Last week, up to 2,000 immigrant prisoners staged a two-day riot at a private prison in Raymondville, TX. According to a report by DemocracyNow!, the prisoners were protesting inadequate medical care when they refused to eat breakfast on February 20, seized control of part of the prison, and set fires.
The prison, Willacy County Correctional Center, is owned and operated by the private prison company Management & Training Corporation (MTC), and is known by critics as "Ritmo" — short for Raymondville’s Guantánamo prison. It is also referred to as “tent city” because the majority of the prisoners sleep in large, cramped kevlar tents.
The Raymondville prison is also one of 13 privately operated CAR or “Criminal Alien Requirement” prisons. Carl Takei, staff attorney with the ACLU’s national prison project explained:
"Willacy is one of 13 private prisons in the federal system. It’s sort of a shadow system within the Federal Bureau of Prisons system, that is run by private prison companies. These prisons house immigrants who have been convicted of drug offenses and immigrants who have been convicted of something called illegally re-entering the United States after deportation. The Bureau of Prisons has consigned immigrants to these prisons based on the assumption that they are all going to be deported after their sentences are up. And it can therefore treat them as second-class prisoners and hand them over to these for-profit companies that have a history of abusing and mistreating the people in their custody."
Takei also authored the report, Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System, which provides a closer look at CAR prisons and the inhumane conditions inside.
Texas Prison Bid’ness is pleased to welcome Marlon C. Saucedo as a new blogger.
Most recently, Marlon has been working with the University Leadership Initiative (ULI) at the University of Texas in organizing actions against the incarceration of immigrants and has participated in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) clinics. Marlon has also been working in ULI's TX Tuition Equity campaign, which advocates against recently introduced state bills that would revoke in-state tuition for undocumented Texan students.
Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, Marlon is currently a Journalist and Radio/Television/Film student at the University of Texas in Austin. As an undocumented student, Marlon has first-hand experience of the injustice of the immigration and detention systems.
"Receiving the opportunity to weather away the systems that once brought heavy trauma to my humble family is the closest thing to what I would call redemption,” Marlon said. “Not just my own redemption, but that of all those in the past, present and future, afflicted by the injustice created by misguided leadership within this country."
At the end of January, I was invited to testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about abuses in U.S. immigrant detention system. My testimony was part of a day full of panels on civil rights violations in immigrant detention centers. I was joined by fellow Texans Marisa Bono from MALDEF and Sister Norma Pimental, a leader in the refugee relief effort in the Rio Grande Valley this summer. National advocates from the ACLU, National Immigrant Justice Center, and Human Rights Campaign along with government officials joined the panels.
The resurgence of the detention of immigrant families at two remote Texas prisons and violations in private detention centers, including facilities here in Texas often covered by Texas Prison Bid'ness, took center stage. Notably, Corrections Corporation of America sent a representative to the hearing while rival private prison corporation GEO Group decided not to, eliciting remarks from Committee Chair Marty Castro that he may have to use the Commission's power of subpoena to force the company to come testify.
My comments focused on the massive and largely for-profit detention system that has dramatically expanded in Texas over the past decade. I noted that sexual assault has been far from uncommon in Texas' detention centers, including allegations or prosecutions at a half dozen different detention centers. Even when the same facility has had multiple cases of demonstrated sexual assault, ICE remains unwilling or unable to cut contracts with the facilities or private prison corporations responsible. I also noted the rise of family detention — a major profit center for private prison corporations — and my recent trip the new Karnes County family detention center. There I saw small children detained with their mothers who reported that their children are suffering weight loss and that they were threatened with separation from their children if they did not sign their deportation papers.
Across the board, the recommendation from advocates was to use detention sparingly if at all and dramatically scale back the system. I'm looking forward to the Commission's final recommendations. You can watch the full testimony online and read my written testimony here.
A former guard at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, Melissa Corona, has pled guilty to charges of sexual misconduct with one of the inmates. Ms. Corona was indicted in March 2014, after allegations that she began a relationship with a male inmate in 2013 by kissing him more than 10 times.
Ms. Corona was the fifth person to be arrested in 2013 after an investigation into improprieties between staff and inmates. Three other female guards were arrested on charges of sexual misconduct, and a male guard was charged with bringing contraband into the facility.
This is not the first investigation into sexual misconduct at the facility. In fact, Community Education Centers (CEC), the private corporation responsible for the maintenance and staffing of Jack Harwell, is currently facing a lawsuit alleging that the company was grossly negligent by failing to screen, hire, train and supervise its employees to maintain a secure and safe facility. In this case, the allegation is that prolonged sexual misconduct occured between a male guard and a female inmate from November 2012 to March 2013.
The Jack Harwell facility was run by CEC until June 2013, when LaSalle Corrections took over management. Although LaSalle may have won the contract from CEC, the small Louisiana based company doesn’t have a clean record either.
Troubles at the Jack Harwell center are not confined to those held on local charges, either. Until last year, the facility also had a contract to hold detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but was at the center of controversy and protests over substandard conditions for those federal detainees as well. ICE pulled their detainees from the facility shortly after news broke of the conditions.