“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

GEO Group Meets at Trump’s Resort, Lobbying Appears to Pay Off With New Immigration Detention Contract

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On October 25, the Washington Post reported that private prison corporation GEO Group had moved its annual retreat to the 800-acre Trump National Doral golf resort. The company’s decision to host its retreat on a Trump property followed a year of increased lobbying and donations to the Trump campaign.

According to the Post, GEO Group’s spent $3 million last year in political lobbying and donations. “During last year’s election, a company subsidiary gave $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC. GEO gave an additional $250,000 to the president’s inaugural committee,” the article said. The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint earlier this year on the questionable legality of GEO Group donating to political campaigns as a government contractor.

The increase in lobbying and donation efforts has paid off for GEO Group: “In April, [GEO] won the Trump administration’s first immigration-detention contract, a 10-year deal first proposed during President Barack Obama’s term to build and run a 1,000-bed facility in Conroe, Tex.”

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement-contracted facility in Conroe will detain 1,000 more individuals in the same town as Joe Corley Detention Center with a well-documented history of rights abuses, including the recent story on pregnant survivors of sexual assault denied proper medical care. The new Conroe facility is expected to generate $44 million in profit for GEO Group annually.

While the Obama administration announced it would end contracts between the Federal Bureau of Prisons and private prison corporations, GEO Group faced losing its contracts with facilities like Big Spring complex in Texas. The Trump administration reversed this decision, leading to the renewal of the Big Spring contract “where GEO has said it expects about $664 million in combined revenue over a 10-year term.” The lobbying efforts of GEO Group have attracted criticism from press and watchdogs, such as Texans for Public Justice.

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Pregnant Women Seeking Asylum Detained, Women Miscarried in ICE Facilities

An article by The Nation (October 12, 2017) investigates the stories of asylum seekers detained while pregnant by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Nation reports that women have been denied medical care, leading to health complications including miscarriages.

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In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Women’s Refugee Commission filed a complaint that ICE has detained pregnant women against its own policy. In August 2016, the acting director of the agency Thomas Homan issued a memorandum stating that “pregnant women will generally not be detained” except under “extraordinary circumstances or the requirement of mandatory detention.” Despite this policy, the complaint filed by the ACLU and Women’s Refugee Commission cites 292 pregnant women were detained in the first four months of 2017, a notable 35 percent increase from the same period last year.

The article details the case of Jennye Pagoada López, who states she was denied medical care during detention and suffered a miscarriage after six days. The Department of Homeland Security has yet to respond to the complaint filed on behalf Pagoada and nine other women, six of whom were detained in privately run detention facilities in Texas.

The filed complaint includes the testimonies of five women who were detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC) in Dilley, Texas, a family detention center operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America or CCA), and one woman detained at Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, Texas operated by GEO Group.

Ana, a 28-year-old woman from Honduras, wrote when she was in STFRC:

It is very difficult for me to be detained here with my son while I am pregnant. It is hard for me to get around because I am not feeling well and my son is too heavy for me to carry. I feel that I need to be living where my family can assist me. I am very concerned about the health of my baby because there are a lot of people here and many viruses, including the flu and diarrhea. Being detained and preparing for a credible fear [interview] has also been very stressful for me, which I feel is dangerous for my baby. In order to prepare for my credible fear interview with a CARA [the pro bono legal service organization at STRFC] legal assistant, I have had to discuss my history of sexual abuse and domestic violence in detail.

Katy Murdza of the CARA Pro Bono Project has worked at the Dilley family detention center for four months. According to her interview with The Nation, until recently most pregnant women were released from the border to live with family or friends before appearing before an immigration judge at a later date. The article details numerous stresses that pregnant women in detention face, as women are “fleeing torture, abuse, or rape (and in some cases learn in detention that their rape resulted in pregnancy); some are trying to care for their children who are also struggling with detention and recent trauma; some have miscarried in the past because of stress or depression, and now fear a repeat due to their current circumstances; and there is little rest, since detainees are sharing rooms with so many people, many of whom are sick.”

The Nation reports that according to an ICE spokesperson, the August 2016 memorandum remains current policy, meaning that pregnant women will not be detained barring “extraordinary circumstances.” Given changes in enforcement priorities under the Trump Administration, however, advocates see that pregnant women remain unprotected according to current practice.

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Report Exposes Treatment of Asylum Seekers Denied Parole in Texas

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Human Rights First published a timely report, “Judge and Jailer: Asylum Seekers Denied Parole in Wake of Trump Executive Order,” that exposes the Trump administration’s lengthened detention of asylum seekers following the Executive Order issued on January 25. The research names South Texas as an area where ICE rarely, if ever, grants parole to asylum seekers who meet the criteria of the 2009 ICE Asylum Parole Directive.

The report includes an excerpt from Martín Méndez Pineda’s article in the Washington Post from May 25, 2017 detailing his experience in detention:

“From the first day I crossed the border heading north, I saw discrimination, abuse and humiliation. They transferred me to a privately run detention center called West Texas Detention Facility in the city of Sierra Blanca. There, I experienced the worst days of my life. It is known by the detainees as ‘el gallinero’ (‘the henhouse’), because the barracks resemble a stable for livestock. It was designed for about 60 people but houses more than 100, who are exposed to all kinds of diseases and don’t have access to adequate medical attention. The henhouse of Sierra Blanca is small, with metal bunks, worn-out rubber mattresses, wooden floors, bathrooms with the walls covered in green and yellow mold, weeds everywhere, and snakes and rats that come in the night. The guards look at the detainees with disgust, and everything we say to them is ignored. Honestly, it is hell.”

The report also uncovers that asylum seekers have been denied parole to keep bed spaces filled, while others are granted asylum when space is needed. For example, at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas owned by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), women who met the criteria for parole have generally been denied release. The research shows this trend changed according to capacity: “Then pro bono attorneys learned that arriving asylum seekers who had passed credible fear screenings were suddenly receiving parole assessments and in some cases were released from detention. This aberration appeared to coincide with an increase in the number of women sent to the facility, suggesting that the parole grants may have been prompted by a need to free up bed space at the facility.”

 

Photo credit from Flickr

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Private Prisons Map Update

We have recently updated our map to indicate the most up-to-date information on private prisons and detention centers in Texas.

In 2017, three privately-operated prisons were closed with the advocacy of criminal justice leaders: West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility, Bartlett State Jail, and Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility.

We have also updated our list of operating companies:

Our map will continue to be updated as Immigration and Customs Enforcement solicits contracts for more detention beds in Texas, such as the Montgomery ICE Processing Center under construction to be operated by GEO Group.

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