The second detention center covered in the ACLU's report on criminal alien requirement (CAR) prisons is Eden Detention Center, located in Concho County, Texas, south of Abliene.
According to the report, overcrowding is a problem at Eden. Eden was built to house 950 prisoners and has been operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) since the early 1990s. But it currently house 1,550 people. Cubicles originally intended to accommodate four beds now hold six. Beds overflowing into the hallways are called the "freeway." Water often leaks from underneath toilets, leaving the freeway smelling like urine and feces. Showerheads and toilets often break and go unrepaired. Many showers also don't have hot water. In addition to poor ventilation, mice, scorpions and cockroaches inhabit the facility, and units often leak when it rains.
Other unsanitary conditions plague the prison as well. Prisoners reported that, upon their arrival at Eden, they were issued used clothing and underwear, which is thought to have contributed to a scabies outbreak. In 2011, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that Eden's drinking water contained excess levels of radioactive radium contamination than the acceptable levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA issued a notice via the city of Eden which stated that people who drink water with these levels of radium are at risk of developing cancer. The only alternate source of water is available through the commissary at 80 cents per bottle, a cost that many of the prisoners cannot undertake. One man claimed that he felt like he was "dying slowly" when he drank the contaminated water. Another man, who must drink a large amount of water each day due to a medical condition and asked for another water source, was denied by CCA officials. The city received a grant to remove contaminants from the water, though prisoners still suspect it may be contaminated. Prisoners still claim that showering in the water produces an itchy rash on the skin.
The report also says that Eden has a disturbing history of violence. In 1996, 400 prisoners staged a sit-in in the prison yard to protest conditions at the facility. CCA guards allegedly used pepper spray and shot prisoners with shotgun pellets in an attempt to cause prisoners to return to their bunks. Fourteen prisoners were injured, two of whom were hospitalized. Three guards also required medical attention, one of whom suffered a broken jaw. The other two suffered heat exhaustion. A similar incident occured in 2010. In reponse to prisoners' protest of conditions, guards used tear gas. One prisoner reported to the ACLU that, following this incident, a guard asked him, "Did you see me? I was the one with my foot on your head."
Guards also allegedly punish prisoners for filing grievances on their own behalf or for helping others file complaints. Two prisoners recounted that they were sent to the solitary housing unit (the SHU) for doing exactly that. Leonardo, a prisoner who repeatedly helped fellow prisoners and spent eight days in the SHU, was allegedly told by a CCA guard that he would "lock his ass up again" for aiding others.
CCA officals reportedly obstruct prisoners' access to confideltial visits and phone coversations with legal counsel. Prisoners have reported that guards open confidential legal mail. When one prisoner attempted to add his lawyer to his list of approved people to call, CCA denied him. Another prisoner said that CCA would not grant him access to unmonitored phone calls with his attorney until he filed a complaint with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). CCA also created problems for the ACLU as they conducted research for the report; in 2011,when attempting to interview prisoners, the warden at Eden would not allow ACLU representatives to speak with prisoners outside of visiting hours. There was allegedly no way to build relationships with prisoners based on confidentiality, as ACLU attorneys were only allowed to meet with prisoners in a crowded meeting room. One man who had initially agreed to speak with the ACLU declined because he did not want to discuss his legal business in a room full of crowded people. When the ACLU tried to schedule a visit for December 2013, the warden denied the ACLU visitation, and a complaint had to be filed with the BOP. It took two months of correspondence between the ACLU, the BOP and CCA for access to be granted. That warden has since been promoted to oversee all five of the BOP's contract facilities.
The SHU at Eden is always full, according to prisoners. Ten percent of Eden's contract beds are in the SHU, a rate that is higher than other BOP facilities. This percentage is allocated in CCA's contract with the BOP, thus incentivizing the use of solitary confinement. In January 2014, almost every prisoner reported that, upon their arrival at Eden, they spent anywhere between several days to a month in the SHU. As stated above, prisoners can be sent to the SHU for assiting other prisoners in writing grievances. Prisoners also claim that three to four prisoners are forced to sleep in a solitary cell at a time, when the cell was only designed to accomodate a maximum of two people. Conditions in the SHU are reportedly deporable with prisoners reporting only one hour of recreation each day, which is offered at 5:00 am; a tinted window that does not provide a view outside; a toilet per cell, but often no toilet paper; and showers offered at 1:00 am, which are often skipped due to the hour.
Medical care is also reportedly denied to prisoners. Many prisoners reported not receiving care or medication, and many ailments are treated only with ibuprofen. Prisoners who receive care at all must wait a week to see medical staff. Dental care is allegedly limited to tooth extractions. Medical staff also only speak English, limiting Spanish speakers' access to care. Medications are not refilled in a timely manner, leaving prisoners to wait for days for their medicine. Prisoners with hernias are denied surgery, and diabetics are given insulin and then forced to eat last.
The Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas is the first of the five "criminal alien requirement" (CAR) prisons in Texas covered in an ACLU report released this week that exposes abuses within such facilities.
The report's findings indicate that men detained at Reeves are denied medical care. The most notable example is the death of Jesus Manuel Galindo, who was placed in solitary confinement after suffering a grand mal seizure in December 2008. Galindo suffered more seizures in solitary and died as a result. A wrongful death suit was filed against Reeves County, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the GEO Group, which was settled in January 2013.
