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Texas communities brace for private prison elimination

The Dept. of Justic's (DOJ) announcement to phase out private prisons has left communities in Texas, including Eden and Big Spring, worried about how it will impact their communities, reported the Standard-Times

Though the closure of the detention center would affect Eden the most, many employees at the detention center commute from surrounding areas. According to the Big Spring Economic Development page, the Big Spring Correctional Center employs about 550 people, thought it is not clear if they are commuters or live in Big Spring. 

The DOJ announcement said that privately run prisons "compare poorly" to government-run institutions. 

The Eden Detention Center has had several riots during its time of operation, including a protest over treatment of inmates in July. The Big Spring facility had a riot during 2008, which caused around $1 million in damagaes, and also unrest in 2011, when inmates attacked staff. 

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Five Private Prisons in Texas to Lose Contracts

Department of Justice Seal

Five private prisons in Texas will lose their contracts following the Department of Justice (DOJ) announcement to phase out the use of private prisons, according to The Texas Tribune.

 

The announcement came after the inspector general of the DOJ recently concluded in a report that federal prisons operated by private companies have greater issues with contraband and inmate discipline than those run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The office noted that "In recent years, disturbances in several federal contract prisons resulted in extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a correctional officer."

Multiple incidents in Texas were among those driving the DOJ decision.

Two riots broke out in 2009 at the Reeves County Detention Center, operated by GEO Group. In 2011 prisoners attacked staff at the Big Spring Correctional Center, which is operated by GEO Group. Then in 2015, the Bureau of Prisons ended its contract with Management and Training Corporation for the Willacy County Correctional Center after prisoners set fires and damaged property beyond the company’s ability to maintain federal standards.

Shares for Corrections Corporation of America dropped 35% after the announcement, while shares for GEO Group dropped 39%

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Complaints over medical care mounting in private immigrant prisons in Texas

Big Spring
Big Spring
Families of prisoners in Big Spring Correctional Center are speaking out over a lack of medical care in the facility. An attorney who filed a lawsuit in Willacy County last month says he plans on filing similar suits over conditions at all five criminal alien requirement (CAR) prisons in Texas. News West 9 reports that Attorney William McBride filed a lawsuit against the Willacy County Private Prison after allegations of maltreatment against the immigrants detained there.

Family members of prisoners inside the Big Spring Correctional Center are also claiming that the facility is not giving proper medical care to their loved ones. Big Spring is one of five criminal alien requirement (CAR) private prisons in Texas, and is currently being run by GEO Group.

The lack of medical care was at the heart of an uprising at a the Willacy County facility in Raymondville last month, which is run by Mangement & Training Corporation (MTC). Media reported that as many as 2,000 prisoners at the Willacy County Correctional Center staged a two-day protest over medical care that began on the morning of February 20 when they refused to eat breakfast. The prisoners would eventually take control of part of the prison, and set fires to a number of the kevlar tents that make up the prison.

In Big Spring, among the 3,500 prisoners is Marcy Torres’ father, a man who needs a daily dose of medication for his liver disease. She told News West 9, “When he goes to the doctor [at the facility], he has to tell them what he's there for because basically they don't know. They're changing doctors so many times, they don't have the staff.”

Another incarcerated person at Big Spring told News West 9 that he has been waiting for over nine months to receive his medication. He shared inside information about the conditions within the facility, but declined to be named. According to him, if those incarcerated need certain medications, they must pay for them - an expense that few can afford. He claimed prisoners are forced to wear blood-stained underwear and that the only time bathrooms are fixed is when inspectors make visits. He told News West 9, “The abuse from the employees is terrible. They humiliate us. They say they're gonna deport us because we don't have rights."

CAR prisons are segregated prisons for immigrants in the federal prison system. They are all operated by for-profit, private prison companies. There are 13 CAR facilities in the U.S. and five of those are in Texas. These prisons hold immigrants convicted of federal crimes, which are mostly related to crossing the border. Because of a program called Operation Streamline and a related spike in felony prosecutions for border-crossing, immigrants are criminally prosecuted for crossing the border and funneled into CAR prisons.

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ACLU Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) Report: Big Spring Correctional Center

The Big Spring Correctional Facility is the fourth in a series of five criminal alien requirement (CAR) prisons featured in the ACLU's recent report, which covers abuses in such facilities. Big Spring is located in Big Spring, Texas and is operated by the GEO Group through a contract with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). 3,500 people are incarcerated there. 

As with the other facilities covered in their report, the ACLU reports that Big Spring's medical care was insufficient. For example, Luis, who injured his knee when a Border Patrol agent pushed him off a ledge in 2010, only received painkillers at three other facilities before being transferred to Big Spring. When he was interviewed in 2011, he was on crutches and was in visible pain. Experiences like Luis's are common and due to lack of staff, prisoners report that there is only one doctor for the entire facility. Nurses who are over-worked typically provide medical care. Prisoners can wait weeks or months to receive medical care after a nurse's evaluation. Because "sick-call" lines are often long, prisoners sometimes must choose between eating and receiving medical care, which is problematic for prisoners with chronic illness, such as diabetes. Prisoners reported that they think medical personnel are trying their best to help them, but are not able to due to understaffing.

Prisoners with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, thyroid disease and others, reported that they do not receive testing or refills of medication for weeks at a time. Miguel, who has diabetes and high cholesterol, was told that he would not receive his medication until three months before his release, and would only receive Tylenol. Miguel submitted six requests to see a doctor, for which GEO charged him two dollars per submission.

The report also notes the over-use of solitary confinement. Prison staff often send prisoners to the solitary housing unit (SHU) for small infractions, or infractions that do not exist at all. One prisoner was sent to the SHU for a week because he went to the soda machine when he was not allowed to do so. Another man was sent to the SHU for 89 days while staff investigated whether or not he had a cell phone. The contract between GEO and the BOP states that ten percent of the prison's population be allocated to the SHU. Henry, who had been in isolation for five months at the time of his interview, claimed that he slept on dirty bedclothes and was fed rice, beans and meat three times a day on dirty dishes. The food portions are reportedly insufficient, because he claims to have lost a notable amount of weight. Men taken to the SHU are denied medical treatment as well. One man claimed that someone with suicidal thoughts or other mental health issues only had two options: to speak with a counselor through the tray slot in the door, or submit a written request to a guard to be reviewed by medical staff. "They don't take us seriously," the man said. "It's all money for them."  

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