“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

ICE director says changes are coming to Karnes family detention facility

The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.The Karnes County Family Detention Center has shown evidence of renovation and expansion since mid-September 2014.The head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told members of Congress on Thursday that the immigrant family detention center in Karnes County, Texas will be converted to an all-male facility, adding “possibly with children.”

The Guardian reported the exchange between Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California and ICE Director Sarah Saldaña:

During a House appropriations committee hearing Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard asked the ICE director, Sarah Saldaña: “is it possible that ICE will stop using Karnes and Dilley [another facility] for families in [fiscal year 2017]?” “Well, we’re pretty much there on the decision on Karnes,” Saldaña responded. “We are probably going to convert that into – our plans are to convert that into – an adult male, perhaps with children, facility. Not a family facility as it is now, with largely women.”

The news was a surprise to advocates who have been monitoring the family detention centers closely. Mohammad Abdollahi of RAICES told the Texas Observer that the statement was the first anyone had heard about a change at Karnes. The Observer reports, “He said immigrant rights groups in Texas and D.C. meet with ICE officials regularly to discuss problems surrounding family detention, but no one made any mention of the plan. ‘For us, it’s kind of like we have to see it before we believe it,’ Abdollahi told the Observer. ‘We don’t really have much faith in it at the moment because … it was never brought to us.’”

This development comes as a lengthy fight over state-issued child care licenses continues for the Karnes detention center and a similar one in Dilley.

The detention center in Karnes County was an all-male immigrant detention facility until August 1, 2014, when ICE officials converted it to a family detention center in line with a policy that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Jeh Johnson described at the time as sending a message to Central American women and children: "we will send you back."

South Texas officials working to reopen scandal-ridden Willacy County prison

Tent CityWillacy officials are working to reopen the troubled Willacy County Correctional Center by winning a new federal, state, or local contract, according to a report by KRGV.

The prison, known as Tent City because of its construction out of Kevlar tents, was destroyed last year after an uprising by immigrant prisoners in protest of conditions at the privately operated facility in February. The prison, run by Management & Training Corporation (MTC), was closed due to significant structural damage causing the relocation of 2,500 federal prisoners and nearly 400 employee layoffs. The economic ripple effect in the area didn't end there, with job losses in the private and government sectors following the prison closure. 

The facility had been operating under "Criminal Alien Requirement" to incarcerate immigrants for the Bureau of Prisons.  

In June of last year, The Nation published a detailed exposé on the uprising describes a peaceful protest that was caused by widespread medical neglect.  The peaceful protest was followed by the what the Nation called an "avoidable escalation" caused by MTC's guards.   

This was not the first time that MTC had run afoul of a federal agency after allegations of abuse at the facility.  In 2011, the facility lost its Immigration and Customs Enfrocement (ICE) contract following an expose by PBS' Frontline detailing sexual and physical abuse at the prison.

Given this history, it would seem almost unbelievable that this facility would win any new contract, let alone a federal one.  We'll keep you posted on developments.   

City devastated after Walmart and private prison closures

The financial fallout from a prison uprising that led to it's closure continues in one Texas town. 

Residents of Raymondville, TX are stunned after the closure of Walmart just 10 months after the Willacy County Correctional Center shut down, according to a report in the Valley Morning Star that links the Walmart job losses to the prison closure. After Walmart closed its doors at the end of January, 110 Walmart employees were left without jobs. This adds to the 400 who lost their jobs at the prison after the Management & Training Corporation pulled out of the facility last year.

Willacy County Correctional CenterWillacy County Correctional Center

Willacy County Correctional Center, a privately operated prison for immigrants, was destroyed after fire and damage left the facility uninhabitable. What began as a peaceful protest against poor conditions, turned into an uprising sparked by violent retaliation from prison guards. 

Local government also saw job losses after the prison was shut down. According to media reports"The prison’s closure plunged Willacy County into a financial crisis, slashing a third of the county’s $8.1 million general fund budget. As county commissioners tried to offset a monthly $220,000 shortfall, budget cuts eliminated about 25 jobs, forcing 16 layoffs."

GEO hoping to keep strong ties in Montgomery County

The Houston Chronicle recently reported on some interesting developments in the Sheriff’s race in Montgomery County.

 

The county is a longtime supporter of big private prison profiteers like the GEO Group, which runs three facilities in the county — the Joe Corley Detention Center, a federal immigration detention facility and the state’s only privately run mental health hospital. In 2013, County Commissioner Mike Meador stated that the company intended to make their community a GEO hub. Considering such an intimate history, it is no surprise that the GEO Group is paying to keep things the way they are in Montgomery County.  

 

As the Republican primary approaches in March, two candidates are vying for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s seat, as there will not be a Democratic opponent. Rand Henderson is a long-time employee of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, serving under out-going Sheriff Tommy Gage, who has endorsed Henderson. His opponent, Jim Napolitano, has a background in the Secret Service and private security and is backed by Montgomery County tea party groups.

 

Henderson’s platform consists of continuing the status quo and the GEO Group has donated $5,000 to Henderson’s campaign. Interestingly, tea party groups in Montgomery County have often been vocal dissenters of private prison contracts in Montgomery County and support Napolitano. We will continue to monitor this race and its outcome.

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