Detention Watch Network's report "Expose and Close, One Year Later: The Absence of Accountability in Immigration Detention" features the Polk County Secure Adult Detention Center in Livingston, Texas. The facility is operated by Community Education Centers (CEC). DWN's report highlights human rights violations committed at ten of the nation's worst detention centers, including Polk.
The U.S. mandates detention for certain immigrants. According to the report, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must detain them without a bond hearing, and other circumstances that allow for release are overlooked. As a result, mandatory detention has created a broken system that ICE cannot manage without a network of 250 prisons, including for-profit prison companies, like CEC. In fact, Congress requires that 34,000 immigrants are detained on any given day in the U.S.
Conditions inside detention centers-including inadequate access to legal services, family members and friends, as well as denial of access to sunlight, food, and hygiene-drastically affect detained individuals. They are also mistreated by facility personnel, many of whom use racial slurs and discriminate against detained indivuduals. The denial of basic and more specialized health care, which can cause and exacerbate health problems, is also a widespread problem within the immigrant detention system. Grassroots Leadership staff and representatives from Texans United for Families (TUFF) from Austin, Texas found many of these problems inside Polk, and we are actively campaigning for the facility's closure.
Last week, Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint (PDF) with the Texas Ethics Commission claiming irregularities in reporting by the Political Action Commission of private prison corporations GEO Group.
The complaint alleges that GEO reported that it had given State Representative Harvey Hildebran and State Senator Troy Fraser campaign donations of $1,000 and $5,000 respectively. However, neither donation showed up on the candidates filings, indicating that the donations may have been returned, a fact that GEO's PAC should have reported.
The donations occured in the midst of a heated fight over a bid to private the Kerrville State Hospital by GEO subsidiary GEO Care. Kerrville is represented by both Hilderbran and Fraser, and both opposed privatization of the hospital. After outrage from mental health and criminal justice organizations (including Grassroots Leadership, my organization), local residents, and elected officials, the privatization proposal was scrapped.
Curry County, New Mexico is looking at sending 200 incarcerated people to a currently empty jail in Littlefield, Texas, according to Littlefield City Manager Mike Arismendez ("Littlefield City Manager Says Jail Proposal Would Save County Almost $2 million per year," October 15, 2013).
According to the article, Curry County Commissioners are currently searching for ways to alleviate their overcrowding problem. County commissioners have not yet reached a decision regarding the proposed contract, which was suggested by Arismendez. According to Arismendez, WestCare, a private company, has agreed to contract with Littlefield to operate the facility. It remains unclear what kind of record WestCare has in the corrections field as it doesn't appear that they currently operate any corrections facilities.
To finalize the deal, Curry County would have to enter into a contract with Littlefield. That contract, with $42 alloted for each prisoner per day, would cost Curry County $3 million annually. The county's current budget for its adult detention facility is $5 million, according the article. The county jail's average population is between 240 to 260 people, according to Captain Keith Farkas, a command staff member at the facility.
Arismendez also claimed that Littlefield would house prisoners convicted of violent offenses, as well as those who might need to be placed in administrative segregation for any reason, including those with mental health concerns. Transportation of individuals from Curry County to Littlefield, according to him, will take place roughly twice a week.
Littlefield's Bill Clayton Detention Center, build in 2000, was originally a state prison for juveniles, but the Texas legislature decided to remove juveniles from the facility in 2003. A for-profit company operated the facility until 2009, housing adults during that time. The facility closed in 2009 after the company lost contracts in both Idaho and Wyoming.
The Bill Clayton Detention Center's history has been troubled at best. Randal McCullough, 37, committed suicide at Bill Clayton after nearly year in solitary confimenent. Soon after, the Idaho Department of Corrections cancelled its contract with the GEO Group and removed its prisoners from Bill Clayton. Idaho's audit uncovered a routine falsifying of reports; guards claimed to be monitoring prisoners at regular intervals, but were often away from their assigned posts for hours on end. In 2011, the building was up for auction.
Despite Bill Clayton's less than pristine track record, however, that the facility may be up and running again soon. As my colleague Holly Kirby wrote in September regarding the pending deal between Curry County and Littlefield,
Since Littlefiend's disaster with GEO Group, the city has been stuck with an empty 372-bed jail and a $65,000 monthly bill to pay for it. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that Littlefield officials are eager to reach an agreement that would fill those beds and minimize that debt. However, a deal that would allow Curry County, New Mexico prisoners to be housed in Littlefield. TX-though it may appear to some as a "win-win"-is troubling.
We'll keep you posted on developments from Littlefield as they come about.
The Dream 30, a group of 36 activists who crossed the Texas-Mexico in Laredo border to protest the Obama administration's "record" deportations and to prompt Congress to work toward immigration reform were recently reportedly denied support from Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar. The group called on Cuellar to write President Obama to accelarate the release of the remaining 27 activists who are still detained, according to NBC Latino's Julio Ricardo Verala ("Opinion: The DREAM 30, a Congressman and Private Prisons").
Cuellar, a Democrat who represents Laredo and supports immigration reform, as of yet has refused to support the activists, who are a part of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA). Cuellar stated that he does not condone what he thinks is the Dream 30's use of minors in taking a political stand on immigration.
Cuellar's reaction to the Dream 30's requests prompted a video conference with NIYA, as well as a sit-in at Cuellar's office. Police officers reportedly escorted activists off the premises, and no arrests were made.
These events resulted in NIYA and other affiliated groups to disclose that The GEO Group, one of the most prominent private prison companies in the world that makes a direct profit from immigrant detention in the United States, is one of Cuellar's campaign donors. As was reported on the Grassroots Leadership blog this summer, Cuellar was the third biggest recipient of GEO money in the House of Representatives last year.
In fact, Cuellar has received at least $30,000 from GEO since 2009, according to NBC Latino. It turns out that GEO also operates the Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo, which, though built before Cuellar's tenure as Congressman, employs much of his district. According to Cuellar's office,
"[The Rio Grande Detention Center] is a large employer in in Representative Cuellar's District and not unlike many other large employers in Representative Cuellar's district, [GEO Group] donated to his campaign. However, the total contributions by GEO are miniscule within each campaign cycle in total."
La TUYA, a group of undocumented youth affiliated with NIYA, are keeping folks up-to-date on their Facebook page about developments with the campaign to garner Cuellar's support for the DREAM 30.