In the face of pending budget cuts due to sequestration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released at least 800 people from detention. ICE has identified those released as “noncriminals and other low-risk offenders who do not have serious criminal histories.” Manuel Perez, currently detained at CEC-run Polk County Detention Center, has stated that “Lots of us are getting out who were brought in for driving without a license or other small things." The alternatives to detention ICE is implementing are not only more humane but also more much cost effective; the National Immigration Forum estimates that, while detention can cost up to $163 a day per individual, alternatives range from $14 to as little as 13 cents, a 90 to 99 percent savings. They work, too: Human Rights First found that 96 percent of members of Alterntives to Detention programs attend their final hearings.
We are particularly glad to hear that immigrants are being released from two Texas detention centers recently highlighted in the Expose and Close campaign as among the worst in the nation: the San Antonio Express News reports that 300 have been set free from the Houston Processing Center and 50 from the Polk County Detention Center. While the Austin American Statesman reports that neither the Williamson County Sheriff nor facility officials have commented, we've heard from inside the Hutto Detention Center that a number of women have in fact been released without bond.
These actions have raised questions about the 34,000 beds that ICE claims they are mandated to fill. Emily Tucker of the Detention Watch Network told NPR that ICE has "proven that they don't even believe that themselves by releasing these folks."
While this is good news, it's important to remember that 30,773 people are still detained solely for their immigration status, half of whom are locked up in private prisons. Hopefully, these releases signal a move towards a more humane immigration system.
At a press conference on Monday at the Texas State Capitol, representatives from Grassroots Leadership (a sponsor of this blog), the Texas Civil Rights Project, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and the Texas Inmate Families Association announced the release of a new report calling for closure of the Dawson State Jail. Authored by Nicole Porter of the Sentencing Project (and blogger for TPB), the report recommends that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice not renew its contract with CCA for the facility in August, that state appropriators should zero out its funding, and that Texas focus on community supervision rather than incarceration.
In response to reports of atrocious conditions within the facility, momentum to close Dawson has been building for months. Now, Senator Whitmire is telling reporters that he sees a "50/50" chance of the facility closing during this legeslative session. Senator West, whose district includes the Dawson Jail, joined the call for closure saying that he would "be shocked if [his] collegues didn't support [him] on this issue." (Click the link to see an interview with Sen. West and coverage from the press conference.)
Next Thursday, on the eve of International Women's Day, a candlelight vigil will take place outside of the Dawson State Jail, commemorating the womens' lives lost in the facility.
A petition has also been launched at the Nation Inside, reading in part:
We, the undersigned individuals, encourage lawmakers to close the Dawson State Jail in Dallas, Texas. We join our voices to those of 25 state and national civil rights, faith, criminal justice reform, and labor organizations that recently called for the facility to be closed. [...]
Recently, officials from the Department of Justice, charged 13 Ector County Correctional Center employees with bribery. The private jail employees are alleged to have supplied federal inmates with contraband items such as cell phones, marijuana and tobacco in return for cash. According to a report by the Odessa American ("Federal Jail Employees Indicted," January 4):
"All 13 suspects were arrested Wednesday on bribery counts related to banned items smuggled to inmates in the federal detention facility. Investigators say the contraband included cellphones, charges, tobacco and marijuana. The cases go back to 2011."
The Ector County Correctional Center is a federal lockup facility operated by the Community Education Centers (CEC) and is housed within the Ector County Courthouse. According to recent reports the indicted employees were fired. Yet the prison has been plagued with previous scandals that we have noted before.
The investigation in to bribery charges demonstrates larger systemic problems that plague private prisons. Research shows that the problems associated with adequately staffing private prisons compromise public safety.
We will keep y'all posted on the developments of this case.
Last week, a coalition of 25 national and state groups released a letter calling for the closure of the Dawson State Jail, a Corrections Corporation of America-operated facility in downtown Dallas.
Criminal justice, civil liberties, policy, labor, and faith-based organizations signed onto a document delivered to Texas legislators. The letter cites the exceptionally poor conditions at the facility for both staff and incarcerated people, cost savings, and a significant decrease in the Texas state jail population. Signatories included the ACLU, ASFCME, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Grassroots Leadership, and Justice Strategies. You can read the letter and a full list of signatories here.
Ginger Allen, who has been covering the scandals at the Dawson State Jail, interviewed Bob Libal for CBS DFW. Bob, executive director of Grassroots Leadership and columnist for this blog, said in the Skype interview:
"It has become abundantly clear this facility is unsafe for the people who are incarcerated in the facility and there is a growing momentum around the state and the country to close this facility."
The Dallas Morning News also picked up the story:
"State leaders have been trying to reduce the number of inmates in recent years because of cost concerns. In 2011, a prison unit was closed for the first time without replacement. At the same time, Dallas city leaders have been eyeing the property where the Dawson jail sits on the edge of downtown for redevelopment."
The Texas Tribune quoted Ana Yáñez-Correa, director of Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (a signatory to the letter), as saying:
"Closing a facility like Dawson State Jail would save taxpayer dollars that can be better spent on programs that work."
Even CCA weighed in. They released a statement calling the coalition "closed-minded" and claimed to provide "safe housing and quality rehabilitation programming at a cost savings to Texas taxpayers." (Insert your own joke here).