Douglas Menjivar, an immigrant just released from the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston after 22 months in detention, says he was raped in September and October 2013 while detained at the Joe Corley detention center. Joe Corley is an immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas run by the private prison corporation GEO Group.
Menjivar says he reported the rape to the supervising Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer known only as "Mr. Hernandez," immediately after it occurred, but was ridiculed and called “stupid” for "allowing himself to be raped."
Menjivar officially reported the incident to an ICE doctor in December 2014. The agency concluded its investigation in February, stating that the results of the investigation “do not corroborate the accusation.” However, Menjivar told Semana News that he couldn't provide the names of the four witnesses to the rape because he feard for the safety of his family in El Salvador.
While at the Joe Corley Detention Center, Menjivar participated in a hunger strike last year to call attention to the inhumane conditions at the facility. The hunger strike at Joe Corley was inspired by hunger strikes at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Shortly after protests in June 2014, ICE transferred some of the immigrant protesters detained at Joe Corley to other facilities, but the majority were deported.
Menjivar has been issued an order of deportation but says he fears for his life if returned to El Salvador. Menjivar's attorney appealed to the 5th Circuit Appellate Court to stop his deportation on the grounds that since he does not have a criminal record in this country, he should not be an enforcement priority. Though the legal process has not yet been successful, advocates credit Menjivar's recent release to a congressional letter by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee requesting a stay of deportation. Additionally, due to the danger he would face if deported, the Salvadoran consulate did not issue departure papers, which further delayed his deportation.
In December, we reported that the Maverick County Detention Center was at the center of a lawsuit over rape allegations. A woman who was detained at the facility sued GEO Group, alleging that the company was negligent in operating the facility. She says this led to her rape by a 27-year-old guard named Luis Armando Valladarez.
The facility remains open but is no longer operated by the GEO Group, begging the question, “who operates it now?”.
First, some history. The GEO Group signed a contract to build the 654-bed facility in Maverick County and began operating it in 2007. But in 2013, Maverick County Judge David Saucedo called a press conference to announce that GEO was ending the contract. At the time, he suggested the facility would find a new purpose.
That new purpose appears to be coming under the control of the county’s public facility corporation, a legal entity that can finance public facilities and issue bonds on behalf of its sponsor. The legal details are laid out here.
The Maverick County Public Facility Corporation was incorporated by Maverick County Commissioners Court in 2007 as a separate non-profit corporation in order to create a legal entity to construct and operate the Maverick County Detention Center and to issue over $40 Million in Bonds for the construction of the over 625 bed prison facility. Maverick County contracted with a private prison management company, The Geo Group, Inc., to operate the Maverick County Detention Center, since its opening but The Geo Group, Inc. withdrew from managing the prison facility on October 31, 2013 at 12 Midnight, forcing Maverick County to request the Maverick County Sheriff’s Department to take over management of the prison facility. Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber appointed Guillermo De Los Santos as the Warden of the Maverick County Detention Center.
This isn’t the first time that GEO Group has left a county with an expensive facility and no choice but to take it over. In 2009, we reported the Beaumont Correctional Center to be one of at least five GEO facilities that had been closed or put under new management in several years. Then there's a long saga of Littlefield, a small Texas town still paying dearly for partnering with GEO Group on the promise that a detention center would bring jobs.
The firm hired by Liberty County to consult on whether it should continue a partnership with a private prison company has some advice for commissioners. MGT of America, Inc. told Commissioners last month that the way to save money was to reduce the jail's population to allow for staffing cuts.
Liberty County hired MGT last year to advise commissioners on whether County Sheriff Bobby Rader should take over direct operation of the jail or leave it in the hands of Community Education Centers (CEC).
According to YourHoustonNews.com, MGT consultant Travis Miller told Liberty County commissioners that, "the cost of operating the jail remains the same regardless of who is running it, whether it is a private company, the county, or 'Johnny’s Garage and Jail Service.'"
Miller went on to say that the only way to get significant savings would be through a reduction of staff, and that this would require “a huge reduction in the number of inmates.”
But later in the same meeting, Miller said that that without a reduction in jail population and a resulting reduction in staff, the cost to the county would rise if it took over the jail. Miller said this move would make jail employees eligible for county benefits, (including pensions) potentially costing the county at least $400,000 more.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, who ran and won on a platform of kicking CEC out of the jail, suggested creating a separate division for jail employees with a different benefits plan.
The county is now waiting to hear more from from MGT. In response to questions about the potential $400,000 increase if the county takes over, Miller told commissioners that MGT "did not yet have a cost-per-inmate figure to present and has not yet looked at the amount the county is currently paying under its contract with CEC."
Miller expects MGT to have its final report, for which the firm was paid $64,000, ready in three weeks.
Time is of the essence. The county’s contract with CEC expires on April 30.
According to a KRGV report, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has cancelled their contract with Management and Training Corporation (MTC) at the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, TX.
The KRGV report said,
"MTC representatives told CHANNEL 5 NEWS the national inmate population is down and the Bureau of Prisons doesn't need the additional beds. There is a 3-day hiring event planned to help workers who were laid off."
The announcement comes after a prisoner riot last month left the facility uninhabitable. The prisoners have all been transferred to other facilities and MTC has laid off 363 employees, which Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence described as "devastating".
In a statement on BOP's closing of the Willacy prison, the ACLU commented,
“The Bureau of Prisons’ decision to shut down the Willacy private prison is a welcome but long overdue move,” said Carl Takei, an attorney at the ACLU's National Prison Project. “We hope the Bureau will sustain this momentum by ending the use of private prisons entirely. Additionally, Congress must pass sentencing reform legislation and take steps to address our country’s mass incarceration epidemic.”