Prisoners at Reeves still report denial of medical services. One prisoner reported that diabetic prisoners must receive insulin treatment at mealtimes, thus forcing them to choose between eating and medical care.
Following Galindo's death, prisoners rioted and set fire to a recreation center at the prison. Riots are common at Reeves and, a month after Galindo's death, another riot broke out, resulting in two guards being taken hostage and $20 million in damage from a fire set my the detained men.
Reeves officials also overuse solitary confinement. Prisoners who participated in a petition to protest conditions at Reeves were placed in solitary confinement after being subjected to tear gas and being shot at with rubber bullets. Petition supporters and bystanders spent two days in the SHU (solitary housing unit). Samuel, a 38-year-old Jamaican immigrant, recounts the event:
“Once everyone was lying down [after the tear-gassing], they cuffed us and took us out and put water on us. I started speaking up, not talking of resistance, but I was saying it’s not fair to punish all...”
The men spent two days in the SHU with four people in two-person capacity cells without pillows or blankets, or soap to wash the tear gas from their bodies.
In fact, experiences like Samuel's are common at Reeves. Other prisoners have reported the overuse of solitary and, in fact, contracts between the GEO Group and Reeves state that ten percent of housing at Reeves be allocated to the SHU. This percentage is almost twice as large as in other BOP facilities. Prisoners have reported that, when the SHU is full, two men sleep on bunks and a third sleeps on the floor. Prisoners often spend months in the SHU without explanation, and one man recounted that "anything" he did could result in time in the SHU.
Dormitories are also overcrowded at Reeves. Prisoners have stated that, despite Reeves' status as a minimum security facility, they must spend fifty minutes of every hour in their bunks. Movement around the unit to the library or to the recreation room is only allowed in the ten minutes at the beginning of every hour. Guards search prisoners after movement between rooms. If prisoners miss the annoucement that movement is allowed, they must wait another hour. Overcrowding is apparently an incentive for profit. Maximum capacity in GEO's contract with the BOP is 90 percent, and there is a per-prisoner payment policy up to 115 percent capacity. As a result, recreation facilities have been converted into dormitories. Prisoners call these makeshift housing unites are called "chicken coops." The chicken coops contain 42 beds and reportedly smell like feces constantly because they are close to bathroom facilities.
Overcrowding spills over to the recreation yards as well. There is a large yard and smaller yard, with the small yard intended to accommodate forty people. It is often used by 400 people at a time. In addition, the Port-A-Potties in the yard have not been replaced in four years, and many prisoners report that the contents have "splashed up" on them.
This is not the first time Reeves has been on our radar. Reeves is mentioned in NPR's feature on for-profit incarceration and the ACLU's previous involvement in ligitgation regarding Reeves County's refusal to disclose documents regarding prisoner deaths, staffing and medical care.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report on the five "Criminal Alien Requirement" (CAR) facilities in Texas. According to the abbreviated report, 25,00 immigrant men are detained under CAR in thirteen detention centers throughout the country. In Texas, approximately 14,000 men are living in CAR prisons. The ACLU documented numerous cases of abuse, neglect, copious use of solitary confinement, and the separation of families.
The incarceration of people in CAR facilities is due to mass incarceration, for-profit incarceration and the criminalization of migration. These three unnverving norms have all contributed to immigration detention.
Over the next few days, we will examine the five CAR prisons in Texas that the ACLU included in its report: the Big Spring Correctional Center, Big Spring, TX; the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility, Post, TX; the Reeves County Detention Center, centers 1 and 2 and 3, Pecos, TX; the Willacy County Correctional Center, Raymondville, TX; and the Eden Detention Center, Eden, TX.
This week, the New York Times reported that incarcerated immigrants are forced to labor in detention centers ("Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor" 5/24/14).
The report claims that nearly 5,500 incarcerated immigrants work every day — 60,000 people per year — in immigrant detention centers in the United States. Though federal officials claim that immigrants are not required to work, immigrant advocates are concerned that using immigrants for labor inside these facilities is neither lawful nor voluntary. Immigrant labor costs 13 cents per hour, which saves private prison corporations and the United States government $40 million per year.
Detained men at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas staged a hunger strike earlier this year to protest such working conditions. The men were also protesting deportations, cell overcrowding, poor medical care and expensive commissary prices.
Private prison officials have only commented that immigrant labor is legal and "helps with morale." Carl Takei, an attorney with ACLU's National Prison Project, commented: "This in essence makes the government, which forbids everyone else from hiring people without documents, the single largest employer of undocumented immigrants in the country."
Jacqueline Stephens, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, believes that these immigrants' 13th Amendment rights are being violated. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involunary servitude, except when used as the punishment for a crime. "By law, firms contracting with the federal government are supposed to match or increase local wages, not commit wage theft," Stephens remarked.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claimes that detained people cannot work more than 40 hours per week, and are not permitted to provide work for any outside entity. 140 detained men at the Joe Corley Detention Center, however, make 7,000 meals per day, and half of those meals are sent to the Montgomery County Jail.