“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

New family detention center no longer being considered

A family detention center in San Diego, Texas, is no longer being considered as local officials cite low apprehensions at the border, reports the Caller-Times.

Last July, Duval County Commissioners voted to begin contract negotiations with Serco to turn an old nursing home into a family detention center. Serco, a UK-based private prison company, tried to negotiate with Jim Wells County to use the same nursing home, which is located in both Duval and Jim Wells County. The negotiation with Jim Wells failed following backlash from the community, leading to Serco reaching out to Duval County about the proposed facility.

In an email to the Caller-Times, Duval County Judge Ricardo Carrillo, who supported the work with Serco, stated: "Serco informed me back on Feb. 28 that after several meetings with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials, the news is that they (the government) are not planning to move out on the family residential center approach at this time because ‘apprehensions are at an all-time low level.’”

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Empty jails hope to cash in on immigration crackdown

Several counties in Texas with prisons that are empty or have low numbers are looking into filling their jails with immigrants who came into the U.S. without documentation, reports the Lexington Herald Leader in association with the Associated Press.
 

These counties were in debt in the 1990s and early 2000s, when they were losing employment prospects and population. To remedy this, these counties turned to building prisons with hundreds of beds that could be used to house prisoners from other counties, as well as from the state and federal level. The hope was to use these facilities to bring in jobs and money to debt-ridden counties.
 

The plan worked for a time, but eventually the Texas prison population began to decline as crime declined and there was an increase in alternative sentencing. However, these counties are now looking to the federal government to fill their bed space, banking on the immigration crackdowns following the election of Donald Trump. A proposed budget item in the Texas Senate would end state contracts with four facilities that detain state prisoners, three of which are privately owned. This has led these facilities to look for other ways to make profits, including by detaining immigrants who have been apprehended without documentation.
 

Many private companies have looked into renovating or reopening existing facilities to house immigrants, including the Willacy County Detention Center, which was closed in 2015 following a prisoner uprising. However, advocates are speaking out against reopening facilities operated by private companies with long histories of complaints and scandals.
 

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Former Willacy County prison guard sentenced to 18 months in prison

A former Willacy County prison guard has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for bribery, reports CBS 4 News.

Harry Cordero, a former guard at the Willacy County Regional Detention Center, was charged last November with two counts of bribery and one count of providing contraband in prison. Cordero accepted bribes to allow alcohol and a cell phone into the prison in December of 2015. Following the conviction, Cordero was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Cordero and another inmate, Stephen Salinas, were both guards at the Willacy County Detention Center, which is operated by the Utah-based private prison company Management and Training Corporation. The men were employed at the facility before it was closed in 2015, when it was destroyed in a prisoner uprising. Prisoners had received poor medical attention and neglect, which led to the uprising.

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Federal prisons have fewer inmates but Justice Dept. says it still needs private prisons

Even though the federal prison population is falling, the Justice Department says private prisons are still necessary, reports the Washington Post.

Last August, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would begin to phase out the use of private prisons. Yates cited sentencing reforms and other measures that had reduced the federal prison population. Officials in the Justice Department even pointed to a recent White House budget proposal which showed a 14 percent drop in the federal prison population since 2013. If the prison population has dropped since 2013, why has Attorney General Sessions reversed the DOJ's memo phasing out private prisons?

David Fathi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, said that of the decision, "the embrace of private prisons was a purely ideological decision unconnected to any actual need.”Fathi said the Justice Department officials knew there would be an increase in the prisoner population.

"The fact that they are simultaneously acknowledging that the federal prison population is falling and saying that they need private prisons to accommodate future needs seems to me can only be explained by a plan to radically increase the federal prison population,” Fathi said. “Otherwise, those two things are just irreconcilable.”

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