in February 2017 that GEO Group donated to the Trump campaign following the Obama administration’s announcement that it would phase out private prisons. “GEO’s stock plunged 40 percent on that news,” Bloomberg stated. “The stock shot back up after the election of Trump, who made campaign statements supporting private prisons.”

CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA) also donated $250,000 to Trump’s campaign. Private prison companies have also been known to hire well-paid lobbyists to influence Texas legislation and donate to state campaigns.

 

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Freezing Overnight Temperatures at Brooks County Detention Center

During a bitter cold spell in Texas, prisoners at Brooks County Detention Center lacked heating in the first days of the new year. According to KRGV, the conditions at the facility “are improving” after the facility lacked heat and blasted air conditioning instead. The facility, operated by GEO Group, detains immigrants under custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals Service.

“People are walking around with boxes on their heads, socks on their arms just trying to keep themselves warm. We don't have no sweaters,” a detainee told KRGV. The article also stated that some people refused to eat because the cafeteria further exposed people to the cold, though ICE would not comment on the hunger strike. 

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The U.S. Marshals Service issued the following comment: "Some inmates had expressed grievances about the temperatures by refusing to eat breakfast Wednesday morning. The facility confirms all inmates are safe and eating their issued meals." 

This news comes at the heels of Hurricane Harvey, when media could not confirm that the facility evacuated detainees in the path of the storm. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has since filed an inquiry with the Bureau of Prisons about the treatment of prisoners in Texas following the hurricane.

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Guards Charged by Federal Agencies for Smuggling Contraband in San Antonio Prison

News broke in late December that guards from a privately run San Antonio federal prison is under investigation by the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration for contraband and drug smuggling. The San Antonio Express News reported that two guards of the Central Texas Detention Facility were indicted by both agencies for smuggling drugs to inmates. “The jail, which is run by the GEO Group of Florida, has had a rash of contraband in recent years that includes cellphones, drugs and other prohibited items, court records show,” the article states.

The two guards, Abigail Jolynn Abrego and Jewel Roberto Jefferson, both pleaded not guilty to the charges. They were indicted with other non-employees, including two prisoners. “According to court records, Abrego and Belmares met Nov. 12 with an undercover FBI agent and agreed that Abrego would smuggle crystal methamphetamine to a GEO inmate in exchange for $1,500,” Express News reported. Jefferson also agreed to smuggle heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine.  

The Central Texas Detention Facility is a Bexar County-owned detention center operated by the GEO Group that primarily incarcerates pre-trial detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service and has also held immigration detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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This is not the first case of smuggling at the facility, operated by private prison company in GEO Group. In 2011, the parents of Albert Gomez, Jr. sued the facility when their son overdosed of heroin smuggled into the prison. In December 2016, a grand jury indicted GEO Group employee Ray Alexander Barr of providing methamphetamine and alcohol to prisoners.

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